Take It SLOW

an excerpt

Chapter One

"You better get in here, boy!"

Oh, shit. Daniel hurried, an image in his mind of a cartoon-figure Daniel walking backward as his forward momentum took him closer and closer to hell.

How had his life come to this? Daniel lived in fear every day. He was dirty, hungry, and exhausted from lack of sleep and physical labor. In a little over two years' time he'd gone from privileged to pathetic. If tears wouldn't show weakness, which he could not do around Jack, he'd give in to them. But he'd stopped doing that a long time ago.

"You get the chores done? I want supper. Get in there, and it better not get burnt again, you hear me?" This was followed by a slap, hard, on the back of the head. Daniel wondered if he still had the brains he'd been proud of when he left home so long ago. Half of them had probably been smashed or rattled into oblivion by now.

"Yes, sir. Bacon and beans all right?" he asked, trying to get by Jack without touching him, which was getting harder to do every time he passed him lately. He knew why, and that knowledge had his nerves on edge and a duffle packed at all times, just looking for a chance to get away. Some chance. Jack Basham watched him like a hawk.

Out of the corner of his eyes he could see Jack staring at him, not even trying to hide the fact that his hand was on his dick, rubbing, his eyes hot, lust-filled. Daniel shivered as he moved faster, getting the food ready. He doubted he'd be eating again tonight. There was no way he was sitting down with Jack and when he didn't, Jack got mad and locked him in his room. Daniel snuck a couple of bites as he cooked, setting the table and edging toward the door.

"Where you goin', boy? You ain't hungry? You're wastin' away to nothin'. You're gonna get to where you're not even pretty anymore." Jack moved toward him, and Daniel tried to sidle past him, but Jack caught his arm, big hands squeezing hard, bruising, hurting.

Daniel sucked in a breath and said, "I don't feel good. I want to go to my room, sir." He never forgot to tack on the "sir". He'd learned that early on.

"Go on, then, you little wimp. Always somethin'. When you gonna be eighteen? Tell me the truth now," Jack said, the frown marring his brow intense.

"In, in seven months, sir." Daniel shuddered as he told the lie, knowing why Jack wanted the information.

Daniel fled, closing and locking his door, ignoring the angry muttering from the kitchen. Daniel took the threadbare dull green blanket from the bed, wrapped up, and waited for his shivering to stop. He put his back to the door and slid to the floor, his stomach in knots. Pain ripped through him and he wondered again if he suffered from ulcers. Why not? Gee, could it be stress? As it often did, his mind took a break from reality and went back in time, kind of like a slow motion reel from a movie.

* * * *

Seventeen-year-old Daniel Webster hurried into the house after parking his new Lexus beside his dad's car in the garage. The car had been a gift from his dad when Daniel turned sixteen last year. He was a little nervous, but ready for the coming talk he planned to have with his father. Nick Webster was Daniel's idol as well as his father. Daniel's mother was gone, long ago, and it had been the two of them against the world. They did everything together. Daniel had gone to work with his father and Nick, had attended school events with him. They both enjoyed Tennessee sports teams and had season tickets to both football and basketball games.

Daniel had been thinking about the upcoming conversation for months and was finally ready to share his dreams with his dad. He figured that finding out his son was gay wasn't going to be easy for Nick, but they'd always had an open relationship, able to talk about anything. He wasn't worried about Nick being angry, but he would be dashing any hopes the man had of continuing the family name.

"Hey, Daniel, you hungry? I thought we'd order in tonight," Nick said, as Daniel came into the den. "You feel like Chinese, pizza, or Italian? I'm easy. How was school?"

"School was fine. Anything sounds fine for supper. Dad, can we talk? I've got something I want to tell you." Daniel dropped down onto the couch that was opposite the burgundy wingback chair that Nick sat in, a folder from work on his lap.

"Sure, son. You want me to order first?"

"Nah, I'm not really hungry right now," Daniel said.

"That's a change. What's up, Daniel? Is everything all right?" Nick looked just a little concerned.

"I've been wanting to tell you this for a while now, but I wanted to be sure before I said anything. Dad, I'm gay." Daniel waited for a response from his father.

None came. Okay, he'd go a little further.

"I haven't really done anything, but there's this guy at school and I really like him. I wanted you to know. I didn't feel right keeping it secret. I think I'm--"

That's as far as Daniel got.

"You think you're what? My son's gay? No way in hell!" Nick stood up, the folder falling at his feet and papers scattering over the Oriental rug.

"Dad?" There was shock and a little fear in the word. He really hadn't expected anger. Maybe that made him foolish, but he'd thought his dad loved him no matter what.

"How could you pull something like this? How am I supposed to hold my head up in society with a faggot for a son? Son! Hell, you're no son of mine!" Nick walked out of the room, leaving a stunned Daniel behind.

Daniel didn't even realize that tears were streaming down his face. This couldn't be happening. Of all people, he would have sworn that his father would have stood beside him, understood, or at least tried to. Daniel was used to Nick accepting differences in people and not being closed off, a snob, a bigot.

His father had just denied him as a son. How could that be? Daniel knew that Nick Webster meant every word, too. What was he to do now?

Stunned, Daniel stood and walked out the front door, down the long sidewalk to the street and began walking. He had no destination in mind; he was just leaving. He couldn't face his dad, couldn't look at him, hear him say anything else that would cut him any deeper. Was there anything that could hurt worse than "You're no son of mine!"?

* * * *

Nick Webster pulled into the parking lot of the Southern Georgia Travel Plaza and sighed deeply. His heart had been in his throat all the way from Nashville to Valdosta. After talking with his friend Easy, a trucker, on the phone yesterday, he'd been in a mixed state of terror and anticipation. He'd lived in a state of suspended animation for the last two years. Most people didn't know that he'd been existing on auto-pilot, but since that evening that seemed so long ago, the night he'd blown his world apart, everything he'd done had been with the hope of finding his son.

Daniel Webster. Nick's hands shook as he thought about the beautiful boy who had been the light of his life for seventeen years. And then he'd blown it. Nick accepted the blame for the pain he'd lived in since that night. Sitting in the car, he thought back to the night that was his shame.

Nick could not say to this day what had happened to his brain, his heart, and his mouth that night. It was like someone else had taken over all three, like he'd been possessed by someone totally alien to the Nick Webster he thought he was.

Daniel had, with the self assurance that comes with knowing that he's loved and cherished by his father, admitted to Nick that he was gay. Before Daniel could finish saying that he'd not acted on the knowledge, but that there was a boy he was interested in at school, Nick had lost his mind.

Honestly, he couldn't even remember all that he'd said to Daniel. The one thing that was clear in his mind was the look on Daniel's face when he'd said, "You're no son of mine."

What the hell? He'd said other hurtful things, none of them making any sense, and that really weren't indicative of the way he really felt. He'd been in shock and lashing out. Standing there, before he walked out of the den, he had shook with anger.

Nick didn't know how long he'd stood in his room before, like a light flipping on, he snapped out of whatever seemed to have hold of him and realized that he'd heard the front door slam a while ago.

"What have I done? Where did that shit come from? Daniel!" Nick yelled for his son as he ran for the door, hoping that Daniel was outside, wondering the same thing. He hurried out and saw that Daniel's car was still there. Relief washed over him. Thank God; he'd be able to talk to Daniel and make it right. Daniel was his son, and since his wife had died when Daniel was little, it had been the two of them in a solid relationship. He could handle anything as long as he had Daniel.

Searching and calling for Daniel gained him nothing but an increasing sense of fear. Where had Daniel gone? Their home was old and in a part of town that was known for wealth. Over the years, the area a few blocks away had been building up with more and more commercial buildings. Nick had been back inside and back out, his heart beating out of his chest as more and more time went by with no sign of Daniel.

It had been that way for two whole years. During that time Nick had done everything he could think of to find his son and bring him home. A legion of private detectives had been unsuccessful, as had every attempt he had made on his own so far. His latest efforts had led him to this small truck stop, Mama Sasy's. Thank God.

* * * *

Daniel pressed his hand to his mouth to stop the sob that threatened to erupt. He couldn't let it out, for so many reasons. He couldn't give in to the desperation, the fear, the grief. Most of all, he couldn't let Jack hear him crying. If Jack thought he could have one more thing to hold over Daniel's head, he'd make Daniel's life even more miserable.

Not willing to think about some of the things that had happened when he'd first left home, he let his mind do a fast forward past the night in the shelter and the fears he'd experienced. Daniel had been on a field trip with the school and seen the homeless shelter. It wasn't too far from where he lived, and he'd been lucky enough to get a bed for the night.

Their house was in an old section of town. The commercial area had grown up around them, but the whole subdivision was filled with beautiful houses and landscaping. Not too far away, though, there were businesses and a little further than that, there was a low- income part of the city. This was where the shelter was located, and Daniel had remembered thinking at the time that it was awfully close to his home.

His mind zipped past the first night when he lay sleepless, hopeless, stunned, and heartbroken on a cot. The thought of going back didn't even occur to him. His father's hate-filled words were final, as far as he was concerned. That the man he loved and adored could even say those things -- well, Daniel had no doubt he meant them. The one thing that his father always said, that resonated with Daniel right then, was that he never said anything he didn't mean. So no, going back home wasn't an option.

Scenes flew past his mind's eye in a kaleidoscope. The thug who'd approached him with a demand for money. Daniel had seventy-three dollars in his shoe and he was scared to death the man would beat him up and find it. Again, he ran and was faster than the threat. He was running in a section of town he was unfamiliar with and found that he had left safety for danger. Trucks, big ones, were lined up at a dock and there was shouting and movement, chaos. Daniel turned to leave and ran into two men who grabbed him.

Actually, he'd been lucky that time. The men had been traveling together in one of the trucks and asked if he needed a ride. He knew better than that. Shaking his head in the negative, he tried to pull away from them. He pushed against one of them, forcing him into the other and for a moment he was free. He ran as fast as he could and managed to hide in an alley. After standing for what seemed like forever without seeing them, he edged back out and walked away. He was hungry and didn't know what to do.

Daniel had friends, but none that his dad didn't know about. He didn't want to go to them and find out that his dad hadn't even tried to find him. Was he looking? Did he care? Daniel could not wrap his head around the fact that his father might not be missing him as much as he missed his dad.

Grief and hunger had him walking into a small diner that was full of large men who looked up as he stood in the doorway. He kept his head down as he went to the counter. He asked for a BLT and water. He'd have to go to the restroom to get some money out of his shoe so he told the gray-haired woman behind the counter that he'd be back in a second. When he got to the bathroom he headed for a stall, but before he could get there, he was grabbed from behind. He felt a hand in his hip pocket and knew that his wallet had been taken. Damn. At least his money wasn't in it.

An arm came across his front and pulled up under his chin. He felt something, a knife or gun, he wasn't sure which, sticking into his side. He struggled and tried to twist out of the arms holding him.

"Where is it? Your money? Give it over," said a rough voice behind his head. The smell coming off the man behind him was horrible.

He tried to bluff it out. "I don't have any, really. A couple of dollars for a sandwich. Let me go, please."

"Bullshit. Those are good clothes and that means you got money." There was a sudden pain in his side, and he realized that it was a knife and he'd been cut.

He tried to yell, but before he'd gotten more than a squeak out the hand on his neck moved up and covered his mouth. The smell was now unbearable.

"You ready to die, rich boy? I can make that happen in about two seconds. Don't matter none to me. Where's the money?" The knife pushed further in, and Daniel could feel blood running down his side now. Was it worth his life?

"Shoe. Left shoe." Daniel managed the mutter around the dirty, smelly fingers that still covered his mouth.

The man threw him down and grabbed his shoe and jerked it off. The bills that had been in his wallet before he went to bed at the shelter were gone in seconds. He heard the snick of the knife going back into its sleeve, and to top off the experience, the man drew back and kicked him, hard, in the ribs.

"That's for lying. You better get back to where you came from. You ain't gonna make it down here." With those words of wisdom, the man was gone and Daniel lay there, trying to breathe without it hurting. He wondered how bad the knife wound was. He didn't know how long he was there before two men came in and when they saw him they hurried over to him. He drew back in fear.

"Hey. It's okay. We won't hurt you. What happened?" One man was looking at his side where his shirt was covered in blood and the other was putting his shoe back on his foot. He thought that was very strange, to be lying on a public bathroom floor and having a stranger put his shoe on him.

"Robbed, stabbed, kicked," he moaned.

"Man, you're not having a very good day, are you, son?"

At the word "son", Daniel looked at the men. It was the two that he'd gotten away from before. They were both older and their hands on him were gentle.

"They took all I had. He cut me. I don't know what to do. I don't have anything now." How true that was.

"Listen, don't look so panicked. We didn't follow you here. We eat here whenever we're in town. We'll get you something to eat and can talk about what you need to do. My name's Tony, and that's Randall." The man talking pointed to the other man, who nodded at him. "The cut isn't bad. Randall, get some wet towels and I bet we can get the bleeding stopped."

Randall got some of the brown paper towels and wet them at the sink, bringing them back to Tony. Daniel sat up, with their help, and pulled his shirt up enough for them to clean the wound. Both men looked relieved, so Daniel figured he'd live. They helped him stand up and he gasped at the pain in his ribs.


"Let me see. Come on, son, I'm not after your body, nice as it is. Randall's enough for me. Let's see what damage was done to your ribs. When we saw that guy hotfooting it out of here, we were afraid he'd been up to no good."

Daniel resignedly pulled his shirt up and flinched when Tony's hand pressed gently into his ribs up and down his side, checking on how much trauma was there.

"I don't think they broke any, but it's gonna hurt to breathe for a while. Come on, we'll get you something to eat and you can tell us what you're running from." At Daniel's shake of his head, Tony said, "Oh, don't worry, we're not going to turn you in or make you go back to whatever it is, but we need to know if there's some way we can help."

"Why would you? Seems like everybody else I've run into wants something." Daniel wasn't ready to trust anyone, but these two had been nicer than anyone else and he was tired, hungry, and scared out of his wits.

When they left the bathroom, the waitress was at the counter with his sandwich. Tony told her, "Add an order of fries and a big chocolate shake to that, Myrna. We're paying for the boy."

Myrna turned to yell the order through the window for the fries and headed over to a machine to make the shake.

"Th-thank you." Daniel barely managed the words as the severity of his situation hit him. What was he going to do? Where was he to go? He could not, would not go home. It was like the bottom had been pulled from his world and he was free-falling. Nothing made sense without his dad there.

"So, you're running away from something. That's clear. You don't have to tell us what it is, but will you tell us your name?" Randall asked.

"Daniel. My name is Daniel." He'd give them that much. He owed them that much.

"Daniel. Okay, here's the deal. We're truckers. We've got about another hour before our truck will be loaded and ready to go. We're on our way to Gainesville, Florida. If you want to ride that far, we'll take you. Are you sure you want to leave, though? Be sure. You don't look like a typical runaway." Tony looked at him closely.

Daniel didn't know what to do. He just couldn't go home. He had no money, no way to make any, and no idea what was safe. With his wallet gone, he had none of his identification. He was a nobody from now on.

"What do you want from me if I ride with you?" Daniel wasn't stupid. Even nice people didn't always do things for nothing.

"We've got a little place in Gainesville. You're welcome to stay there for a little while. You'll have to figure something out, but I don't think you'll make it on your own very long without something worse happening, and I'm not comfortable with that thought." Tony leaned back when Myrna brought the fries and shake to the table.

Daniel looked at the two men across from him. "What about him? What does he think about that?" So far it had mostly been Tony talking.

"Tony knows whatever he wants to do is fine with me. We're partners, in every way. You need to know that up front. We're gay. If that bothers you, you'll need to find help somewhere else," Randall said that with just a little bit of intensity.

Daniel almost laughed at the irony of it. But instead, his eyes watered and he lowered his head. Gay. These two were gay and they thought it would bother him, and his dad had disowned him upon hearing that he was.

"What's wrong, Daniel? Does it freak you out?" Tony asked. He didn't sound mad, just curious.

"Not at all," Daniel made himself look back up at them. "That's kind of why I left home. It didn't go well when I came out, so I left. No planning, no thought. I left my car and clothes and everything just to get the hell out."

"No hope that things will change?" Tony asked, sympathetically.

"None. Disowned, outright. Not going back. But, you all..." Daniel didn't know how to ask if he'd be safe around them. Instinct told him he would, but his instincts hadn't done well for him lately.

"You don't have to worry. We're not into young pretty boys. We love each other." Tony's voice had dropped, not wanting to advertise to anyone else in the small diner. "And we have no interest in anyone else. We just want to help."

"Just like that?" Daniel's voice, he knew, held doubt.

"Not everyone is like that guy who robbed and beat you up. You need a break, kid. You ready to head to Florida?" Randall asked.

Man! Florida sounded like it was so far away. Was he ready to leave Tennessee? What did he have here?

Without his dad, he was like a boat with no rudder. There were friends from school, but what was he going to go to them and say, or expect from them? He had no direction. Florida was as good as any other place. His life as he'd known it was over. He may as well get used to a new one. How could his life have turned from happy and carefree, loved and adored, to one of fear and uncertainty, alone and desperate?

Daniel figured he wasn't going to get a better offer.

At least this was a chance to go with someone who seemed nice and wasn't interested in raping, robbing, or beating him.

* * * *

Nick went straight to Mama Sasy's to see Sally Ann. He was so afraid to believe that the boy that Sally Ann's son, Easy, and his new man, Mano, had seen was really Daniel. Was he about to find his son, at last? When he opened the door to the diner at the truck stop, all eyes turned to him and he knew that Easy had told his mother what he believed.

"Nick? Oh, Nick!" Sally Ann said, coming around the counter to open her arms to him. He thought he was going to cry right there in the middle of the diner full of truckers and staff. He wrapped her in his arms and held on, hoping that her goodness and caring soul would give him some kind of good luck mojo. If that could come from anyone, it would be Sally Ann Stanton Young.

"Sally Ann, do you think it could be Daniel? Did Easy sound sure to you? Am I crazy to hope? I'm so scared. I don't know what to think." Nick was a babbling wreck.

"Nick, relax, hon. I believe in my heart that this is your Daniel. You know how I felt when you first showed up here," she said, pulling him to the "family" booth in the back. "I thought you deserved to hurt after what you'd done to that boy. But, Nick, I know your heart, and I believe that you love and accept your son. You're going to bring him home."

They were sitting across from each other, her hands grasping both of his on the table top. His eyes filled with tears as her words were like a salve on a painful sore.

He'd come here because he'd needed just this. "Thank you so much. I'm going down early in the morning so I'll be there when they come back through that truck stop. Easy told me that the waitress said they come through there on Tuesday mornings and Wednesdays at lunch. I'm going to be there early, and I'll wait for them. If it's Daniel, I'll find a way to bring him home." Nick couldn't help the shakiness of his voice.

"Nick, honey, you need to be prepared. Daniel may have gone through things that you can't imagine. He may not be ready to accept you. I'm not being mean here, but you hurt him deeply, and from what the boys said, he doesn't seem to be in a good situation with this older man. He may need rescuing, but he may not be ready to just run into your arms. I don't want your heart broken." Sally Ann tightened her hands on his, and he returned the pressure. This woman had no idea how much she meant to him. That was another story for another time.

"I know that. I want to ask you, Sally Ann, if he doesn't want to come home with me, can he come here, stay here with you? Will you help him?"

"Nick, you don't even have to ask. Whatever either of you need." Sally Ann, well, Mama Sasy's, was known far and wide, in most major cities and in the surrounding states, as a safe haven for gays in trouble. She had helped countless young men who found themselves in need of a place to stay, someone to help them in a myriad of ways. She was Mama Sasy to so many thankful young men whose lives had been changed by her good heart and never-ceasing efforts.

"Thank you. That means a lot," Nick said.

"You have helped me and my boys so much, Nick. So many young men have better lives because of the contacts you've made for them, the help you gave them. I know that every time you were able to help you were hoping that someone, somewhere, was helping Daniel. You're a good man. You'll be able to reach him. You'll just have to give him time, or space, or whatever he needs. It's all about Daniel now." Sally Ann pulled one hand away and reached up to wipe away the tear that was running down his cheek.

Nick put his hand over hers and pressed it to his cheek for a second. He saw her eyes widen at the gesture and let her go. She blushed as she leaned back in the booth and asked, "So what kind of plans are you making?"

"I've got some of his clothes, in case he needs them, a blanket and pillow in case he just wants to sleep on the way home if--if he'll come with me. God, he will, won't he? How am I ever going to make up for what I said to him, what I made him feel like he had to do? Run away. I can't believe that he felt like he couldn't stay at his home. I can't even begin to think about the things he's gone through. If I'd only recovered from my appalling mental break a few minutes quicker, maybe I could have caught him before he was gone." Pain laced his voice and it, and his hands, shook as he couldn't help but think of the horrible things that could happen to a good- looking young runaway.

* * * *

Daniel's private head-movie was interrupted when the door he was leaning against moved from a resounding kick. Jack's drunken voice came through, chilling Daniel to the core.

"Da-an-iel? Are you sleeping, pretty boy?"

Daniel shook, silent, hoping the lock held. He didn't think Jack would force him, but he'd been getting more and more sexually interested in Daniel lately.

A foot hit the door again.

"Daniel! You better answer me, boy. I'll kick this door down."

Daniel didn't doubt him. When Jack was drunk he was really strong and mean.

"Yes, sir. I'm sorry. I just don't feel good." Daniel hoped that Jack would let it go at that. Sometimes the man was fine with just throwing his weight around and scaring Daniel, and sometimes he wanted a more hands- on victory over Daniel's instinctive pulling away.

Daniel let out a quiet sigh as he heard Jack muttering as he walked down the hall to his room. The house was small, and Jack's room was next to Daniel's. He heard the television come on and knew that Jack was putting one of his porn tapes in the machine under his TV. Soon the moans and noises of men having sex would be heard through the walls.

Jack was a bit of an enigma to Daniel. Daniel had never seen him with another man, but he knew that he watched gay porn. He'd never touched Daniel, but he looked at him in such a lustful and threatening manner that Daniel was on edge all the time. The reason he'd been safe so far from advances from Jack was clear to Daniel because of the things Jack had said when they'd first met.

* * * *

Daniel had been with Tony and Randall for almost a year and a half when it all went wrong. They had all gotten along well. Daniel had helped them out at their house. They jokingly called him their houseboy. Not being able to finish high school really weighed on his mind, but without his records and information, he had no way of enrolling. The house, small and in a rural setting, was both a haven and a prison for him. He was afraid to go out much for fear of being seen by someone and reported for not being in school, so he stayed at home most of the time.

The culture shock he went through, going from being a wealthy, privileged teenager to a lower middle class kid with no sense of home, was problematic for Daniel. There was a huge feeling of loss and grief for the life he'd known. He wasn't unhappy with Tony and Randall, but he felt empty. His life was missing something vital. There was a feeling of sameness to his days. Giving Tony and Randall their due, they tried to make him feel like they were a sort of family. They cared for him, fed him, clothed him, and he truly got the feeling that they thought of him as a sort of stand-in son, the one they'd never thought to have. It was really a strange existence.

Daniel couldn't help but mourn the life he'd known, and he felt guilty when he did, because Tony and Randall tried so hard to make him feel like he had a home. The memories Daniel had of his father haunted him. They'd been everything to each other for so long, doing literally everything together, sharing their thoughts and planning trips and doing good things for others. That was one thing he'd always admired about his father. The man was generous, gave to different charities, and was always kind to people. His father had seemed to not even recognize class distinctions. He was as kind and thoughtful with the doormen and waiters as he was with his colleagues in the law firm he spearheaded.

Tony and Randall were good to him and he liked seeing how they treated each other. The love they shared was evident in the way they took care of each other. There weren't any big displays in front of him, but he had seen furtive touches and quick kisses that made him feel good inside. They bought him what he needed, though he had no extras. Since they'd taken him in, and that was a burden on them, he didn't feel like he had a right to ask for more.

Daniel thought about his father more than he really wanted to. He'd loved the man more than anything and could not stand to think of the look on his dad's face as he spewed the hateful, final words that had severed their relationship. He did wonder if his father missed him, thought of him, regretted his words. One thing about his father, he didn't take things back or change his mind.

His existence now wasn't dismal. It wasn't horrible. It just wasn't happy. He liked the two men, and they did a few things with him, took him with them a few places. They did the best they could. Birthdays and holidays weren't really noted or celebrated. Daniel didn't mind.

About eighteen months after he'd joined them, sometimes traveling and helping one or the other when one of them was sick, tragedy struck. Daniel expected them home from a run on Friday afternoon, and it was now Saturday night. There'd been no call from them, and he didn't know who to go to for information. When Sunday morning came with no word, he began to fear that something had happened to them. He went to the little den of the house and started looking through papers, finding a folder with information about the company for which they drove.

He called the office number and the news he was given brought him to his knees. There'd been a wreck on one of the mountain roads in Tennessee, and both Tony and Randall had been killed. The company didn't know about Daniel so they'd not had anything to tell him about what was to be done. Daniel didn't know if someone would come to take the house or the stuff in it. They hadn't talked about anything like this. He had no idea what to do. He didn't have a way to pay the bills that would be coming in. Unsure of who might be showing up, he made plans to leave, having no clear idea about where to go. Again, with no papers, how would he get a job? Daniel was once again scared out of his wits.

* * * *

Daniel could hear the television in the room next door, and he could hear the lewd sounds of the porn that Jack often watched. Nerves made him shake, and his stomach rolled again. Soon he could hear Jack's breathing, loud and fast, and he covered his ears. His eyes went to the bottom of the bed where he kept a ratty old duffle bag with a few essentials saved in case he ever needed them.

Daniel wished again that he could leave, just run away and start over somewhere else. He'd tried. Twice. The first time Jack had found him within a couple of hours, since Daniel had simply started out on foot. The second time it was one of the men that Jack played poker and drank with that found him and brought him back. Jack had made him very sorry both times. Daniel had never been hit so hard or so often as when he lived with Jack Basham. Daniel was bruised most of the time, though he'd never had any broken bones. His ribs took the brunt of it for some reason. Jack never hit him in the face, and he knew it was because Jack thought he was pretty.

Daniel worked hard for Jack at the small property that Jack owned, far from anything you'd call civilization. Luckily, Jack's place was in Florida, and therefore Daniel didn't have to worry about freezing to death. Most of the money Jack made driving was spent on alcohol and a little food. How Jack managed to never be drunk or hung over when he drove the rig, Daniel didn't know. He would swear, though, that Jack never had been.

The noise from next door was getting louder, as if Jack had turned up the volume. Daniel figured Jack wanted him to hear it, maybe hoping that it would get Daniel excited. That was so far from reality. The irony of his present situation was that despite the fact that he'd admitted to his father that he was gay, he lived the life of a celibate, and God knew he wanted to keep it that way. He was scared that Jack would find out that he was nineteen, not seventeen as he'd been told. Daniel couldn't imagine how Jack thought he was anything near pretty. He'd lost so much weight, his skin wasn't clear like it used to be, and his hair was long and lank, most often dirty. That was one of the worst parts of his current life. Daniel had always loved showers and being clean. It hadn't been something he'd thought about, just taken for granted. Now that he didn't have it, he missed it. There wasn't a shower here, and he was always afraid of being caught alone and naked, so he made sure to wash quickly.

His stomach clenched as he heard a moan from next door, not from the TV. Wrapping his arms around his aching stomach, he lay on the floor, against the door, not for the first time. His sleep would be fitful and uncomfortable. Tears would dry on his face as he dreamed of Tony and Randall and Nick Webster... before.