Just One Starfish

by Grasshopper

Midnight Blue
Chapter 5

As Gabriel mowed the small patches of grass around the duplexes skinned down to just a pair of cut off jeans and sneakers, sweat running down his body, he'd been offered several glasses of water, lemonade, lots of iced tea and one girl even sat out on her front porch in a tiny bikini offering him popsicles just to watch him mow.

Dog lay on the floor of the Jeep in the shade. It had become his home away from home when Gabriel was busy. There was a ceramic bowl on the floor filled with water. Markie had given Gabriel several pieces of dishware, most of which he and Dog shared as needed. The big mixing bowl, in which Gabriel knew he would never mix anything, had become Dog's food bowl.

Sam stuck her head out of her air-conditioned apartment, "You should put all these girls out of their misery, you know."

"Hell, I love all the lemonade," he grinned.

Showered and shaved, Gabriel pulled on black jeans and a black tank, sitting down to pull on his boots. Shaking his damp curls, he ran his fingers through them to help them dry. Sticking a few condoms in his back pocket, he banged on the wall between #7 and #8 with his fist.

"Such a gentlemanly way to pick up your date," Sam laughed. "Wow! You look mighty fine. You sure you're ........?"

Gabriel rolled his eyes, "Last time I looked, yeah. You know where we're going?"

Sam nodded, "Sure, turn left on Bridgemont and take it all the way out. I'll keep an eye open for the turn." She smiled when Dog stuck his head between their seats. "Don't worry, he's all yours. Am I in your place?"

"He usually sits right by me on the emergency brake, but I asked him to be polite tonight and sit in the back."

They could hear the music coming from the dance club long before they saw it. "I'll park on the street under the streetlight so I can check on Dog every once in awhile."

"Why didn't you just leave him home tonight?"

Gabriel gave her a look. "He goes where I go."

Walking in the open doors, they handed over their five dollars, got stamped and walked over to the bar for drinks. "I actually can drink here any night except Friday," Sam laughed. "I'm twenty-one."

"Lord, an older woman. I won't be twenty-one until October, so I better stick with water. I'm not much of a drinker anyway. Slows the body down." And he wanted his body set on super fast tonight.

Gabriel had been with too many men to remember in those lost months after his father threw him out. He never tried to remember, but ugly words and uglier images always cut through his mind like black clouds:

"Here you go, Sexy, best blowjob you ever had -; five bucks."
"Look what you're missing, Mister, I'm only sixteen, fresh meat, just what you're looking for"
"25 buck fuck -; try it".

It had hurt so much when Mitch moved away so suddenly. Gabriel had hoped that Mitch might have been the one to ease the pain by loving him in spite of what he had done. They had never done much except the usual fumbling because Gabriel had never wanted Mitch to know he had experience. And certainly never how much! Then Mitch had left and Gabriel had never told him.

With Naz, last summer, Gabriel had found a friend, but he still hadn't told his story. Gabriel was sure there was no one who would want him if they knew. His only outlet was sex with strangers, guys he didn't know and he'd never see again. That way, he didn't have to worry about his heart.

The club was full of kids ranging from eighteen up into the twenties. The music was loud and the AC couldn't cool the room down enough. They both eyed the crowd, Sam already dancing in place.

"Look at that black kid dance," she shouted over the noise. "He's great!"

"I'm going out to mingle. Get your dancing shoes on, Gabriel."

Gabriel wasn't here to dance, well, not that kind of dancing. He knew if he just leaned there against the bar, someone would .......


He turned his head and nodded to a cute sandy-haired guy with wire-rim glasses. "Hey."

"You go to the university?"

Gabriel nodded again.

"Um, you want another water?"

And Gabriel smiled. It was that easy. Step over one tiny line and it's just out there. "Yeah."

"My name's Larry."

Gabriel just inclined his head. "You got a car?"

He watched the boy's eyes widen. "Yeah."

"Let's go."

All Gabriel could hear as he walked toward the guy's car was his father's voice: "You are dead to me. Get out of my house." He felt dead. This was what he knew how to do.

The back seat was cramped, the guy's hands were all over him. He was in too much of a hurry. "My date will be looking for me," he said in a chopped voice.

"Then shut the fuck up and do it," Gabriel snarled. The guy fumbled with Gabriel's zipper and then lowered his head. He let himself feel for just a minute, head thrown back, breath quick and rasping as he came.

Zipping up quickly, he sighed, "Get back to your girlfriend or make a decision. This isn't what you want." He shook his head and walked back toward the music. Poor guy. Society sucks !

All that had done was rev Gabriel's engine. He stalked back into the hot room looking for Sam. He found a place at the far end of the bar and watched the dancers. A guy with ugly eyes and long greasy hair jammed under a ball cap slid in beside him. "Want some E? I got what you need."

"I doubt it."

"Try me."

"No thanks. Get the fuck away from me."

He watched the guy move further down the bar. Shit, there was that kid from the bookstore. Lord, he was cute, and he didn't need that fuckoff bothering him. Gabriel watched the guy touch the kid and the kid ease away. The kid set his water bottle on the bar and turned to a friend. Gabriel saw the fuckoff drop something into the bottle. The kid reached for the bottle and took a long drink. Damn!

Sam came up, fanning her face and laughing. "Why aren't you dancing? I love this place."

"Hold on," Gabriel replied, turning back to the kid, but both of them were gone. Shit! "Wait right here, Sam. I gotta take care of something." He stuffed his water bottle in his back pocket.

Swinging his eyes from left to right, Gabriel saw that they weren't in the club and they hadn't passed him to go out the front. He found the 'Exit' sign and ran for the back door. The cool air of the night dried the sweat from his face as he swung the door open wide.

He listened and heard a scuffling sound coming from beyond the dumpster.

Rounding that corner, he saw the kid squirming to get away from the grasping hands. Towering over them both, Gabriel reached in and pulled the guy off, throwing him against the dumpster. His fist hit the guy solid in the gut and he shoved him away. As the guy stumbled off down the alleyway, he yelled, "You ever touch him again, you come here again, and you're a dead man."

Turning back to the poor kid who was now slumped down sitting on the filthy alley pavement, he squatted down, cupped the kid's head and asked, "You okay? C'mon now, let's get you fixed up."

He almost smiled when the cute kid slurred out, "Gi M Minte."

Gabriel reached into his back pocket and pulled out the cold water bottle. "Here, drink this."

The boy moaned shaking his head, "Nooo" and that was all it took. The fear, the drug, the movement of his head was all it took. He barfed all over Gabriel.

"Holy Mother of God," Gabriel groaned, shaking his tanktop. He poured a little of the cold water onto the kid's face and watched him begin to blink, trying to clear his vision.

"What ... what happened?"

Gabriel replied, "First of all, never drink out of a bottle you didn't just open. Never set the bottle down and look away. That's how he got you."

Putting his hands to his aching head, the kid mumbled, "He put something in my water?"

Gabriel sighed, "Not much or you'd have been out like a light. Lucky thing."

"Yeah right, lucky me," the kid moaned.

Gabriel knew he needed to make this innocent kid understand. He snarled, "Listen, you are lucky. Lots of boys like you never get to go home." Like me, he thought. "Go look for your excitement somewhere better, a picnic or a church dinner. You didn't even see that coming. You can't handle the street," he laughed harshly, "Even though you're sitting in it right now."

Gabriel stood up, grossed out by the vomit clinging to his jeans. He pulled the kid to his feet, leaned him against the wall and pulled his clothes together. "You're okay. Try to remember what I told you about the bottles and never take drugs from strangers. Believe me, the street eats boys like you and then spits them out. Go find your friends and go home."

The boy managed to choke out, "Thank you, you saved my life." He reached his hand up to Gabriel's face.

Gabriel smiled, "Well, maybe not your life, but your innocence for sure. Night, kid."

Part of Gabriel wanted to take this sweet boy by the hand and make sure he got home okay. This little fella didn't have any idea what might have happened to him just now. The kid had to be eighteen and Gabriel was just twenty, but there were millions of years between them. Years he never could get back and bad years the kid would never have to live. This wasn't for Gabriel. Not this innocence. As much as he wanted it, it was part of his punishment for the life he had lived.

His mind flew to JD of all people. He heard that little voice rattling off, "A spaceship? A bulldozer? An elephant? Five fire trucks?" That was the same kind of innocence this kid had. It lit his whole face. He had his life ahead of him and Gabriel would be damned if it was gonna be spent in a back alley. He hoped the kid had listened to him.

He walked away because he had to.

He collected Sam and they headed for the Jeep. "You stink, my God, what is that all over you?" she gasped.

"You don't even want to know," Gabriel sighed. "I do a good deed and get puked on."

Dog leaped up to lick Gabriel, but began to snort and backed off to the rear of the Jeep. "Even you, Dog? I remember a time when you didn't smell so good either, traitor."

He told Sam what had happened. "You knew what that shithead was doing to the kid?" she asked incredulously.

"Yeah, I've seen that before," he murmured.

"Well, he was lucky you were there. I'm just amazed you saw it all with so many people in the club."

Gabriel didn't tell her that it was like some kind of backwards karma going on between him and that kid. It was like everywhere he went, there was that innocent face.

"Well, sounds like he needs a keeper. You'll have to watch out for him, right?"

Gabriel snorted, "I so will not. I've got stuff to do and no time to be babysitting some kid who doesn't know there's a big bad world out there just waiting to suck him in."

Sam sat quietly, thinking, then said softly, "You been out in that bad world?" She had heard it in his voice.

"Yeah," he sighed.

"Where's home, Gabriel?"

'Home,' he thought. He had always thought it was his parent's house in Baltimore until it wasn't anymore. "My adopted family lives in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina," he said quietly.

Sam thought about that. "Brother and sisters?"

"I had a brother once," Gabriel sighed. "He's gone now."

"Your brother died, oh, I'm so sorry." Sam reached over to pat his shoulder.

"No," Gabriel ground out, "He's just gone."

Sam knew when to let up. The rest of the drive was made in an awkward silence. She could almost hear Gabriel raging inside. There was so much more to her new friend than she had imagined.

"You wanna come in and watch TV? It's still kinda early."

"No, it's been a long night and I want to be up early to get out on the trails.

Night, Sam. See ya."

She stood at her front door and watched Gabriel wait for Dog to relieve himself. She could tell by the set of his shoulders that Gabriel had too much going on in his head. He rolled his neck and reached up to massage away the ache. She watched him as he went to the side of the duplex, leaned over to unlace his boots and pull them off, yanked off his socks, dropped his jeans and pulled his tank top over his head. Grabbing the hose, he washed the vomit off his clothes and rung them out. She watched the muscles in his arms and shoulders clench as he stood dressed only in his briefs. Sam knew it was dangerous to look at him too long, think about him too much. He wasn't available. She sighed and locked her door against the night.

Gabriel was tempted to get back in the Jeep, find the first hustler he could and fuck his brains out. But, it wouldn't help with the guilt and the loss. Just thinking about Dominic brought all the hurt back to the surface. It was times like this he wished he drank. He wanted to lose himself in something. If he couldn't lose himself in someone's arms, and he wasn't gonna get drunk or get stoned, he would turn to the only thing that helped.

"Dog, let's go." Throwing the soiled clothes in the bathtub, he pulled on khaki cargo shorts, a white t-shirt and clean boot socks. His boots relaced, he grabbed his backpack and loaded up with Gatorade, water bottles, some dog food in a ziplock, a few Trail Bars and a clean t-shirt. "It's no good waiting around here, the mood I'm in. Let's go find the mountains."

Sam pulled her curtain aside when she heard the big Wrangler' engine roar to life. Where was he going? She let the curtain fall as his taillights turned the corner. 'Keep an eye on him, God. Gabriel's got the devil at his heels."

Driving east, Gabriel took a back road around Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and into Saguaro National Park. He'd studied the maps last night and picked the Sendero Esperanza Trail. It wound around the park and up into the Rincon Mountains. Just what he wanted, a sweaty difficult trail.

He pulled into the parking area just as the glow of the early morning sun began to splatter the sky with pinks and blues. There were no other cars. There were signs pointing to beginner trails and to the more difficult trails that led up mountain paths. Gabriel saw the one marked Sendero Esperanza. "C'mon, Dog. Let's see what you're made of."

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