"Wake up, Farrell," screamed a voice outside of his door. "Get out of bed this instant."
Farrell moaned and rubbed at his eyes. His lover, Allen, was standing at the doorway with his hair in disarray and his mouth wearing an angry scowl. Allen had bright blue eyes and skin the color of cinnamon. After they had first met, Farrell had thought that Allen was more attractive than Adonis. Unfortunately, the beauty only ran skin-deep.
"What the hell were you doing last night?" Allen asked him from the doorway. "I told you that I needed you back here at six."
"I told you," Farrell responded quietly, shaking his head. "I had to work a double shift. I have to do it today, too."
"Like fuck you are."
Both of them examined each other.
Farrell could have said something to Allen, corrected him for his bad treatment, but he didn't have the ability to speak. This was something that had been happening to him more and more as of late. His life had gotten hard after high school. Too hard.
Once his parents had discovered that he had been faking his grades the entire time, they were so angry that they had sent him away to his uncle in Minnesota, who was practically a cultist. Though Farrell had been eighteen at the time, he hadn't run away even when his uncle locked him up for days on end. The final straw came when Farrell had been caught kissing Freddy Barnes in the shed. His uncle had beaten him until his arm broke, and then he had been tossed out on the street without a penny to his name. Taz had abandoned him for the high life of college, and he had had nobody to call on for help. He then made his own way and now worked at an advertisement agency as a secretary.
Allen had been a client of his boss's, and after Allen had heard Farrell's friend heckling him for being gay, Allen had asked him out. A few years later, they had moved in together, but Allen shed his nice-guy skin. Farrell had been knocked around by him more than once, but after eight years of wandering around alone, he was willing to put up with almost anything.
As Farrell climbed down from the bed and went over to the closet to grab a shirt, Allen decided to demonstrate Farrell's likeness to a doormat. He grabbed Farrell's arm, yanking him around to face him, and said, "You were moaning some other guy's name in your sleep. You aren't cheating on me, are you? Because if you are, I'll kill him and then you."
"Some other guy's name?" Farrell asked in confusion.
Suddenly, he remembered the dream that he had had about high school--well, it had been a nightmare, really. Farrell still felt terrible about being the cause behind Toyo's school transfer. He had never seen Toyo after that day in the lunchroom.
"You really are as dumb as you look," Allen grumbled, examining Farrell's contemplative expression and storming out of the room. "God."
After getting dressed, Farrell headed out of the room and faced the rest of their apartment. It was covered in dirty clothes and dishes from Allen's "party" last night. This was a common thing for Allen to do: once a month he would get drunk and start throwing things around. Most of the time, Farrell was good at tracking it and could arrange to spend the night at a hotel, but sometimes his own calendar failed him.
Swearing, Farrell checked his watch and began to pick up the mess in the room, knowing that he had only fifteen minutes to do so. He hated to leave things in such a mess, and Allen, who had apparently left for work because the room was empty, would dislike it even more after he got home. It might even drive Allen into another drinking spell.
After Farrell had cleaned the room somewhat, he escaped without breakfast and tried to ignore the pressing pains in his stomach. He had to be at work by seven sharp, or else his boss, Warren, would kill him. His boss couldn't have been more of a stickler about time if he had been stuck inside of a time machine. Today there was a big meeting, so that meant that things would be even worse.
Farrell stumbled down the city streets and attempted to zip up his ancient coat as a wind blew, only to find that the zipper was stuck and wouldn't go up. He let out a sigh of aggravation, but continued onward even as his teeth began to chatter. There's nothing that I can do. Allen would use whatever was left over of his pay and would spend it. That was always what happened. Sometimes Allen would use it to buy booze. Other times, even Farrell wasn't sure where it went.
"Shit," Farrell said, sliding to a stop at the bus stop and noting the rear end of a bus on the wrong end of the street. He had missed his ride, the only one that would get him to work on time. "Shit, shit, shit!"
There was a phone booth only a few steps away from the bus stop, but by the time the taxi would come for him, it would be time for the next bus. He was left waiting there, chewing his bottom lip in worry. How could this happen? Why would Allen do this to him on a day when his boss needed him the most? Did he want him to get fired?
Farrell opened his cell phone and noted the time. The bus would be arriving at work right now.
As if reading his thoughts, a message appeared on his screen from his boss's number. It said: Where are you?
Farrell moaned and hit his head. He typed back: Bus is late. I'm on my way.
There wasn't a message after that, but as the bus pulled up to the stop ten minutes later, his heart leaped in his chest. His boss had fired people before for giving him the wrong memo. What was going to happen to Farrell? He couldn't afford to lose this job. There was no telling what Allen would do to him if he did. After all, he didn't like to be hit, even if he was a man.
He clambered into the bus and sat down next to a man wearing sunglasses even though he was inside. After that, he riffled in his briefcase and found an old magazine and pulled it out, but he couldn't concentrate today. He was just too nervous about getting to work on time.
That was when something wet and cold hit his leg. He leaped out of his seat as he discovered two big brown eyes and a dog that was attached to them. The dog had sniffed his pant leg and had left a slobbery splotch on his suit. He swore underneath his breath and remained standing.
"I'm sorry," the man in the sunglasses apologized. "Bad Nickel. What did you do? You know better than that. I thought that Danny was giving you obedience lessons."
Though the man continued to apologize, Farrell shook him off. What was the point of getting upset about it? He was already late, and now he had a slobber stain on his pants. He sighed, feeling his head hurt. He had a bad feeling about today.
At fifteen minutes after, Farrell stumbled off the bus and onto the sidewalk, seeing the Warren and Frank Advertising building in front of him. Warren was his boss. Frank, who was Warren's cousin twice removed, spent the majority of his time in the Caribbean with blonde girls. He was Warren's rich financial backer, and while he didn't put in any of the work, Warren would have had nothing without him. Maybe that was why Warren was so testy with his employees all of the time.
Farrell stumbled into the office and prepared himself for a beating. It was no surprise that his boss was waiting for him at the desk, his arms crossed in front of his chest. Already, Farrell was having heart palpations. Maybe he should look at the help-wanted ads in the newspaper.
"Farrell," said Warren, his deep, rumbling voice causing silence across the whole office.
"Warren," Farrell said quickly. "I am so sorry, sir. I knew about the big meeting. I had an emergency, and then my bus was late."
Warren didn't appear amused by his excuses. Though I don't think I've ever seen him amused, thought Farrell, examining his boss. Warren was five foot two, plump, and favored business suits and red ties, regardless of the season or day. He enforced a strict dress code, and he believed that slacking off should be punishable by law. Farrell did not know whether Warren had children, but if he did, then he thought that they would be better off in a Third World country.
"The meeting got canceled, Farrell," Warren said. "I'll overlook this tardiness because you're always on time."
Farrell was stunned. Had that been a compliment?
"Thank you, sir," Farrell said, bending over at the waist in relief.
"The reason why I'm here is because there is somebody here in the waiting room for you," Warren said grumpily. "Make it fast, or else I'll write you up."
"Somebody for me?" he asked, stunned.
There was something wrong here. First off, Warren would rather get shot point-blank in the head than give anyone a compliment, and secondly, he would never give a worker paid time in order to talk to somebody. Farrell checked the ceiling. No flying pigs yet.
After Warren had left, Farrell stood rooted to the spot for a moment. He put his hand on the desk and stared at Warren's door. He was so stunned by his boss's actions that he had yet to even contemplate the guest in the waiting room. That was when somebody snuck up behind him and blew in his ear, hard.
He yelped loudly, nearly falling over in shock. That was when somebody giggled from behind him, and he swore, turning around. It was Natalya, the public relations specialist. She had a thing for him, but he avoided her as if she was poison. She was aware that he was in a relationship, but nobody at the office knew that he was gay.
"Notice that Warren is no longer the pustule on the backside of life?" asked Natalya, leaning forward and winking at him. "Did you hear about what happened?"
"Hear what?" Farrell asked, massaging his ear. "I'm not going to be hearing much of anything after what you just did."
"Oh, boo." She rolled her eyes. "The scum sucker managed to get himself a fiancee. Can you imagine? He actually managed to find someone that likes him, besides his mother."
"That's terrible," Farrell said, shaking his head. "I'm sorry. I've got to go. Somebody's waiting for me, or something . . ."
"Oh, right," she said. "Her."
After that, Natalya skulked off with her head hung low. Farrell stared after her, confused. He turned down her date offers at least once a week, and she never looked sullen like that. He wondered who it was waiting for him. Oh no, he thought worriedly. Maybe Warren was just the calm before the storm.
He walked over to the waiting room door and paused. He didn't know many women who cared where he worked. His mother, maybe? No, she hated his guts. She would spit in his face upon sight. There was no use wondering about it now, though. He just had to push through and find out.
So he opened the door.
The woman sitting on the cream-colored couch was beautiful and young, but she looked very tired too. She had brunette hair that hung down to her waist, her bottom lip was pierced, and she was wearing a pair of flip-flops that had skulls on them. Warren let her in the waiting room? Farrell thought skeptically as she stood up to greet him.
He saw someone step out from beside her whom he had not noticed before because he had been too surprised. It was a young boy, probably a ten-year-old. He had ash-colored hair and blue eyes. His face was still round with youth, but there was something about his jaw and the way he moved that reminded him of someone close to home.
"Oh God," Farrell said. "Allen?"
The woman looked stunned that he had put it together that quickly. "You're Farrell?"
Farrell stopped examining the little boy with Allen's face shape and looked up again. To his surprise, the woman was sobbing now. The boy, who noted this too, began to back away toward the corner and behave as though he wanted to disappear. This was something that Farrell knew well. He had tried this maneuver several times at his uncle's, and it had never worked for him.
"You're one of Allen's lovers, right?" the woman said, still crying. She wiped at her makeup, and a dark smudge appeared on her right cheek. "I'm Pam. I was Allen's girlfriend in high school. This is Ty, our son."
Heat rose to his face. He knew that Allen had been with women before him, but he hadn't known that Allen had had a son. Farrell felt sick to his stomach. He felt around behind him, grabbing at one of the plush chairs, and sat down and buried his face in his hands. That was when the woman threw herself at him desperately, and he was overwhelmed by the smell of her cheap perfume and lotion.
She knelt before him, tears plopping onto his shoes. He didn't know what to do. He had never been great with emotional things, and his mother had been as hard and as cold as ice toward him. The most he could manage was patting Pam on her head.
"Please convince Allen to take Ty," Pam begged. "I've been calling him and calling him, but he won't listen to me. He calls me a dumb whore and says that I'm lying, but I'm not."
"I believe you," Farrell said quietly.
Pam sniffed and looked up at him with two big eyes. "You do?"
"Ty looks just like Allen." Farrell gulped. "But he never told me . . . I didn't even know that he had a son, and yet we're supposed to be lifetime partners, and--"
Pam laughed bitterly. "Listen. I know that I'm asking you for a favor, but I'm going to be honest. Don't believe what he tells you. He fed me the same cock-and-bull story, and I got landed with him"--Ty flinched and curled up further in a ball--"and had no one."
"Yet you'll leave your son with him?" Farrell asked. "And I don't think that Allen is all that bad."
She reached forward and grabbed Farrell's hand, pulling up his sleeve to reveal a set of fingerprint bruises that were from their fight yesterday. Quickly, he pulled his arm back and did his best to keep his features neutral, but it didn't fool her. She must have known Allen well in the past, which broke Farrell's heart, because he hadn't even been told about her.
On top of that, he couldn't believe the situation. How could anyone want to leave their son with someone that they hate? he thought, horrified. He laid his eyes on Ty and felt his stomach sink. Ty looked like Farrell had felt at that age whenever he was with his parents--shrunken and small. His mother had either ignored him or yelled at him, and his father was never around. He had tried to make up for it in school by being as loud and as obnoxious as possible. While Allen had his soft points, Farrell didn't think that he would be good for Ty. He didn't think that Pam was all that good for Ty, either.
That was when his whole life flashed before his eyes: all his mistakes, all the things that he wished he could fix. He knew that it was ridiculous of him to want to make things right through Ty, yet he felt his heart pound just by looking at him.
At that moment, Ty glanced upward from his place in the corner and looked him straight in the eye. His eyes were not filled with tears like his mother's, but there was still sadness in them--sadness beyond tears. Just as quickly as Ty had looked at him, he glanced away again.
"I'll take him myself," Farrell said
The room grew quiet. Everybody was stunned, including Farrell himself. Had he really just said that? Had he just volunteered himself for parent duty?
"You will?" Pam said, her mouth hanging open. "But why? I don't even know you."
"You knew enough about me to figure out that I was living with Allen, right?" Farrell said. "How long will you be gone?"
"I don't know," Pam said. "I got invited to do this fashion partnership with my aunt in New York City."
Farrell didn't need to be told twice what that meant. He had seen it happen before with his friend in high school, Carlee. Her mother had told her that she had a job to do and that she would be back. After that, Carlee's mother had vanished for good. When high school was over, Carlee became a stripper.
He laid his eyes on Ty. The danger of the kid becoming a stripper wasn't great, but he could already see deep emotional damage. I can't believe that I agreed to this, he thought, shaking his head in response to his own stupidity. Maybe Allen was right. Maybe he was dumber than a sack of bricks.
"I've got all of the paperwork," Pam said when Farrell didn't say anything. "It'll be real easy."
Farrell looked down at what she handed him. He was stunned by just how easy it was to sign away a life, something so precious that it should have been guarded with a thousand men. Instead, Ty had just been traded away like nothing more than a hand-me-down.