Bear
By: Jess Mercer
( 2010 by the author)

  The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at...

 

I'm a quiet mostly solitary individual by choice, though my size tends to scare some people. Certainly I try not to get involved with others nor join groups of any kind, except for my membership in an informal book club in which we decide by mutual agreement on the next book we'll read and discuss at our monthly meeting. In real life I'm an architect trying to build a practice. I work out of my home and want to specialize in residential design, but I'm still too new to get much more than remodeling jobs and other small stuff the big firms won't touch.

I live in a small brick house some four miles out of town. It was built by a farmer for his son, who decided farming wasn't for him and left town after splitting up with his wife. She got the house and two acres of ground in the divorce and was willing to sell cheap so she could move back home. The house is nothing grand, but in the two years since I finished my degree, I've had plenty of time to make it comfortable.

As in most small towns, there are only two ways to reach my house. I usually drive a minor state highway that has far more traffic than it was designed to carry, but when I leave the supermarket, I see cars backed up. Accident, I suppose, so I take the other route, because I have some preliminary paperwork to do on a possible job, and I'd like to get it done and relax. This way home is through one of the poorest districts in town. I know there are honest poor, but this area is filled with drug dealing the cops try hard to break up and fail to end. Many of the people living here are those usually referred to as 'trash' or worse, meaning they could work instead of living on the dole if they weren't alcoholics and/or drug addicts.

I'm driving near the edge of this area when I see two kids in their mid-teens punching out a frail looking guy who looks no more than eighteen. His crutches immediately attract my attention. The guy is trying his best, but then one of the kids knocks him down. The other grabs his crutches and throws them as far as he can before he joins the other in kicking the guy who has rolled into a ball, trying to protect himself.

No way I'm getting involved, but when I see one of the kids pull a knife it's too much for even me. I jam on brakes and jump out of my car. "What the hell's going on here?"

I'm only twenty-five, but I am big, and I do mean big, for I'm six-eight and large framed. Not fat, but muscular from the construction work I did to put myself through college. One of the guys I worked with called me The Viking in fun. It's almost appropriate with my name Bjorn, Swedish for bear, which is what my father's co-workers call him.

The kids look at me then start running. I bend over the guy. He looks up at me, throws his arms over his face again, and whimpers, "No more. Please, God, no more."

"I'm not going to hurt you. Are you all right?"

He takes his arms from his face and looks up at me in relief, tears streaming down his face. "Thank God. I couldn't have taken much more." He looks around. "Where're my crutches?"

"I'll get them."

I go pick them up from where they had been thrown, and bring them back. The guy holds out his hands and I pull him up on his left foot, seeing him wince as I do so. His right leg is a short stump. He steadies himself on his crutches and looks around again. "You see my back-pack anywhere?"

I finally spot it in a weed grown vacant lot. It's been ripped open and the books are scattered. Once I have them collected and put back in the pack, I take them to my car, the guy crutching along behind me, wincing in pain at each step.

"Why on earth were those kids attacking you?"

He blushes. "They ... I guess they thought I had some money. When I showed them I didn't, they started beating me." I can tell from his hesitation he's not telling me the truth.

"I'll take you home. You're obviously in no condition to walk. Where do you live?"

He opens the car door and drops down on the seat with a heavy sigh, then names a cheap motel on the outskirts of town that has a reputation for catering to the 'hot pillow' trade.

"You can't be serious," I say in amazement.

"Afraid so. It isn't much, but it's all I can afford. I need to find a rooming house or something cheap. I'm attending the college here."

I'm a little surprised, because in a town this small I would most likely have seen him before this. Anyone on crutches gets a second look from me. "How long have you been here?"

"I just transferred here from another school."

"You walk to campus each day?"

He nods. "Can't afford a car and school both."

I'm impressed by such determination to finish his education, and look him over for the first time. I can see, now, that he's not so frail as undernourished. His dark hair is a lengthening brush cut, his features sharp from lack of food, but his gray eyes are beautiful, almost hypnotic. He speaks well in a deep smooth voice.

"Do you want me to take you to a doctor?" I ask, as I start the car.

"Thanks, but no. I'll survive."

"Are you certain? You're going to be awfully sore."

He gives me a smile of unsurpassing beauty. "You've been very kind, and I appreciate it, but I'll be okay, if you don't mind taking me to the motel."

"It's on my way, so no bother at all."

He thanks me again when he gets out, and lifts one arm in farewell when I drive off, wondering how he manages a walk of three miles or more on crutches twice a day minimum.

Just after lunch the next day, I drop by the college to use their reference library. I'm immersed in building codes and other material when I hear several loud gasps from others. I look up, irritated at the intrusive noise to see the young man I rescued dragging himself slowly and obviously quite painfully toward my table. He has a black eye, bruises, and looks far worse than he did yesterday. I wait until he's taken a seat across from me and propped his crutches against the table to ask how he's doing.

"Pretty well, I guess. I'm sorry to interrupt your work, but I wanted to thank you again for the rescue yesterday."

"Frankly, I'm surprised you made it to school at all today. You look like hell. Are you sure you're okay?"

He grimaces. "Just awfully sore. I have to move slow."

"Didn't you get in a hot tub and soak some of the soreness out?"

"Couldn't. I've only a shower stall and the water's only lukewarm, if that."

"Have any more classes today?"

"Just one next hour." He starts to stand, but winces and grabs at the table to keep his balance.

"No way you can walk home in your condition. I've got another couple of hours work here, so come back here after your class and I'll take you home when I go."

He tries to smile, but it's a grimace of pain. "I'd sure appreciate that, if it's no trouble."

"None at all."

He sits back down, takes out his notebook, and starts to write. He remains silent until the bell rings, then drags himself off to his next class. Watching him gets to me in a way that no one has before.

I've finished my work and started to read Architectural Digest, which I can't afford to subscribe to as yet, when I see him enter. I get my briefcase and go to meet him.

"Car's in the visitor's lot. Can you make it?"

"Should be able to."

When I sit down in the driver's seat, it dawns on me that in my preoccupation I have not asked his name.

"Derek Hilliard, sir."

"I'm Bjorn Karlstadt, Derek. I'll take you home with me so you can get in a tub of hot water and soak some of that soreness out."

When I near his motel, I ask if he wants to stop for some clean clothes to put on after his soak. He smiles ruefully and tells me he showered that morning and has on the last clean clothes he's got, that he was planning to go to the washermat this evening. I look at him wondering how he'll manage on crutches. "We'll get your laundry and bring it on. I'll wash and dry it while you're soaking."

"Please don't, you're doing too much for me already."

Indeed! Far more than I have ever done for anyone before, but I have an overwhelming desire to know this young man, to have him as a friend. "If I can help you, I'm happy to do what I can. Which room is yours?"

He points to the end room away from the road. At least he has one that will perhaps be less noisy. The room looks furnished from the city dump, but it's as clean as it's humanly possible to make it. He smiles when I compliment him, for it has to be his doing.

"It was pretty bad when I moved in, but I hate filth." He picks up a filled laundry bag, but I take it from his hand. "I can carry it," he says.

"No doubt. But I'm here."

He looks around appreciatively when we enter my house, then follows me to my bathroom. I show him the controls on the whirlpool tub and turn on the hot water, leaving him with an admonition to stay in as long as he would like since his clothes will be in the washer.

While I'm separating his clothes to start the first load of wash, I'm also examining my feelings. He's the first to test my decision to remain celibate because I've generally avoided facing my sexual ambivalence. Once the washer is running, I mix myself a vodka tonic with a twist, then look in the fridge for something to fix for dinner. I pull out a big bowl of Swedish meatballs in a sour cream sauce, which I like over rice. That and a green salad should make us a decent dinner. I get the rice started cooking and walk down the drive to my mailbox to pickup my mail and the evening paper.

I'm back in the house just time to start the second load of wash, and dry the first. After reading the paper, not a lengthy process with a small town rag, I toss the rest of the wash in the dryer and fold the first batch. I sit back down with my drink and start examining my feelings again. Deciding that for my own peace of mind that this is the limit of my involvement with Hilliard, as desirable as I find him. I'll also save myself the embarrassment of rejection.

I get the rest of his clothes from the dryer, fold them, and take them to my bedroom. Hilliard is sitting in an easy chair and almost asleep, a towel tied modestly around his waist.

"Here're your clothes, so you can dress now. Feeling better?"

"Much, sir. I'll be out in a few minutes."

When he's dressed, he comes into the kitchen. I hear his stomach growl at the smell of dinner heating. He blushes. "I'll walk back home, since you're fixing your dinner."

I point to one of the places I've set at the table. "You're going to sit. Dinner will be ready in a few minutes."

"I couldn't possibly."

"You can and will, unless you have something against eating meat."

"It's not that, sir, but you've done too much for me already."

I wave my hand in a gesture of dismissal. "I've fixed enough for two, and I'm not throwing away good food."

When everything is ready, I put it on the table. "Dig in."

Derek eats ravenously. When his plate is spotless and he's drained his glass of wine, he looks up with a smile. "That was wonderful, sir. It's been a long time since I've eaten like this. Thanks."

"I'm glad you enjoyed it. Coffee?"

"Please."

While we're drinking our coffee, he asks a few questions about my work, and tells me he's still uncertain about a major, but enjoys drafting. I can handle the little work I get, but I wish I could have him around, because he tells me he enjoys computer drafting using CAD programs. I start to clear the table only to find him at the sink, running water in the dishpan. "No need. I'll do them later." I notice that standing next to me, Hilliard looked a mere kid.

He smiles again. "Please let me do the dishes, sir. It's the only way I've got of saying thanks, and I noticed you don't have a washer."

"Not yet. I've been making renovations slowly. I've only lived here for two years."

"I like it in the country. Nice and quiet."

"Precisely why I jumped at this place when it came on the market. It does get a little lonely when I don't have a job to concentrate on."

"You don't have family?"

"Just my parents, but they live too far for me to go home other than at Christmas and in the summer for a couple of weeks if I'm not busy."

His eyes get a far away look for a moment. "At least you have a home to go to."

"You don't?"

He shakes his head. "Not since the accident. It got my mother and father along with my leg. They were all the family I had." He shakes his head. "Sorry. You aren't interested in my problems."

"There's an ancient saying that if you save someone's life you're responsible for them. I don't necessarily believe that, but I've enjoyed your company. Feel free to come to me if I can help you further." I can't believe I'm saying this.

"You've already given me more help than I had any right to expect."

"Nonsense. It's good having you here this evening."

"I will ask one thing. If you hear of any place decent that I can afford, I'd appreciate knowing about it."

"I'll keep an eye out for something. I imagine that motel gets noisy at times."

He grins. "The springs on the bed in the room next to mine squeak pretty loudly sometimes, and the bed bangs against the wall. There's lots of coming and going at night, too. Makes it hard for me to concentrate on my studies."

I have to smile. "Then you know why it's known locally as the No Tell Motel."

He chuckles. "Good name for it." Then his face sobers. "I really hate it when I see older men taking young kids there. I know better than to interfere, though."

"Wise."

He insists he must go, so I drive him back. As I turn into the motel parking lot, I can see it's having a good night, there are cars in front of a number of rooms. Hilliard nudges me and points. A car stops and a man that must be in his fifties gets out, taking a boy that can't be more than thirteen or so into one of the rooms. "See what I mean, sir? Most times it's young girls." He shakes his head. "No kid that age ought to be having sex like that. I'd call the cops, but there aren't any phones. Besides, if they closed this place down I wouldn't have anywhere to go."

"Be honest with me, Hilliard. You have any strong opinions about gays?"

He looks at me, startled for the moment. "Not really. There're quite a few gay men come here. At least they speak if they happen to see me." He grins. "The really dirty old men are furtive. Hell, they should be, considering the ages of the kids they're bringing here. "

"How much stuff do you have in your room?"

"Just my shaving things and a few more clothes."

"Get them quick, because I'm calling the cops." I pick up my cell phone.

"But I'll have nowhere to go if they close this place down, and I sure don't want them to get me in court as a witness. I can't take the time from school."

My decision is made. "You'll have a place you can afford. Soon as we have everything in the car, I'll make the call, then we're out of here. I'll help you."

I take the few things he has to my car in two trips. Once he's dropped the key off at the office, I make an anonymous call to the cops and head for home. I hear sirens in the distance.

Hilliard looks surprised when I stop in my drive. "Here's your new home. Come on in."

"Why, Bjorn?"

"Because you're a decent guy. I've got the room, and I like your company. You can help out some around here for your rent, if you want. If I get a big job, I can use your drafting talents."

After we've moved his things into my spare room, and I've fixed another pot of coffee, he looks at me questioningly.

"Something you want to ask?"

He nods. "I was wondering why you asked me about gays."

Put up or shut up time, I tell myself. I look at him as calmly as I can. "I have the tendencies, but I've never touched a guy since I messed around with a friend my age back when we were in grade school. You're damned attractive, but I'll never touch you. That much I can promise."

He smiles sweetly. "Not even if I want you to? I'm gay, Bjorn. That's why those kids were trying to kill me yesterday."

"You didn't approach one of them?"

"Absolutely, not. I swear. I don't know how they knew, but they said I was a fag because I lived at that motel. That's when they started to beat me. They were yelling, "Death to fags." He shudders. "Then that kid pulled a knife. Thank God you showed up or I'd be dead."

"I'm glad I showed up, too, Derek." I really am.

The End

Posted: 06/18/10