Way back in the way back, when I was in seventh grade, my default best friend who stepped in after my bestest best friend passed away introduced me to Bruce Springsteen. Her college aged brother listened to Bruce, and so we must listen to Bruce too. My first favorite song was “Thunderroad” followed by pretty much all of the Born to Run album, followed by pretty much all of Darkness on the Edge of Town.
Remember, I was in seventh grade– it took me a while to figure out why strangers from the city would bring Candy fancy clothes and diamond rings– but something there must have stuck. “Cause they don’t see that what–what–she–she–wants–wants–is ME!”
That idea that although parts of Candy were for sale (and yes, I did figure out which parts) there was still a part of Candy that wanted pure, unswerving devotion–that stuck. That was real to me.
When Ethan starts out this story, he is young, and he’s had a hard initiation into the differences between sex, love, exploitation, and power exchange. He could probably write his own psyche manual by the time he’s twelve but all he frickin’ wants is a goddamned hug.
I like Ethan. He’s proactive. He wants a hug, goddammit, and he’ll do what he has to to have that need fulfilled.
In the end, what he chooses for that need is Johnnies.
There is a quote from Supernatural, when Castiel has been ejected from a brothel, where he says, “That young woman has a deep seated need for a father figure,” and Dean replies, “The whole world stays in business because of daddy issues.”
And mommy issues.
This story made me cry–ugly, snot cry– in a lot of places, some of them places people probably would not even guess. It snuck up on me that way. The whole time I was thinking, “Well, it couldn’t possibly be as painful as Chase,” but I forget all of the lesser ways people can hurt each other without even trying. The scenes in which Ethan is interacting with his peer group, and they are all in so much pain but no one ever talks about it– those made my stomach clench. In the end, Ethan and Jonah needed their happy ending because we need to believe that all people can have a happy ending, in spite of pain, in spite of past, that happiness can be reached for in the now.
Here’s the blurb and the excerpt– enjoy. Oh yeah- and we can’t forge the prayer! Can you join with me?
Holy Goddess, merciful God– let it not suck! Cannyagimmehallelujia? Iknewyacouldamen!
Part I: Baby Steps to Porn-Star Success
Step 1—find an appropriate mentor
EVAN COSTA’S mother was Italian and his father was half-Italian, half-regular-white-bread, and Evan was the youngest of five. By the time he was born, the family fight as to what to name the child was beyond old. His sisters were named Allegra, Belladonna, Carmina, and Daniela. By the time Evan popped out (or so his father liked to say), all of the Italians had to be content with his middle name—Fernando—because there really weren’t a lot of Italian names they liked that started with an E.
Of course, family legend said that was the last time either parent agreed on anything, but Evan remembered that wasn’t always the case.
Evan, in particular, remembered the last time his mother hugged him. Specifically, he remembered the thing that happened before she hugged him for the last time. It seemed innocent enough.
He was five years old, riding his bicycle on the front drive. The new bicycle was sized exactly for him—a sturdy kindergartner—and it had his favorite monster on it: Godzilla. The streamers from the handlebars were green and silver, and it had one of those little clippy things on it that made it go “bap-bap-bap-bap” with every push of the pedals, and he loved it. He rode faster and faster, going around the circle of the little neighborhood and waving at the man in the house behind his with every circle. On his third pass around the block, the bike lurched abruptly, the back end flipped over, and Evan found himself flat on his face with skinned palms, skinned knees, and a skinned chin.
The neighbor he had waved to came running, laughing a little bit breathlessly and checking to see if he was okay.
Evan controlled his wobbling lip and pulled himself up to his hands and knees. “I’m okay,” he said, his voice wobbling as much as his chin. “I’m okay. It was just bamboo.”
The neighbor, a perfectly nice middle-aged bachelor who drank too much beer and kept his front and backyard like a showplace, blinked at first. “Bamboo? Little man, you hit a rock. I don’t see any bamboo—everyone here has too much sense to plant it.”
Evan’s hands hurt and his knees stung and his chin was screaming bloody murder, and he couldn’t hold back his tears or remember his promise to be quiet anymore. “But the aide said that’s what bamboo does. It fucks you from behind.”
The poor man. He jerked his head back at hearing the five-year-old swear, and Evan picked up his bike, completely demoralized.
“Kid, where’d you hear that word?”
Evan’s whole body started to shudder. “I know what it means,” he wailed. “It’s what the teacher’s aide says before he sticks out his bamboo!”
“Oh Jesus,” the guy muttered. “This is completely above my pay grade. C’mon, kid. Let’s go find your mom, and then we can tell her about the teacher’s aide’s bamboo.” His hands fluttered near Evan’s shoulder then, and Evan was kind of hoping for a hug or a reassuring shoulder squeeze, but then the guy must have rethought, because he jerked his hands back and hefted the bike over his shoulder. He didn’t even hold Evan’s hand as they rounded the corner and walked up the hill in the sweet little Folsom suburb.
Evan’s mother had already started looking for him—was, in fact, running in their direction—and Evan was so very, very glad to see her. He ran into her arms and let himself cry, glad because that was what moms did, right? They took the bad away. Nothing ever felt as good as a mother’s hug, right?
That hug, folded in her arms, smelling her sweat in her pretty polyester shirt and the heavy rose-scented powder she wore—he could close his eyes and feel that, feel the heat from the bright June sun, feel her softness, her love. She stood up and put her hand on his back, and the man set his bicycle down and then stopped her with a tap on the shoulder.
“Uhm, Carolina, can I talk to you a minute?”
Evan’s mom sent him in the house with Allie, who was actually a pretty good nursemaid. She scrubbed his hurts thoroughly, which wasn’t fun, but by the time his mom came in, her eyes dripping ugly black makeup, and reached for the phone, Evan was on his second giant bowl of ice cream.
He had to finish in the living room, though, because his mother, her voice hysterical and shrill, sent him and Allie there to watch cartoons while she called Evan’s father at work, and then called the police.
And that was the last time Evan got hugged by his mother.
Step 2—fix the damage the first guy caused
“EVAN, I’m sure you’re exaggerating.”
Evan huddled, twelve years old, skinny and pathetic, in the corner of the couch.
“I remember it,” he said stubbornly, picking at the knee of his jeans. He liked the way they felt under his fingertips, and he liked touching things. “How come you’re all so sure I remembered that thing with the teacher’s aide right but nobody thinks I remember that my mom didn’t hug me yesterday, or the day before, or the entire seven years before that?”
His shrink—the same one he’d been sent to when he was five, actually—pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. He’d been a young man when Evan was five, and for a little while, Evan had heard pride in his voice when they were talking. After all, with his help, they got all the details they needed, right? They locked up the child molester, and Evan got written up—anonymously, of course—in the papers. He’d been so brave, right? Of course, he hadn’t felt brave. He just had to tell the judge who the guy was with the squirting bamboo.
He called it a dick now.
But then, that’s what he was starting to call his shrink behind his back.
“Evan, I’ve heard you say it before, and the thing is, I’ve met your mother. She seems like a lovely person. She puts her hand on your shoulder, and it looks like a natural gesture of affection—”
“A natural gesture of control,” Evan snapped, because that was true. At five, he’d thought that hand on his shoulder was support. At twelve, he was starting to feel like it… it steered him from place to place. Here, Evan—let’s go to a new school, with a new start. Here, Evan, I know you’ve got friends at your old school, but this other school will feel like a new start. Just don’t tell them, like last time. It’s not something we talk about. Here, Evan, go talk to your shrink again. If you talk to your shrink, you won’t have to mention it at home. Here, Evan, you go to your room and stop asking your sister about her boyfriend. Here, Evan, if you do exactly what I say, exactly when I say it, you’ll only need to see your shrink once, and I won’t make you go three times, because really, you should be over this by now.
He was over this by now.
What he wasn’t over was his family’s reaction to it, which had never really seemed to heal.
“You don’t see,” he said a little desperately, scratching the cotton of his jeans until the thread frayed. He liked doing that—the denim was soft under his fingers and the threads had an individual feel until they started to bloom like cotton flowers. “You don’t see. It’s like… like I grew up then. Like I was five, and I grew up, and they never had to hug me again, and they never had to hear me cry anymore. Like, it will all get better once you talk to your shrink, Evan. Yeah, let’s talk to the shrink and he’ll make it all better. And you made some of it just fine, Dr. Stottemeyer, you really did. I could… I don’t know, write a textbook on why I’m not bad because some asshole jerked off on me when I was a little kid. I… I could be a counselor myself, right, because I read all that shit you gave me, and it’s… it’s great advice! I’m not bad, he was a deviant, I know not to transfer his deviant stuff to my own life… I’m good. But my parents do nothing but argue, and nobody throws their arm around my shoulder.”
He missed that. Miserably, he pulled his knees up to his chest and hugged them, rubbing that spot again, because that was the closest thing he could get to human contact these days. His sisters would hug him sometimes, but, God, he’d always go overboard, draping his gawky arms over them, trying to snuggle into them, and they’d usually whine and push him away, saying something like, “Evan, get off of me! You’re totally creeping me out!”
And then his mother would say, “Evan, don’t be inappropriate with your sisters!”
And his father would say, “Carol, leave the kid alone, for sweet Christ’s sake. He just wants a hug!”
And Allie or Belladonna or Mina or Danni would groan and bang their heads against the table and glare at him. “Jesus, you little psycho, do you have to make things complicated?”
And his mother would say, “I don’t know what you want me to do—Dr. Stottemeyer says he’s fine.”
“So you just leave the kid to the shrink? Jesus, Carolina, no wonder he needs a hug!”
“You hug him!”
“Right, so you can report me to the cops?”
Because after the trial, two of Evan’s teachers had gotten in trouble for hugging him when he’d wanted it, and neither one of them had done anything wrong.
“Nobody’s touching him,” his mother would snap, and then the fight would be on, all the kids would run to their rooms, and they’d eat takeout over a cold table that night.
Dr. Stottemeyer wasn’t a complete dick.
“Look, Evan—I’m sorry. I’ve tried to get your mother to come in and talk to me, and I’ve even suggested marriage counseling, but….” He shook his head.
“Yeah, I know,” Evan muttered to his blooming white knees. “It’s all Evan’s fault ’cause he let the teacher’s aide spooge on him.”
“No.” Even when he was young, Dr. Stottemeyer had been totally invested in that whole shawl-collared sweater thing, and it was one of the things that made him not look young anymore. His curly dark hair only had a few silver strands in it, but he wore it soft and sweet over his brow, and his eyes were big and brown and almost liquid. Evan sort of liked that look, actually. He lookedtrustworthy. He looked warm. But as warm as he looked, he was a complete professional. Not one hug, not one, not in seven years.
“No?” Evan wanted to get up and pace, but he wasn’t really a pacer. He was more of a settler. He could “settle” for long periods of time—usually with Lisa, the family cat, on his lap. (His sisters had named her. He would have named her Ninja, or Catzilla, or something totally cool like that.) But Lisa didn’t mind being hugged or touched or petted—in fact, she just sort of collapsed into him and returned the favor. And her fur was so soft.
So he settled farther into the corner of the couch and hugged his knees tighter and watched asDr. Stottemeyer got up and paced.
“It wasn’t your fault that the aide abused—”
“No bruises, Doc, remember? No bruises. Just took me behind the partition and dropped our pants.” People forgot that the guy had been in his early twenties—he’d been appealing to look at too. There had been no warning, no “oogies” that he was going to do something unpleasant.
“Yeah, but he took advantage of your trust. We’ve talked about this!”
“Okay, I get it. He took advantage of my trust, but here’s the thing. I… I want to whack off now too. I want to whack off all the time. What makes me different than the stupid playground guy?”
Dr. Stottemeyer sighed and rubbed his face. “Do you make anyone else join in?” he asked, and Evan shrugged. His one knee was completely exposed now, so he raised his other knee and started worrying those threads.
“Well, at your age, sometimes. But the thing we’re looking for here is ‘consensual.’ Do you know what that means?”
“It means everybody’s on board.”
“Yeah. Yeah, it does. That’s the only way sex is good or good for you, Evan. If everybody’s on board.”
“Does the same thing go for hugs?” Evan asked plaintively, and Stottemeyer sighed.
“Yeah. Except with hugs, everybody’s afraid of crossing the line. I think that’s what’s going on at home. You were touched in a bad way once, when you were a kid. But now everybody’s afraidevery touch is going to be a bad touch.”
“Well, why can’t you tell them it’s not?”
Dr. Stottemeyer ran his hands through his hair in the first sign of exasperation Evan had seen in him in ever. “Because unless she walks in here and says she’s my patient, it’s not my place,” he muttered. He took a deep breath and got hold of himself, and then he turned his attention specifically toward Evan.
“Evan, look, I can’t make your family hug you. All I can tell you is that you deserve all the good touches you can stand. I can’t ensure that no one’s going to touch you bad. But I can tell you that you don’t deserve it when they do. I’m not going to tell you not to whack off, because as long as you do it in private, that’s sort of one of the joys of being human. I am going to tell you that it’s not going to take the place of being hugged, and I don’t know what to do with that.” Dr. Stottemeyer linked his hands behind his head and sighed, leaving Evan with a keen sense of frustration.
“Well, is there anything you can tell me that I can actually control? Besides whacking off, that is?”
Dr. Stottemeyer turned toward him, those liquid brown eyes suddenly brimming with sympathy. “You’re twelve, right, Evan?”
“I can tell you that your peer group is about to change.”
“That means that you’re getting to the age where girls like to hug.”
“Not boys?” Evan was sort of disappointed about that, and Dr. Stottemeyer must have caught that note in his voice.
“Would you like boys to hug you?”
Evan shrugged. “I just… I don’t know. I like the way boys look.”
Stottemeyer made a soft grunt like he was assimilating something. “Well, some boys will want to hug you, but in this day and age, you need to make sure they’re not going to bang you on the head for trying it. Choose your friends, okay?”
“So… choose friends that hug?” Lamest. Advice. Ever.
“Yeah,” Stottemeyer said, but his lips were pursed, like he knew it wasn’t the keenest thing a shrink ever said. “Choose your friends.”
Well, why not? Mom and Dad weren’t doing it for him, right?
“Got any suggestions for how to do that?”
Stottemeyer shrugged. “Still like comic books?”
Because comic books and Godzilla were still on Evan’s top-two list of things that never let him down. “Yeah.”
“You got an animation club at your middle school?”
Evan blinked. “Yeah.”
“Are those people nice?”
He fidgeted. Those people were the kind of people you didn’t want to get involved with unless you liked your hair done by swirly. “They’re not very popular,” he hedged.
Stottemeyer grimaced. “Buddy, those are usually the people who need hugs the most.”
It was like Evan saw a bright light in front of him, shining down upon the ragtag bunch of übergeeks who spent their lunches hiding from the bigger kids but who always seemed to have each other’s backs.
“It’s a good thing it’s summer vacation,” he said practically, and Stottemeyer gave him a bemused smile. God, he was pretty. Not “pretty” pretty, because his nose was a little big and his lips were a little full, but Evan realized with a buzz that he’d been trying to get this man to smile at him since he was a traumatized five-year-old.
Evan tamped down on the attraction, because it would probably freak the whole world out. It didn’t matter anyway. Finally, finally, he had a plan to tackle the one thing that had been bothering him since his mother had shooed him into the living room after he flipped his bike and scraped his knees. “Because if I’m gonna hang with those people, I need to work out a little. We’re gonna need a lot of protecting.”
Stottemeyer shrugged, and his eyes measured Evan from top to toe. Evan knew he wasn’t going to be that tall, but even worse, he probably weighed eighty pounds soaking wet before a good poop. “Couldn’t hurt,” he said practically. “Physical activity is a really positive outlet for a lot of problems. Ask your gym teacher for some advice on how to bulk up.”
Evan nodded, liking this plan. He would work out, get pretty, and hang with people who liked Godzilla. So far, the proposition was win-win.
“So,” his mother said as he emerged from the tiny little office at the mental health center, “How’d it go?”
“Great,” Evan said, smiling widely. “I’m gonna work out!”
“Great, Ev,” she said, her long Italian face lighting up with genuine enthusiasm. “That sounds healthy!”
He grinned back, and she put her hand on his shoulder and steered him to the car.