Notes: Be wary of slash, swearing, a bit of fluff laced with angst, a boy who has a girl's name, and a hidden political agenda on my part, because what better a method to get your political views across than in a way nobody understands?
This is a one-shot.
Sunshine was the breath of life, and the sun never missed a day in this old city. Renee loved it. In fact, Renee loved most everything. Things like worldwide crises, natural disasters, and terrible misuse and abuse of massive amounts of money never managed to affect Renee as he went about his sheltered, happy life. Hardly anything ever went wrong for him. He had a mother to care for him, a father to love him, and a stuffed dog to guard him. He was whole, complete, and satisfied.
Renee—that was, Enrique Renee Domingo Kleinburger-Smith—had an unusual positive outlook on life for one so very odd-looking. His mother decided that it must have had something to do with the fact that Renee had just about every race known to mankind in his blood (of which one could only obtain a glimpse from his strangely drawn-out name).
His great grandmother was East Indian, and his great grandfather was West Indian (that was, Native American—Cherokee, to be exact); his grandfather was Mexican and his grandmother Scottish; he could trace his lines back to having an African American slave as a grandmother a few greats down the line, who was raped by her German master to beget his great-great-something grandfather. He had Middle Eastern blood (from both Iran and Kuwait) as well as East Asian (Chinese and Korean mostly). Spanish from Spain and Portuguese from Brazil; Italian, Irish, Dutch, French, Russian, and Kenyan, all of it mixed to make one melting pot of foreign blood that was Renee.
Not much of this mattered to Renee though, other than that he reckoned it made him a little worldlier than most folk. The only bit about it that really made any difference to him was that because of all the different colors of skin that went into creating him, his had turned out an odd, grayish sort (not unlike the murky water in which every color of Crayola watercolor paints has been mixed—though, his skin wasn't exactly that same ugly, radioactive-waste color, as it actually looked good on a human). Point being, this mattered greatly to him since his classmates, all of which were nasty, immature children, were racist and decided that because they couldn't exactly classify him by his color, he could be nothing less than an extraterrestrial alien hell bent on taking over Earth.
Thus, he was frequently shoved into the janitor's closet as punishment. But, it didn't matter. It was all good; after all, since then, he had become friendly with Hank the janitor and thus was let in on some rather interesting school-related secrets.
Renee didn't have many friends, as was probably quite obvious. In fact, he didn't have any friends unless one considered Hank (which one probably shouldn't), Mr. Thrifty (who shall be addressed later), or his favorite stuffed dog, Mr. Bear (named accidentally, since when he had gotten it at the tender age of four, he couldn't tell it was a dog and assumed that it was a bear like every other stuffed creature he had). But perhaps one shouldn't consider this dog, either, as it was not actually alive, and since it wasn't stuffed in the taxidermy sort of stuffed, it never had been alive either.
As a result of his friendless state, all his excess positivity due to the millions of different bloodlines running through his body was simply pent up in a boiling pot of self-control as Renee jolted to and fro about the wonder that was public high school.
It wasn't until one sunny Monday afternoon when his mother sent him on an errand to pick up more milk that all this changed. See, Renee wasn't much for directions (as his mother seemed to forget quite often), and thus he often ended up getting lost. This Monday afternoon was no different. In fact, this time, he actually feared that he had gotten more lost than usual, since all the buildings were considerably taller than those near where he lived, and the signs were written in Chinese.
Suddenly, it clicked, and Renee realized that he was in downtown Chinatown, which was…miles and miles away from home. He didn't know how he had managed to walk so far without realizing it (though he figured that random subway ride might have been a factor). Frightened, he began to walk faster and faster until he was nearly running in fear, ignoring all the sellers as they called after him like the good salesmen they were.
His frantic flight ended spectacularly as a face plant in the cement when he tripped over the foot of the homeless runaway, Malin.
Malin wasn't Chinese. In fact, he wasn't even Asian. He was of Swedish descent, with flaming red hair that ran jaggedly down to his shoulders and looked as though it was in dire need of a haircut—a real, professional haircut, at that. The one he had now certainly appeared to be self-inflicted with a knife.
The rest of Malin wasn't too much better kept, either. He leant against the wall of an old brick building, on the corner just outside a trashed alleyway, looking as though he was physically unable to move. His heavy, strained breathing didn't detract from this image. Tattered rags and old coats made up his outfit. Dirt was smeared over his skin, and a hint of young red stubble was growing in on his chin.
"You okay, sir?" Malin asked concernedly, but something about his voice seemed to twinge Renee's superior judge of character. "I didn't mean to! I'm awfully sorry!"
"It's fine," Renee assured, moving to sit on his heels and rubbing his sore nose with care. "It was an accident."
Malin was silent, staring at Renee as if he couldn't quite figure out what Renee was—though, Renee was used to this sort of behavior. He got it a lot at school (think, alien trapped in broom closet). But Malin didn't ask about the odd color of his skin. Instead, he said, "I thought you were older when I saw you coming."
"It must be because I'm so tall," Renee responded. He figured it was that Kenyan blood in him that gave him such huge height. "Do you know a place where I can buy some milk around here?"
"How much money do you have?" Malin asked curiously. Renee glanced down at his pockets and shrugged.
"Enough to afford milk."
"Milk's pretty 'spensive 'round these parts," Malin told him.
"I got enough. Fifty's enough, right?"
"Yeah, that's enough," Malin said, and moved as if he were about to stand, but gave up the effort and leant back against the wall, closing his eyes, and breathing deeply as if just that small movement had been great physical exercise. Renee suddenly felt a surge of pity swell up within him.
"You okay, man? You don't look so good," he commented worriedly, but Malin cracked a smile.
"I'm fine, fine. If you share some of that money with me, I'll be even better, though," he said, opening his eyes now and looking at Renee hopefully. Renee was stunned by the bright green color of Malin's irises.
"Well, it's my mom's money, but I suppose I can share a bit with you and just tell her that the milk cost more than I thought," Renee said, a little reluctantly, knowing how his mother was when it concerned money. But Malin did look in pretty bad shape. "You should use it to go to the hospital. You don't look so good."
"It's just a cold," Malin answered, but held out his hands for the money anyway. Renee reached into his wallet and pulled out a twenty, placing it hesitantly in Malin's hands. Upon seeing it, Malin's face darkened. "Twenty? That's it? I can't even get nothing for that nowadays!"
Renee paused again, and then pulled out a ten and added it to the twenty already in Malin's hand.
"That's a little bit better," Malin said, and then let out a raspy, wheezing cough that really was quite terrible. "But I haven't got enough to go to the hospital. I don't know what I'm going to do."
Renee cocked his head to the side. "I thought you said it was just a cold."
"I think it's getting worse."
Renee looked into his wallet. Only one twenty dollar bill remained, and if he gave that away, he wasn't sure he'd even be able to make it home, much less buy milk. "Sorry, that's all I can spare." He lifted his eyes apologetically, and almost gasped when Malin's intense gaze met his.
"If you give me that last twenty, I'll do something special for you," Malin offered softly.
"No, I have to get home, and this is all I got."
"Please? You'll like it."
"What is it?" Renee asked curiously, even though, sorry as he felt for this homeless kid, he had no intention of accepting this "something special." Still he wanted to know what it was.
"I'll suck you off. Or, or I'll let you fuck me—I don't mind which. You've already given me thirty; it's worth that," Malin said, now removing his gaze quickly. As soon as he let the words free, though, Renee stood, almost in indignation but it wasn't quite that. More than anything, he was caught off guard.
"I—no!" he cried, and took off running, his face bright red, as suddenly he realized the probable nature of Malin's sickness.
So, Renee did have one friend, if he could be considered as such, being that he was a thirty-four-year-old divorcee with a slight opium habit and an MD. This man, Dr. Frank T. Thrifty (whom Renee affectionately called "Mr. Thrifty," even though he explicitly asked to be called "Frankie"), was originally Renee's psychiatrist before Renee's family fired him over a few bad diagnoses ("Okay, so it's not Cystic Fibrosis! La-dee-da! I make one mistake and this is what I get?"). Mr. Thrifty was very offended when Renee's mother told him that he was too far off his rocker to be a psychiatrist, and that he should seek help himself. Renee's mother didn't take it very well when she learned that Renee still spent time with Mr. Thrifty even after he was no longer their psychiatrist.
"I met a boy yesterday," Renee told Mr. Thrifty as he sat at the latter's kitchen table, sipping at a soda that Mr. Thrifty had gotten for him.
"Oh, yeah?" Mr. Thrifty asked. He sat across from Renee, scratching his initials into the wood of the table. "What's his name?"
Renee fell silent and frowned. "I don't know," he said at last, and pouted. "But he seemed really sick. I met him downtown. He was homeless. I felt sorry for him, but he was a…well, I mean, he was in a bad situation."
"What sort of bad situation?" Mr. Thrifty asked. Renee's face lit up, bright red again.
"Well, he-he offered… I mean, he was asking for money, right? And I gave him some, but when I told him I couldn't give him all of it because I needed the rest for myself—well, h-he said he'd…"
"Yes?" Mr. Thrifty prodded, leaning forward with an altogether too curious expression on his face.
"He said he'd…have…have…s-sex with me, if I gave him the rest of my money. Which would total fifty dollars. Don't you think that's kind of low?"
"Oh, not for a street whore," Mr. Thrifty said casually. "An escort, yes, but on the streets, well, I've gotten some—" and then he stopped, and his cheeks tinged a little red too. "Um, anyway. The kid was probably desperate."
"Yeah, I could tell. But when I suggested he go to the hospital—because, I mean, he looked really sick; I don't think he could even stand up—he didn't seem to have any intention to. It was pretty sad."
"Things like that are, son. Things like that are. Most likely he's got some infection, but, being a homeless bum, no one will expend the effort it takes to care for him, so he'll end up dead in an alleyway from hepatitis C, his rotting fleshy corpse being torn apart and eaten by rabid rats or some such…"
That certainly didn't make Renee feel any better. This was why Mr. Thrifty really failed as a psychiatrist. Mr. Thrifty was a realist, and realists were the worst at his profession.
All that week, Renee couldn't forget about the offer Malin had made him. The frightening thing was that the more he thought about it, the more Renee wished he had taken Malin up on it.
Okay, so the fact that Malin was sick was a bit of a turn off. But Malin was unusually good looking for a street whore, as Mr. Thrifty had so callously referred to him. But Malin wasn't just a street whore—Malin was a beautiful, boundless creature of mother nature, free of the chains society had placed on him, and fighting with every ounce of strength in his body to survive and overcome an awful start at life.
It made Renee smile. He imagined Malin dressed up in fantasy robes, like a hobbit from the Lord of the Rings. Maybe in wizard garb, waving a staff around and smiting all the evil creatures that attempted to take him down.
Malin was a hero. That was for sure.
Renee let those thoughts calm him to sleep every night, four times in a row. On the fifth day, however, he found himself back in Chinatown, unsure of how he had made his return, wandering around, looking for the object of his thoughts.
Malin wasn't anywhere near the corner on which Renee had first met him. In fact, after searching through the whole of Chinatown, Renee couldn't find him anywhere. It saddened him horribly. The image that Mr. Thrifty had inspired of monstrous rats gnawing on Malin's green and yellow cadaver fought to return to Renee's mind, but Renee pushed it away with all his might. Just because he couldn't find Malin didn't mean that Malin was dead.
He returned again the next day to find that Malin again was not at the same corner. Briefly he wondered if perhaps Malin was dead, and if Renee himself would be returning to this measly, trashed corner of Chinatown every day for the rest of his life in a hopeless search for him.
This was totally against all his spiritual teachings. He had to think positive. He had to remember what Tigerlily Johnson had told him about the way to enlightenment. Positive thoughts. Malin was well. Malin was found by child protection services, was adopted by a nice loving family, was on his way to recovery from an illness that ended up being not serious at all…
Unlikely though that was… Malin was probably fucking some fat old company executive in the backseat of a car right now, spreading and receiving AIDS all around. That was, if vicious rats weren't shredding his gaseous rotting cadaver.
He closed his eyes, willing such thoughts not to get to him. That was when somebody grabbed his hand and yanked him so hard off to the side that he almost lost his balance.
"Hey, kid, how much money you got in that wallet of yours, hmm?" said a deep, husky voice, and Renee shivered. He tried to look at the face of his attacker, but as soon as he turned his head, he felt the cold steel blade of a knife press into his neck.
"I'm sorry," Renee cried, not sure for what he was apologizing, but figuring it couldn't hurt. "I'm just looking for someone, is all!"
"I don't care!" hissed the voice. Suddenly, Renee felt a hand down his back pocket, and he shuddered from the feeling of it. He felt his wallet leave with the hand, and a few seconds of silence passed before an irritated growl resounded. "Five bucks? Five fucking bucks? That's it? You haven't even got any fucking credit cards, man, you fucking cheap ass—"
"Hey!" Renee cried, and whirled around—forgetting about the knife at his neck until he felt the blood dripping from where it had grazed him in his movement. "Just because I don't carry around ten billion dollars with me all the time doesn't give you the right to insult me!"
He was facing his assailant now; the latter was a little chubby, and stocky more than tall. Renee had to look down to meet his eyes. The boy had a split lower lip, and Renee couldn't tell if said lip was swollen or if it was just fat. Beady eyes glared up at him.
"Did I say you could move?" his attacker cried, pointing the knife at him, and Renee backed up cautiously.
"You're right I didn't." With another growl, the mugger drew back the knife, as if in preparation to stab Renee with it. Renee didn't wait around to see if that was his actual intention; with a strangled squeak, he spun around (almost losing his balance he did it so quickly) and darted off, racing out of the alleyway and into the crowded street.
He heard shouting behind him, continually, which alerted him to the fact that the mugger was following him. He didn't expend the effort of turning around to confirm. Instead, he drove himself forward, knowing that he probably had speed on his side—long legs coupled with practically unlimited energy went a long way in helping him out in situations like this.
Renee didn't stop—couldn't stop. It wasn't until a familiar face, framed with wild, jagged red hair, and adorned with sparkling green gems for eyes, forced its way into his vision that Renee found the ability to halt—which he did immediately, sliding to a stop on his sneakers so that his feet almost flew out from beneath him. He had to touch the ground and use it to vault him to his feet again to avoid falling.
"'Ey, E.T.," that voice that Renee had long since committed to memory said, this time with a greater amount of cheer than last Renee had heard it.
"Hey! I didn't think I'd—I didn't think you—" Renee started, trying all at once to explain exactly everything he wanted to say, and thus managing to explain nothing at all.
"Slow down, E.T.!" Malin laughed, patting Renee on the shoulder. Renee was gasping for breath by now, having just run so fast.
"E.T. Why do you call me that?"
Malin blinked, and then let out a short, sheepish laugh. "E.T. Extra-Terrestrial. You know. 'E.T. phone home!' Right?"
"Right…" Renee stared at him.
"Because you looked so weird," Malin offered after a while. "Like an alien, with your gray skin and freakishly huge eyes."
"My eyes aren't freakishly huge!" Renee cried indignantly.
"Okay," Malin said with a shrug. "I didn't know your real name."
"Ain't that a girl's name?"
"No! It's short for Reginald."
"Your name's Reginald? That's a terrible name!"
"No! My name's Enrique, actually."
"I thought you just said your name's Renee. Is Renee a nickname for Enrique too?"
"No. Renee's the second half of my name. Enrique Renee."
"But not Reginald."
"Oh, okay. My name's Malin."
"What kind of a name is Malin?"
"An Old English one. It means, 'Little war-mighty one.' Ain't that cool?" Malin grinned, a wide grin that showed his teeth.
"Hey!" a new voice interjected, and both looked over to see Renee's former attacker approaching sluggishly, red-faced and quite visibly out of breath. "Fucking…bastard… Knew I'd catch up to you!"
"What's all this?" Malin demanded, frowning at the newcomer as if in warning, which struck Renee as odd.
"Back off, Mal. This kid owes me some money!"
Renee looked from Malin to the newcomer, and then back to Malin. The expression on Malin's face was fierce.
"He don't owe you nothing, Tom. This kid was nice enough to give me thirty bucks, straight outta his wallet, no questions asked, nothing in return. When I was sick."
Tom looked ready to argue but a warning glare from Malin shut him up.
"'Sides, E.T.'s my friend," Malin added, coming forward and slinging an arm around Renee's shoulders. "Ain't ya?"
Renee almost fainted from the touch. Honestly, he never expected to even see Malin again, much less be…be touched by him! It was like he'd died and gone to Heaven. Maybe he had. Maybe Tom had sliced his neck open with that blade, and Malin had died from his sickness, and here they were together again, meant to be, for eternity.
"Yeah! We're friends," Renee agreed quickly, before Malin changed his mind.
Tom looked unconvinced, but eventually he muttered something, slipped his knife away, and tossed Renee's wallet back to him. He stood, indecisively shifting around, for a minute, and then, mumbling, stalked away. Once he was out of sight, Malin breathed what sounded like a sigh and buried his head into Renee's shoulder—much to Renee's simultaneous mix of delight, nervousness, and concern.
"You okay?" he asked softly.
"I'm—fine," Malin assured, lifting his head and smiling again. "Just been standing too long." He separated from Renee and attempted to walk away, but stumbled instantly and fell onto his hands and knees.
"You sure? You didn't go to a doctor like a said, did you? You're still sick."
Malin shook his head. "Ain't got enough money for a doctor. Never got enough for somethin' like that. Besides, I'm fine. It's just a tough cold."
Renee crouched down next to Malin's weak form and touched his forehead, discerning quite a bit of heat there. "My friend's a doctor," he said, deciding to leave out the fact that he meant "doctor" as in "psychiatrist." "If you come with me, I'm sure he'll be happy to take a look at you, free of charge. And if not, I'll pay him for you."
"Why ya being so nice, E.T.?" Malin asked, meeting his gaze seriously. "I don't even know you."
"But we're friends," Renee reminded him.
"Just met once."
"Twice. And I like you. I came down here today to try and find you to make sure you were okay. I was worried," Renee explained, to which Malin offered a sweet, reluctant smile.
"I'm not so sure I trust you. You ran away from me in horror last we met," he reasoned.
"You surprised me, is all. Come on, I'll help you back."
Mr. Thrifty leant over Malin concernedly as the latter lay on his back on the couch, fighting sleep as best he could. Renee stood off to the side, watching with as much hope as he could muster as Mr. Thrifty worked.
"Well, you've got a fever, that's for sure," Mr. Thrifty concluded at last, pulling away. "Whether it's a simple cold like you say, or it's caused by something more serious, is hard to tell. We'd need to conduct a blood test for that."
"Can you do that?" Malin asked, looking up at Mr. Thrifty pleadingly. Mr. Thrifty sighed and shook his head.
"No can do, son," he said. "Haven't got the equipment. And I'm not actually a practicing MD anyway. You'll have to go to a real hospital for that."
Malin's face darkened. "It's fine. I'm fine. Like I said, it's just a cold."
"Boy," Mr. Thrifty said sternly, "you've been living out on the street for the past couple of years, is that right?"
"There's a very good chance that it is something serious that's causing this. I suggest you go to the hospital."
Malin sighed and leant back, looking at the ceiling. "Can't afford it."
"Nonsense. The clinic on Thirty-fourth is doing a free blood test on Saturday. I'll drive you up there."
"That's a statement, not a suggestion."
Mr. Thrifty, kindly enough, offered to let Malin stay at his house. Renee was extremely grateful, as he wasn't entirely sure how his mother would react to his dragging an ill homeless boy through the door and asking to keep him (after all, when he did that with a perfectly healthy puppy a few years ago, his mother had flipped out).
That night, Renee could hardly sleep he was so excited. He could imagine what would happen—Malin would get the blood test, turn out completely healthy, proving that it was just a bad cold that had been plaguing him. Then, of course, Malin would realize the error of his ways, conform instantly to Renee's way of life and a higher standard of living, quickly catch up with school, and graduate happily with Renee. Throughout all this, of course, he and Renee would remain fast friends, the best each would ever have.
Best friends forever. It made Renee smile. He'd never had a best friend before.
Again he thought of that offer Malin had made him when they first met—a gift of sex in return for an extra twenty dollars. He wondered what that would be like…sex with Malin. Renee, personally, had never had sex before. In fact, he'd never even really had a crush on anyone before, and all the girls his mother attempted to set him up with usually ended up picking on him.
But, having a crush on another boy was wrong, anyway. He knew that. Even worse was sex with another boy. Malin was confused and desperate—he wouldn't have offered such a thing otherwise. He didn't want sex with Renee. He wanted more money, which was understandable considering his situation.
But, it made Renee sad in a totally selfish way. And that made him angry with himself, for more reasons than one.
Renee awoke early the next morning and rushed over to Mr. Thrifty's house to check on Malin's condition. When he arrived, he found Malin fast asleep on the couch, curled up as tight as he could get without falling off, with a somewhat painful expression on his face. Renee, swamped with a severe bout of pity, knelt down beside him and touched his now clean face, running his fingers across the recently shaven skin and through the ragged red hair.
"Hullo, Renee, my boy!" Mr. Thrifty called from atop the stairs, breaking Renee's reverie. Renee quickly jumped away from Malin and looked up at Mr. Thrifty.
"Morning," he said somewhat sheepishly.
"You like that boy, eh?" Mr. Thrifty asked as he meandered down the stairs, sipping every now and then at a coffee mug he held in his hands. "You haven't known him long, though, right?"
"Right, but he's," Renee started, but trailed off, knowing he couldn't put exactly what Malin was to words.
"You know anything about him?" Mr. Thrifty asked. "His past, why he's homeless, anything like that?"
Renee shook his head.
"Well, if I were you, I'd watch out for him. I've locked all of my valuables up. He hasn't done anything wrong yet, but he is a street boy."
"Don't be so judgmental!" Renee cried.
"I'm not!" Mr. Thrifty assured. "I'm being realistic. Street kids have hard lives—that's just the way it is. Coming from a background like that, he very may well steal or hurt us. It doesn't even mean that he wants to hurt us. It's just that he's become so used to that being his only means of survival, he won't even think about us."
Renee frowned at him indignantly, but, having nothing to say, kept quiet.
"Furthermore, don't get too attached. Street kids are used to being alone. They're more comfortable that way," Mr. Thrifty went on. "I can see how much you like this boy, but the fact of the matter is, he probably won't come around. Just because he worked as a whore doesn't mean he's gay."
Renee felt his face turn bright red at that comment, and he stumbled back, nearly falling on the recliner behind him. He choked a few moments and then shook his head.
"Don't bother, Renee," Mr. Thrifty sighed. "I was your psychiatrist for a year, you know. I have some cool psychiatric magic up my sleeve. I knew you were gay the moment you started talking about girls."
"Relax, now," Mr. Thrifty said. "That doesn't matter right now. What does matter is that you have it in for this boy, and I'm telling you, he's not right for you. He's not even close to it. So give up. Take care of him, get him healthy again, if you want, but do not let this crush get any worse. I don't want to see you hurt, boy."
Renee was almost in tears by this time, but he nodded his head anyway and looked at Malin's sleeping form only for a moment before swinging around and marching out of Mr. Thrifty's house indignantly.
On Saturday morning, Renee, Malin, and Mr. Thrifty sat in a dazed state of boredom after having waited over four hours in the waiting room for the free blood tests. The place was packed and consequently loud from the usual din of overcrowded places—crying babies, screaming girls, old men muttering incoherently, and shouted conversations all contributed to the sticky, sweltering mass of sick, poor patients.
Renee had taken to reading a magazine intended for teenaged girls, as it was the only one left on the rack. Malin was busy trying to pull a loose thread from his worn jacket, seeming perplexed when the fiber never stopped. Mr. Thrifty appeared to be meditating, so neither dared to disturb him.
"How much school have you finished?" Renee asked Malin as casually as he could, even though as he spoke he hoped he didn't sound as curious as he was.
"Uh. Seventh grade, I think," Malin answered, smiling proudly.
Renee felt his spirits darken, but he tried not to show it. Seventh grade…that would mean a lot of catching up on Malin's part… "Oh. How old are you?"
This time, Malin was silent for a long time. After a while, he asked, "What's 2006 minus 1986?"
"Twenty," Renee answered, thinking it odd to ask such a simple question.
"Then I'm twenty," Malin told Renee. Then he cocked his head to the side thoughtfully. "Wow, I didn't know I was that old. I'm older than my mom was when she had my older brother. Do you think I'm too old, E.T.?"
"No, you're not too old," Renee answered, a little awkwardly. He wasn't quite accustomed to hearing such things come out of people's mouths. "I'm seventeen. That makes us three years apart."
Malin smiled. "I thought you were older than me. That's funny. You're taller than me."
"I'm taller than most everybody," Renee told him. "I think it's the Kenyan in me."
"What's a 'Kenyan?'"
"Someone from Kenya."
"It's in Africa."
"Oh," Malin said, looking a little confused. "I thought only black people came from Africa."
Renee smiled and shook his head. "That's not true, but my Kenyan blood is black. But, I'm not all Kenyan. I'm most everything, actually."
"Are you Swedish?" Malin asked eagerly, his green eyes lighting up.
"A little, yeah I am," Renee answered. The smile Malin sent him was brilliant, not unlike that of a little kid at Christmas.
"I'm Swedish. I'm all Swedish. Well, I think my grandfather might have been from Ireland originally, but my mom was actually born in Sweden. Can you believe that?" Malin cried. "I wonder what made her want to come here."
"I can tell why," Renee said, and when Malin's disbelieving eyes turned to him, he smiled. "Here's not so bad. You just have to look at it the right way. If you compare the good stuff and the bad stuff, you'll see there's more good than bad. It's like that everywhere, really."
"That's not true," Malin said, his voice lowered in what seemed like a defensive hiss. Immediately Renee caught his eye, worried that he had said something offensive or hurtful—at that very moment, however, a small girl stepped close to them, breaking up anything that may have gone on between them.
"Are you from a spaceship?" she asked Renee, licking at a lollipop after she finished her question. Renee looked at the girl, trying to keep any spite or venom out of his expression. To do this, he had to recall his teachings from Tigerlily Johnson.
This is a wonderful place. You are the light of the world. Everyone in this world is a beautiful creation of Mother Nature.
There. That should do it.
"I'm not from a spaceship," Renee said sweetly, plastering a fake smile over his face and leaning down to face the girl at her own level. "I come from every country on this planet, all at once."
"That's impossible!" she cried, narrowing her blond eyebrows at him. Then she flicked a few of her golden curls over her shoulder and took another swipe at her lollipop with her tongue.
"But I've done it," Renee reasoned, lifting a challenging eyebrow at her. His bad mood was diminishing, at least. Spoiled brat though this girl looked to be, at least she wasn't…well…at least she wasn't too unmanageable.
"You're a liar," she told him matter-of-factly, but before she could lick her lollipop again, she was suddenly swept from the ground and into the arms of a spindly looking young woman with thin blond hair and a very frazzled face. The young woman seemed to be in serious need of a good meal.
"I'm—I'm so sorry!" the young woman cried, lowering her eyes to the floor. "I just left her for one second—!"
"It's alright." It was Malin who spoke, before Renee could even open his mouth, with a charming smile tugging at his lips. Renee looked at him with a touch of trepidation. "She was no trouble."
The woman caught Malin's eye, and instantly her own dull blue ones glittered with a sudden spark of light, as if she had just found a new meaning in life. Renee withdrew to the farther edge of his seat, bringing himself closer to the meditative form of Mr. Thrifty.
"I'm glad," the woman practically whispered, staring star-struck into Malin's eyes. Malin merely held the gaze intensely, and Renee could practically see the chemistry exploding between them.
Instantly, he was jealous—a feeling that he immediately tried to quash since it only served to prove that Mr. Thrifty had been right in all his psychiatric wisdom (which Renee realized he should have fully expected, but he didn't want to accept it). It didn't matter, he reasoned. Malin was a straight boy who had been forced into terrible situations due to unfortunate circumstances. Renee wanted nothing more than to help him.
"My name's Malin," Malin introduced himself in what seemed to be even friendlier a manner than that which he had done for Renee.
"Becky," the girl answered, her cheeks bright red. "It's a p-pleasure to meet you."
"Pleasure's all mine," Malin responded smoothly.
Renee wanted to sink into the floor. He didn't bother to force his own introduction into their conversation, as they didn't seem to notice his existence anyhow. Instead, he turned and shook Mr. Thrifty back to reality; the latter quickly snorted and shook his head clear, and then turned to Renee with a frown.
"They call us in yet?" he asked jollily, seeming as though he had not been deep into a thought-free state only seconds before.
"No. Not yet," Renee said softly, almost apologetically. Mr. Thrifty frowned concernedly at him, and then lifted his eyes, taking in the jovial chat between Malin and Becky, upon which he clucked his tongue and shook his head.
"I told you, son," he said in a sigh. "I warned you."
"I'm not jealous," Renee informed him.
"Of course you're not," Mr. Thrifty agreed.
Despite his newfound competition, Renee found himself only falling deeper and deeper into his crush. By now, he openly admitted it (well, to himself, at least), and figured he only needed to wait for just the right moment to express his feelings to Malin, upon which Malin would reveal the own secret crush he had been sleeplessly harboring as well. From then on, the two would be inseparable, lovers for eternity.
The thought made Renee smile. He just hoped he'd recognize that perfect moment for what it was when it finally came.
Meanwhile, he'd just have to tolerate Becky.
Malin had spent the next two hours of waiting before they were at last called in further acquainting himself with Becky and her young daughter Vera. Becky was twenty-three years old, and Vera was six. Renee had to concentrate on refraining from thinking nasty thoughts about her, knowing that doing so would only return to haunt him in the future.
When they finally left the clinic, Renee had to mentally remind himself not to be foul—though, he declined Mr. Thrifty's offers to take him and Malin out for lunch, instead offering a pathetic excuse of homework to return home. All Saturday night he kept himself awake, seething in jealousy, though by the wee hours of Sunday morning, he had managed to calm himself. He awoke late Sunday morning feeling quite a bit better, and skipped down to Mr. Thrifty's house excitedly.
Malin was already awake and watching television on Mr. Thrifty's couch hungrily, looking as if he had not experienced entertainment of this kind in a long time. When Renee entered, however, he immediately lost his interest in the show and rushed him in greeting.
"I was worried about you yesterday," Malin said, his brow furrowed as he looked at the younger boy in concern. "You were acting funny. I thought you might have caught a cold from one of the sick'uns at that clinic."
"Naw, I'm fine," Renee replied with a reassuring smile. He wanted to hug Malin in gratitude for his concern, but thought it would be inappropriate to do so. "I want to take you to lunch," he announced instead. "We've hardly gotten time to spend together and you've been here almost a week."
"Mm, sounds good," Malin hummed, closing his eyes and biting his lip—a gesture that had Renee's world spinning. He quickly composed himself.
"Right! How's McDonald's? That's all I can afford now."
"Good. Sounds good. Anything's fine, really. Talking to me—I used to eat from trashcans."
After hearing Malin moan in pleasure after taking a bite out of his Big Mac, Renee was about ready to throw all caution to the wind and pounce on the older boy—STDs be forgotten, he decided. If Malin had AIDS, Renee figured that he himself would just have to contract it, too, since there was no way he could live without the other. Not now. They were soul mates—had to be.
"This is better than the one in Chinatown," Malin told him, smiling. "I'd ate there sometimes and it wasn't never this good."
Renee smiled sweetly, as if Malin had just complimented him directly, and took a tiny, cultured bite from his McNugget. "The world is as you taste it," he said, catching Malin's sparkling green eyes in sincerity. As soon as he did, though, he looked down chastely. "That's what my spiritual leader would say. She's a real smart lady. Maybe you should meet her some time."
"Okay. I don't mind," Malin agreed, and took another huge mouthful out of his burger. After chewing for a long time and swallowing, he looked up at Renee again. "What's a spiritual leader? Is that like a priest?"
"Um, kinda," Renee said, almost embarrassedly. "I'm not Catholic. I belong to this new age religion that's based on Buddhism. We worship Mother Nature and all her beauty, and we focus on all the positive things in life. If you look around you, there's a lot of great stuff in the world."
Malin looked almost like he were about to argue, but instead he leaned forward and asked, "Like what?"
"Like, the sun is always shining, and-and if you look around, you see animals and plants and everything just being happy and here in the present and everything's so perfect," Renee explained in a rush, overwhelmed with his emotion. Catching Malin's eye, though, dampened his mood quickly.
"I don't see none of that," Malin said lowly. "Well, I see the sun. Always sun—it never rains, there's no water. And animals and plants are struggling to survive in this city, in this whole world. Nothing's perfect—just look around you," he held his hands up, as if pointing to the whole sky above them. "Even this restaurant—it exploits people and tortures animals and fills you so full of bad chemical stuff it kills you early. That's not happy. Don't you see?"
Renee tried to frown, but it came out more as a pout. "I know there's bad things," he answered softly, refusing to look at Malin and instead digging through his McNuggets. Suddenly he saw in his mind's eye disgusting, unnaturally fat chickens eating waste out of moldy trashcans, but he shoved the thoughts away. Positive. "But there are good things too. That's what's so wrong nowadays. People only look at the bad, they can't see the good."
"Because there are way more bad things than good. People are unhappy and that's bad in itself! The awfulness in the world isn't fair!" Malin cried, pounding his fist into the table as if for emphasis, and drawing several other patrons' gazes their way. Renee wanted to sink into the floor again—maybe melt like the Wicked Witch of the West from that movie, The Wizard of Oz. "If Mother Nature is so wonderful, why don't She take care of us? Why's She care so much about the plants and the animals? Why don't She care about us?"
"She does… She does care about us," Renee said miserably.
"How? I can't see it," Malin said with a huff, throwing his Big Mac onto the table indignantly. A few minutes of silence passed, in which Renee thought himself far too close to breaking out into tears, before Malin started again, "You don't get it, Renee. You got a good life. A good past. You don't understand what it's like. Mother Nature don't give a shit. It's just that some people are lucky and some ain't."
"Tigerlily says that when bad things happen," Renee explained feebly, "it only makes you a stronger person. It's like a test, and you come out better in the end."
Malin looked off to the side and crossed his arms. "I been tested a lot, then, and I don't see how that works. I only seen myself get weaker every day. I'd rather die than think that maybe everything that's happened to me is just some test. It's not worth it—I'd rather be a weakling."
"Malin," Renee cried, feeling the tears now welling on his lower eyelids. "You can't just write it off like that. I know it's hard, but you gotta see the good in it—otherwise it'll just be worthless, like you said. Wasted pain. You see, there would be no happiness if people wouldn't see it."
"Yeah, so why's it so hard to see, huh?" Malin practically shouted. "You know what happened to me, E.T.? You couldn't even imagine!"
Renee felt the tears threatening to spill, but he held them back stubbornly.
Malin lowered his voice, though Renee wasn't sure it helped since it seemed half the restaurant was looking at them now. "'Til I was thirteen, Renee, my daddy hurt me. Every day he hurt me, real bad. I got scars from it; I could show you. Then I ran away, and on the streets it wasn't so great either. I had to steal and have sex with old men to survive. You know what that's like? Do you know what it's like to eat rotten fish heads out of a dumpster behind a restaurant, or drink water from a filthy sink in a public restroom? Do you know what it's like to shower in a toilet? Or to be called scum by everyone who passes you by on the sidewalk? Do you have any idea what that feels like?"
Renee blinked back his tears and shook his head, still wishing he could sink into the ground. Malin was mad at him—this was terrible. This was awful. He wished he had never taken Malin out like this, or, better yet, never taken Malin off the street. He should have just left Malin there to die—it seemed to be what Malin wanted anyway.
As soon as the nature of his own thoughts dawned on him, Renee felt sickened. Sickened with himself, with the world, with everything. How could this have ever happened?
"I'm sorry," he said in defeat, lowering his head and feeling a tear fall from his eye. "I didn't think—never mind."
Malin was dead silent and merely chewed angrily on his burger. Renee briefly lifted his eyes to the older boy, but as soon as Malin showed signs of moving to catch his eye, Renee quickly shot his gaze back down to the greasy floor.
"Look, E.T.," Malin said with what was obviously a forced cheer to his voice, "forget about it. I didn't mean—"
"No," Renee interrupted, still refusing to make eye contact. "We should go home. Let's go."
There was another heavy silence during which Renee guessed Malin was deep in thought. After a while, though, Malin broke it with a stifled, "Yeah, okay."
Not another word was exchanged between the two the rest of the day. Renee merely dropped Malin off back at Mr. Thrifty's home and left without a word of goodbye.
By Monday afternoon, Renee was locked in the janitor's closet again. He didn't bother to pound on the door for Hank, and merely sat back, leaning against a bucket full of chemical-laden, soapy blue water, wringing his hands as he mindlessly passed the time away. Hank looked rather surprised when he finally opened the closet an hour after school let out to find Renee there, considering the lack of screaming and thumping.
"You okay, kid?" Hank asked concernedly, scratching his crusty gray beard as he peered down at the slumped mess of a boy.
"Fine," Renee responded as he lethargically dragged himself to totter out on his feet.
"Ya know, if they keep callin' you an alien, why don't you start threatening them with anal probing?" Hank suggested with a little, crazed chuckle. "That'd shut 'em up."
"Then they'll accuse me of being gay," Renee reasoned in a monotone voice as he stepped past Hank into the hallway. "I'd rather just be an alien."
"Suit yourself," Hank shrugged, and grabbed a mop before marching down the hall, whistling off-key. Renee watched him go, and then considered the prospect of going home.
Really, he didn't mind it in that broom closet. At least that way, the earnest, well-meaning high school kids were doing their part to keep this world safe from alien attacks.
At least that way, someone cared about this world.
Renee avoided Mr. Thrifty's for the rest of the week, not only because he thought that there was no possible way that Malin would ever want to see him, but because he was unwilling to face Malin as well.
He couldn't get it off his mind, though, and thus it was almost relieving to hear Mr. Thrifty's voice again, even if it was over the phone.
"You've got to get this annoying chick out of my house, Renee!" Mr. Thrifty cried, his voice twanged with a slur he only got when he was high on opium.
"Chick?" Renee repeated curiously.
"Yeah, she's like, totally annoying! I have no clue what Mal sees in her!"
Renee felt that twinge of jealousy again. "Is her name Becky?"
"Yeah, that's right. And she keeps toting over this brat of a six-year-old, Vera. Who the hell names a six-year-old Vera? That's for, like, thirty-year-old businesswomen, huh?"
"Yeah," Renee said, coming to a very miserable conclusion, "I'll come over. See you in a bit…"
He arrived at Mr. Thrifty's not five minutes later, and entered into a scene of total chaos—well, in the sense that several pieces of furniture were knocked over and that Mr. Thrifty was currently leaping over the back of the sofa after the golden-coifed child with a mouth and hands smeared brown with chocolate, carrying with her a binder, which appeared to be Mr. Thrifty's actual quarry, rather than the girl herself.
"Renee!" he cried once Renee shut the door behind him. "Please, do something! I swear I'm going to kick that kid straight outta my house!"
Renee couldn't be sure whether, by "that kid," Mr. Thrifty was referring to Vera or Malin. He ignored it anyway and left Mr. Thrifty to his pursuit in order to jog up the stairs in search of a certain homeless whore and his blond bimbo Becky.
He found them on top of Mr. Thrifty's bed, cuddled together, with Becky curled up in Malin's lap. Even as Renee entered, they didn't split apart, and instead glared at him for his intrusion.
"Becky," Renee said, looking into her spiteful eyes, "it's time for you to go home."
"Yeah, who the fuck are you, eh?" she spat back, and Renee had to muse over how very forward she was now, contrary to the stuttering, shy first impression she had given him at the clinic.
"I'm a close friend of Mr. Thrifty's," Renee explained coldly, keeping his voice tight, "and I'm here to look out for his and Malin's best interests. You and your daughter should leave."
"Fuck off," Becky hissed, and shifted in Malin's lap. Renee looked at Malin, emotionlessly pleading the older boy for help, but Malin refused and merely looked to the side.
"You're not welcome here," Renee persisted.
"Malin's letting me be here," Becky informed him.
"Then Malin's not welcome here either."
Emerald eyes lifted to meet his, but Renee refused them contact and instead stared threateningly down at Becky. She glared back rebelliously, until Malin shifted beneath her.
"You should go," he said softly, and her fierce eyes snapped to him instead.
"You're kicking me out?" she demanded. Malin looked ready to cave, so Renee quickly butted in.
"He's got no choice. You leave now, or we call the cops on you both."
Becky stared at Malin for a good long time, as if expecting him to protest, but when he only stared meekly off to the side, she jumped indignantly to her feet and marched past Renee with a growl. He listened to her stomp down the stairs, as well as the strangled yelp of the little girl and the slam of the front door, all the while refusing to look in Malin's direction. A few moments later, and Renee was suffocating in Mr. Thrifty's snug, grateful bear hug.
"Renee! You are the best patient ever!" he cried, swinging the boy around like a rag doll. "I'd adopt you if you didn't already have parents!"
Renee plastered a fake smile on his face and pried himself away from Mr. Thrifty's grip. He was about to excuse himself and return home when Mr. Thrifty cried happily, "Stay for dinner! I'll make your favorite!"
He wanted to refuse, but seeing the way Mr. Thrifty happily danced down the stairs, he realized he didn't have the heart.
All through dinner, Mr. Thrifty refused to look at Malin. Malin refused to look at anything but his own plate. Renee glanced all around, miserable with the awkwardness and the suffocating silence. He wanted to end this. More and more, he was beginning to wish he had never taken Malin off the street—that he had never even met Malin. Why was he so stupid…so terrible with directions to get lost in Chinatown? Why did Malin even live in Chinatown? Why did it have to be this way?
Not for the first time, Renee recalled the conversation he had shared with Malin in the McDonald's restaurant, and once more he mulled over the prospect of Malin being right. After all, what did Renee know? He'd led a normal, sheltered life the full seventeen years he'd been alive, but he was special in that case. Normal though his life may have been, it wasn't exactly common. The structure and functioning of his family was rare, in fact. It was all so perfect. Of course he'd think life was beautiful—he'd never been given any reason to think it wasn't.
Perhaps that was why his philosophy was such an uncommon one. Perhaps there were more people out there like Malin than like Renee. Perhaps Malin was right. Maybe Mother Nature…maybe God didn't care.
Renee looked out the window at the brilliant sunset that stretched across the middle class suburbs in which he and Mr. Thrifty lived. It was pretty, but…suddenly, Renee saw that it was nothing special. The only reason it was so beautiful was because the light was reflecting off the smog. In a couple of years, he had read, the smog would block out such things entirely.
He imagined that downtown, the buildings did that already.
Malin retreated from dinner early and withdrew up the stairs. Renee decided not to wonder about it, figuring he could guess its cause anyway, and instead moved to the couch and flipped on the television, wondering if perhaps he should just go home. Mr. Thrifty came and joined him soon enough, so that Renee felt it would be rude to leave.
After a moment, though, Mr. Thrifty turned to him with concerned eyes. He looked tired, and Renee remembered that he had sounded high when he had called earlier.
Renee had enjoyed Mr. Thrifty's company because the man was so cheerful all the time. But, every once in a while, like now, Renee was reminded that Mr. Thrifty's happiness was an artificial one. A chemical one. Opium—what an old fashioned drug. Renee had never heard of anyone else who did opium anymore.
"Sorry to do that to you, Renee," Mr. Thrifty said, and his voice sounded hoarse. Renee turned away from him and did not look back.
"It's fine," he answered curtly, suddenly wanting to cry.
"I know you like that boy, but I needed your help. I'm sorry to make you see that."
"I don't like him," Renee answered, and for the first time, he meant it. Malin had done this to him. He used to be happy. He used to be oblivious. But Malin was from the streets—Malin knew what things were really like. Renee resented Malin for that very fact.
Mr. Thrifty seemed to be able to sense the truthfulness in Renee's words, and quieted for a moment. Soon enough, though, he had gathered his thoughts and reformed the conversation. "You're just angry at him, Renee. Don't say you don't like him when you don't mean it."
"I thought you didn't want me to like him," Renee said, fixing his eyes on the television show, even though the sound was low and he could hardly pay attention to it considering the conversation at hand.
"I don't. But the damage is done. He's affected you, boy," Mr. Thrifty explained. "I've never seen you depressed like this, and it's his fault."
Renee wanted none of that. Throwing manners to the wind, he didn't answer and merely stood up to proceed to climb the stairs, leaving Mr. Thrifty behind on the couch. Renee didn't care much anymore.
He found Malin in Mr. Thrifty's room with an old burlap backpack sitting on the bed, stuffed with a few of Mr. Thrifty's outfits. When Renee entered, Malin stopped, looking like a frightened deer awaiting death by car, before forcing himself around again, toward where he had trespassed into Mr. Thrifty's wardrobe.
"You gonna stop me?" Malin asked bitterly, pulling out a pair of boxers and tossing them toward the backpack. "It's just a few pairs of clothes. Mine get so old."
Renee suddenly felt panicked, even though he reasoned he shouldn't. Malin was leaving. Of course, he knew it'd come. He knew it'd come ever since Mr. Thrifty had warned him about the street kid's kind. But, he'd never accepted it before tonight.
And, just as Mr. Thrifty said, Malin was stealing as much as he could before he took off, too. Mr. Thrifty was totally correct. Renee had learned long ago that he should trust Mr. Thrifty's judgment, but only now was it registering in his mind.
Malin was a realist—he knew how things worked. That was why Renee couldn't fit in. That was why he and Renee would never get along. Mr. Thrifty was a realist, too, and he had seen as much as soon as Renee had dumped the situation in his lap.
As for Renee, he was suffering now only because of his own ignorance. That, he assumed he would just have to take like a man as best he could.
Suddenly Renee felt entirely alone, isolated in his own bubble of happiness. He realized, for the first time, that only by puncturing that bubble would he be able to join the rest of them—not just Malin and Mr. Thrifty, but the entire race of humans. Those kids who locked him in the janitor's closet…would they start to like him if he were to just accept reality for what it was, instead of endlessly denying it in an attempt to convince himself of some sort of fake happiness?
Malin was looking at him. Renee became aware of it suddenly, and his eyes darted up to meet those striking green ones.
"You were right," Renee said softly, wondering if Malin would be able to hear; from the other's expression, however, Renee assumed that he did.
"What're you talking about?" Malin demanded, but there was hesitation in his voice.
"I thought—I wanted you to like me. I thought about everything you said, and I thought you were so beautiful and I just wanted you to want me," Renee explained, losing eye contact and staring at his shoes. "I thought it was love at first sight. But I was wrong. I took you here because I wanted to help you—I wanted you to feel what I felt, and thus be…in a sort of debt to me. But it didn't work out that way at all, and now I wish I'd never met you."
There was a long, hollow silence. Renee felt his heart collapsing in on itself, and he wondered if it would stop beating soon. He'd never, ever felt this way before. This was the end—this was the truth of it all, at last. Renee had never realized before how very stupid he had been his whole life.
"So," Malin started, and his voice stung Renee's ears, "I was just a whore to you, is that what you're saying? You picked me up off the street to be your slave?"
That was a harsh way of putting it, but essentially, that was it. Renee shrugged, trying to rid himself of his misery, but by now everywhere he looked, misery was there. There was nowhere else for him to expel it. He'd just have to accept its presence, because there was nothing else left.
Another silence followed, in which Renee gathered the courage to look at Malin again, only to find that a miserable expression had crushed the older boy's features. His once striking green eyes were now dull and sad, and that alone made Renee want to cry again.
"I—" Malin started, but his voiced wavered, forcing him to stutter, "I guess I…misjudged you, then. I was starting to think… Well, I suppose you're just like everyone else, despite the way you look."
Renee wasn't sure if that was intended to be an insult, but he decided not to take it that way anyway. Jeers about his skin had long since lost their power over him. Suddenly all the taunts he had endured at school, all the miserable, terrified moments he had spent locked up on the whims of his classmates, every single person who looked at him and hated him…suddenly all of that returned to him, and he wondered how much he had done to deserve all that. Was he really that annoying of a person?
Maybe he was an alien. Maybe he really didn't belong on this world.
But, now, maybe he was finally starting to understand what exactly it meant to be human. And he was starting to join their ranks, too. Whether that was entirely a good thing was irrelevant.
Malin had finished stuffing the backpack, though he did it hesitantly because of Renee's watchful eyes. He donned it slowly and walked apprehensively past Renee, as if expecting the younger boy to lash out at him as he went. But Renee did no such thing, and instead only stared at the place where Malin had been standing, packing, moments before, thinking again of that street corner in Chinatown where Malin had first offered himself as a prostitute.
Perhaps he really should have taken Malin up on that.
"I was beginning to think," said Malin's voice from a little distance behind him, "that you were actually a good person. The only one I've met so far. But…I guess that was just your bullshit rubbing off on me."
Renee lowered his head, listening to Malin's footsteps as they pounded down the stairs, as well as the slam of the front door that immediately followed Mr. Thrifty's inarticulate shout of surprise. When Renee finally mustered the energy to leave Mr. Thrifty's now suffocating house, he was crying harder than he'd ever done before.
He'd stopped going to his spiritual meetings. In fact, he'd stopped really going outside at all. Instead he locked himself in his room and clutched to Mr. Bear, thinking only how hypocritical and childish he was. At least he should rename the stupid stuffed animal. A dog named Bear…he used to think it funny and cute. Now it was only annoying.
His mother noticed the difference, and oftentimes came and knocked on his door. Sometimes she managed to coerce him out for a family dinner, but he never said anything and afterwards would skulk back into the recesses of his room, sitting in the corner and embracing the one last thing that gave him any sort of comfort, shallow though it may have been.
He still thought about Malin. Malin was on the street again. He thought about Malin dying of sickness, Malin getting mugged or raped or beaten. Malin working on the streets, sucking off old men in the back of shitty cars for a few wayward dollars. It sickened Renee terribly, but this time he didn't bother to suppress the thoughts, since now he found no logic in doing so. It was merely a waste of mental energy to try.
Mr. Thrifty called often after Malin had left, but Renee vehemently refused to talk to him. It wasn't until nearly three weeks after Malin's departure that Mr. Thrifty finally forced his will upon Renee, which he managed by crawling through the boy's window and engaging him in stilted conversation.
"I know you liked that boy," he started, as he had so many times before, and Renee resented him for it, "but he's gone now and you've got to get over it."
"It's not him that's bothering me," Renee told Mr. Thrifty coldly. "I don't like this world anymore. Malin was only a means to an end. I've finally realized what this whole life thing is all about."
That seemed to sadden Mr. Thrifty, and Renee looked away. He clutched to Mr. Bear tighter and curled more closely around it, trying to sink deeper into the little nook between his bed and the wall, into which he had wedged himself.
"I'm sorry I let Malin stick around for so long," Mr. Thrifty said at last. "I should have rejected him the moment you brought him around. All my good sense was telling me to do so. It's too bad I didn't listen."
"I'm glad you didn't," Renee said, staring at Mr. Thrifty unwaveringly. "I'm better off this way."
"No, you're not," Mr. Thrifty argued, but Renee shook his head.
"I'd rather be human than alien, even if it makes me feel like this," Renee explained. Mr. Thrifty let out a deflating sigh, and gave up with that, crawling out the window.
Three days later, Mr. Thrifty called again, demanding to speak to Renee when his mother tried to refuse his request. When Renee answered, all Mr. Thrifty said was, "You should come to my house, boy. It's important."
Renee didn't want to. Really, he'd have much rather stayed in the comfort of his corner's embrace, lamenting the horror of the state of things. But Mr. Thrifty was good at being cryptic and suspenseful, and Renee couldn't overcome that. Thus, like the weak-willed boy he was, he trudged the short walk to Mr. Thrifty's home and barged inside to find Mr. Thrifty at the kitchen table with a handful of papers and an orange pill canister in his hand.
Renee felt a sense of dread, seeing that canister and wondering if Mr. Thrifty had picked up a new drug habit. The opium was bad enough, even though Mr. Thrifty was a rather light user. But, judging by the way the psychiatrist kept reading and rereading the label, Renee began to wonder if this were about something else.
"Mr. Thrifty?" Renee started softly, and Mr. Thrifty looked up from his study, seemingly having not noticed Renee's entrance.
"Ah," Mr. Thrifty cried happily, but immediately afterwards his face darkened. "I find myself doing this to you again. But, this time you have a choice."
"What are you talking about?" Renee asked, harsher than he really wanted to. Mr. Thrifty blinked and let out a sigh of resignation.
"Malin's got something after all," Mr. Thrifty said, lifting up the pills. "I got the results of his blood test."
Renee felt a fit of nerves slither across him, but as soon as he realized its presence, he tried to vanquish it. What business did he have worrying about Malin, after all? He had hurt Malin more than helped him in his attempt to care for the homeless kid.
But, what if it were something serious? What if it were AIDS? AIDS wasn't very predominant in their city, relatively, but that didn't mean it didn't exist there. What if…what if Malin were dying?
Renee understood fully well that he shouldn't care, but…but he still did. He couldn't stand the thought of Malin really dead, of that image of his rotting carcass becoming rat food in some dirty alley—he couldn't imagine that as an actual, tangible possibility. Because Malin was…so beautiful. Malin had been hurt, and that was not a fitting death for him.
Mr. Thrifty seemed puzzled by Renee's silence, and looked up curiously to investigate. Upon seeing Renee's expression, however, understanding dawned on him and he smiled stiltedly.
"It's not serious. Not now, anyway," Mr. Thrifty said. "It's chlamydia. Totally treatable. Problem is, in that boy's line of work, it's gonna get passed on, and I can't stand the thought of letting STDs spread when we have to power to stop even just one case."
Renee couldn't believe how relieving it was to hear that it wasn't fatal. It brought up again the conclusion that he still cared—perhaps he cared too much. Like he had told Mr. Thrifty, this wasn't about Malin. Malin was merely the means to an end—the end being his higher perception of the world and its workings.
But…Malin was…special. Somehow Malin wasn't just a means.
His eyes were…too pretty for that.
"I don't know how to find Malin," Mr. Thrifty continued, now staring openly at Renee. "But I don't want to force you to see him again. So, it's up to you." He held up the orange pill canister. "Save him if you want. If you don't care, throw the pills away and forget you ever knew."
Renee stood, pondering, but it wasn't a hard decision to make because, even after just thinking about the boy, his heart pined to see him again. Just one last time… And this would be the perfect excuse. Striding forward and keenly avoiding eye contact, Renee snatched the pills out of Mr. Thrifty's hand and left without another word.
In an effort to prove, even if only to himself, that he was not as affected as he seemed, Renee planned on returning to Chinatown the next day to begin his search, but he couldn't even fool himself. That very afternoon, not long after he had returned from Mr. Thrifty's, he found himself once again on the corner of Chinatown, looking to and fro with a hopeful heart.
He knew it was no use as soon as he saw the corner empty, though. He even returned to the spot on the street in which he had met Malin for the second time, but it, too, was void of any recognizable passersby. So he went back to the first corner and sat down in the very spot he had first seen Malin, curled up into himself and began to cry.
It wasn't a heavy cry—rather, it was just a few sobs here and there that plagued him. But this crying was more meaningful than that which he did usually. Whenever he had cried before, it was for trivial reasons—a skinned knee, a broken toy, a bad day. But this sobbing was worse in that it stemmed from a heavier, more pressing source—a constant, miserable depression that was viciously digging and holding its claws in Renee; and Renee found himself unwilling to fight against it, terrible though it was.
He'd never see Malin again. He'd never touch Malin, never kiss him, never feel what he felt for Malin ever again…
He'd realized it too late: this was love. Perhaps it wasn't real, true love. Perhaps they weren't soul mates, but Renee couldn't deny that he loved Malin, however superficial that feeling was.
And now…now he'd messed things up. Malin didn't love him…wouldn't love him, not after the way he'd been treated. Renee couldn't blame him. He just…wanted to see him again, but how was he to find one person on the street of an entire city? It was useless to try…
"I think I was wrong."
Renee blinked his eyes open only to be greeted by a new type of darkness—that of the night, an eerie sort of darkness made darker by the gleam of the neon signs. He was shivering from cold and felt as if he were too weak to stand. Instead he leant against the wall, barely managing even to expend the effort it took just to lift his head, and stared up into glittering green eyes.
It was Malin. Or, it looked like Malin. Renee guessed that he was dreaming.
"No," Malin went on, smiling a faint smile as he knelt in front of Renee, "I know I was wrong."
Renee could feel his own eyebrows curling upwards into what he knew was a very pathetic expression, but he could do nothing to stop it. Tears welled in his eyes again. If he couldn't tell the real Malin, he'd have to tell the dream Malin.
"You're sick," Renee said, much to Malin's surprised expression. The surprise quickly escalated to fear, but Renee should his head. "You've got an STD, but…it's not bad. That's what Mr. Thrifty says. It's not bad. You just have to take this medicine…" He tried to lift his hand, but found his arm too weak. Instead he threw his head back against the wall and inhaled a shaky breath of smoggy city air.
He felt Malin brush against him as the redhead claimed to cement next to him as his own. Renee sluggishly looked over when a chilled hand came to rest upon his forehead.
Maybe…maybe this wasn't a dream. The haziness of sleep was beginning to recede…at a much slower pace than was normal, but it was going away and this really didn't feel like a dream anymore.
"You're sick, too, Renee," Malin whispered almost directly into his ear. "How long you been out 'ere?"
Renee tried to shake his head to dismiss Malin's worries, but he couldn't gather the energy it took to do so.
"I had to tell you," he said instead, "I didn't mean what I said. You aren't just a whore to me. You never were. I really liked you the moment I saw you, and I really was worried about you. I love you, Malin. And maybe I was selfish in bringing you home because I wanted to be with you and I wanted to care for you so that you would like me back…but…but I only wanted that because I loved you and cared about you so much. Is it wrong that I wanted you to like me back in return? I just…I didn't mean to hurt you. I never wanted to hurt you. I wanted to help you… I wanted to make you happy, but I think I did just the opposite." Renee was gasping for breath by the end of his speech, and he finished it to Malin's concerned frown.
"Please, Renee, you're sick," Malin said softly, running his hand across the skin of Renee's face, caressing him so gently that it made Renee want to cry again.
"No, it's fine," Renee assured him, and tried to get up, but found that he couldn't. Maybe he would try again in the morning. "I just…wanted to make sure you knew that. I…understand if you hate me but I just…" He couldn't finish the rest. Sleep seemed too tempting.
Renee awoke with a stuffy head and an aching body. He reached out blindly until his hand grasped the soft fabric of a blanket, which he proceeded to pull up over himself in an attempt to quash the chill that now afflicted him.
The ache in his body wouldn't let him be, though, and with a groan he pried his eyes open and suddenly found himself very lost. He was on Mr. Thrifty's couch, but as to how he had gotten there was a mystery. He shivered again, but the blanket did nothing to comfort him. Instead he let out a shaky, high-pitched moan of exasperation and tried to curl up within himself.
"Are you cold?" a soft, guarded voice asked, and Renee looked over to see Malin sitting up from the recliner, and worried frown once again etched onto his lips.
Renee thought about being strong and shaking his head no, but the shiver that had him recoiling into himself again answered for him. Malin was instantly on his feet and covering Renee with the blanket that he had been using moments earlier.
"You don't…I'm fine," Renee said. Really, he was fine. It may have been a slight fever, and his body sure did ache, but he definitely wasn't dying or anything. If he had to, he would have been able to get up and walk home, miserable though that would have made him.
Malin wouldn't accept his protests, though, and continued to tuck the blanket around him with care.
"Now we're both sick," he said with a fabricated cheer, but his concern was dampening whatever good mood he could have created. "Renee?"
Renee hummed in response and closed his eyes, but once again he found sleep fleeting.
"I wanted to tell you that I was wrong," Malin said almost in a whisper, as if he were afraid to use too loud a voice. "I said that you were a bad person, but I was wrong. The truth is, you achieved what you wanted to do. We didn't get to see each other very much, but the few times that we did…you made me happier than I've ever been before. And you were right—there are good things in this world, and I just always ignored them before, but you made me see them and…and I'll never be able to repay you for that."
Renee's eyes slid open again, and despite how awful he was feeling, a tiny smile came to his lips. So…perhaps he would be able to befriend Malin after all.
"Do you want to sleep?" Malin asked.
"No," Renee answered. "I don't think I'll be able to sleep. Too sick."
Malin smiled sympathetically and leant forward to place a soft kiss on Renee's forehead—a tiny gesture that made Renee's heart flutter uncontrollably.
"I know it's wrong to love you," Renee whispered. "I mean, we're both boys and we come from two totally different worlds and I hardly know you and you don't love me back, but—"
"I love you, Renee," Malin interrupted, sending a sweet look in Renee's direction. He leant forward again, but this time he pressed their foreheads together; the affectionate touched seemed to make every bit of stuffiness Renee had been feeling dissipate instantly. "I loved you when I first saw you running down the street. That's why I tripped you in the first place. It wasn't no accident."
Renee's heart was fluttering again, and suddenly the heat inspired by Malin's words was chasing away the chill that had plagued him only moments ago. For the first time in two weeks, despite that he was ill, Renee felt happy again.
"And I wanted to spend more time with you," Malin went on, a hint of nervousness in his voice, "but you were so busy with school and I…I haven't got no future. I haven't gone to school in years and I don't know what I can do, and I don't want to get in your way… And if you like me, then you shouldn't because that's all I'll end up doing anyhow."
"I told you I love you," Renee reminded him, almost appalled that Malin would think such a thing.
"I know but I—you're so perfect, Renee, and me…I'm so messed up. There's nothin' good about me at all. I didn't know how old I was—I'd lost track of my birthdays, but now I've figured it out, I realize it's too late for me. Not in this world, I haven't got nothing left I can do. I'm doomed to the streets my whole life and I can't do that to you."
Renee shushed Malin and moved to sit up, finding his body was aching again. "There's plenty of options for you besides the street because this country doesn't like homelessness, so they'll help you out. I'll help you out, too. I promise. And maybe you won't ever be able to become a brain surgeon or anything, but you'll be able to find a job. There's a lot of people who haven't finished school and they're making do okay."
Malin lifted bleary eyes up to Renee, and then lowered them again. "But my past… All the men…and you—"
"I don't care about that!" Renee chided him, shaking his head back and forth. Once again, he was feeling hopeful. He was seeing the good things again. Malin could come up with as many excuses as he could—Renee felt assured that he would be able to shoot down every last one of them because…because Malin had told him that his love was requited, and that was the only thing he needed to know. "As long as you can put it behind you, I won't ever hold that against you."
A soft smile touched Malin's lips, and Renee knew he'd won.
"You said it's wrong for you to love me," Malin whispered, "because we're both boys, and because we're so different. But, Renee, will you…" he paused then, and his cheeks flushed almost as red as his hair. "I knew you was different the second I saw you," he said instead. "And that's not just 'cause you look so funny. I could tell from your eyes you was special. And I've had…a lot of people tell me they love me, but I've never believed a single one of them, not 'til I met you, and when you said that, I can't tell you how happy that made me, and I realized that you was right all along. There is happiness in the world, and it's all just a matter of looking at things the right way. And I think that you…can help me and I want to be with you and I don't care if it's wrong to love each other because I love you anyway. So…will you be my boyfriend? And I swear I'll try hard for you."
Renee smiled brighter than he ever had before—which was saying something, since he had made it a regular habit to smile often. But this, this was different. This was special.
"I'll be your boyfriend, Malin," Renee answered happily and kissed Malin on the forehead just as Malin had done to him minutes ago. Malin was smiling vividly by the time Renee pulled away, but after a few moments of this his face darkened again.
"You know…I'm sorry about Becky. It was bad for me to do that. I didn't like her, just so you know. I mean, not like you. But I never got to see you and it made me sad and I thought that maybe if you got jealous—" his face flushed again as he cut himself off. "I'm sorry. It was really childish of me and I swear—"
This time it was Renee who cut him off—and he did so in the only way he could think of: he caught Malin's lips with his own, eliciting a surprised squeak from the other, but that was the only wayward gesture the older boy offered before succumbing entirely.
It was Renee's first kiss, and he'd never dreamed it would be so wonderful. Sure, it wasn't some magical evening on a starlit mountaintop, and he probably still had a bit of fever left, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that it was Malin he was kissing, and that alone gave him the courage to put every last ounce of himself into it—every emotion he'd ever felt and every thought he'd ever had all went into that one moment.
That alone made it magical—special, different, wonderful, just like him. Suddenly, he wasn't so averse to being an alien hell bent on invading the world. Perhaps it would do some good anyway.
The American Daydream…