In hindsight, Tristan knew he should've seen it coming. Hindsight is, after all, 20/20. At the time, however, he was completely blindsided.
As he looked back, he realized it had been a long time coming. The way his mother always seemed ready to cry whenever she looked at him; the very vague counseling sessions he'd been forced to go to at the church – even though he'd stopped going the year before. Everything added up. In hindsight.
But by the time he realized it, it was all too late.
Tristan McNeill was a typical seventeen year old boy. He liked hanging out with his friends, playing sports, and going out to parties most weekends. Oh, and he was gay.. but no one knew that – or so he thought.
"Bye, Mom. Bye, Dad. Oh. I have practice after school, so I'll be late." He picked up his bag, and was just about to leave when his father stopped him.
"Hang on. I'll give you a ride.. drop you off on my way."
"You.. work on the other side of town, Dad." Tristan heard the muffled sound of his mother sobbing in the kitchen, but when he turned to see what was wrong, he was pulled back towards the door.
"Come on, son."
"I.. Wait. Is everything okay?"
"Oh. Her mother's sick."
".. Grandma's sick? Shit, is she going to be okay?" Tristan frowned, and tried to look back again, wanting to tell his mother he was sorry about Grandma.
Tristan's father nodded and started ushering him back towards the door. "It's only a routine surgery. You know your mother." The older man forced a chuckle as they left the house. Tristan climbed into the passenger seat of the car and noticed a duffle bag sitting in the front of the car. His father followed Tristan's gaze and turned the key into the ignition as he tossed the bag in the backseat. "I've got a golf game this afternoon."
And, with that one last lie, they were off. The ride was fairly quiet – at least until they drove past Tristan's school.
"Uh, Dad.. it's back there."
"We're making another stop first."
"I'm going to be late." Tristan sighed. "Fuck. Miller is going to kill me."
"I'll explain it to your teachers."
Tristan nodded with a sigh and sank back into his seat. He contented himself by turning on the radio station he liked, and this time, for whatever reason, his father didn't complain at all. Warning bells should have gone off in Tristan's head, but he didn't notice.
It was nearly forty-five minutes from when they passed Tristan's school that his father finally slowed the car down. They were practically at city limits. He pulled up in front of a large beige building with 'Rainbow's End' on a sign over the front door. Next to the sign was a large drawing of a pot of gold.
Once the car had come to a stop, Tristan's father put his hand on his son's shoulder with a heavy sigh.
"Son.. you're going to be staying here for a few months."
"… what the hell is this place?"
"We.. your mother and I.. decided that this was best for you after we found all… those websites on your computer." He cleared his throat. It took Tristan a second to clue into what his father meant.. and when he did, well.. he wished he hadn't.
".. oh, god." His parents saw his porn. His gay porn.
"We think you have a sickness, Tristan. We're.. we're not angry at you. It's a disease. And these people can help you. We talked to them a couple of weeks ago, and they're willing to try and get you better."
"Dad, what is this place?" Tristan asked again, with a fresh feeling of dread washing over him.
There was no answer. Tristan watched his father swallow, and unlock the car doors. A handsome, smiling man in his mid-twenties was headed towards the car just as Tristan exited, taking the bag that his father handed him. 'Idiot'. He thought to himself. He should've known the bag was meant for him.
"Hi, there. You must be Tristan. We've been expecting you."
"Skip the fucking speech, and pour me some of that kool-aid." Tristan said darkly.
"Tristan!" His father snapped. The young man in the suit merely chuckled.
"Believe me. I've heard worse. I felt a lot like you did when I first came here. And now I've made it my life's work helping young men like you find their true selves and be happy, as God intended."
With another 'Watch it.' Look towards his son, the older man sighed and climbed back into the car, starting it again.
"D-Dad.. Wait. You can't honestly be leaving me here!" Tristan cried, dropping the bag and chasing after the car, only to see it disappear down the road.
"Come on in, Tristan. You missed breakfast—"
"Wafers and grape juice?" He snarked. The man's smile faltered, but only for a moment. "Look. Level with me. Is this a degayification camp?"
He laughed. "No. We just help troubled young men and women see the light. Or.." He said, motioning to the mural on the wall by the door. "The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."
The mural creeped the hell out of Tristan. It was a huge rainbow with teenage boys and girls crowded around a pot of gold, all grinning and holding hands with Jesus. 'I'm in hell'. He thought. 'I'm in hell for looking at so much porn.'
"All of the counselors have been through what you're going through, Tristan. So if you ever need to talk, we're here for you."
They stopped at the end of a long hallway. "Here's your room. Group therapy starts a little before lunch, so you'll have a few hours to bond with your roommate. He'll show you around the grounds and take you to group."
As they opened the door, they were greeted by the sight of a young man, bent over putting laundry away. Tristan could've sworn he saw the counselor wet his lips. Excusing himself, he let Tristan into the room and closed the door. Tristan's new roommate stood up with a wide grin.
"I like to mind-fuck them whenever possible." He extended a hand towards Tristan. "Hey. I'm Mars. Welcome to Hell."
Tristan shook it weakly. "I.. I'm Tristan. So.. what happens here?"
"We hold hands – platonically, mind you – sing gospel songs, and try not to give in to our disgusting homosexual ways."
"Oh, fuck me."
"No, no. None of that." Mars laughed, sitting down on his bed.
".. Hey." Tristan swallowed. ".. does .. does it work?"
Marshall frowned for a moment, and sighed. "They.. Well, they like to say it does. My roomie before you? He was.. cured." He said the word with a distasteful tone. "He was dating some former lesbian, and they were engaged, last I heard. It's kind of scary."
"Their entire personality just… disappears. He was a really cool guy." Marshall just sighed and lay back on the bed.
"I already hate this place." Tristan muttered, sitting on his own bed and seeing a grin from the redheaded boy on the other side of the room.
"Yeah. I bet. But there are only three ways to leave this place." Marshall sat up only slightly. "One – if they cure you."
"They better not hold their breath. And can you stop using that word?"
"'Cure'. It creeps the hell out of me."
"Sorry. Anyway. Number two – when you turn eighteen, they can't stop you from leaving, no matter what your parents say."
'Five months.' Tristan thought grimly. 'Five months or until I crack. Whichever comes first."
He was almost afraid to ask Marshall what the last way was. But he did. "And the last?"
"Death, or insanity." Marshall's grin was gone now.
"There was a guy in the room across from me named Kyle. Very cute. Anyway. They came in one night after lights out and Kyle was blowing his roommate."
Tristan let out a low whistle. Although, he thought to himself, the prospect of doing such a thing to Marshall didn't seem too bad at all. Marshall had referred to that other boy as 'very cute'. 'He's got to be up there on the 'cute' scale.' Tristan thought to himself.
"Yeah.. and I guess it wasn't his first strike, either. They were really close. That's what's always bugged me about this place." Marshall said, toying with his hair as he shifted positions on the bed. "One of the many. Putting two gay boys in their sexual prime and telling them they can't do anything? Kinda like putting a drug addict in a room with a pile of pure cocaine and telling him 'No snorting'. " Tristan laughed and made a noise of agreement.
"According to James – my former roommate – Kyle and .. hell." He sighed, thinking. ".. Rich. They were going to date seriously when they got out of here. It sounded like they weren't too far away from it, either. But, Kyle got dragged out of here on a stretcher. Rich left a couple weeks ago."
Tristan leaned forward so far that he damn near fell off of the bed. "What happened?"
He gaped, looking at Marshall closely to determine whether or not it was some kind of joke. "Isn't that.. illegal?"
Marshall shrugged. "Don't know. It's kind of the final strike for you here. Not that the other punishments are fun, mind you. I've gotten to strike one so far. Had to scrub the bathroom with a toothbrush."
"Jesus Christ." Tristan sighed and lay back. "How long have you been here?"
"Couple months. I have about six left."
"Can't you just pretend you turned straight?"
"Better men have tried.. it didn't go over well." He looked over with a sigh. "I can see this will be difficult."
"Not kissing you. You're very good-looking, Tristan."
Again, he wasn't sure if Marshall was joking or not, but Tristan was distracted by the large crucifix hanging on the wall between the two beds.
"Jesus!" Tristan jerked, wide-eyed. Marshall laughed.
"Yeah. You never quite get used to him. Hey. Tristan. Mind helping me test a theory?" Mars pulled himself from the bed and walked to where Tristan was sitting. Dumbfounded, Tristan nodded. Marshall nodded in return as if he was giving something great thought. Then, without warning, leaned up and kissed Tristan firmly on the lips.
Once Tristan got over the initial shock of having the Son of God bear witness to his very first kiss, he moaned.
Mars pulled away with a quiet shuddering gasp. "It's just as I feared." He whispered, his breath warm against Tristan's lips.
"Wh.. what?" Tristan managed.
"I'm still very, very much a homosexual."
Tristan watched Marshall's face for a moment; studied the way the other boy's glistened mischievously, and then promptly burst into laughter himself.
"Come on." Mars took Tristan's hand into his own and hauled him to his feet with a light grunt. "Allow me to show you the grounds."