Light, filtered through the slanted slats of the blinds, was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes the next morning.
Through half-opened eyes, I watched the dust particles dancing in the beams of light.
I glanced down at the mattress I had dragged into my room and dumped unceremoniously in the middle of my floor, probably on top of half the books I would need for that day which had somehow accumulated there over the weekend.
The boy was curled up in the foetal position. His T-shirt still clung to him in damp patches and there was sheen of glistening sweat on his forehead.
I was still in my jeans and strap top from last night. Even though I was pretty sure the kid was out cold when I'd dumped him on the mattress, I hadn't felt comfortable enough to undress in front of him, and I hadn't want to risk leaving my room again in case the sound of my footsteps on the un-carpeted floors woke my father. The downside to all this was that my sheets now smelled of stale smoke.
I got out of bed, feeling a rush of light-headiness swamp me the moment I was vertical. Once this had cleared, I looked down at the sleeping boy.
In the harsh daylight, he looked even younger than he had done last night. Without the dim lighting and the haze of smoke in the air, I could see his face was a lot narrower and his skin a lot paler. Although he was sweating, there were goose bumps raised on his bare arms. Could it be a side effect from whatever Mitch spiked him with last night?
Looking down at his fragile-looking jaw and his long eyelashes, I was grimly relieved he wasn't going to wake up wherever it was Mitch would have left him.
Maybe it was just the fact he looked so young, or that he was asleep, but this boy looked so vulnerable it was unsettling. What was a kid like him doing turning tricks for monsters like Mitch?
"Hey," I said out loud. "Hey, wake up."
I bent down, shook him briskly by the shoulder and then stepped back, expecting him to sit bolt upright with a start. But instead, a faint moan like a breath escaped his lips.
"Hey," I said again, more softly, wondering what state that shit had left his head in.
He rolled over towards the sound of my voice. His eyes slowly opened. He weakly raised an arm to shield his eyes from the sunlight and he gazed up at me.
"Hey…" he said slowly, doubtfully, his eyes now darkening with question.
"Hi. How are you feeling?"
"Rough," he said. "Did I… were you… did we…?"
He trailed off.
"What do you remember?" I sat on the edge of my bed to talk, still looking down at him.
He thought about this for a few seconds.
"The party, and then… then Mitch. But then I…" he broke off and looked up at me. "Where is he? I mean… did we…? Shit, I don't remember anything."
His voice was still quite high, reminding me of his age, or lack of it, with such great force I was almost compelled to reprimand him for saying a naughty word.
"My name's Rachel," I finally introduced myself. "What's yours?"
"OK Zack. Well, you weren't in a good state last night, so I bought you back here to crash."
"And what about Mitch?"
"I don't know."
"Shit…" Zack began to struggle to sit up but even as his head began to leave the mattress I knew he was overcome by dizziness and he sank down again.
"I'm going to get you some water," I told him. "Don't move."
I didn't want him to start wandering about in case my father hadn't left for work yet.
I went to the kitchen, my bedroom was on the first-floor, and filled a glass of water from the sink and by the time I'd got back to him, he'd struggled upright and was sitting with his back against my bed.
"Thanks," he reached up gratefully for the water.
I hovered uncertainly above him, not wishing to sit on the bed which would bring him within and what I felt to be intimate, proximity with him.
He closed his eyes and he took deep sips from the glass, both of us content with silence while I thought what else to say.
"How old are you?" was the most imposing question.
"Fourteen." He didn't even open his eyes to answer.
"Go easy on the water," I said.
He shook his head. "Thirsty."
He finished the water and handed the glass back to me.
"Thanks," he said. "And look… last night… did we… at all?"
He looked at me helplessly, willing me with his eyes to catch his meaning. I finally did.
"Oh!" I exclaimed. "Oh! No! Absolutely not! You slept on the mattress. I slept on the bed. You were out of it."
"Right," he said with a nervous, high-pitched laugh. "I thought so. Don't really do girls."
I arched my eyebrows.
"Not like that," Zack said matter-of-factly. His eyes were closed again and he tilted his head back. "Just it's usually guys."
"Guys who pay you, right?" I asked.
Zack nodded. An awkward silence followed. Awkward for me at least, Zack still seemed to be getting his bearings.
"You're a bit young to be doing that kind of thing," I said, sounding naïve and knowing it.
Zack gave a shrug. "Since I was eleven."
"Think I should go," Zack murmured faintly.
I helped raise him to his feet. He swayed unsteadily on the spot.
"Come on," I said. "Let's get you outside."
His face had a tinge of green to it. I managed to get him into the bathroom before he hurled.
Crouching beside him as he slumped, semi-conscious, over the toilet, holding his grimy hair out of his eyes, I wondered what I was going to do with him. I didn't like the idea of just turning him out onto the street but I had no car to drive him anywhere and in an hour I needed to be at school.
"I'm OK," he whispered, his voice hoarse.
I eased him back so he was sitting on his heels and wiped the string of vomit dangling from his lips.
"Well, you still look pale," I observed. "Whatever shit Mitch gave you was strong."
"He gave me something?"
"Either that or you really can't handle your booze," I said darkly.
"Didn't drink that much," Zack said, a vague smile of his lips.
"Where do you live, Zack?" I asked.
At that point, someone banged on the bathroom door, making me jump so much it was like someone had sent a jolt of electricity through my body.
"Who is it?" I called out, a panicked lilt to my voice.
"It's Luke," Lucas's voice was familiar and yet so unfamiliar in my house. "Back door was open. I was coming to turf you out of bed but I guess I got here too late. You OK?"
"Come in," I said.
"Are you decent?" he quipped as he swung the door open. He stopped smiling when he saw me, kneeling by Zack over the toilet.
"What? You bring home a stray last night?"
"Wait here, OK?" I spoke to Zack, whose head had dropped and hair fallen over his eyes again. "OK?"
"Yeah," Zack replied, his voice still raw from chucking up.
I stood up and caught a glimpse of what I looked like in the mirror as I did so. My hair was tangled, but my face looked eerily grey and I had dark smudges of mascara and eyeliner bruising my eyes like two brutal thumbprints. I knew I still reeked of the party, whereas Lucas was clean-shaven and his hair still gleaming with damp having just showered.
"Is my dad out?" I asked.
"I guess so," he replied.
I closed the bathroom door behind us, just to make sure, and after a cautious glance up and down the corridor, led Lucas into the kitchen.
"Rach," he said seriously. "That boy looks suspiciously like the one Mitch was grooming last night."
"Because he is," I said, not bothering to lie. "Want a juice?"
I fetched the cartoon from the fridge and two glasses.
"OK," Lucas said, slipping out of his jacket and slinging it over the back of the chair he sat down in. "So tell me."
So I explained, omitting only one detail from my account of the previous night, that Zack was a rent boy.
Looking back, I think I should have been honest with Lucas from the start. I guess I was trying to protect Zack's dignity, thinking I knew how straight guys would react to Zack's possibly confused orientation and job.
Yeah, hindsight's a beautiful thing, as well as being man's greatest curse: that they are given the power to be able to look back and see where it all went wrong and long to be able to change it and kick themselves for not 'seeing it' earlier.