The atmosphere at home continued to remain tense, his parents seemed to watch his every move and Michael had enough of it.
His bags packed, he arrived on his grandmother’s doorstep that Sunday morning, rang the door bell and feared that he’d be rejected this time as well. At the same time he trusted his grandmother more than anyone.
The woman opened the door and looked at her grandson with surprise.
Michael stood there on her doorstep, appearing so completely miserable in the morning mist, bag on his shoulder, backpack on his back, with a lost and pleading look in his once so bright and joyful eyes.
“Can I come in? I can’t stand being at home,” Michael asked with miserable tone.
“My dear child.” The woman sighed, hugging him gently before she lead him inside. “Of course you can stay, for as long as you like.” She smiled. “Take your bags to the guestroom, I’ll make us some tea,” she added, touching the boy’s hair gently before turning towards the kitchen.
Michael followed his grandmother to the kitchen after taking his bags. He stood at the doorway, wriggling his hands nervously and chewing on his lip.
“Do you know why I am here?” he asked insecurely, slightly frightened that when she found out she wouldn’t even want to look at him, she’d tell him to go.
The old woman poured the hot water in two porcelain cups and turned to look at him, still smiling gently.
“I think I do,” she replied, then urged, ”Sit down Michael.”
Michael walked further into the room and sat down in front of the table, still so terribly insecure that he observed his grandmother quietly. A tea cup was placed in front of him and grandmother searched for the tin box that contained cookies; Michael remembered that box from his childhood.
“There, take some cookies.” The woman smiled and sat down. Chewing on his lip, Michael leaned forward to pick out a cookie from the box and brought his gaze back up to his grandmother.
“I wouldn’t worry about Tony, he’s just always been so stubborn, he does care for you though, Michael. He’s just too afraid,” Grandmother said and brought the tea cup on her lips, blowing gently on it before tasting.
The boy’s eyes were wide with confusion and caused the woman to utter a soft laughter. “I knew before anyone told me,” she said. “My dear child,” she said and smiled as she leaned forward to touch his hand reassuringly, “don’t worry, everything will turn out for the better.”
Michael burst into tears, partly from the enormous surprise and relief that finally someone understood. She got up, circled the table and hugged him gently.
“You are so dear to me, nothing will ever change that, here you can stay for as long as you like,” she whispered, rocking him in her embrace.
“Alright, let’s drink our tea before it gets cold,” she said, stroked his hair before returning to her seat.
“How did you…?” Michael started wiping the tears from his eyes.
”How did I know?” Grandmother suggested with a soft smile. ”I saw how you looked at each other and they way you’ve always talked about Tony, I saw you never really took so much interest in any girl.”
Michael nodded slowly, took the cup between his hands and tasted. “Tony hates me, everyone hates me,” he whispered.
“Don’t talk nonsense Michael, people just… They are afraid of what they don’t know, what is new… And your parents…” The woman sighed deeply. “They love you, believe me, it’s difficult for now, but give them time.”
Michael’s lower lip quailed. “Everyone looks at me differently, I can’t stand it, I can’t see how it could change? How could it turn? They don’t understand,” he said miserably. “At school I feel so alone, I’d like to go play with the others but they don’t want me there anymore… Tony isn’t talking to me either. I’d take this so much better if he would just… notice that I still exist. He doesn’t even look at me.”
“Oh Michael.” The woman looked at her grandson sadly, feeling irritated at her daughter and her husband, their silly prejudices. Couldn’t they see what they were doing to their child?
“Believe me, thing will get easier, time will move by faster than you think. And Tony…”
“Screw Tony…” Michael hissed, feeling frustrated. “He left me alone, he told everyone and betrayed my trust. If his friendship is that weak, then I don’t need it.” He wanted to believe it, wanted to forget.
Grandmother observed him quietly, slightly worried. Michael met with her gaze, hesitated for a moment.
“I met someone yesterday, a man,” he whispered and chewed on his lip. It felt so good to talk to someone who still cared, he wanted tell her about the chance meeting.
“A man you say?” Grandmother smiled slightly, the worry inside her grew but she didn’t want the boy to see it. She wanted him to tell her everything. “How old is he?”
Again Michael bit his lip, faint blush rose to his cheeks. “He’s really nice, American, a real gentleman, he saved me when this one man was about to attack me,” Michael explained, wanting her to approve of Ricky.
“You didn’t answer my question?” The woman pointed out with soft tone, knowing already before he had said it that she wouldn’t like the answer.
“He just turned forty,” Michael almost whispered. “He’s really handsome and successful business man,” he added quickly.
The woman cleared her throat, lowered the cup down on the table, she crossed her hands over her lap looking at the youth.
“He is forty,” she repeated, keeping her voice gentle. She wanted to be careful, knowing the whims of the youth, she was afraid, if she would reject this completely, it might chase the boy in the man’s arms more quickly. ”Michael, your mother is 38,” she reminded causing the blush on the boys cheeks deepen. “You’re still very young. Be careful, people aren’t always what they appear to be.”
“I know, but… I like him, I promised to meet him again.”
“What is his name?” she asked, trying to remain calm.
“Ricky…” Michael almost muttered.
“And his last name?”
“I don’t know, you don’t ask that nowadays.” Michael gave a small laughter, but got serious noticing the look on her face.
“I want to know his last name before I let you out to see him and I want his phone number.” Her voice was slightly tighter now. “And, if you go, I want you to go to some place public, I don’t want you to go anywhere alone with him. Understood?”
“I’ll be careful,” Michael promised. ”But he was so polite… If his intentions weren’t good, then…”
The grandmother sighed deeply interrupting him. “It doesn’t say anything yet. Be careful, don’t trust too easily. He’s … I don’t like it that he’s so old, not at all,” the woman said honestly and eyed the boy. ”He could be your father. It’s not normal that a man his age would take interest in someone so young.”
Michael sighed, frustrated. “I know the age difference! I know all that, but… I liked him, and it’s not completely unusual… I’ve decided to meet with him anyway.”
The boys agitated voice made her fall silent; she knew how stubborn Michael could be, she had been very much like him when she was young. Now when the boy felt like the whole world was against him, she didn’t want to argue. Although she didn’t like it, she saw it best to observe the situation, hope that he would come to his senses and if he didn’t she would ask to meet with the man.
Michael got dressed and was fixing his hair in front of the mirror. The man would pick him up soon; they’d go and have coffee some place and perhaps go for a walk after. Grandmother stepped into the room, watching him get ready with worry planted on her mien. When the boy’s gaze met hers through the mirror, he smiled.
“You won’t be late, will you?” she asked. ”My nerves couldn’t take it, nor my heart for that matter.” She smiled awkwardly, wanting to prevent him from leaving all together.
Michael turned, smiled and came to her. He hugged his grandmother and kissed her cheek softly. “I’ll be careful, don’t worry,” he whispered looking at her face. “I love you,” he added. “You did take your meds, right?” He couldn’t help but to ask, the woman’s mention about her heart had caused him to worry.
“Well now, who is looking after who?” She chuckled softly and touched the boy’s cheek. “I love you so very much and yes, I’ve taken my medications.”
“Good.” Michael smiled. “I’m not out for long, I promise,” he added.
The woman watched from the door as the boy neared the taxi that stopped by the side of the street. The man stood beside it, opened the door to the boy and nodded towards the woman. The grandmother gave a hesitant nod back, imprinting every detail about the man in her mind; just in case. Tall, handsome and well dressed. Pleasant smile, her trust however was lean, she simply hated the whole situation, the boy was simply too young.
They walked in the park, the evening had already darkened, it was peaceful, no one else around. Michael couldn’t feel any fear, they had already sat at a coffee house for an hour or more. They had talked and the man had impressed him even more with his conduct and appearance.
The man asked him things about his family and school and Michael told everything openly. At some point the man had wrapped one arm around his waist. “Is this alright?” he had asked and Michael had said it was.
They stopped to take a seat on a park bench and kissed. Michael enjoyed these kisses and the attention that he got from the man. He loved to tease and so he interrupted the moment even now. Agile Michael hopped up, radiating youthful energy and passion.
“Well, Mr. Matthews, we’ve talked an awful lot about me, but I’d be interested in knowing more about you. Other than you kiss excellently.” Michael grinned.
“I think you enjoy teasing older men?” The man grinned back lazily and got up. Michael walked forward, glanced at him but staying ahead
“You think I’m teasing you, sir?” Michael tinted his head, joking, he walked backwards, facing the man.
“Sir? You make me sound so old, am I really that old?” The man wondered, smiling and following the boy with his gaze.
“You are old enough to be my father. Do you often pick up innocent teenage boys?” Michael chuckled. His confidence was high, the way that the man looked at him, he knew already that Ricky was completely mesmerized by him.
“But I am not your father and you; an innocent teenage boy? The creature that now stands before me, appears anything but innocent.”
“You doubt my honor?” Michael laughed. The man was silent for a moment observing his face.
“You are still a virgin,” Ricky stated. “At least as other men are concerned.” He continued smiling at the youth.
Michael stopped, tilting his head. “Is it really that obvious?” he asked.
The man closed the distance between them, lowering his hand on the boy’s waist and Michael had to tilt his head upwards to connect with his eyes. The American brought his other hand to touch the boy’s cheek, smile still lingering on his face.
“You are really a beautiful boy, prettiest that I’ve seen,” the man whispered and Michael couldn’t help but to smile at the praise. ”Many would love to have you and you know that.”
The American’s eyes were digging into his own. Michael was about to open his mouth, Ricky however pressed his finger on them to shush him. “I’m an experienced man, I can easily see that you’ve never been with a man before, perhaps kissed sometime but never moved further. Am I right?”
Michael nodded. “I was fifteen when I first kissed another man. I won’t accept just anyone to be my first.” He wanted the man to be impressed with him, wanted his admiration to feed his soul. The man looked at him for a long time, Michael smiled, feeling confident; the man wanted him. Michael took a step back, holding the gaze until finally turning. He soon heard the following steps behind him.
“You’re not easy, all the better; I like to hunt.” Ricky was now by his side and Michael looked up at him.
“So you live in New York, what is it exactly that you do for living?” Michael asked.
“You do not address me so formally anymore, perhaps I’m getting on your good side by now?” The man chuckled before getting serious. “I run an advertising agency. The firm belonged to my father and I inherited it after he passed.” Michael gave him a curious look and the man saw it. ”I’m a wealthy man; I have more money than what I would need and no one to share it with.” He smiled looking the boy in the eye. Michael was slightly stupefied by the intensity of the stare and momentarily looked away.
“Handsome, wealthy man such as yourself, could easily find someone to be by his side,” Michael said.
“No doubt, but like you, I am selective of my company as well.” The man smiled when Michael looked up.
“What is that you look for a partner, then? I think you must be very picky if you haven’t met one yet.”
“I appreciate beauty, I am not going to claim otherwise. I appreciate youth, I want someone to inflame me with his energy. My work days are often long and I desire someone whom I could spoil in my free time, someone to hold and love. Maybe…” The man stopped and Michael stilled as well, listening to every word carefully, wanting to hear more. The man looked at him intensely and Michael felt his own heart hammering from excitement.
Ricky stepped closer, so close that Michael again felt his breath on his skin, and his smell that seemed to stun him.
“Perhaps the person that I’ve been looking for…” The American’s lips touched tenderly his cheek. “Is right now standing in front of me, waking these feelings in me that I haven’t felt for ages.”
Michael met with the man’s eyes and surrendered to the kiss that followed, feeling like he was in heaven.
“Would you go with me? To let me hold you? To spoil you and drown you with gifts? You’re the kind of a boy who needs to be appreciated, someone who should be drowned with gifts…” the man whispered and kissed him again, Michael felt like he could melt in his arms. They looked deep in each others eyes. Michael reminded himself of the man’s age, but his mind was starting to feel more convinced that in the end age meant nothing, years were just numbers. The man was handsome, he could offer a life that many could only dream of, but was he being sincere?
“You are good with words, you talk ’till my head gets dizzy, until you get what you want and then you’ll go. Aren’t you Americans like that?” Michael said, desperately trying to keep his feet on the ground and not be blinded by those rosy images that the man was feeding him.
“I am what I say I am and I want you. I could take you with me to New York. You would get a job from my company or you could continue your studies and live with me. How does that sound?”
Michael smiled feeling dazzled. He looked at the surrounding park and then at the man, his heart filled with doubts.
“We barely know each other,” he said and the man smiled, his hand once again reaching to touch his cheek, dreamy look in his eyes.
“It’s crazy,” Ricky admitted. ”I see something in front of me that I’ve always wanted and the time is limited. Sometimes one must act quickly, allow the feelings to guide you. You are someone that I could fall in love with, I feel it.”
Michael could only stare at him, not knowing what to think.
The man talked, touched him and talked, saying all the things that he had always wanted to hear. The man praised him, seemed to worship him already; this rich, handsome New Yorker worshiped him and he was only a young British student whose parents despised him, whose friends had abandoned him. He had been high, he had been popular and suddenly he had fallen down. The man was offering to bring him back up, he was offering his heart and riches. Michael could already see how life could be like, the fantasy was taking him over, already starting to blind him.
By the time that Ricky took him back home, Michael was already considering the offer seriously.
Grandmother sat in the living room watching TV when Michael returned. The boy sat down on the couch next to her. The woman glanced at the time; the boy had been gone for three hours and she had begun to worry.
“It’s late,” she stated, bringing her gaze back on the youth, whose face seemed to be glowing. The look in his eyes was dreamy and the woman felt a stab of worry in her heart.
“I’m sorry, I completely lost the track of time…” Michael sighed, barely able to hold back his excitement. ”He’s wonderful!” he finally exclaimed. ”He’s traveled all over, he’s handsome and rich! He has his own company!”
“Is it the wealth that enchants you?” His grandmother asked and tilted her head, feeling exhausted.
“I can’t say that it wouldn’t, it would make life so easy.” Michael replied honestly.
“But not always happy,” she reminded.
“Well it doesn’t make you unhappy either,” Michael chuckled. “Just think about it; to be able to travel anywhere at all, any time! Get everything that you ever possibly wanted without having to worry about the cost. Hmm… I would travel to Spain, the village that you came from and then… I’d travel around the world.” Michael dreamed. ”He asked me to come with him,” he whispered then with a grin, ”To live with him. He said that I could get a job from his company, advertising…”
The woman felt her worry grow, the boy spoke as though really considering it and he didn’t even know the man.
“Michael, you’re not really considering such madness?” she asked.
The boy was quiet for a moment. “What if I am?” he asked. “There are lots of opportunities in New York, I could finish my school there and study as a chef. And if it wouldn’t work with Ricky, I could always come back.”
“You don’t even know him!” His grandmother huffed. ”He could be anything at all!”
“He’s a good man, if you met him, you’d believe me,” Michael defended.
“Alright, I want to meet him, invite him over for a tea tomorrow?” she asked, curious if the man would have the guts to show up. Everything that the man had told her grandson, could be just to trick to lure him in his bed; the world was filled with such conman.
Michael hesitated but finally nodded. “If it makes you feel better, I’ll invite him,” he promised.
He was used into getting what he wanted and this would be no exception. The boy was extraordinarily beautiful, he couldn’t remember seeing anyone in a long time that could compare to that beauty and although his original idea hadn’t been to take anyone with him, he was willing to go through extreme measures to get this specific boy. He was a true treasure, a gem in fact, and he couldn’t let this treasure slip through his fingers.
The boy wanted him to meet with his grandmother and this represented a problem. It was threatening to spoil his whole plan so he had to be careful. He agreed, knowing that if he said no, he’d risk the boys trust that he had already gained. Somehow it would all work out. He really was willing to do anything just to get that gem to himself. Challenges made life worth living.
The woman opened the door and he smiled politely handing out a huge bouquet of flowers. ”Evening Mrs. Harris.”
“Thank you, these are beautiful.” The woman smiled, but the smile was seemingly reserved. “Come in, please?” she asked.
“Richard Matthews, pleased to meet you.” He held out his hand after stepping in and the woman shook it.
“You may call me Isabella,” the woman said and glanced at her grandson, who stood by her side smiling at the man and seeming somewhat entranced by him.
“Would you like a cup of tea or would you prefer coffee?” Isabella asked.
“Thank you, tea will be fine,” the man smiled looking towards Michael while taking his coat off.
“Michael dear, would you be kind and put the kettle on?” the grandmother asked with a soft tone.
“Sure, should I put the flowers in a vase as well?” Michael asked and the woman smiled handing him the bouquet.
“Thank you sweetheart,” she said and watched as the boy retreated to the kitchen.
“So, Mr Matthews, perhaps we can move into the living room?” she invited a little stiffly and the man couldn’t help but notice her cold, critical stare.
“Sure, and please, call me Ricky.” He smiled.
They sat alone in the living room. Isabella crossed her hands on her lap and tilted her head. “I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to you to know how I feel about all of this, about you,” she started keeping her voice low. ”Michael is only seventeen, what on earth could a man like you want with him, other than…” Isabella didn’t finish her sentence, she didn’t need to, the man would surely understand without her needing to explain.
The man smiled and looked straight in her eyes and although many would have agreed that the smile was pleasant, it made Isabella feel uncomfortable.
“I understand that he is young and I understand that as far as my age is concerned, I could be his father and therefore I understand your worry; it’s completely natural. I can assure you though that my intentions are good. I’m very fond of Michael even as our age difference is quite big and raises a lot of questions. I would however treat him as well as I can, I believe I can offer a lot to him and…”
“You are asking him to leave his home and move to the United States with you, where he has no friends or family. You’ve only just met and I can’t trust you no matter how elegantly you’d phrase it,” the woman stated and watched the man’s reaction; he was silent for a moment, nodded, smiled still, but Isabella thought that she saw an unpleasant flash in the man’s dark eyes.
“Michael is free to make the choice, he would of course be given the chance to continue his studies and nothing would keep him from returning home if he so chooses. I would like to offer him a chance to see what I could give him though and I’m prepared to buy him a return ticket as well, so that…”
At that moment Michael stepped into the room carrying the tea-tray. The man looked at the boy smiling warmly, a smile which Michael returned. The boy’s eyes seemed to sparkle; Isabella felt her worry grow, she definitely didn’t like this.
“So how’s it going here?” Michael asked with curiosity and Isabella forced a smile on her face.
“Fine,” she replied and thanked him when he handed her the tea cup. When he had served Ricky and himself, Michael sat close to the older man. Any outsider would have instantly thought that they were a father and a son and Isabella felt her stomach churn, especially when the man lowered his hand on Michael’s, holding it gently.
“So tell me about your family? You don’t have any children?” the woman asked, barely able to hide her disgust towards the situation.
The man noticed the stare and knew instantly that the woman would cause troubles that he would have preferred to avoid. “I’ve never been married and I don’t have children. My father is dead and my mother is very old and lives with my sister’s family in California. I’m the youngest child, evening star you could say.” Ricky smiled.
“And how many siblings do you have?” Isabella continued to question calmly wanting to know as much about the man as possible.
“Three, I am the only son and my father left his business to me, he was very old fashioned man.”
“And does your family know that you’re…? Well..”
“Gay?” Ricky asked with amused tone. “My sisters know,” he said although it was a lie. “My mother… Well, like I said, she is old and wouldn’t understand. I’ve seen it best not to burden her with information that wouldn’t be any good for her health. We see each other very rarely.”
“If Michael would decide to go with you, would you introduce him to your sisters and their families? Under what kind of habitation would Michael live and how would you secure his safety?”
“Grandma! You’re practically cross examining him!” Michael laughed.
“These are important things, dear,” Isabella answered calmly and smiled.
“Your grandmother is right,” the man said. “I expected questions when I arrived,” he added with a smile before he continued. ”Later, I would be ready to introduce Michael to my siblings and their families. I live in New York, my apartment is big and spacious, lonely at the moment. I can assure you that Michael would be completely safe. The area that I live is very distinguished and I have a chauffeur who could take Michael to school and bring him back home, if he would decide to continue his studies which of course I would encourage him to do.”
Michael looked even more mesmerized and Isabella knew that his head was filled with fantasy of how grant life would be with all those riches. Everything just sounded too good to be true.
The man’s answers felt too thought out, too ready, the smile too calculated and if Michael hadn’t been there, she would have demanded more straight forward answers to more straight forward questions. She, however, kept the conversation polite, decided to do some research on the man’s background later if possible and do everything in her power to change Michael’s mind; to open up his closed eyes.
When Isabella had asked Michael to clear the dishes, she turned to the man once more.
“I don’t trust you,” she said honestly and the man, for a moment, looked almost surprised, but smiled.
“You’re worried.” He nodded understanding. ”But…”
“Please.” Isabella brought her hand up for a moment, to silence him. “I’m convinced that Michael’s happiness can’t be found with you, he is young, you are rich and you’ve dazzled him with your talk. Michael is confused. At the moment he feels rejected by almost everyone he knows and loves and you appear at this delicate time, when he thirsts for acceptance and attention… Sooner or later he would become aware of his mistake, and what then? I ask you to back off. I can not allow Michael to go with you, surely you see that?”
“This is quite unpleasant, Mrs. Harris.” He sighed. “Of course I understand your opinion, you are his grandmother and entitled to worry. However, the decision is Michael’s. If he decides to say no, I understand. If you ask me to stop seeing him while I’m here, I’m sorry, but my answer has to be no. The decision, like I said is solely Michael’s. I’m not going to pressure him into anything that he’s not ready for yet.” Ricky got up. “It was nice meeting you.” He smiled causing her to frown; the man was too well composed.
Michael returned in the room.
“You’re leaving?” he asked approaching the man who smiled warmly.
“It is late and… I think you have a lot to discuss with each other,” Ricky said and glanced at the woman almost amused. Isabella got up, watching as the man kissed her grandson’s cheek. “I’ll call you tomorrow,” Ricky promised him.
“Wait and I’ll see you to the door,” Michael smiled taking the man’s hand.
“Good-bye Mrs. Harris.” Ricky nodded towards the woman who felt too upset to reply.
When Michael returned after saying goodbye to the man, he gave his grandmother a curious look.
“Well?” he asked, smiling with excitement and he sat down on the couch. Isabella sighed, worried and little bit frightened. She wanted to talk some sense into the boy.
“He can be very polite, he talks well…” She hesitated.
“But?” Michael’s voice was slightly offended.
“But he is way too old for you and I don’t trust him.” She sighed. “Who is he really? Is he what he says he is? You only just met him and he wants you to move with him. What about Tony?”
“Tony doesn’t care for me, he’s made that perfectly clear,” Michael said, and sighed somewhat bitterly.
“You should wait, at times one has to be patient. I know it feels difficult, but it may prove worth it.”
“It won’t change Tony’s feelings or how he betrayed my trust,” Michael said. “I can’t just shrug my shoulders lightly at what he did. We’ve known each other forever and he… He told everyone! He treats me like everyone else, like I was somehow defective or sick…” He noted with a sad tone. “But Ricky; he makes me feel important and wanted. I don’t want to give that up, I don’t want to stay alone.”
“You’re not alone Michael.” The grandmother sighed and the boy bit his lip.
“I have you and I love you so much, you’re so important to me and… I can only thank… I wish I could do more…” He started taking her hand between his. “I promise to consider, but that’s all I can promise.”
The woman sighed a little sadly, hoping to find a way to ensure that the boy wouldn’t go. If nothing else would work she would have to tell his parents about the boy’s crazy plan. They would be mad of course, but it would be better than to allow Michael to go with that man, whose intentions couldn’t be good.