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Dawn of Dystopia

The Prequel to Dystopia in Drag

Book 0

C. M. Barrett

Rainbow Dragon Press

A Note to the Reader

The Church of the Redeemers is not based on any (known to me) church or denomination. In other words, it’s a fictional creation.

I would like to add that I know many Christians (including family members) who practice their faith with love and generosity. They have my respect and admiration.

Chapter 1

When I was ten years old, my parents abandoned me. Already a malnourished and undersized boy, I became a throwaway child and candidate for starvation.

During the twenty-first century, desperately poor people left their children behind when they moved to places they thought would give them better opportunities—not for prosperity; they’d pretty much given up on that. They were prepared to settle for survival, which was easier to manage without the burden of kids.

They set off for Arizona, Colorado, California, and any other place where they’d heard the weather was better, the chance for work greater, and—for many—drugs easier to score.

Opioid addiction was climbing to record heights, and one of its effects seemed to be suppression of the guilt parents might have otherwise felt about abandoning their children. When it came to the bottom line, nothing mattered but the fix.

The day I discovered I was alone in the world, I came home from school to an empty trailer. This didn’t alarm me at first. My mother occasionally got work cleaning houses, and my father earned income from the kind of work that also led to arrest.

I didn’t start worrying until bedtime. Then I wandered into their bedroom and noticed that empty hangers hung in the small closet. In the bathroom the medicine cabinet was empty. I slowly realized that they’d left, leaving behind only an unwashed odor, the fumes of tobacco and alcohol—and me.

Unable to deal with their abandonment, I went to my small bedroom, burrowed beneath the dirty bedclothes, and cried until I fell asleep. When I woke up the next morning, the emptiness of the trailer encircled me like the oblivion that had so often blanketed my parents. If it came any closer, it would smother me. For one tempting moment, I wanted that. I was just a kid; how could I hope to survive?

Because you have to.

I didn’t know where that voice came from. It didn’t yell or wheedle; it whispered with the sound of an ice-white star, so distant that it didn’t care whether I listened or not. Despite its indifferent tone, it had more force and strength than either of my drug-weakened parents had ever exercised. It represented my only hope, so I kept on listening.

Forget them; they forgot you. Are you going to let them kill you?

Like the whiplash of a starbeam, those words slashed through my cocoon of helplessness. To avoid a second swipe from the cosmos, I jumped out of bed and stood, shivering.

“Okay,” I told it. “I don’t know how I’m going to make it, but I will.”

For a week school lunches and the small supplies of food left in the trailer kept me alive. When the cupboards emptied, I got desperate and went outside late at night to search through the dumpsters. I was pulling out a fast food bag with leftovers in it when a neighbor came by.

Mrs. Cameron studied my dirty clothes and hair. “Where are your parents?”

I looked down at my torn sneakers. “Gone.”

She bit her lip. “People. Do you have any family you can call?”

My parents had both emigrated from Ireland, and, as far as I knew, they’d never gotten letters from there. “No one.”

“You know what that means, don’t you?”

I’d avoided thinking about it in the hope that the voice that suggested the feasibility of survival would come up with a better plan, but I knew all right. My future would be foster care or an orphanage. I didn’t like the idea of strangers running my life, but they could hardly do a worse job than my parents had.

A foster home might not be terrible. Foster kids went to my school, and their clothes were old and mended but clean, and the children looked like they ate. If I could get to some place where they’d feed me, I could figure out the next step.

“Tomorrow morning I’ll call the child welfare office. Someone will come here. You can stay at our place tonight; it’s not safe for you to be alone.”

I realized how lonely I’d been in the trailer—and frightened. They taught us in school about rapists and child molesters. I was sure that every deviant in the area must know I had no one to protect me.

Mrs. Cameron made me take a long shower the next morning and gave me some clothes that were too big but clean.

“Now you look like a kid someone would want.” She gave me one of those phony adult smiles I knew too well, but I needed to be a kid who would be wanted. Getting into a good home meant making the social worker care about me.

I had a few things going for me. In addition to having blue eyes and blonde hair, I knew the importance of charm. Even if my winning ways hadn’t gotten me a ride to Arizona, they’d usually prevented my parents from hitting me.

Miss Cirillo, the social worker, had long, curly black hair and a very good figure. She smiled at me. “Is it ok if I look around in the trailer? I might find addresses for relatives.”

I unlocked the door. “They didn’t even have friends.”

“Poor child,” Mrs. Cameron said.

Looking through a stranger’s eyes, I saw what a complete dump the place was: cigarette burn marks on every surface, filthy linoleum, and mold crawling up the walls. The social worker looked as if she didn’t want to touch anything, but she went through drawers, cabinets, and even lifted the mattress of my parents’ bed. She found no useful evidence.

“Why don’t you gather up whatever you want to take? While you do that, I’ll have a word with Mrs. Cameron.”

They moved away from the trailer, but my hearing was excellent.

“He seems very polite and well-behaved. It’s unusual under the circumstances.”

“You don’t know how unusual,” Mrs. Cameron said. “Without too much exaggeration, you could say it’s miraculous. Do you think you can find a place for him?”

“Certainly a foster home.”

“And you’ll let me know?”

“Give me your phone number.”

Mrs. Cameron hugged me, and I got in Miss Cirillo’s car. It smelled clean and started right up. I noticed how pretty she was. Her blouse and skirt were nothing much, but they weren’t stained, and no buttons were missing. She smelled like lavender. She probably took a shower every day. I would have liked her to hug me.

She drove to the Child Welfare office, which smelled of piss and disinfectant. We went into her small, clean office.

“Can you sit quietly while I make some phone calls?” she asked.

“Absolutely.” (I had a good vocabulary for my age.)

She smiled again and handed me a coloring book that would have been suitable for a five-year-old and some crayons. I wanted to ask her if she had something else, but I was afraid that I’d irritate off my lifeline to the future. I opened the coloring book and picked out a crayon.

She got on the phone, and I colored. Several adorable kittens later, she finished her calls.

“I can place you in about a week. Until then, you can stay in our temporary shelter here. Let’s get you set up.”

We went to the back of the building by way of a kitchen where an enormous woman cut up vegetables. I was hungry enough to grab anything, but I kept my hands by my side.

Behind the kitchen was a small dormitory with six cots lined up on either side. Only one boy was there, a skinny black kid, maybe twelve years old, with dreads.

“The others are playing outside,” Miss Cirillo said. “Anthony, this is Gerry.” She left.

“You a throwaway?” Anthony asked.

I hadn’t heard the term before, but I understood it. “Yeah.”

“Fuck them, right?”


“I mean, fuck them. They left while I was in school. I come home; the place is empty, not even a dime rolling on the floor. My little sister comes home; she starts crying. She’s only six. What are we supposed to do?”

I looked around. “Where is she?”

“She got lucky. The phone service hadn’t been cut off yet, so I called my uncle. He took both of us for a few nights, but he said he couldn’t keep me. I ate too much. Bullshit. My sister was little and cute. I was big. I was a boy, and his wife didn’t like me. She said she didn’t want another man in the house. Like I’m a man, like I was going to jump her or something. I would have done anything she asked to stay with my little sister.”

Anthony swallowed hard, and his Adam’s apple was jumping. He turned his back on me for a minute. When he faced me again, the skin was drawn tightly over his cheekbones.

“They sending you somewhere?”

“She said so.”

“Be careful. Lotta pervs out there. I don’t mean gay. I mean child molesters. Watch out for the men especially but the women, too. Sickos everywhere.”

Our school lectures had included warnings about drugged candy and getting into cars with strangers and getting up from your seat in the movies if a man sat next to you. This advice didn’t apply to living in the house of a perv.

“What can you do?” I asked Anthony.

“Kick them in the balls hard as you can. Then you have to run. Come back here if you can find the place. Make sure you have the phone number before you leave.”

“How come you’re being so helpful to me?”

“Because you’re listening to me like I might actually know something. Not that many white kids do.”

Chapter 2

A little while later, the other boys, ranging in age from six to twelve, came inside, and we all went to the kitchen to eat a tasteless stew. I had two helpings.

After that, we crowded into a small area to watch TV. We hadn’t had a television in the trailer, so I watched with interest.

The news show was all about people who wanted to abolish the government. I’d heard about this in school. A big evangelical church called the Church of the Redeemers had been saying for years that Congress was useless. The members were always on vacation, and they hardly ever voted on anything.

The Redeemers said that Congress was wasting taxpayers’ money. They wanted the country to try something new, like having a king. He wouldn’t be as expensive.

“They’ll do it, too,” Anthony said.

“You think so?” I asked. “We learned in history that this country started because people didn’t want to be ruled by a king. Why would they change their minds?”

“Because they don’t have minds any more. You went to school? So do I, but we’ve been lucky. Lots of kids haven’t. They can’t read or write. They believe what they see and hear on TV. This church says voting for a king is a good idea. They don’t tell people they’ll never be able to vote after that.”

“How come these Redeemers run everything?”

“They don’t completely. There’s Big Business, too, but they like this idea. They also like the Church scaring everybody about going to hell.”

“How come you know so much?”

“Before my parents got into the drugs, they were smart. They used to go on demonstrations and called their representatives. They cared, but then they gave up. All they did was sit around and take pills, but when they weren’t stoned, they still talked about what was going on and how shitty it was.”

He leaned back into the couch. “And I had a pretty smart teacher. He ended up getting fired, but he was trying to make us think for ourselves. He warned us about the Church and Big Business. He talked about places like Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. He said that people could get hypnotized into giving up their rights. I missed him when he was gone.”

“My parents never talked about anything like that,” I said. “They were illegal immigrants from Ireland. They didn’t want to make trouble.”

The next morning, the other kids went to school. Miss Cirillo said that I could wait until I was placed in the foster home. She thought this would make me happy, but I had liked school, not only because it got me out of the filthy trailer but also because I liked to learn. I asked her if there were any books around that I could read.

This impressed her, and she asked what books I liked. I rattled off a list that included David Copperfield (a story that was assuming greater meaning for me) and Lord of the Rings.

“Well, you’re quite a scholar,” she said.

“Not really,” I said because I didn’t want her to think I was full of myself.

She left for a little while and came back with some dog-eared paperbacks. I chose Oliver Twist and went to the now-empty dormitory to read.

I soon identified with Oliver even more than I had with David. Was there, I wondered, a school for child pickpockets in Springfield? I was nervous about breaking the law, but after all I’d heard from Anthony about foster homes, I thought I might need a backup plan.

I read until the other kids came home. Anthony and I went out for a walk.

We ended up by City Hall, a building that reminded me of pictures I’d seen from Greece and Rome. We sat on the steps.

“I wonder if they’ll do away with local government, too, when there’s a king,” Anthony said.

“How would they run things?”

“The Church and the business bosses, I guess. Thing is, the Redeemers aren’t that big in Massachusetts. We have a lot of Congregationalists and Unitarians. My parents were Catholic, but they hardly ever went to Mass.”

“My parents, either,” I said. “I think I was baptized, but I really don’t know anything about religion.”

“What did your father do, I mean, when he worked?”

“When I was really little, he worked construction. It was hard for him to get a job because he was illegal. Then he fell from a ladder and wrecked his back. That started him on the drugs.”

“Do you hate him?”

“For leaving.” I didn’t want to, but I started to cry.

Anthony put an arm around me. “It’s ok. What they did was shit. You can say they were too drugged up to know any better, and it’s true, but it’s still shit.”

He became the big brother I’d always wanted. We walked around the city every day. I mentioned my pickpocket idea, and he said plenty of homeless kids roamed the streets stealing whatever they could.

I asked what would happen to him. He shrugged. “I’ve left three foster homes. The foster parents were shit. They’re putting me in an orphanage. I’m not little and cute like you. I’m not white. No, don’t look embarrassed. Work whatever you have.”

I’d been at the shelter for a week when Miss Cirillo told me I’d be going to the foster home the following day. When Anthony got home, I told him the news.

“I’m going to miss you, kid,” he said.

That night, I lay wide-awake in my uncomfortable cot. All around me, kids were sleeping and snoring, a few whimpering. I wanted to whimper, too. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. I was afraid that the social worker would deliver me to a perv’s house. I felt like this crowded dormitory was the last safe place I would ever know.

That thought tore away my determination not to cry. I sobbed quietly into my pillow. Then I felt a body onto the cot, and Anthony wrapped his arms around me.

“I know,” he said softly.

I must have tightened up because he started to rub my back. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything.”

As soon as he said that, I wished he would. I knew about gay. There had been same-sex marriages in Massachusetts for a long time. A girl in my fifth-grade class had said she was going to marry her best girlfriend as soon as she was old enough.

That had made me think briefly about marriage, but what I’d seen of it hadn’t encouraged me. So far, I’d been too busy surviving to wonder much about sex. I liked women when they wore pretty clothes and smelled good and hugged me. I liked men who were big and kind and who could keep others from hurting me. When I thought about what men and women did together (which I’d seen), it didn’t much interest me, but I felt a lot for Anthony.

He could have taken advantage of my loneliness, but he didn’t. He held me all night and told me how much he’d miss me. He whispered that he loved me like a brother.

I swore to remember every moment of this night and to cherish it as a buffer against the misery sure to come with the morning. Eventually, though, I fell asleep, and when I woke up the next morning, I was alone in the bed.

When we said good-bye to each other, I wanted to cry, but I made my face match the emptiness of Anthony’s.

“See you,” he said.

“See you.”

Chapter 3

I was silent during the drive through downtown Springfield to a residential area. Miss Cirillo stopped in front of a big gray frame house with a small front yard. A few kids kicked a ball around. When I got out of the car, they looked at me with disinterest.

A big woman with short gray-brown hair stood on the porch. She smiled, but I thought the smile was for Miss Cirillo, not for me.

“He’s a nice-looking little guy,” she said and held out her hand as I climbed the few steps. “I’m Mrs. Wozinski.”

She ruffled my hair, which I had never liked, but I tolerated it. I’d decided that I was going to do my best to make it here. I wasn’t overloaded with choices.

“I’ll show you your room.”

With Miss Cirillo following, she led me to a room with bunk beds on opposite walls and pointed to an upper bunk.

“The boys sleep here.”

Another wall had four gym-style lockers. “You get to lock up your stuff.”

I looked at my bag, whose contents were pathetic: a change of clothing, a bedraggled stuffed rabbit I’d had since I was a baby, and the copy of Oliver Twist that Miss Cirillo had let me keep.

She gave me a lock and told me the code. I shoved my bag into the locker.

“You can go out and play with the kids. Lunch will be in a little while.”

I went back out to the porch, where Miss Cirillo said good-bye. She gave me her card.

“I’ll be coming around to check that everything’s okay. Listen, I don’t know what Anthony may have told you, but he had some pretty bad experiences. Mrs. Wozinski is all right. No one has ever complained about her.”

“Is there a Mr. Wozinski?” I asked.

“Yes, and he’s okay, too, but if anything goes wrong, call me. And if I hear anything about your parents—“

I didn’t think she would. I thought I didn’t care. Nothing was more useless than hope.

The three kids, two boys and a girl, who were playing with the ball, didn’t acknowledge my presence among them. They kept on kicking, and I stood there, feeling stupid.

Finally, Mrs. Wozinski called us in for lunch.

These days, I have my own chef, who makes my meals according to my very explicit instructions. I watch my figure with demoniacal care, but I actually find it easy to eat reasonably. My food lacks the secret spice of hunger, which made those first meals following my abandonment so delicious.

Lunch was hot dogs and baked beans. I ate as much as she would give me. The other kids ate with equal intent. They still didn’t speak to me.

After lunch, Mrs. Wozinski shooed us all outside again. I wished I had a book or a cat to pet or anything to break the monotony. Finally, the girl sat down next to me beneath a tree.

“I’m Sally,” she said.


“Your parents dead?”


“Jeremy’s parents did that, too. Ralph is an orphan, like me.”

“Where are the other kids?” I asked.

“At the playground.”

“Why didn’t they come home for lunch?”

“They probably stole some food. They’re older.”

This didn’t sound promising. “How many are there?”

“Seven plus now you,” she said. “Last week Cynthia ran away. Only I don’t think she did.”

“What do you mean?”

“Some older man was hanging out at the playground. Jeremy said she went off with him a few times. Probably they had sex. Cynthia is older; she’s fourteen.”

I didn’t think that was so old.

“Guys do that, see. Mrs. Wozinski has warned us. They give girls drugs; then they have sex with them. They get them into these teenage sex rings, and they can’t get out. I’m never having sex with anyone.”

“How old are you?”


Sitting here with a kid whose knees were dirty and who smelled of sweat, who shouldn’t know what she knew, I wanted to cry.

Before long, the other kids came back from the playground. Their ages ranged from twelve to sixteen. I immediately felt wary of the oldest boy, who had a mean mouth.

“You the new kid?” he demanded.

I thought that should be obvious. “I’m Gerry.”

“Fred. I’m in charge here.”

I thought Fred had a lot of nerve, but he was twice my size, so I nodded.

Shortly after the return of the older kids, we had yet another cooked meal. This impressed me. Even when my parents had been around, food preparation had been low in priority. I mostly ate cereal out of boxes, and when the welfare check came, we’d eat pizza and Chinese food.

Mrs. Wozinski served a stew heavy on potatoes and onions. I didn’t complain.

Dinner was also marked by the first appearance of Mr. Wozinski, a big, heavy man with the red face that possibly marked a drinker. I was wrong about that, though. Apparently, he’d been outside at the races all day and won. Mrs. Wozinski was pleased.

They had a big living room, and we all found places on the furniture or the floor. The news came on. Again, the top story was the business about a king.

“Stupid bastards,” Mr. Wozinski said.

“Language,” Mrs. Wozinski said.

“Sorry, but it’s the truth. Yeah, they’re a bunch of jerks in Congress, but what makes anyone think a king will be better? The poor s.o.b. they pick isn’t going to have any power. Ministers and the bosses will run the whole show, not that they don’t already, but there won’t be any way to stop them.”

“Then people won’t vote for a king,” Mrs. Wozinski said.

“Louise, don’t be an idiot. People in Massachusetts maybe won’t. Lots of us can read and think. But you know what it’s like in other places. People are plain ignorant. They think it would be ‘fun’ to have a king. They think that somehow getting rid of Congress will mean they can pay fewer taxes. They’re being sold a line of shit.”


Mrs. Wozinski told me that showers were rationed. Everyone got to shower twice a week, and since I’d had one this morning at the shelter, I’d have to wait a few days. She also told me that some of the kids would be going to church, but it wasn’t required.

I gradually settled into my life at the Wozinski house. They were good people. I’m sure they profited from having eight payments coming in per month, and Mrs. Wozinski knew how to make food go a long way, but we got three squares every day and clean clothes and bedding.

She broke up fights when they started and made sure everyone was going to school and that they did their homework. Compared to the living situation I’d come from, it was heaven.

Except for Fred.

He waited a while to make his move, until I’d dropped my guard enough to feel safe in the house. He started off acting like a big brother, helping me with my homework, tossing a ball to me, all the good stuff.

Then one Saturday, after I’d been there for about a month, he invited me to take a walk in the woods. Remembering my pleasant walks with Anthony, I agreed.

We walked deep into a forest. He talked to me, but I could tell he wasn’t really interested in what he was saying. When we came to a stream, he said we should sit down for a few minutes. I sat on a log, and he sat next to me and talked some shit about the birds singing and the sun shining. Then he pushed me off the log.

“Hey, what are you doing?” I tried to sit up, but he pushed me back down.

I screamed, and he laughed. “No one’s around, you little faggot.”

“I’m not—”

“You are, and you deserve what you’re going to get.”

I heard the cold, starry voice ask me if I was going to take this, and instead of being terrified, I got furious. Heat that burned my insides rose through me. I wanted to kill him. I jumped to my feet, kicked him in the balls—as Anthony had recommended—and made my hands claws that gouged his forehead.

It was Fred’s turn to scream. While blood dripped into his eyes and he grabbed his crotch, I raced through the woods and back to the house.

When Fred came home, and Mrs. Wozinski asked about the scratches on his face, he said, “Brambles” and gave me a murderous look that made it clear I wouldn’t be safe if I told her anything. I’d already figured that out, and I also knew I had to speak with Miss Cirillo.

That night, I hated sleeping in the same room with him. The presence of Jeremy and Ralph made it unlikely that he’d assault me, but it was awful to hear him breathe and remember his hate-filled words and his big hands grabbing me.

I wondered if he’d molested Jeremy, who was eight, or Ralph, who was twelve, but I couldn’t ask them. It may sound cruel that I hoped so, but it wasn’t that I wished suffering on them. I didn’t want it to be about me—and I was afraid it was, even though Anthony and I had done nothing like that.

The things adults had said about me: “A boy shouldn’t have those eyelashes;” “Look at that beautiful mouth;” “I wish my hair were as blonde and thick as that”—all the traits that had gotten me positive attention might be boomeranging.

The simplest explanation—that Fred was a bully with many deep problems—didn’t occur to me then.

Fred went to high school, and I didn’t see him all day. In the foster home, I made sure that I was always with another kid, and, in fact, the house was too small and crowded for any kind of privacy except in the bathroom.

Meanwhile, I was only hanging on until Miss Cirillo’s next visit. When she came a few days later, I whispered, “I have to talk to you alone.”

She raised her eyebrows, and I said, “It’s a matter of life or death.”

“Gerry and I are going for a walk,” she told Mrs. Wozinski.

We strolled down the suburban street. “What is it?” she asked.

I realized that I was actually going to have to tell her, and my treacherous Irish skin flushed. “It’s terrible. I can’t say it.”

“Gerry, I’ve heard a lot on this job. Tell me.”

Shame damp as the mold that climbed up the trailer’s inside walls covered me. “Fred . . . the big guy . . . he tried to rape me.”

I covered my face so I wouldn’t see the disgust on her face, but she pulled my hands away. Her deep brown eyes burned with anger.

“You’ve been very brave to tell me, and I’m so sorry this happened. How did you get away?”

“I kicked him and scratched his face until he bled. Miss Cirillo, I don’t want to stay here. He’ll do it again.”

If possible, her eyes burned even more fiercely. “He won’t, I promise you that. I intend to confront him. The problem is that I’m sure he’ll deny it. It’s your word against his.”

“You believe me, don’t you?”

“I do, and because of that, I’m thinking about the other boys in the house. I need to know if he’s tried with them—or, far worse, succeeded.”

“Does that mean I have to tell them about me?”

“Gerry, do you want Fred free to molest young boys?”

When she put it that way, shame was buried by the guilt I knew I’d feel if my silence kept Fred from being punished. He needed to go to jail.

“I’m going to speak to Jeremy and Ralph. Will you come with me?”

They looked like two innocent kids throwing a baseball, but when they saw us approach, they knew. Ralph lowered his head, and Jeremy started to cry.

“Tell them,” Miss Cirillo said.

I described Fred’s attack.

“He did it to me,” Ralph said.

Jeremy was crying too hard to talk, but he nodded his head.

Miss Cirillo whipped out her cell phone and called the police, who came much faster than I’d thought they would. The two officers caught Fred as he was trying to run away from the house and took him off in their cruiser.

“What about you?” Miss Cirillo asked me. “Now that Fred’s gone, are you comfortable staying here?”

I shook my head. “I could never forget, and every time I looked at Ralph and Jeremy, it would be even worse. Can I go back to the shelter?”

“It’s only meant to be a temporary shelter. You can’t stay there more than a few days.”

I asked the question I’d been afraid to ask. “Is Anthony there?”

She looked sad. “Anthony went to the orphanage.”

“Then I want to go there.”

“Gerry, I can find you another home.”

“No. Miss Cirillo, Anthony’s my friend. Except for you, he’s the best friend I have in the world. I don’t care if the orphanage isn’t a nice place. You thought the Wozinski’s house was nice, but it wasn’t for me.”

“I’ll see. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea. You’re not too old to get adopted. Sometimes people come looking. Maybe.”

Two days later, after I’d returned to the shelter, Miss Cirillo updated me. “Fred confessed. He’ll probably get about two years in prison.”

It didn’t seem nearly long enough to me. “He’ll never know where I am?”

“I promise. And, hopefully, you won’t be at the orphanage very long. The superintendent saw a photo of you and thinks you might be adoptable.”

“And Anthony’s still there?”

“Yes. I’m afraid he’s not considered as adoptable as you.”

The epidemic of throwaway children had forced the state to turn warehouses and other abandoned buildings into storage locations for unwanted children. The Refuge was one of these. The outside view was grim, and things weren’t much better inside.

The matron gave me a cursory tour of the site: dorms, dining hall, kitchen, and an ill-equipped recreation room. “The children go to school, of course, and they’re expected to be on their best behavior. They also have to be self-motivated about their homework.”

She glared at me as if suspecting I would slack off on my studies.

“I like school,” I said.

“Glad to hear it. You might as well also know that bad behavior, not only in school but here, means your next stop is Juvenile Hall. You won’t like it there.”

Miss Cirillo put her hand on my shoulder. “Gerry is an exceptionally intelligent and cooperative child.”

“We’ll see.”

All I wanted to see was Anthony.

The expression on his face when he came back from school and saw me nearly erased the memory of my suffering. I opened my arms, but he shook his head briefly and gestured to a door.

I followed him out to a weed-infested playground with a rusting swing set and slide.

“They don’t like the boys to hug each other or act that way. They don’t want any, well, you know.”

I understood at once, and it didn’t matter. Being with Anthony was enough.

“How come you left the foster home?” he demanded.

I told Anthony about Fred, and his face contorted.

“Bastard. I’ll kill him. Where’s he at?”

“In prison or soon he’ll be there.”

“Prison’s too good for him.” Then he laughed. “Won’t he be surprised when he finds out it’s the other way around?”

“What do you mean?”

“Boys older than him, bigger. And men. They’ll do to him what he tried to do to you.”

I didn’t feel an ounce of sympathy for Fred.

“What room are you in?” Anthony asked.


“I thought so. That’s ages ten to twelve. I can trade cots with whoever’s next to you.”

“It won’t look like ‘you know’?”

“They don’t mind boys being friends, but if you look like you’re messing around, they send you to Juvie.”

“I don’t want to mess around, not for a long time, maybe never.”

He nodded. “No one ever tried it with me, but I’d feel the same way.”

Anthony managed the cot switch, and that night, as I fell asleep, I finally felt safe.

Life fell into a pattern. Every morning we took a bus to school. The orphanage kids formed a gang whose numbers discouraged anyone who might have wanted to make fun of us for having shabby clothing and no parents. In classrooms, I noticed that we were as smart as anyone else.

After school, we were allowed to play outside for a while; then we had to come in and do our homework at the long tables in what passed for a library. We also had rotating chores. Some helped in the kitchen. Others swept, vacuumed, or changed and washed sheets and bedding.

I didn’t mind any of it. The food was awful, the quarters were crowded, and the staff wasted no affection on any of us, but I felt a sense of belonging. I was only afraid that it wouldn’t last.

Anthony had similar fears. “I hear rumors,” he said one night after I’d been at the orphanage for about a month. “The Redeemers might be taking over this place.”

“How can they do that?”

“The state is broke.”

“Why do the Redeemers have so much money?”

“They shake down the faithful by telling them that if they want to go to Heaven, they have to pay up on earth. And they do.”

“Are there really that many of them?”

“More and more every day. The worse things get, the more join up. And, see, the big thing about the Redeemers is that they’re law-abiding. They do whatever their preachers tell them to do. Redeemers go to the Big Business boys and say they ought be funded for the good work they do in keeping the population peaceful, and it works. They’re loaded.”

“What’ll happen if they take over the orphanage?” I asked.

“Kids a little older than me, maybe fourteen and up, will stop going to school and start working in one of their factories. Everyone will have to go to church and probably more than once a week. Morning and evening prayers. Place will turn into a religious shit hole.”

I hated the sound of it. “Miss Cirillo said I had a chance of getting adopted.”

“Yeah? That doesn’t surprise me, although it has to be soon. Otherwise, you’ll be too old. I’m too old, and I’m not cute. If the Redeemers take over, I’ll run away.”

I wanted to beg him not to. “And do what?”

“Go out west. I don’t know, but I’m not going to work in a factory.”

I grabbed his arm. “Anthony, if someone wants to adopt me, I’ll try to get them to adopt you, too.”

Joy flared in his eyes, only to subside. “But they won’t want me.”

“Maybe I can convince them.”

“If anyone could, it would be you, but don’t get your hopes up.”

“I don’t do that any more,” I said.

Chapter 4

A few weeks later, Mrs. Jenkins, the supervisor of the orphanage, called me into her office. “Gerald, you have an opportunity to be adopted.”


“Yes. He’s coming tomorrow at noon to meet you. I expect you to be on your very best behavior.”

The next day was Saturday, and it was a very long morning. I’d been given a clean shirt and trousers, and I was too afraid of getting dirt on them to go out and play with the other boys. Instead, I sat in the library and read Oliver Twist for the tenth time.

At noon I went to Mrs. Jenkins’ office. Sitting in one of the chairs facing her desk was a tall, slender man wearing a nice suit. He had brown hair and very blue eyes that lit up when he saw me.

“Mr. Winston, this is Gerald,” Mrs. Jenkins said.

“Hello, Gerald. Do you have a name you prefer to be called?”

“Gerry,” I said.

“Gerry it is.”

“Mr. Winston has my permission to take you out for the afternoon so that he can get to know you.”

We left the building, and I walked with him to the car, a gleaming sedan. Everything I’d heard about getting into a stranger’s car came back to me, but I figured that anyone who had Mrs. Jenkins’ approval would be safe.

“Now, what do you like to eat?” he asked.

“Everything,” I said.

He took me to an Italian restaurant, where I had a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs. While I ate, he asked me a series of questions about school: what subjects I did and didn’t like. He listened carefully to my answers as I cautiously navigated far away from sounding like I was bragging.

“You really like school, don’t you?” he said.

I could safely answer, “Yes, a lot.”


Could I say that it had been better than the trailer and the foster home? That even though rapists and addicts went to school, I hadn’t encountered any? I wondered if he knew that stuff about me.

“I like to read,” I said.

“And I hear you read at a level several grades beyond your age.”

I lowered my head. “I don’t know.”

“The matron told me your grades are excellent.”

“They’re pretty good, except in arithmetic.”

“It probably bores you.”

That was so true that I kept my head down.

“It’s ok, Gerry. I didn’t like arithmetic, either. And guess what, you can get on very well in the world as long as you can add and subtract. With computers, you don’t even have to do that. Are you interested in computers?”

“They don’t let us use them much.“

“Neither will I.”

My heart started pounding hard. We’d been spending all this time talking about my school, and it was like the movies I’d seen on TV where a boy and a girl were on a first date, and they acted like they weren’t interested in each other. I’d been starting to fear that Mr. Winston would drop me off at the orphanage and say good-bye.

That was why “Neither will I” sounded like the sweetest song ever sung.

I gave him my well-practiced imploring look.

“Gerry, would you like to know something about how your life would be if you live with me?”

“Yes, please.”

“I live in New York City in a neighborhood called Greenwich Village, a very nice area. I have a brownstone, which is a narrow building, not like the big, wide houses you see here.”

I didn’t care about big and wide. “The whole building?”

“The whole building. You’d have your own room, of course. I’d send you to a private school. I know of a good one on the East Side that’s very advanced.

“I’d take you on trips, to Europe and parts of this country. I’d send you to college to study anything you want, and you’d be my heir.“

“Are you rich?” I asked, adding quickly, “Not that I care.”

He smiled. “You have a right to know that I can provide for you. My parents were very wealthy, so, in part I live on my investments and income from a business my father began. I also write historical fiction.”

“I’d like to read your books.”

“You might not be quite old enough.”

“Maybe I’m not such a child as you think.” I looked at him hard, daring him.

To my surprise, the look he gave me was equally hard. “I’m sorry, Gerry, about everything that happened to you. And from what your social worker told me, you acted with courage. I value courage.”

His coffee came, and he stirred in the sugar for a long time. Then he looked at me. “I don’t want you to think I have any judgment about your past, but it does mean that I have to ask you a question.”

I felt my face burning. “Go ahead.”

“I’ll be blunt. This boy tried to rape you, and you had every reason to hate that. I need to know if that affects how you feel about gay people.”

“Why would that matter to you?” I had a dawning suspicion that I knew why, and I thought fast. Did I care? Was he a perv? He wasn’t anything like Fred. He seemed like a big, kind man who would keep me safe. Could anything that good happen to me? If it could, I wouldn’t care what he was.

“It would matter because I’m gay.”

I’d already made up my mind, but I didn’t want him to know how badly I longed for a protector. He’d think I was too needy. So I pretended to think about it.

“I don’t know all that much about it, but men rape girls, too. Rape isn’t like regular sex.”

“No.” He spoke in a quiet but angry voice. “It’s very different. You’re extremely perceptive, aren’t you?”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I changed the subject. “Do you have, ah, a boyfriend?”

“I don’t have a long-term lover at present, but I live in hope.”

I thought that was probably a mistake. “Why do you want to adopt a kid?”

His face transformed as his eyes became soft with yearning. “I always wanted a child, so much that I once almost got married until I realized I would hate it. Right now the system is so clogged that they’ll let just about anyone adopt, especially if the child is over the age of four. That condition won’t last once the Redeemers take over the orphanage.”

“They’re definitely going to do it?”

“Mrs. Jenkins is pretty sure.”

We were reaching the moment of truth, and before we went back to the orphanage, I had to bring up the subject of Anthony, more urgent than ever now that it looked like a Redeemer takeover was imminent.

“Gerry, do you want to be my son?”

My son. I can’t tell you how that phrase wrapped itself around my heart. I started to cry because I did want that, but I couldn’t leave my friend behind.

“Gerry, what is it? If there’s any problem, please tell me.”

“It’s a big problem,” I sobbed. “My best friend. My only friend. He’s like my family.”

An expression of dismay crossed Mr. Winston’s face, but he quickly suppressed it. “Tell me about him.”

“He’s twelve, Anthony. No one’s going to adopt him, but he’s smart, and he’s kind. When my parents . . . left, and I ended up at the shelter, he helped me, and I wanted to go to the orphanage just because he was there. Really, he’s a great guy. If you met him, you’d know that. And I don’t think I could live with myself if I left him behind.”

“Anthony is a lucky boy to have you as a friend,” Mr. Winston said.

I thought about the one thing I hadn’t told him. Mr. Winston didn’t seem like a racist, but you could never tell, and I wasn’t about to let Anthony get hurt.

I borrowed Mr. Winston’s words. “I’ll be blunt, too. Anthony is black, and if that’s a problem for you, let’s forget about the whole thing.”

Mr. Winston gave me a steady look. “That’s not a problem. If I seem hesitant, it’s because I hadn’t planned on adopting two boys. I don’t have to tell you, though, that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Some of the best things that ever happened to me came about because I let the unexpected into my life. I’ll be happy to meet Anthony.”

We returned to the orphanage, and he said he’d have to speak with Mrs. Jenkins. I ran to find Anthony.

“Quick, clean yourself up. This guy who wants to adopt me is going to talk to you. I’m trying. Just don’t be a wiseass, and be sure to tell him how much you love school and that we’re best friends.”

“All of which is true.”

“I know, but he eats that stuff up.”

“Tell me one thing. Is he nice? You don’t think he’s a perv?”

“Like I’d know, but he said he wasn’t. He’s gay, though.”

“Like I give a shit.”

“And don’t curse.”

“Don’t worry. I know how to behave. To get out of this dump, I’d talk like a priest.” He genuflected.

“Anthony?” Mrs. Perkins stood at the door. “Follow me to my office.”

He was gone forever. I was praying, something I barely knew how to do. I tried to read Oliver Twist, but I was too nervous.

Finally, Anthony came back into the room. “Yes!”

I started to cry again, and he hugged me. “We’re blowing this place. Hurry up and pack.”

“Right now?”

“This exacto moment.”

I pulled out my backpack. “What did you tell him?”

“What you said: school and what good friends we were. He asked some other stuff, like that it was a responsibility to be an older brother, and it meant being a good example, and was I prepared to take that on? And I said, sure, not in any wise-ass way, just like it was the truth, which it is.”

Then he started crying. “It’s a fucking miracle, Gerry. I don’t believe it, but I have to. I want to.”

Our few belongings packed, we went to the front room of the orphanage, where Mr. Winston was waiting for us, with Mrs. Jenkins.

“Ready for the adventure?” he asked.

“Ready,” I said.

“I’m very pleased for both of you,” Mrs. Jenkins said. “Mr. Winston will report to me about your progress, and I hope to hear good things about you.”

She didn’t hug or kiss us, but she firmly shook both of our hands. “All the best.”

We all got in the car, and I was so relieved that I fell asleep and slept for most of the ride. When I woke up, I saw a city of sparkling lights ahead.

“Is that New York?” I asked.

“Your new home,” Mr. Winston said.

“Cool,” Anthony said. “Can we go up in one of those big buildings?”


“So big,” I said sleepily.

“It’s a very big place. I hope you’ll like it. Try to ignore the ugly bit coming up. That’s New Jersey.”

It was ugly, with oozing gray water, bad smells, and marshy land. We zoomed into an equally smelly tunnel and ended up in the city.

“This is your new neighborhood,” Mr. Winston said. “Greenwich Village.”

I looked out the window. It looked pretty.

Before we got out of the car, he said, “And one more thing. I’d like you to call me Julian.”

To say that Julian’s brownstone was a far cry from any place I’d ever lived doesn’t begin to describe my shock at what was supposed to be my new home.

First of all, I didn’t think Julian had any clue at all about how dirty boys could get. I looked at the pale green brocade that covered a couch and the white(!) rug and shuddered. Anthony also wore an uneasy expression.

Julian, unaware of our concerns, led us to a kitchen as large as that in the shelter, if not the orphanage, and with equipment that even I could see was far superior. Everything gleamed. There were many cupboards, and I assumed that lots of food was stored inside them. The refrigerator was also enormous.

The dining room had a chandelier. When Julian left briefly to answer the phone, Anthony turned to whisper to me, “Do re mi.”


“Dough. Bucks.”

Julian came back and showed us our room, which had two single beds. “Anthony, I have a room on the third floor that used to be a maid’s room, if you’d rather sleep there.”

“No, that’s okay,” Anthony said. “Gerry and me are used to sharing. The great thing is that we won’t have to share with ten other kids.”

“It’s fine with me, too,” I said quickly.

“All right. Do you want to eat something before you go to bed?”

Of course, I did. We went back to the kitchen, where Julian showed us a dazzling array of choices. I noticed that none of them involved meat, but that food item had been largely missing from my diet for as long as I could remember. We settled for tomato soup and bagels.

“I have a cook who comes in three times a week and prepares meals to go in the freezer. I’m a pretty good cook, though.”

I figured Anthony was as easily satisfied as I was. We devoured the food and then took turns showering in the bathroom.

Julian gave Anthony a pair of his own pajamas. They were silk, and seeing their shimmery folds made me envy my friend for getting to wear them.

“We’ll go out shopping tomorrow,” Julian said.

“You mean in a store? New clothes?” Anthony asked.

Julian’s eyes got a little misty. “Yes, whatever you need.”

He paused at the door. “Good night, boys. See you in the morning.”

We both fell asleep instantly.

Chapter 5

The smell of food woke me up around noon. I was getting dressed when Anthony opened his eyes.

“Pancakes,” he said dreamily. “Do you think there’s bacon or sausage?”

It looked like both, but the bacon was a little strange looking.

“Did you sleep well?”

I nodded, and picked up a piece of bacon. It wasn’t at all greasy.

“It’s vegan bacon,” Julian said. “No pigs involved.”

“How do you make bacon without pigs?” Anthony asked.

“The fact that it’s possible accounts for one of the reasons I—we—have this house, food, a nice car, and many other good things.”

That got our interest.

We learned that Julian’s father had founded and run a natural foods company that became the largest of its kind.

“A while back, people became concerned about what they were eating,” Julian told us. “Most of the food had poisons and chemicals in them, and anyone who could afford to buy healthy food did. A lot of people also didn’t want to eat meat and dairy, both for health and humanitarian reasons, meaning that animals suffer. I’m not going to give you a big speech about that.”

That made me happy because I wanted to eat, and the pancakes were delicious. The bacon, though crisp, lacked grease, and the sausages were a little weird, mostly because of strange spices. At that point in my life, any spices other than salt and pepper were strange to me.

Julian cleared away the plates after we’d finished. “Now, I have some rules involved with you living here. I didn’t think any of them would be deal breakers, so I didn’t bring them up before you decided to come here. Ready?”

I wasn’t really.

“First, we don’t eat meat and dairy or eggs or fish here. You’ll get a generous allowance, and they’ll probably serve all that wherever you go to school. Outside of this house, what you eat is your business. Understood?”

What I understood was that I would eat anything that was put in front of me. I was sure Anthony had the same understanding.

“Second, if you do anything you think is wrong, tell me right away. And if I do something that upsets you, I also want to hear about it. Things need to be honest between us. When you start school, I want to know if you’re having any problems. Any questions?”

I shook my head; so did Anthony.

“Third, no drugs anywhere. This city is full of them, and kids younger than you use them. I don’t want you to, and, for the record, neither do I.”

“I hate drugs,” I said.

“You couldn’t pay me to take drugs,” Anthony said.

“That’s pretty much the answer I expected from both of you, but you might be with your friends, and someone will pull out a joint, and you might want to try it, or someone could try to pressure you into it.”

I shook my head. “Not a chance. And you didn’t bring it up, but I’d say the same about drinking.”

“Likewise,” Anthony said. “Basically, I have no interest in getting wasted.”

We’d both seen enough of that to last us a lifetime.

We went to our room after breakfast. “He thinks those are rules?” Anthony said.

“I know. He should have been in the orphanage or my foster home. The only place I never had rules was when I was living with my parents, and that was because they couldn’t get it together to think of any.”

“I know. I think we can handle this, except that it’s all so unreal. I mean, am I dreaming, kid?”

“I hope not. Because I want this to be true.”

“You and me both. But you know what? I don’t trust it.”

Anthony’s observation was like the snake in the Garden of Eden. We should have reached the happy ending of the story: two throwaway boys landing in luxury beyond their imagination.

On the surface, it looked that way. We had closets and drawers full of new clothes. We were eating healthy food and lots of it. While we waited to learn whether the Harmony Institute would accept us, we had a tutor who praised us more than either of us had ever been praised for our brains. We had a guardian who cared about us.

I pushed away the not trusting business and became a cheerleader for the good life. Anthony admitted that he was stupid for not believing in it, but one night I woke up to hear him crying. I went to sit on the side of his bed.

“What is it?”

“I was thinking about my parents. All these months I didn’t because I had to get through each day, you know? I had to be strong. I had to survive. If I didn’t keep running from that feeling of being abandoned, it would catch up with me.”

He wiped his eyes roughly. “And now it looks like I made it, beyond my wildest dreams, in fact, and it’s like I can relax, and all those feelings have caught up with me.”

“Should I wake up Julian? Is this part of the rule of being honest?”

“Hell, no. Being honest doesn’t include him knowing how fucked up I am. We follow the rules whenever it doesn’t make us look bad. The most important thing is that we act like normal kids even if we’re not sure what that means. If he thinks we’re going to be too much trouble to raise, he could dump us.”

I had already considered this possibility. I reasoned that Anthony would get over these feelings, and then we wouldn’t have any problems. Instead, I caught his misery.

The next night it was my turn. I had a dream in which I came home as my parents were preparing to leave. I screamed at them, demanding that they take me with them, and they sneered at me.

“Rotten kid, we never wanted you in the first place.”

Then they left.

“Gerry, wake up.”

“I had a bad dream.”

I told him about it.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said fiercely. “Remember what I said when we first met? Fuck them. I mean it; whenever you feel that it was something about you, just keep on saying that. They should be suffering, not you.”

Good advice though that was, it had the opposite effect. I started to think that they were suffering, and I remembered times when their suffering had been obvious.

“We’ll give up the drugs, so we will,” my father said one night. “We owe it to ourselves, and we especially owe it to the child.”

“You’re right,” my mother said, her eyes straying to the bottle of pills on the kitchen counter.

“We’ll dump them down the drain,” my father said, rising. “I’m going to do it now.”

“No!” My mother screamed like a banshee and grabbed his arm before he could pick up the bottle.

“Now, Annie, we promised each other we would. We’ve got to keep our promises.”

“And so we will, I promise, but tomorrow. Give me a day to prepare myself. We’ve got to be strong to do this.”

“Ah, you have the right of it. Perhaps we’re lacking the strength tonight. Tomorrow we’ll give it a go.”

He opened the bottle, and her eyes brightened, and before long, they both went into the bedroom and fell asleep. I stayed in the kitchen, washed the dishes, and did my homework.

Those memories were bad, but worse ones followed from my earliest childhood. I heard my mam singing to me. She had a lovely voice, true as starlight shining in a midnight sky, and she would hold me as she sang, and sometimes tears would fall from her deep blue eyes onto my face.

“You come from the stars,” she once said to me. “I wonder if you’ll ever know that.”

“Like starlight?”

“Just like starlight.”

Remembering that, I thought of the icy star that had guided me out of the trailer. Had it brought me here? Could I trust it? Trust was too close to hope.

And my memories did nothing to inspire hope, especially my mother’s song about the last rose of summer.

“So soon may I follow,

When friendships decay,

And from Love's shining circle

The gems drop away.

When true hearts lie withered,

And fond ones are flown,

Oh! who would inhabit

This bleak world alone?”

“Ah, who would, my wee Gerry? But I do, always. It’s so lonely where I am.”

And I knew that, wherever she was, she was still lonely.

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