“Do you really think that will make everything better?” Genadio asked the young boy who held a shaking knife level with his bare belly. “Just do it. If you can’t do something decisively, do not say you will do it, or you are a coward.”
The sobbing, filthy boy looked up defiantly at the old man who spoke so to him. “You don’t know what it’s like!” He spat. “You don’t know how I feel!”
“I never said I did. I said do it, or move on.”
The boy’s hand shook all the more as he tightened his grip on the knife. “I will!” he screamed. “I’ll do it!” His hand didn’t move any closer. The dagger’s point stubbornly refused to touch the boy’s flesh.
Genadio chuckled. “Coward,” he accused with a slight smile. “If you have any bravery in you at all, go to the Green Lily Inn.” He hitched his belt up and began to walk away. Once his back was turned, he heard the boy’s knife drop onto the cobblestones below with a clatter.
As Genadio walked, he heard footsteps behind him. He walked to the Green Lily Inn and opened the door, then
held it as he looked back. “If you want to come in, do so.” As the boy ducked past the fat Genadio, the large man chuckled. Once the boy was inside, Genadio followed him in and closed the door behind himself.
Inside, the inn was as warm and inviting as always. Bright, polished wood floors reflected the light from the paper-covered hanging lanterns in a golden glow that illuminated every corner. The tables were low and surrounded by all manner of pillows. Each table had a water pipe in the center, and young boys, their bodies fit and trim, laughed with good-natured patrons as they served tea and snacks. Light steam hung in the air, its scent sweet like so many fruits being milled into wine.
“Is this a whore house?” the dirty boy asked. “I’ll slit anyone’s throat that touches me.” The boy growled.
“This is no brothel, boy. This is an inn of good standing. The boys here are like you.”
“I doubt that.”
“They were lost and scared and hopeless once, too.” Genadio looked around, then called an idle boy over. “Leon! Go wash him, dress him, feed him. Give him a bed. The empty one next to yours should do nicely.” The old, fat man paused and looked at the dirty new arrival. “Tell me, what is your name?”
“Why should I tell you? I’m not going to work here.” The boy snarled again.
Before Genadio could speak, Leon cut in. “He will not make you work here. The bed next to mine is the only bed free, that is all. He never forces anyone to work for him.” The tanned boy smiled. “You imply cruel things about Genadio. It is enough to make me very sad, you know.”
Caught off-guard by Leon’s speech, the dirty boy became quiet.
“Now,” Leon began, “What is your name?”
Leon smiled knowingly. “Come, Strom. This way. Do not be falling behind!” He snapped a finger and turned on his heel as he began to walk away. Even his gait seemed utterly foreign. Strom tried to mimic it, but almost tripped over himself many times. “You are clumsy, and will hurt yourself if you continue to try to walk as I do, Strom.” Leon scolded gently.
Strom stopped and began to walk normally. He scratched his hip. “Where you from, that you talk so funny?” he finally demanded. His tact left much to be desired by the other boy, who simply shook his head.
“You do not ask such things of people in this place, new boy.” Leon sighed. “It is rude, you know– so rude, it makes my skin crawl like it is covered in slugs.” He flicked his hand to one side, as though casting one of the slimy creatures off himself.
“You’re talking queer again.” Strom sighed. “Why don’t you talk normal?”
Leon stopped suddenly and turned around. “You must be deaf, if you did not hear me say we do not talk of things here.” His perpetual smile faded, and his eyes opened. “I think the deaf boy will understand better the language of a knife, if he wishes to continue his rude questions.”
Strom held his hands up and took a step back. A confused grimace contorted his face. Leon laughed, and continued to walk, until the pair came to a long and winding stair that led downward, into darkness. Leon grabbed a lantern and lit it before he began to walk down the narrow flight. His steps were certain, and he was unafraid. “Excuse the cramped stairs. They are kept this way to prevent adults from entering. It is a boys only area, for privacy.” He bobbed his head and tilted it absently to one side. “You will bathe when we arrive at the bottom, for there is a large spring, warm and clear.”
The bath took little time, as did dressing and eating, and before long, Strom settled into the small, but comfortable and warm bed beside Leon’s. The oddly-speaking boy laid lazily on his own bed and quickly dozed off. Strom watched his strange new aquaintance, and eventually fell asleep.
The days at the Inn were lazy and filled with a quiet, sleepy warmth. It took little time for Strom and Leon to become inseparable when Leon was not busy with work. Many times, they simply leaned against each other and stole pulls on the water pipes.
Genadio watched them quietly. He had waited so long for Leon to befriend someone. Strange wonder that it was the gruff and rude boy he found about to cut open his own belly just a few months before.
Of course, Leon could fake friendship and amiability, but at his heart, Genadio knew the odd-talking boy held forbidden urges and taboo thoughts. He half-hoped that if Strom found out, the boy would be accepting, and that nobody would be hurt.