The 6th installment in Mrs.Johnson's Home for Broken Boys.

There have only been two people I couldn’t save in all of the encounters I’ve had with broken boys in my life: one of them I married, the other one I murdered. But no one really knows about that except for me. Well, everyone in town knows I married a broken boy by now, but nobody knows that a long, long time ago I took the life of the most innocent boy of all. I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since, trying to purge the guilt and indelible stain on my soul for twenty years. It is not an easy task, and I spend most days running from it, distracting myself from the pain. Some days the burden is so painful I cannot move. I put on this exterior sunniness to fool the world, but late at night when the day is done and you’re all alone in your room with your thoughts, you just can’t fool yourself. Life can be very lonely for the guilty, especially when you’re all alone with what you’ve done…

It all started as a way to find a permanent home for my disabled son, Jason, but that grew to include other hard luck stories, and before I knew it I had a house full of boys with nowhere else to go. I thought maybe if I could make just one boy’s life better, it would make up for the terrible thing I’d done. Besides, Jason needed friends, and I was having a hard time caring for him by myself; so, in exchange for room and board, these boys (men, really) help me take care of Jason, who is much bigger and stronger than I am. And like so many things in life, this was all unplanned, but once I was in it, I couldn’t stop it. One day I was letting a few boys stay at the house for a while, and then suddenly I was running a home for broken boys.

The first of these tenants was Mason, who had lost his own mother in a terrible plane crash when he was only 11 years old. It was all over the news, and sometimes late at night when the news shows have nothing else to garner ratings, they’ll show the footage of the horrific, fiery crash. Most people have a vague idea of their loved one’s last moments, but Mason has his in glorious Technicolor, retrievable at a moment’s notice with just a quick Google search. In order to survive, he had to grow a titanium cover around his heart.

Ever since then the boy had felt detached from the world and couldn’t even manage so much as a tear when sad. He wasn’t even sure he ever felt sad anymore. He just was, he just existed.  By the time Mason met me, he was 24 years old and looking for work and a place to live. I needed help with my son, so our chance meeting in an office building made life much easier for us both. For whatever reason, there was an instant recognition of two closed off hearts, and somehow that made it okay for the two of us to open up to each other and only each other within moments of meeting.

However, I haven’t told Mason about the boy I murdered. Nobody knows that, and I don’t plan on ever telling anyone. I feel as if I will cease to exist if I ever tell a soul. There are some sins you must keep to yourself, the wretchedness of them is so horrible that you must live alone with what you’ve done. It’s like a cancer growing inside of you, destroying you from the very inside. It is the most fitting punishment. To share it with others would absolve you of the pain of carrying it, and you just don’t deserve relief. It was that kind of terrible, terrible thing, and I tortured myself with it whenever I slowed down enough to let my conscience steal some of my thoughts. For this reason I stay extremely busy.

So Mason moved in and we divvied up chores like an old married couple, and we sometimes fought like one, too. I’m a laidback and carefree spirit; Mason is an OCD clean freak. I’m straight; Mason is gay. Yet, and this is weird, Mason gets strangely jealous whenever I have a male friend over. However, any male guest Mason has over is to be treated like a long lost family friend. The inconsistency drives me crazy. This is part of Mason’s brokenness. He can “love” intensely those he hardly knows, but he cannot cobble together an expression of love for those who have known him forever. He is an intimacy avoider extraordinaire, yet he claims to crave intimacy. Sometimes he makes me want to scream.

I never intended on anyone other than Mason living with me and Jason, but things have a way of getting out of control when you’re trying to become a better person and saving others is your mission in life…which leads me to Taylor.

He too was 24 years old, lost and broken, the perfect recipe for my newfound passion. Addicted to everything and yet nothing at the same time, Taylor was a dreamy young dirty blonde with an even dirtier, aimless mind. He looked at me as if I was a dish to devour, even when he was a younger boy I’d see in town and be kind of afraid of even back then. Whenever I was out working in my yard, Taylor would bike by and stare at me, sometimes making a “pow” motion with his hands as if to terrorize me. I’d glare at him and keep working, always aware of his menacing ways.

Then one day, when Taylor was 18, he got a job repairing air conditioners, and I called the company he worked for. He came over and fixed my A/C, and as we stood by my bed where the unit was, he breathily told me, “Anytime you need anything, just call me” as he slipped his card into my hand and stood a little too close for my comfort. At the time I just smiled in disbelief at his brazenness with a much older woman (I was 39 at the time), but years later his boldness would save my life.

Mason barely tolerates Taylor because of the way Taylor continues to look at me. Whenever my room light is on late at night, one of them will always knock on my door to see if I’ll let them in. When I do let Mason in, it is to listen to his trysts with men. I say “trysts” because once it gets to the emotionally connected stage, Mason cuts these men out of his life.

“Feelings are for fools,” Mason says as he plops down onto my bed.

“Whose heart did you break this time?” I ask while not looking up from the book I’m reading in bed.

“Julie, do you even hear me?” Mason asks while gently taking off my glasses.

Annoyed that he’s interrupted my reading and even more annoyed that he’s gay and so, therefore, I cannot partake of his particular brand of hotness, I say, “Yes, Mason, I always hear you. I hear you when you’re with your boy-toys in the next room. I hear you when you’re on the phone with them. I hear you when you’re breaking up with them in the living room. I hear you when you’re in the shower singing ‘It’s raining men,  hallelujah,’ and I hear you when you’re in your bed late at night crying because you are all alone. I always hear you, Mason.”

And by this time he is resting his head on my chest, and I am stroking his jet-black hair like he is my very own puppy. Sensing this, Mason pulls away my silky nightgown to expose a bit of my flesh and kisses me right over my heart.

“I cannot find any man who makes me feel this safe,” Mason whispers.

“Neither can I, Mason,” I whisper right back. And then just like that he falls asleep in my arms, leaving me with my thoughts, never something I entertain for too long.

Whenever it’s Taylor knocking on my bedroom door late at night, it is to listen to his pleas for me to sleep with him despite my constant “no.” He asks me why I walk around looking so sexy, and I tell him I’m just being. I wear tank tops, hoodies, and yoga pants, hardly Victoria’s Secret material. Then he begins whining that I let Mason sleep with me, and I remind him the definition of “sleep with me” that Mason has in mind is oh so very different than his definition. This makes him even more crazy for me, but still I resist.

I have no desire to bed men who are not fully formed. I have killed the passionate sex part of myself off along with my heart. It’s much easier that way. Men are complicated, and I’ve yet to meet one who can keep up with my mind and still excite me. I get one or the other, but never both. This is how I’m able to run a home for broken boys without it turning into an all-out brothel.

Over the next few years more and more broken boys would come and go from our lives, each one my attempt at filling a void that was self-created by my horrible deed years earlier. Every time I’d save one broken boy, I’d think, “Maybe this is it. Maybe I’m good now.” But I never reach salvation. Dozens more broken boys would come over the next year, same as every year — some staying a few weeks, others staying a year or more. Not a single one of them ever saved me. That’s the thing about broken boys, you never know when they will come and when they will go. You only know how they leave you.

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