Rated: 18+ · Short Story · LGBTQ+ · #2118357
Final piece for Building Emotion and Sensuality: The life of Sgt. Eugene "Reaper" McGinty.
|Notes/Warnings: TRIGGERS: non-graphic mentions of alcoholism, child abuse, bullying, and killing.|
Summary: Four times in which Eugene “Reaper” McGinty, facing an absence of fondness, takes whatever’s left. And one time in which whatever’s left just happens to be all the fondness he never thought he’d get.
At five years old, he knows, unlike many first-born sons, he is not his parents’ favorite child.
That honor goes to his sister, Pamela, who, at three years old, is absolutely darling. Even their drunk daddy loves his baby girl, and has been heard to say he’d give up his last drop for her sake.
And even he—once determined to hate the little interloper who’d taken from him the scant love of his distracted, absently disapproving mother and drunken, angrily disappointed father—finds that he not only likes, but loves this open-hearted, adoring summer-child who clearly idolizes him by the time she’s old enough to burble attempts at his name (Oojie, she calls him, even when she’s able to say Eugene properly. And Oojie scowls thunderously, but with his lips twitching, and doesn’t correct her).
He loves Pamela Angela McGinty desperately, does Oojie. Loves her in the way only a previously under-loved and under-adored child can love the first person to show him any sign of unconditional affection and kindness. Loves her with a purity and fierceness he’s never felt for the bewildering, sometimes cruel, but more often neglectful parents who shelter him but, confusingly, despairingly, do not always love him.
By the time Oojie McGinty is five, in the summer before he starts kindergarten, none of that—his sister’s fondness for him and his parents' lack of the same—matters anymore. For though he has his three years old Pammy—who loves her Oojie to distraction, and looks to him to protect her and make her smile—and she has him, she also has something else. Something that is somehow Oojie’s fault, just going on the way his parents treat him.
(And though that something is called Lucky-me-ah, it doesn’t seem so lucky to him.)
For Pammy, he’ll fix what he messed up. He will.
For Pammy, he’ll place the world on a silver platter: a bauble barely deserving of the sweet, gentle light of her sweetness and wonder.
For Pammy, he’ll pray and wish and hope and be the best Oojie he can, so that God will literally give him this one thing. So that his Pammy will never have to cry and take medicines that make her throw up, and lose her bright, red-gold curls and the rosiness of her cheeks again.
Oojie will pray that Jesus takes the Lucky-me-ah from Pammy and gives it to him.
The other boy’s name is Ajay Murthy, and he’s a year younger than Pammy.
But despite this, despite being practically still a baby, Jay is in the second grade, too. He’s the smartest boy in the whole school—what Marie McGinty sniffingly calls precocious—and Oojie likes that. Likes Jay, even though Jay’s small, dark, and thin, like one of those poor kids in the UNICEF commercials, with coppery skin, and big, sad dark eyes that’re always watering slightly and myopically behind the too-big glasses perched on his peaked face.
And the thing is, Oojie’s never met a real orphan before, like in Oliver Twist and Annie.
Even though Jay’s only five—but already outstripping eight-years-olds like Oojie, who is, for some reason, thrilled by this—he is most definitely orphaned. His parents, both designers for PlayCo Toys, had died in that commuter train crash that was on television all those months back.
Now, Jay lives with his uncle and aunt, Roshan and Eileen Thakore, who are, so Jay had said once, “real nice . . . but real old. Even older than my Mama and Papa were.”
(Oojie’s brows had lifted. He was old enough, himself, to realize just how young his own parents were. And how young they’d been when they’d had him. “How old is old?”
Jay’s big, watery eyes had widened a bit and he’d rubbed at his pixie-ish, runny nose. “Unca Roshan says he’s over thirty-five. An’ Aunt Eileen says it’s not polite to ask a lady her age. But Unca Roshan told me she’s old enough to know better, when Aunt Eileen couldn’t hear him.”
“Huh,” Oojie had said, glaring at an approaching Bobby Carmona, who’d gotten a rep for teasing and bullying small, smart kids like Jay. The other boy—bigger than Oojie, but not by enough to make the fight unfair—slunk off toward the other end of the schoolyard. He was a coward, at heart. “My Ma and Dad are both twenty-seven.”
“My Mama was twenty-seven when I was born,” Jay had said, heaving a miserable sigh that’d belled out his narrow chest and made tears run down his cheeks. In that moment, he’d reminded Oojie of Pammy at her saddest. He’d slung an arm around the other boy the way he would have his little sister.)
Orphan or not, however, Oojie likes Jay. Has a tendency to scribble Jay’s name in whatever medium happens to be handy. Even, by the end of the school year, drawing hearts around Jay’s name.
Not for any reason. He just likes Jay. A whole lot. In fact, Oojie kind of can’t remember what life was like without a Jay Murthy-Thakore to fill the vacuum within his heart which even Pammy can’t quite fill, or even touch.
Depending on the day—whether or not it ends in “Y”—Jay Murthy-Thakore is Oojie’s favorite person ever.
This excuse, however, doesn’t fly nearly as fast as Oojie’s father’s fist when he catches his only son doodling hearts around the words: Eugene + Ajay McGinty, in his marble notebook one evening.
By the time Eugene McGinty gets held back, Pammy’s already eight months in the ground—the Lucky-me-ah, in a spectacular comeback, had won, after all—and his mother’s long-since left for points unknown.
Eugene’s grades are so bad near the middle of his second go-round in seventh grade, that he gets stuck with an after-school tutor—an eighth-grader—three days a week.
Shortly, Eugene finds himself standing at a once-familiar doorstep.
“Eugene McGinty—it’s been a month of Sundays!” Eileen Abernathy-Thakore exclaims as she opens the door, her kind, lined face and squinty, blue eyes beaming at him as if six years—during which Eugene’s been known to bully Ajay worse than Bobby Carmona ever had—haven’t passed. “How are you?”
“‘M fine, ma’am. And you?”
“Much better, now that I’ve finally got a look at my handsome, not-so-little guy after all this time!” And while Eugene is still blushing, Eileen musses his strawberry-blond curls then pulls him into a hug, then into her cookie-smelling home.
For the first time in what feels like forever, Eugene lets out a held breath and relaxes.
The afternoon goes by mostly smoothly, with Ajay being cautious of his sometime-bully, one-time best friend. But by four-thirty and a half a tray of Snickerdoodles, with math out of the way and science up on deck, it’s almost like old times, for Eugene. Ajay loosens up a bit, too, even smiles when Eugene does impressions of Mr. Mackinaw, their flustered, excitable science teacher.
At one point, while he’s helping Eugene puzzle out the answer to a question about igneous rocks, Ajay’s gaze just kind of . . . rests on Eugene, almost fondly, like it’d used to. Until Eugene finds himself blushing and smiling as he meets Ajay’s gaze, huge and watery behind his quirky glasses.
“Nerd,” Eugene says, almost fondly, himself, and Ajay chuckles. At eleven, he’s still small for his age, still skinny and defenseless-looking. Still the color of aged pennies. But there’s something about him . . . something that makes him the center of whatever room Eugene happens to be in with him. . . .
“Better a nerd than a jock-moron,” Ajay replies boldly, dryly, elbowing Eugene, but clearly about to turn back to the homework. But before he can, Eugene is darting in to press his lips to the corner of Ajay’s small, pretty mouth.
It’s over before it’s even begun, really, Eugene sitting back with wide eyes and Ajay’s hand flown up to his mouth, with its perfect, slightly-parted lips.
“Oh,” Ajay says breathlessly, and Eugene flushes, looking down at his homework and swallowing, swallowing, swallowing.
“I’m so sorry,” Ajay blurts out softly and, scowling, Eugene shrugs.
“Whatever. I don’t even care.”
“What? No, not about . . . um . . . that. I mean sorry about Pammy,” Ajay murmurs, and Eugene goes cold, the bottom dropping out of his stomach as he looks up at Ajay, who’s fumbling his way through belated condolences, but with his hand still lingering near his pretty mouth. “. . . didn’t get to offer them personally at her funeral, Eugene—Oojie, but—”
“Don’t fucking call me that,” Eugene says through numb lips that still, somehow, tingle from his first kiss. Ajay blinks, his dark, round eyes going softer with compassion, till Eugene growls and bounces up, fist raised to strike.
Ajay flinches away, eyes widening in fear and betrayal, compassion as long- and far-gone as Eugene’s mother, when the first blow of many falls.
And that’s the end of their first and last tutoring session. At the end of the year, Eugene gets promoted to the eighth grade only because the school’s just dying to pass him off to City High as their problem.
December 25th: Corporal Eugene “Reaper” McGinty is in a teenaged whore’s bed, in a brothel somewhere in Kunar Province, when he finally opens the letter.
It’s from Eileen Abernathy-Thakore, handwritten, and he already knows what it’ll say. His C.O. had informed him almost two weeks ago, after all.
Dearest Eugene, it reads in looping, genteel cursive, on stationary that still smells faintly of violets, even after weeks of travel to him.
By the time this sad letter reaches you, the Army will have already informed you. But I feel it’s no less than my duty to be the one to tell you that your father has passed away.
I know you two weren’t on speaking terms when you enlisted, and haven’t been in the two years since. But right after you shipped out, Patrick got sober. I was his sponsor through our AA group.
He often expressed deep regret for “unpardonable treatment” of you throughout your childhood. Especially after your poor, dear sister passed away nine years ago. He regretted blaming you for her death and for Marie leaving you both shortly thereafter.
His last words to me were: “Tell Eugene that I’m proud of him and would have liked to know him better. That even though it’s too late to ask for forgiveness, that I did this, got sober, for him. That I love him, even though I was a horrible excuse for a man and a father. Tell him, Eileen.”
And though he could never forgive himself enough to hope for you to forgive him, too, I’m asking you for both your sakes to do so. Forgive your father, the last of your family, for the mistakes he made, out of blind anger and grief and fear. Out of inexcusable resentment of a defenseless child. Forgive him, if you can, knowing that he loved you and wanted, more than anything, a chance to make things right between you. For your sake, Eugene . . . be the bigger, the better man.
And even if you can’t find it in you to be either of those things, know that you’ll still always have a place here, in my home. Roshan and I worry about you and, though he doesn’t admit it, so does Ajay. We love you and can’t wait for you to come home safe and sound.
We’re proud of you, too, sweetheart.
All our best,
Aunt Eileen, Uncle Roshan, and Ajay
Blinking up at the ruined ceiling of the whore’s bedroom, Reaper crumples the letter in his hands, forcing the scent of Eileen’s perfume and the feel of Eileen’s concern to soak into his rough, grubby hands.
Tears run down the sides of his face, but his breathing is even. Controlled. That’s the one good thing life spent taking orders and killing people has given Corporal Eugene McGinty: Control. Not so much over others, as over himself.
Control. . . .
The thing Oojie McGinty is suddenly in dire fear of losing.
The warm body next to him snuggles closer and the whore—Reaper’s forgotten his name—is leaning up on one bony elbow to look down into Reaper’s eyes, smiling a little goofily, as if Reaper has hung the moon. His eyes are large and dark, his face startlingly pale considering his ancestry. He’s small and clever-looking, with a pointy little nose and a crooked, quirky smile.
He looks more than passingly like a lighter-skinned Ajay.
“Ta sanga yee?” he asks in a light, almost squeaky alto, as unlike Ajay’s low, even tenor as a porpoise is from a parrot. Are you alright?
“Za kha yam, manana,” Reaper replies, also in Pashto, tossing the letter and rolling on top of the boy, who can’t be more than seventeen—not that Reaper, at almost-twenty, is very much older—and kissing him silent as he spreads the boy’s wiry legs and takes him again with one hard, quick thrust. I am fine.
Lean thighs wrap around Reaper’s hips and the boy—Darius? Something with a D—bucks up to meet Reaper’s larger body with surprising abandon. It isn’t long after that, that Darius’s breathy, ecstatic cries fill the small room as Reaper fucks what little remains of both of their innocence away.
Sergeant Eugene “Reaper” McGinty is, for the first time in six years, nervous about something that isn’t potentially an I.E.D.
As he wheels his way through Baggage Claim—his entire life, has been summed up in two duffels slung across his lap and across the back of his wheelchair—he brushes grown-out strawberry-blond curls back off his forehead then scratches at the stubble that’s grown in, as well, since he left the AFB back in Germany.
He knows he’s a gaunt, pathetic sight, despite the pristine fatigues, folded neatly under the stumps where his legs end at the knees. But Eileen, Roshan, and Ajay had insisted—and the Army had insisted, more importantly—that their Medal of Honor-hero finish his convalescing, recovery, and PT at home.
So, now, after three years of (mostly) weekly correspondences with the Thakores, Reaper is practically shitting himself because the Thakores are not only his escort from the airport, but also where he’s to be staying for the conceivable future, rather than at the VA Hospital. He’ll be in Ajay’s old room, since Ajay now calls the Lower East Side home.
And speaking of—
Reaper freezes when he spots Ajay through the shifting crowds, dressed in black skinny jeans; a grey, button-down shirt and bow-tie with a pixelated Pride rainbow; and meticulous purple Converse All-Stars with pink laces. He’s still whippet-lean, but taller than Reaper remembers, and not just because of Reaper's own truncated height.
Of course, Ajay’s still got big, dark eyes, but they’re now behind sleek, attractive purple-framed glasses. His formerly unruly dark hair is trained into a stylish undercut, and he’s sporting an eyebrow piercing and his ears are gauged.
He’s holding a bouquet of daisies, geraniums, and violets—as well as his breath, if he’s feeling anything like what Reaper is feeling.
Numbed by his hopes and fears, Reaper wheels toward Ajay and Ajay walks toward him, those dark, dark eyes wide. He licks his perfect lips, and smiles, wide and white.
“Hey, Eugene,” he says softly when they stop a few feet apart, crowds of people parting around them. Reaper grins nervously.
They stare at each other for an eternity that’s not nearly long enough, considering Reaper had forgotten just how gorgeous Ajay Murthy-Thakore is. Then Ajay turns so red, he looks less like a penny and more like a beet, and thrusts the bouquet at Reaper, who takes it, sniffing at the arrangement absently.
“Aunt Eileen picked ‘em out.”
Reaper glances over the way Ajay came, and can see Eileen and Roshan hanging back, watching them hopefully. Their hope is enough to give Reaper the courage he so desperately needs to say what’s in his heart.
“Jay—” he begins at the same time Ajay starts to say: “Listen, Eugene—”
“I know that even though we wrote back and forth—” Reaper forges ahead manfully.
“Even though we’ve been writing each other for the past few years—” Ajay exhales on one nervous breath.
“We never really talked about . . . y’know . . . us. . . .” both men finish simultaneously, eyes everywhere but on each other. Until the other’s words sink in and surprised eyes meet: ice-blue on sable-brown.
“Been in love with you since I was eight,” Reaper admits gruffly, only for Ajay to quirk his crooked grin.
“Oh, yeah? Well, I’ve been in love with you since I was five. Beat that, Mr. War-Hero.”
Grinning, himself, slow and wide, Reaper shifts in his wheelchair, pushing his duffel to the floor and placing the flowers on top of them. “So. Ya gonna kiss me, Thakore, or do I gotta get a Purple Heart for that?”
Ajay moves into Reaper’s space and kneels gracefully, his hands settling on Reaper’s, where they rest on the arms of the chair. The eyes that stare up into Reaper’s are watery and brimming, but not, for once, from allergies. “You’re lucky I have a soft-spot for you, McGinty. Or else I’d kick the few bits of your ass that you haven’t gotten blown off.”
“Not that the banter isn’t fun, Jay, but goddamn, I wanna taste yo—” is all Reaper husks out before Ajay’s bobbed up and kissed the words from Reaper’s lips, his own sweet, soft, and insistent, like the tongue that licks and insinuates its way into Reaper’s mouth.
The hungry, but genteel noise Ajay makes when Reaper cups his face in rough, dry hands is delicious, like coffee and dark chocolate.
“Hey, get a room, you two!” Roshan Murthy finally says from behind Ajay, chuckling. Reaper breaks the kiss to grin at the older man, then wink at Eileen, who looks relieved and happy.
“Already got a room, Uncle Roshan,” Reaper—Eugene—says, smirking. Then Ajay’s kissing him again, slow, deep, and true: hello-hello-hello.