Uncaged Love The Boxed Set #1-5(3)

By: JJ Knight

I’ve never gotten my bearings here. Never found a place I belong. But I’ve survived. That’s something I wasn’t sure I could do when I left home.

The light changes to green, and we fly down the last stretch. I know the gym we’re headed to. It’s across the street from the cafe where my friend Zero works.

During the summer when I can’t afford my own AC, I sit at the cafe window nursing a watered-down lemonade. Zero and I make up stories about the people coming in and out of that gym. We know most of the regulars, but I haven’t seen Golden Boy before.

He parks in front of the wide expanse of blacked-out windows. I get off, feeling the burn in my thighs even after such a short ride. He lifts his helmet and runs a hand across the top of his choppy hair, which still looks perfect.

I finally get a good look at his face. He’s damn beautiful, no denying it. His jaw could crack rock, and his eyes are that funny hazel that switches between light brown and green. He catches me looking. “You okay? Did they hurt you?”

I shake my head.

“You want to come inside a second? I could get you some water.” He locks his helmet to his handlebars.

I shake my head again.

“You don’t talk much, do you?”

I clear my throat, not sure how well words will come out now that we’re looking at each other. “Thank you.”

He rocks back on his heels, assessing me. “You know, I think you could have taken that whole group if I let you. Do you train?”

I don’t know what he means. “No.” I try to make eye contact with him, but just looking at his face makes me seize up. I want more of him. And the feeling is uncomfortable, unfamiliar.

The only boy I’ve felt good around since my daddy is Zero. But then, the first time I met him, he was dressed very convincingly like a girl.

Golden Boy nods, like it makes sense that I wouldn’t bother with training. “Well, I’ve got to go in. Duty calls.”

He backs toward the door. It’s almost like he can’t stop looking at me. I know that’s impossible, but I like holding on to the idea while I can.

“Thanks. Again.” I sound lame, but I want to talk now. Words I want to say are rushing at me. Who are you? How long have you been going to this gym? Why haven’t I seen you before?

He gives a little wave. “See you around.”

When he disappears inside, I drop onto a rusted bench. I feel cured, like my distrust of men actually has an end. I haven’t felt free of it for so many years. It’s like sinking into a bath after a lifetime of grime.

I think to check my pocket for my money. God, what if it flew out during the fight? But it’s there. I sigh in relief.

I can’t wait to tell Zero about Golden Boy. Maybe I can sit by the window until he comes out. Zero and I can make guesses about who he is. Where he’s from. What he’s doing in this part of town.

I imagine for a blissful second that Golden Boy will see me in the window. He’ll walk over, and we’ll have dinner like an ordinary couple. For a few minutes, I am as happy as a kid, like nothing bad has ever happened to me.

I turn to the blacked-out windows that read “Buster’s Gym.” I’ve always assumed it was a dump. The location is terrible. The wood facade is banged up and dirty. But somehow it’s good enough for Golden Boy.

Then I notice something. There’s a paper sign flapping in the corner of the window. I can’t read it because it’s taped in the middle and the wind has made it fold together.

I glance around to see if anyone is looking and walk over to it. When I spread it flat against the glass, I see the two most beautiful words ever written in the English language.

Help Wanted.

Chapter Two

Nobody’s looking, so I pull the sign down and tuck it into my front pocket.

I’m too chicken to go in yet. I want the job, but I need a pep talk.

I cross the street to the cafe. It’s late morning on a weekday, so the place is quiet. Zero is sitting on a stool, filing his nails. Even when he’s in boy clothes, he is so much prettier than me.

His face pops up when the door jingles. He sees it’s me, and a big smile spreads across his face. Zero is more than a best friend, really. He’s the only thing that keeps me sane.

“Jo, Jo, JO!” he says, each version of my name becoming more of a squeal. He always acts like my arrival is the highlight of his life. He’s pretty much the only person who does.

He doesn’t keep his drag act a secret, but he dresses like a typical boy at work. “Gender normative,” he likes to say. “Otherwise the men won’t tip, and the women want to tell me their life stories.”