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“My name is Justin Foley……and I’m a survivor.”

Clay remembers not breathing from the moment Justin stood up in the assembly until he finished talking, but the words didn’t register to him. His eyes saw that Justin was standing, and his ears heard Justin’s voice. But his brain couldn’t connect the words he had heard with his brother.

“My name is Justin Foley……and I’m a survivor.”

After the assembly ended and everyone was gathering around to show their support for the people who spoke up, the words replayed in Clay’s head. But Justin couldn’t have said them. He must have missed something. He quickly pushed the thoughts aside as he went to hug Tyler and tell him how proud he was of him for telling his truth. The same truth Justin had just told. But not Justin.

“My name is Justin Foley……and I’m a survivor.”

He vaguely heard Jess ask Justin if it was true and Justin confirm it. But before he had a chance to process that, the police were there. Arresting him and dragging him away in front of all of his friends and his brother. His brother who had been attacked.

The next couple of days were a bit of a whirlwind between being interrogated and orchestrating the cover up for Alex and Jess. After they had listened to Bryce’s tape and all of their friends had left, the words ran through his head again and again. And it finally hit him. At some point, Justin had been hurt. Maybe right under Clay’s nose. Because apparently Clay was never going to be able to protect anyone he loved. And Clay hadn’t even bothered to see if he was ok. Clay was the worst brother in the world. He looked over at Justin’s side of the room and saw him getting ready for bed.

“Justin,” he murmured barely above a whisper. Justin must not have heard him, because he didn’t look over at him. He cleared his throat and repeated his name louder. It got the other boy’s attention

“What’s up, man?” Justin asked while shooting Clay one of his sad-eyed smiles he was so good at. Clay took a deep breath.

“About what you said in the assembly the other day,” he started, and Justin instantly tensed. “I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you. “

“Don’t worry about it, man. You’ve had a lot of shit to deal with.” Justin tried to cover the wobbling of his chin with small laugh and turned back to getting ready for bed. Clay got up off of his own bed and made his way over to Justin’s side of the room before slowly sitting next to Justin on his bed.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Clay asked quietly. Justin went still for a minute and then let out a deep breath.

“Yeah, I do. Is that ok?” Justin looked over to the older boy with unshed tears in his eyes.

“Of course, Justin. Whatever you want to tell me, I’ll listen. You know I’ve got your back.” Justin nodded a few times before rubbing his hand over the bottom half of his face and taking another deep breath.

And then he told Clay everything. About him being five years old and having his mother’s boyfriend, Rick, come into his room every night to touch him or make Justin touch him. How the man put his fingers in Justin’s mouth and jerked off on him. How he didn’t know what he had done to make Rick do what he was doing, but he knew it was is fault somehow. How it continued to happen whenever his mom and Rick got back together for the next four years. How as he got older, it got worse. How one day, it wasn’t just Rick’s fingers that were shoved in his mouth; it as something else. How soon after that started, it escalated to the man lying on top of him and covering his mouth with his hand while he told Justin he was going to kill his mom if he didn’t shut the fuck up and stop crying like a pussy. How he finally got the courage to tell his mom about it when he was nine, and Rick never came back, but the only words of comfort his mom had for him were “This isn’t the life I wanted for you, baby, but shit happens.” How she never mentioned it again.

He told Clay about him being on the streets and running out of money. About being so fucking hungry after not eating for three days and only hesitating for a few minutes when a man came up to him, told him he was pretty and offered him $20 to suck his dick. How he didn’t think it was a big deal, because it’s not like it wasn’t something he hadn’t done before. How the sandwich he bought after it was over was the best thing he had ever tasted. How he decided that if he had to suck a few creepy dude’s dicks in order to eat, it wasn’t the end of the world. How it didn’t matter that every time he got on his knees in a dirty alleyway, he felt like he was five years old again.

He told Clay about the first John who had shoved him against a brick wall, pulled down his pants and took more than Justin had agreed to give. How he cried after the man had let him fall to the ground and thrown 100 bucks at him before walking away. How it happened on several different occasions with different men before he decided he might as well start offering it up front so at least he was ready for it and could negotiate the price.

He told Clay about how he lasted a month and a half on the streets before he turned to heroin to cope with what he had been doing to keep himself alive. And when he had ran out of things to tell Clay, he broke down into heart wrenching sobs that he had been holding in for way too long. He let himself breakdown in a way he could have never done in front of Jess. She didn’t deserve to have to deal with his shit.

“I am so sorry that all happened to you, Justin,” Clay whispered through tears as he reached over and pulled the younger boy into a bone-crushing hug. He rocked Justin back and forth as his sobs slowed down.

“Do you think…do you think that Rick knew what I was going to become, and that’s why he did it?” Justin whispered brokenly. Clay pushed him away from him slightly and gripped the side of his face with one hand.

“Justin, you were five years old, and he was a grown ass man. What he did to you was not your fault. And what happened to you on the streets was not your fault either. No one ever has a right to take that from you without your permission.” Justin let out a broken, bitter laugh.

“I was a fucking whore, Clay. Like an actual fucking whore.” Justin pulled back a little and wiped his eyes before looking down at the bedspread.

“You were doing what you had to do to survive. That doesn’t give anyone the fucking right to rape you. It was not your fault. Do you believe me?” Justin shifted his eyes back up to Clay, and Clay’s heart broke at the mix of sadness, anger and pain he saw in them. All of which he had somehow missed the whole time he had been sharing a room with Justin.

“No, I don’t think I can, but thank you for saying it,” Justin whispered and tried his best to give Clay a small smile.

“I’m sorry I didn’t notice how much you were hurting,” Clay said softly. Justin shook his quickly and shot Clay what Jess dubbed his “Puppy Eyes”.

“Dude, stop. You don’t have anything to apologize for. I didn’t want you to know. I didn’t want anyone to know. I wasn’t ready to talk about it. But seeing all those people standing up and telling everyone what happened to them made me realize that I needed to finally talk about it. Because I’m never going to get clean if I can’t work through this shit.” Justin rubbed his hand over his face again.

“Do you want to tell our parents? You definitely don’t have to, but do you think that will help?” Clay tried to convey with his eyes that it was ok for Justin say no. Justin took a deep breath.

“Yeah, I want to tell them. And I want to tell them about me not being clean too. But not yet. I need a little bit before I can say it all out loud again. Is that ok?” Justin gave him a hesitant look, and Clay immediately pulled him back into another hug.

“That’s fine, Justin. Whenever you’re ready. I’ll be there with you when you tell them if you want me to. Whatever you need, ok?” Justin wrapped his arms tighter around him.

“Ok, thank you.” Clay cleared his throat through the tears that were threatening to spill again

“Don’t thank me. Not for this. I love you, man.” Clay felt his shoulder getting wet again with tears.

“I love you, too.”

After Justin cried himself into exhaustion, Clay laid in bed that night thinking of a little boy crying for help in a house full of adults who did nothing but let him down and a sixteen year old huddled in alleyways selling his body to keep himself safe.

They left it at that for the next few days. Clay made sure to check up on Justin more often to make sure he was doing ok, and Justin started talking to Clay more when his mind got too loud thinking about everything that had happened to him. Justin doesn’t know why he chose Thanksgiving dinner as the time to let Matt and Lainie know that he was still doing drugs, but it kind of came out without his permission. It felt wrong to sit there and say he was grateful to have a family if he was still taking their generosity for granted by lying to them. He could tell they were upset, but Lainie promised to get him the help he needed and Matt suggested they have a family meeting after Caleb and Tony had left.

“Clay, why don’t you go to your room?” Matt said as he put the last of the dishes away. Lainie was already sitting at the table with a cup of coffee. Clay shot Justin a look asking if he wanted him to go or not. Justin rung his hands together and cleared his throat.

“Is it ok if he stays? I need him to be here,” Justin said quietly. Matt and Lainie shared a look.

“Sure, honey,” Lainie said with a tight smile. “Go ahead and sit down boys.” Once they were all sitting, Lainie started right into talking about all the different programs there were for him. Ones that would allow him to stay at home and still go to school.

“Why didn’t you tell us you were still using, Justin?” Matt cut off Lainie mid-sentence. His voice wasn’t angry like Justin was expecting it to be. It was soft and almost sad. It made Justin feel worse. He looked down at his lap and twisted his hands together. Clay reached over and gently grabbed his forearm in a sign of support.

“I was afraid that you wouldn’t want to go through with the adoption if you knew. I was afraid you’d make me leave,” Justin said softly without looking up at either of them.

“Oh, honey,” Lainie said, “We would never do that. We love you, Justin.”

“Yeah, buddy, you’re part of this family now,” Matt added. Justin looked up at the two of them and saw the sincerity in their eyes. Something he was not used to seeing from the adults in his life. He gave them a small smile before looking at Clay, who nodded at him in reassurance and give his arm another squeeze.

“I was also afraid that I would have to tell you the main reason why I started using in the first place, and I wasn’t ready to talk about that. But I am now.”

Clay reached down and held his brother’s hand as he told their parents everything.

“My name is Justin Foley……and I’m a survivor.”