From within


“I can’t go on seeing you.”

“I don’t understand J.”

“What we have, it’s not the same. You’re not the same.”

“I’m not giving you up.”

“Tony I can’t do this anymore, you scare me. You’ve changed. I won’t let you hurt me anymore.”

“I won’t let you leave me J. you’re mine.”

“Not anymore. It’s over.”

“Change your mind J.


“I’ll make you sorry.”

“I’m not frightened of you.”

“You should be. If I can’t have you, I’ll make sure no one else will ever want you again.”

“You have to go, now. I can’t stay with you, I can’t. I’m sorry.”

“You will be.”

Joshua cringed as he saw his ex boyfriend walking towards him at the end of school, but he was with his posse, so he should be safe enough. Tony stopped just in front of him a nasty smile on his face. “I told you you’d be sorry,” he hissed as Joshua looked at him in confusion. Tony pulled a beaker from behind his back and threw it at the younger boy. The smell of the gasoline registered in Joshua’s mind but before he could react Tony flicked a lighted match at him. Everything suddenly moved into slow motion for Joshua as the flames took hold. Agony ripped through him and the stench of burning flesh assaulted his nostrils. He started to scream, screaming and screaming for help. The smell was horrendous, he couldn’t think, couldn’t breath. A final scream ripped from his throat.

“Hush sweetheart, you’re safe now, you’re safe.” Joshua’s mother rocked him carefully in her arms, just as she had done for the past year. She stroked the little hair he had left and caressed the un-burnt side of his face, “it’s over my angel, it’s a nightmare, just a nightmare.” Only it wasn’t a nightmare and she knew it. She knew that every night since Joshua’s rejected boyfriend had callously set him on fire out side the school that he relived it over and over.

Joshua sobbed against her chest. “Why mom? Why did he do it to me? Was I so bad that I deserved this?”

Karen blinked back her tears, showing strength that only a mother possesses. “He was evil my precious boy, not you, never you.” She pressed her lips to Joshua’s forehead and held him as tight as she dared, cuddling him till he drifted into a restless sleep.

Karen slipped from under her son and went wearily back to her room. “You can’t keep this up darling, you’re exhausted,” Roy said softly as his wife slipped back into bed.

“He can’t help it Roy, he’s suffered so much.” Joshua’s parents snuggled close, Karen drawing strength from her husband. She let the tears that she had held in for so long fall. “Oh Roy, our beautiful son, our beautiful Joshua. It’s so unfair. I wish I could take it away, take the suffering into myself and give him back his life.”

“I know darling, I do too. Maybe we should reconsider the convalescence home?” Roy hated to bring up the home again but it really seemed their only option, his wife was endangering her health from caring for their teenage son.

“No.” Karen ‘s reply was adamant. “Joshua need us, he needs me. I won’t send him away.”

“Ok love, but promise me you will get some sleep tomorrow.”

Karen leaned up and pecked her husband on the lips. “I promise,” she said.

The first day at school was a harrowing experience for anyone but for Joshua Chasez it was even more so. It had been little over a year since he had been here. As he neared the main entrance he hesitated. There on the ground was still the scorch mark, that was the place his ex-boyfriend had doused him in gasoline and set fire to him. Panic gripped him and he started to back away, dropping his backpack in his terrified state. Two strong hands suddenly gripped him softly by the shoulders and turned him around. “You must be Joshua. I’m Chris; I’m the psychology tutor. Come with me, I’ll look after you.” Joshua stared at the floor not able to meet the kind mans eyes.

“Thank you,” he mumbled and allowed the teacher to guild him into the school building.

Joshua could feel everyone’s eyes watching him as he walked down the hallway with Chris Kirkpatrick. Hearing their muttered words as they gossiped about him. Sophomores stopped, staring blatantly at his appearance, then chatting away urgently as they speculated about what had happened to him.

“The curiosity is natural Joshua,” Chris said kindly, “it will died down and eventually stop.”

Joshua blinked away the water that was gathering in his eyes and nodded, pretending to understand, but he didn’t. Most of these people he knew, they used to be his friends, but now they stared at him like he was some kind of freak show. Not one of them had come to see him in the hospital and now not one of them greeted him back.

“This is your home room class Josh.” Joshua nodded a thank you and opened the door. “If you need anything, even if it’s just to cry, come and see me. I’m in room 5b, my door is always open.”

Joshua chewed his lip. “I’ll be fine, thank you,” he lied.

Chris Kirkpatrick knew better, it was only a matter of time before Joshua crumbled into a thousand pieces and he just prayed he’d be able to put them back together again.

The room went quiet when he walked in. the teacher came out from behind her desk and put her arm around his shoulder, leading him to a desk at the front of the class. “Welcome back Joshua, I thought you’d like to sit up front, closer to the board, your records say that your eyesight was damaged.” Josh sat in the chair he was offered and kept his eyes on his hands. Thick ugly burns ran down his arm, his hands though had remained untouched by the flames, his fingers long and slender were still able to stretch across the keys of his grandmothers piano, teasing forth haunting melodies that reached deep into your heart and ripped it out. The teacher gave the badly burned boy a sad look then carried on with her class. Half hour later the bell rang for first period and armed with their timetables the students left for their first class. Joshua walked alone down the corridor towards his first lesson, he kept his head down and his eyes adverted, if he never looked at anyone maybe they wouldn’t notice the scars that covered the right side of his face.

Sniggering seemed to surround him as a group of kids blocked his way. “Excuse me please,” he muttered as he tried to step around them. A large body blocked his way. He tried again to step around the well-developed youth only to be blocked again.

The youth sniffed at the air, then sniffed at him. “Can anyone else smell burning?” he asked in a loud voice. Joshua staggered from the vicious remark, his heart tearing in two.

“Fucking piece of shit!”

The sound of a fist striking against flesh rang out and the broad youth staggered back landing on his ass. Joshua looked up surprised, not knowing what was going on.

“Are you alright Josh?”

Joshua nodded not knowing what to say. Opting for a curt thank you as he tried to dart around his saviour.

“You don’t recognise me do you Josh?”

The scared boy hung his head lower and spoke softly. “What do you want from me? There’s nothing you can say that I haven’t heard before, just get it over with.”

I’m Joseph, Steve Fatone’s brother.”

Joshua looked up meeting the Italian boys eyes for the first time. “Steve was my friend.”

Joey smiled, “I know.”

“He never came to see me, no one did. I spent so much time alone. I used to be popular, but no one came. No one.

“Steve wanted to come, he really did. But he blamed himself, he persuaded you to break up with Tony. He feels he should have protected you.”

Joshua cowered at his ex’s name, a name he tried so hard to forget. “It wasn’t Steve’s fault. He didn’t throw gas over me, he never struck the match.”

Joey spoke softly, “no he didn’t, but he felt like he put them into Tony’s hand.” The Italian rested his hand on Joshua’s shoulder. “Meet me at lunch?”

“You don’t have to invite me just cus you feel sorry for me. You don’t owe me anything, nor does Steve.”

“Yeah Josh I do.” Joey lifted Joshua’s chin, “meet me, it’s time for you to start living again.”

So what’s this dude like?” Justin, the boy that asked the question ran his fingers through tight bleach blond curls. His eyes were hidden behind the black lenses of his sunglasses.

“He’s sound,” Joey said. “He was my brothers best friend.”

“He’s the burned one isn’t he?” Lance asked as he pinched Justin’s sunglasses and covered his own eyes with them.

“Guy’s give Josh a chance ok. I know he don’t look too pretty, but he has a good heart and he needs all the friends he can get.”

Lance slid the dark glasses to the end of his nose and looked over towards the school building. “Here comes your boy now.”

Joshua stopped short of the trio, shuffling nervously from foot to foot.

“Dude!” Joey jumped off the wall he was sitting on and greeted his brother’s friend. “Guys, I want you to meet Joshua. Josh this is Lance and Justin.”

“Hi,” Joshua spoke quietly and never looked at the two boys.

Justin tried not to look at the burns that he could see, feeling uncomfortable, not knowing what to say. “Nice to meet you.” He muttered.

Lance thrust out his hand. “Lance Bass, if anyone gives you a hard time you tell me, then I’ll get Joey to kick their asses.”

A small smile spread over Joshua’s face. “Deal,” he said and reached out shaking the deep voiced southerners outstretched hand.

“Well now we’re all here lets go to Macdonalds, I’m starved.”

Justin laughed out loud. “When ain’t you hungry oh fat one?”

“Watch it small fry, I may just have to hang you naked from your ankles from the flag pole.” Joey wrestled with the smaller younger man, grabbing hold of his wrists and forcing him to cross his arms over his chest. “Hey guys, I got an idea, lets tickle Justin and see if we can make him piss himself.”

Lance joined in with gusto, tickling the helpless younger boy until he was helpless with laughter. “Help” he gasped, “Josh help, please.”

“Oh come on Joey, I don’t wanna go to Macdonalds with a guy that’s pissed his pants. Geesh, between me and Justin we’d really put the other diners off their food.”

The trio rolling about on the ground stopped, shocked at what Joshua had just said.

Justin broke the silence. “Man you have no idea, me smelling of piss and you looking like that is nothing compared to the Fat-One eating. He makes us two look real pretty.”

Joshua broke into the first real smile for over a year and never cringed at all when Justin hung his arm around his neck.

If someone had told Joshua that he would make such good friends on his first day back he would have laughed and walked away shaking his head, but almost immediately Justin, Lance and Joey took him to their hearts. They glared menacingly at anyone that stared just a little too long at him and he knew that Joey had more than a passing word with the jocks that had thought it funny leave him burned toast on his desk. As Chris Kirkpatrick had predicted the gossiping about him had died down, it was only the odd new or passing through pupil that gawped openly at him. The nightmares never abated, night after night he woke up in the loving arms of his mother as she rocked and soothed him. Every night he asked her why, why did his ex lover hurt him so badly? He knew she couldn’t give him an answer but it didn’t stop him asking anyway.

Justin watched from the school steps as Josh got out of his mom’s car. He gasped as his friend turned to kiss his mother on the cheek, seeing something he had never seen before. The un-burned side profile of Josh was turned to him. Justin’s breath caught in his throat, Joshua was beautiful. He looked as if he had been carved in ice, soft smooth white skin, high aristocratic forehead, chiselled cheeks and full pouting mouth. The younger blond stood up, slowly walking down the steps to greet him. Joshua turned and faced him. Just like two face in batman Justin thought to himself. One side of his face perfect and exquisite in contrast to the other side where the ice had melted. Joshua smiled, the right side of his mouth not quite matching the left. “Hey Juppy, how’s you doing dude?”

Justin seemed to stare blankly for a few seconds before shaking his head. “Sorry man, I was in another world then. Another world where you was perfect and we were together. “Joe and Lance had rehearsal early, I said we’d meet them inside….. Josh?”

The burned youth had stopped dead and was staring pasty faced at the scorch mark on the floor, he had almost forgotten it was there, he hadn’t used this door since the first day of school. He started to shake and back away, his breath coming in short panicked bursts. Justin closed the gap between them, following Josh’s line of sight. “Josh, Josh come away, come on we’ll use the other door.”

Joshua kept his eyes on the scorch mark. His nostrils filled with the stench of burning flesh and he felt his skin burning all over again. He began to cry, losing control and falling to his knees. Justin got down with him, his arms tightly around him, wanting to help but not knowing what to do.

“What can I do? Josh what can I do?” Justin was close to tears himself as his best friend fell apart. Students had started to stop and stare, muttering between themselves at the sight of the two boys on the ground. Chris Kirkpatrick came running from the main block, having witnessed the entire thing from his classroom window.

“Help me.” He whispered to Justin as he tried to lift Joshua from the tarmac. The blond rubbed the tears from his eyes and helped the young student teacher lift his friend. Between them they managed to get Joshua into the medical room and laid him on the bed.

Chris pinched the bridge of his nose, “I’d better call his mom, ask her to come and get him. The teacher squeezed Joshua’s right hand. Will you be ok alone for a few minutes?

The crying boy nodded and turned his face away suddenly acutely aware of his disfigurement.

Chris guided Justin out of the room. “Justin, I’ve been speaking to Joshua’s parents. They are very close to putting him into convalescence home. Apparently he suffers with horrendous nightmares and it’s beginning to take its toll on his family.”

Justin scowled, “they can’t send him away, they can’t! “

“Joshua needs his friend now more than ever. Justin I want you, Lance and Joey to persuade Joshua to come and see me. He needs therapy. Will you do that?” The first bell rang and Chris looked at his watch. “You’d better get off to class, I’ll call his mom.”

Lance leaned back in his chair, “What happened exactly?”

Justin sighed, “It was so quick, one minute we was talking, then he was on the floor crying and shaking. I didn’t know Joe, I swear I didn’t know that was where it had happened.”

The big Italian rubbed his eyes. “It’s not your fault Jup, I never gave it a thought either.”

“What I don’t get is why they haven’t done something about the marks?” Lance asked.

“Resources I guess,” Joey answered.

“Why don’t we do something about it?”

Lance and Joey looked at their younger friend, the light dawning on their faces. “There’s nothing stopping us from getting rid of it,” Justin said softly as the others nodded.

“Tonight at the end of school, we can get everything we need from the janitors closet.” Joey ruffled Justin’s hair. “Now all we got to do is dissuade Josh’s parents from sending him to a hospital.”

At the end of lessons the three friends met up and raided the janitor closet. Armed with pails of hot water, soap and long handled brushes they went out into the main door, they paused just in front of the nasty blackened mark on the ground. “What if it won’t go?” Justin asked.

Lance pulled out three cans of spray paint. “That’s what this is for.”

Joey dipped his brush into the water “lets get on with this, I wanna check on Josh before I go home.” The trio gathered a small crowd as they scrubbed at the scorched tarmac. One or two others arrived carrying brushes and pails of water, joining in the task. They smiled supportively as they worked. Another body joined in the work party, much to everyone’s surprise; Chris Kirkpatrick attacked the mark with vigour. After an hour the mark had paled but not disappeared. Lance threw down his brush. “Time for plan B” he said. He pulled his towel out of his gym bag and got down on his knees, drying the area they had tried to wash. Then taking his black spray pain the began tracing an outline on the ground. Everyone watched as Lance used a practiced hand to lay the foundations of his picture. He switched can’s, using a bright red to fill in between the black outline. Switching can’s again he filled in the bottle green part. He put the finishing touches to his artwork and sat back satisfied.

“Its lovely Lance.” Justin eyes took in the sight before him, “making something so beautiful out of something so terrible.”

“Jup’s right, you outdid yourself.” Joey clamped a big hand on Lances shoulder. “Lets get this stuff put away and go visit our boy.”

Karen eyed the three boys in her sitting room suspiciously. “Can I get y’all a drink?”

“That would be very nice thank you Mrs Chasez” Joey replied for all of them.

“Milk or soda?”

“I’ll take milk please Mrs C,” Justin said.

“Me two please,” Lance added.

“Joey smiled, “Make that three please.” the dark haired woman smiled “I’ll see what’s keeping Joshua. It’s nice of you all to come and see him, especially as he’s going away for a little while.”

The three friend gawped at each other open mouthed; Josh’s parents were really going to send him away.

“But why?” Justin couldn’t keep the question from blurting out.

“Karen sat down by his side and patted his hand. “Joshua needs help my dear. I tried so hard, but I just don’t have the skill needed to make him better. It’s only a hospice, he can have visitors and he can come home for weekends.”

“But you’re sending him away, like, like you’re ashamed of him.” Justin eyes welled up as he tried to understand how people that professed to love Josh could do something so drastic.

“Oh sweetheart, we’re not ashamed of Joshua, we are so proud of him, we love him and want him to start living fully again. It’s only for a few months, just to give me a rest.” Karen stopped talking seeing that Joshua had came into the room and was shuffling his feet listening to what his mother was saying. “I’ll get the drinks.” she said, and stood up. She lifted Joshua’s chin as she passed him and caressed the left hand side of his face with her long slender fingers.” My beautiful boy” she whispered. I love you.”

“I know momma.” she kissed him lovingly. “Go talk with your friends sweetheart and I’ll get you all some milk and cookies.”

Six months later.

Justin laid back on his bed the phone pressed to his ear. He giggled as Joshua recited his adventure of the day. “I swear the guy didn’t know where to look. He just stammered and spluttered as Joey glared at him. He just kept apologising to me and saying that he never meant to insult me. He ended up buying us both dinner to stop Joey from kicking his ass.” Joshua had been home a week and was starting school again in a couple of days.

Justin wiped his eyes, “what the fuck did the asshole say to you?”

“He made a sarcastic comment on how ugly people shouldn’t be allowed out in public.”

Justin gasped, “He said what! That fucker! If I had been their I’d have ripped his fucking face off. He doesn’t even know you!”

“I’m getting used to it,” Joshua’s voice said one thing but his tone said another.

“You shouldn’t have to be used to it Josh.”

On the other end of the phone Joshua had gone quiet. When he eventually spoke his voice was tinged with sadness. “People only see the scars, they don’t see me. It’s never gonna change Justin.”

The younger man thought carefully about what he was about to ask. “Can I ask you something?”

“What?” Joshua asked nervously.

“Do you forgive him?”

On the end of the phone a tear ran down Josh’s face. “I can’t, I can’t think about it, it hurts Justin. I still wake up at nights screaming. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but it still happens and I feel it as if it was happening all over again, and the smell, I’ll never forget the smell.”

“Josh, I’m sorry. I never meant to upset you.”

“It’s ok, you’re my friend, I want you to know. I don’t know how I would have survived high school with out you, Lance and Joey there watching my back, keeping the wolves from my door.”

“Josh, can I come over?”

The older boy rubbed his hand over his head. “Why?”

“There’s something I want to talk to you about.” Justin waited with bated breath; worried his friend would refuse him.


Justin smiled, “ I’ll see you in about ten minutes.” The blond hung up and immediately dialled again. “Lance, I’m going to tell him tonight.”

“I hope it works out Jup, You belong together.”

“Wish me luck?” Justin asked hopefully.

Lance chuckled, “You won’t need it dude, Joey told me that Josh thinks you’re cute, but he’s convinced that you wouldn’t want him because of his burns.”

Justin sighed, “well I guess I will just have to convince him otherwise. Anyway I got to go. Josh is waiting. I’ll call you.”

“Yeah you do that. Make sure you kiss him from me ok.”

“Later dude.”


As soon as he got off the phone with Justin, Lance called Joey. Our boy has found the courage at last. Are you sure Josh will go for it?”

“Absolutely, he ‘s crazy about Juppy

“It’s gonna be weird, them pawing at each other.”

Joey laughed, “Yeah but I’m sure we’ll cope. Talk to you later dude.”

“Yeah bub-bye man.”

Karen let Justin in and went to call Joshua, he’d been home a whole week and he had only had one nightmare, and now Justin was calling around, things were looking up for her baby. She watched from the corner of her eye as Justin brushed himself down and took deep breaths. She had been disappointed when Josh had come out to her and Roy but she understood, how couldn’t she? She loved her son, pure and simple. All she wanted was for him to be happy again and if it took a blue-eyed jock to do that then so be it.

She went into the kitchen and listened at the door, hoping what she thought was about to happen happened.

“Caught ya.”

Karen stifled a tiny scream and swatted her husband. “Roy!” she hissed. “I think Justin is going to ask Joshua on a date.”

Roy scowled, “Ew, too much information for me pet, you know I’m not keen on Josh’s chosen life style.”

“Shhh, I’m missing what he saying.”

Roy rolled his eyes, it was true he wasn’t best pleased that Josh had decided he liked boys rather than girls, but when the attack happened he had prayed to god that if he would just pull his baby-boy through he would accept and support Josh for the rest of his life. Unable to resist the temptation any longer he hip butted his wife over and placed his ear to the door also.

Justin wandered around Joshua’s living room, stopping at the rosewood piano. He ran his fingers over the fine wood marvelling at its silky texture. His eye caught sight of the many photographs that stood proudly in gleaming silver frames. Justin reached out, picking up one of Joshua hugging a big shaggy brown dog, it had been taken just weeks before the attack that had left Joshua so badly disfigured. He ran his fingers over the face in the picture, his mind drifting back to six months ago when he first noticed how attractive Josh was. A familiar burning in the back of his eyes warned him that he would be blubbing like a baby pretty soon if he didn’t snap out of it. He lifted the picture to his lips kissing the smiling boy. “I love you,” he whispered. “See how easy it is to say when your not in the room.”

“What are you doing?” Josh stood in the doorway his hands shoved into the back pockets of his low cut jeans. The black tank top eventuated his muscular arms, the skin on the right one was stretched and puckered where the flames had eaten away at his flesh, the scars ran up his neck and across the entire right side of his face. “Jup?”

“You look fantastic.” Justin blushed as he realised he had said what he was thinking out loud.

Joshua blushed in return, “Ah shucks, you’re just saying that cus you feel sorry for me. He laughed out loud indication that he was just messing with his friend, but Justin wasn’t in a messing mood.

“I mean it Josh, you look fantastic.” The blond closed the space between them and trailed his fingers down Joshua’s face, tracing the burns that spread over his once soft skin. He leaned in, brushing his lips over the stunned brunettes. No one not even his mother had ever touched his scars before; they only ever touched his unburned skin. Joshua moaned throatily as Justin’s tongue slipped into his mouth, exploring every millimetre. Justin held Josh’s face in his hands as he broke the kiss. “I love you Joshua, I’ve loved you for so long.”

A tear ran down the fragile youth’s tortured face. “Justin don’t he breathed, don’t make fun of me, I can take it form strangers, but not from you.”

Justin leaned his forehead against Joshua’s. “I’m not making fun of you,” he breathed. “I do love you, tell me you love me too.”

A sob ripped from Joshua’s throat and he wrapped his arms around the younger boy, weeping against his shoulder. “He said no one would ever want me, he said he’d make sure no one would ever love me again.”

“Your ex?”

Joshua nodded. “I still feel it Justin, just like it was happening. And if I catch sight of myself in a shop window or a mirror I hear his voice rasping at me, taunting me. He burned me Justin, he burned me because I finished it with him.”

Justin was careful with what he wanted to say, not wanting it to come out wrong. “It was pure evil what he did to you Josh, but if he hadn’t I’d never have met you. I’d never had gotten the opportunity to know you, to grow to love you. Physical beauty fades with age, but what you have is much, much more. Your beauty comes from within; it shines like an aura everywhere you go. I want to bask in that aura Josh, I want to spend the rest of my days bathed in your beauty. I love you Joshua, I’ll always love you.”

The .. The scars will never go, you know that don’t you?”

“What scars? I don’t see any scars. Justin lifted Joshua’s chin, tilting his face so that he could reach his lips once more.

As the two sank into their kiss Karen sank back into a kitchen chair a look of pure bliss on her face. She smiled happily at her husband, tears rolling down her face. “He’s going to be alright Roy, he survived the horror.

Her husband sat down in a chair next to her and held her hand. “Did you expect anything else honey, after all he’s our son.”


“are you sure about this Josh?”

“Yeah, I heard so much about it, that I wanna see with my own eyes.”

Justin looked at his boyfriend proudly and squeezed his hand. “I’ll be with you, so will Joe and Lance, won’t you guys.”

“Not that you’ll need us,” Lance interjected,

The foursome approached the main entrance of the school, the place where nearly two years previously Joshua had been so viciously attacked. Joshua stopped staring in awe. On the ground where the scorch mark had been was a massive red rose. Joshua’s eyes welled as he read the inscription that surrounded it.

Objects and people may look beautiful, but true beauty comes from within.

The End.

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