Originally released in June of 2001, the continuation of this story is owed to drewbert for pushing me on it.
I was grinning from ear to ear that night. What a perfect ending to a totally whacked day. Greg and my dad got along really well, and they talked for what seemed like hours about sports, baseball mostly. They talked about this year’s school team, and Greg gave me more credit than I deserved I’m sure. He thinks I’ll be really important to the team if I can start throwing everyday and keep my arm speed up.
After dinner we went up to my room, and I know this sounds weird cause your friends are always in your room, but no one had been here but my dad and I in over a year. And honestly, I’m a slob in my room. Clothes were hanging from the opening in the hamper, papers and glasses all around my computer, and just general disorder all over the place. Greg walked over to my CD cases hanging on the wall and began to browse the titles.
“Man you sure do like a bunch of different stuff, don’t you? Elton John, Creed, Matchbox 20, Tim McGraw, Enya,” he said, reading off some of the labels. I heard him mutter loud enough for me to hear, “I find Liberace and I’ll have to hurt you.” He flashed a grin at me and I grinned back.
“So I guess this is why you can say as much as you do, cause you have all this music to draw on, huh?”
I nodded in reply.
“Are you ever at a loss for the right one? I mean, I guess there are lyrics for just about every conceivable thing, right?” he asked idly, still scanning the titles. He turned to look at me and I shrugged. “Hehe, kind of hard to hear a shrug.. I’m going to have to learn to watch you!” he said.
I grinned again, I just couldn’t seem to stop. “I feel good!” I blurted out quickly, slightly embarrassed but happy none the less.
He looked up at me quickly, “Me too man. I was beginning to think I’d never get through to you. Good thing I’m persistent, huh? Wore you down,” he said sitting on my bed.
“Whipped this beast beyond it’s limit,” I commented, nodding.
“Jeez, was I that bad? I didn’t think I was stalking you or anything,” he said laughing. I grinned in response. “You know, I don’t ever remember you grinning this much before. I like it though. It’s like seeing a new person. Of course you know there’s big changes ahead for you now,” he said trying to be innocent and twisting one of his fingers.
“Cha cha cha changes?” I asked.
“Well, yeah. Lots of stuff. Firstly you should know there’s this pack of chicks that follows the team around. Well, they follow all the teams, but since it’s just us and cross country, I think we have them all to our selves.” He rolled his eyes, “Aren’t we lucky?” I waited in silence.
He watched me. “Well I thought you should know,” he said. Again I waited in silence. Why was this important?
“Wow, you don’t know?” he breathed. Didn’t know what? I threw him a questioning glance.
“Becky Collins? The chick with the long brown hair and the attitude?” he asked. I thought back and tried to picture the person he was describing. Wait, I think I know her! She tried to talk to me at the beginning of the year. A couple of times, but I had managed to shake her. Of course she hadn’t been very nice either, she more or less told me she could go out with whomever she wanted and fell just short of saying I was next on the list. I looked back at Greg and nodded that I knew her, then shrugged to indicate it was nothing I was concerned with.
“Dude, she’s got it for you bad! I mean she was telling everyone that you were hers at the beginning of the year, so all the chicks backed off. She has some pull with them, I don’t know why.” He sat thoughtfully for a moment then said quietly, “It’s like when she looks at you, I don’t know, it’s like she knows something, about your mother. Or something just as embarrassing, at least that’s my guess. But she backed off when you shut her down, and then she chased Mickey Terrell real hard, but he like totally ran from her. She told everyone he couldn’t get it hard, that he was gay. Made him miserable, poor guy. Mick’s a pretty decent guy, having a tough time though.”
I thought of Mickey Terrell ... nice fellow, soft features with expressive eyes and delicate movements. He played third base, and worked really hard too. The whole time I was pitching he was on the balls of his feet, unlike the first baseman who was standing with his hands on his knees. When I was relieved and Mark started to pitch, Mickey got rewarded for being on the ball. The first pitch was lined like a bullet and he snagged it like it was tossed to him. I hadn’t realized things weren’t well for him, but then I didn’t realize much since I had cut myself off from others. I grinned foolishly, right out of the blue.
“What? C’mon, share!” Greg smiled back at me. I laughed and made a circle with my thumb and fore finger, then tried to put all four fingers from my other hand through the hole. Greg’s face went so red! I wonder why? Not like I could just ask, you know? I expanded the four fingers and showed that they didn’t fit in the hole my fingers had made.
“Um, doesn’t fit?” He questioned.
I nodded and sang a small part from an eighties tune. “Oh Mickey you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Mickey!” I laughed so hard I collapsed into my chair in front of the computer, and Greg was doubled over on the bed. When we had recovered he rolled over on my bed, laying on his stomach and looking at me.
“I feel sorry for him, though. That bitch made him all alone for a while. Except for Rich, you know the first baseman? Almost everyone stopped hanging out with him. He and I were never close but, I felt bad for him. Just another one of her victims I guess.” He sighed.
“Victim of love.” I said glumly. “She’s a Maneater.”
“Yeah, something like that I guess.” We sat in silence for a few minutes before Greg broke it again. “You know, I should go home but I really don’t want to say good bye,” he said.
“Friends never say goodbye,” I replied, a warm tingling in my stomach and chest.
Yeah, I guess that’s true, huh? You know, I never really thought this would happen, that you’d open up. It was like this weird dream and I just couldn’t figure out how to get there. Like something just out of reach.” He fell silent looking at me for a moment then seemed to shake himself. “I guess I just killed you with kindness, huh?” he asked with a quick grin.
“Please don’t go.” I said.
“I don’t want to but it’s like nine o’clock and my dad said to be home by ten. Ten’s my curfew during the week.” He shrugged.
I went to my closet and pulled out a pillow and sleeping bag that were buried in the back and turned to face him, pointing at the bedding.
“Stay with me?” I asked.
“You mean sleep over?” He asked. “Sounds good to me! But how do I justify it to my dad?” he asked.
I thought for a moment and then dragged my Math book out of my book bag. I pointed to it and then to him.
“Good idea, tutoring! Let me call my Dad” He headed for the door then stopped and faced me again. “Should we ask your dad do you think? And wait, what about clothes?” I responded by crossing the room and showing him the largish closet I had produced the sleeping gear from. Plenty of clothes. He nodded his assent and I followed him downstairs.
Dad was sitting in his chair on the living room. He usually sat there to watch TV at night and tonight was no different.
“Hey guys, what are you up to? He asked while muting the commercial on the tube.
“Jake just asked me to stay over and we were going to check with you and then call my dad if it’s okay,” Greg answered for us.
“Really? Well sure, fine by me. Hey, is that a spot on your shirt?” He asked to Greg. I groaned inwardly because I knew what was coming next. Greg looked and there was indeed a stain on his white shirt from dinner. “A little Perox-Clean will get that out, you know,” my dad said almost sounding like Phil Hartman form Saturday Night Live, you know where he sounds all false and smiles too much? “Here,” My dad said, “Give me the shirt, Jake has a hundred he could loan you. This stuff is like a miracle, takes those things right out,“ he said getting up out of his chair.
“Oh, it’s an old shirt, I only use it for gym. It’s okay, really.” Greg said while looking at me somewhat uncomfortably. I groaned inwardly again because once my father was on this trail he wasn’t to be deterred. “It’ll look like new again, just let me toss it in the wash, it’s great stuff,” Dad lowered his voice to a conspirators whisper, “Bought it from the TV.”
Dad had taken on this strange habit when mom died. He became a late night infomercial junkie. And he bought all of the things he saw, well, except the wonder bra. Oh my god, I hope he didn’t buy the wonder bra. He tried to cook everything in his George Foreman Grill, wipes clean with a paper towel don’t you know. It was almost comical, so many things we have around the house have those red stamps on them that say, “As seen on TV!” next thing will be Amway or Avon. I shivered at the thought of my dad in a pink car for being a top Mary Kay seller.
Of course Greg surrendered his shirt, and I’ll tell you this much friends and neighbors, I wasn’t complaining. He turned to me and asked me to show him where the phone was while my father scampered, and yes he did really scamper, downstairs to the washer and his miracle cleaner with Greg’s shirt. I showed Greg to the back of the house where the kitchen was and pointed to the phone on the wall by the back door. As he lifted the receiver I walked from the room to give him some privacy, but my thoughts were turned decisively to his bare torso. I idly wondered if it was the newness of seeing Greg semi-nude or if it would be the same if it were, say, Becky Collins. She was good looking undoubtedly, her hair was long and it shimmered under the light, and her skin was quite smooth and supple. I sighed, questions that I simply could not answer. It seemed to me that Greg had been on the phone for a while and I headed back towards the kitchen, but stopped just short and heard him talking, but I was sure it wasn’t his father.
“Dude, he’s really cool. He’s got so much music, and so many different kinds it’s amazing.” He stopped and seemed to be listening. “Yeah, just like that we can almost have a conversation. I have to interpret some but it’s like finding someplace no one has been before, or rediscovering something no one has seen in ages.” He fell silent again. “I dunno about that. We haven’t really talked about that. Well, you know what I mean! I know he likes me, but I don’t know if he likes me like that. Why are you so interested anyway?” He fell silent and then laughed into the phone. “Dude I have to go. He’ll be back and I just want to get to know him some more. No, it’s not even like that and you know it. Yeah, you better be sorry, hey I’ll call you tomorrow and maybe we all can hang out? What do you mean a third wheel? He’s not!” Things got really quiet and I decided now was a good time to make my entrance. Greg was watching the doorway and his face flushed at the sight of me, and his pecs tightened up. Wow, I think my chest just hitched myself.
Greg hung up the phone and was still blushing as I crossed the room. “That was Mark. I was supposed to call him tonight so I just thought I would real quick. Um, maybe we could go and hang with him tomorrow?”
Don’t ask me why, I didn’t know Greg that well, but I felt like playing hard to get all of a sudden and I wondered as well at the last statement, it didn’t sound like Mark was interested. “I heard a rumor,” I said casually as I crossed to the cupboard for a glass.
“What, um, what kind of a rumor?” he asked nervously. Now why was he nervous?
“I don’t know what the hell you want from me.” I said coolly, although my heart was picking up speed and I turned to face him as I had retrieved my glass and was heading for the fridge. He put his hands in his pockets and that made his chest move together and I almost dropped my glass.
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean,” he said. Now he was playing hard to get! It suddenly occurred to me to wonder why I was playing hard to get. Wasn’t that something you did while courting or something?
“I come from indecision, a place you have never been,” I sighed as I removed the orange juice for my glass. “Living in a state of confusion, on a map that runs like the veins under your skin.”
“What’s there to be confused about?” He asked with a small tremor in his voice.
“You tell me that you love me.” Came out of my mouth, but I swear I had no idea it was going to happen. I stopped pouring and looked at him as surprised as his face must have been.
“Yeah, well, I do. It’s, um, like.” He stuttered through trying to start his explanation.
“Just like an old friend?” I asked, again my mouth galloping away from my thoughts. I bit my lip in frustration.
“Well, no I wouldn’t say…” He began, but got no farther as my dad swooped in on the room.
“I hand washed it in cold water,” my father said exhuberantly entering the room, “in a small container as the instructions said, and those stains are gone! It’s in the dryer now, you won’t believe it! It’s just like the ad on TV says. It’ll be one of your best shirts!” he said excitedly, completely oblivious to what he’d walked in on and looking from Greg to myself and back again.
“Um, thanks Mr. Tull, that’s real nice of you,” Greg mumbled. I felt really bad now, my mouth had galloped away and embarrassed him. What could I do to fix it?
“No problem! I’ll get you some to take home tomorrow. You’re mom will love it, especially when you consider how much you boys get into. Why, your clothes will last twice as long. Oh, and hey don’t forget,” he said raising his pointer fingers in the air and then both at the counter, “There on the counter is the George Forman Grill. You can make anything on that, and it wipes up with a paper towel. So if you get hungry, you guys cook up something!” And with that he wandered over to the cupboard for a glass. “O.J. looks good , think I’ll have some myself.” He said to himself.
Greg had crossed his arms over his chest and I swear there was something about him, he was obviously nervous though. What could I do about this? I was very confused and that was frustrating and scary all at once. My dad left the room and once again Greg and I were alone.
“Do, um, do you want me to go?” He asked. I shook my head no and struggled to find something to say.
“The option of a warm embrace implies you’re my friend,” I said and studied him for a reaction. I wish I could see my own face cause I wasn’t sure why I had said that myself.
He looked at me unbelieving and walked to me hesitantly. I waited with that nervous feeling in my stomach roiling beyond belief. He opened his arms slowly, very nervously.
“Open arms.” I said and my arms opened to him and I understood why this was so difficult to do for so many. When you gave a hug you opened your body up in such a vulnerable, unguarded state. And his arms open with his skin laid bare showed trust on a very basic level.
His arms closed around me and I melted into the embrace. Peace settled on me and I think maybe that moment of confusion passed for us. I was reluctant to let go of him, his warm skin on my arms and the side of my face was very comforting and I opened my hands and placed them on his back and enjoyed the feel of my skin on his. I don’t know how long the embrace lasted, but it wasn’t long enough. Eventually he stepped away and eyed me suspiciously.
“Are you messing with me?” He asked.
I looked innocently at him, and for once I was. I was completely baffled, and shook my head no.
“No I guess you wouldn’t do that would you,” he stated and sat up on the counter. “You’re smart enough to you know, I wonder if people realize how smart you are?”
I was well and truly embarrassed now, but glad as well that he wasn’t uncomfortable anymore, and he wasn’t leaving. I gestured for him to follow me and he pouted momentarily, and my heart skipped a beat just in time with it.
“You mean I don’t get anything to drink?” he asked in a hurt tone.
“You can have anything your heart desires.” I said. He suddenly was laughing and blushing furiously.
“Oh you have got to be playing me!” he said chuckling, and removed a glass form the cupboard. After filling his glass we went out onto the front porch and sat on the steps. We watched the now summer sun fading into twilight. Soon vacation would start and school would be done until September. He leaned back and tilted his head back, closing his eyes. I felt my heartbeat race while my eyes roamed his exposed skin and realized I needed to do something to break this moment or I wouldn’t be responsible! I fished an ice cube out of my glass and was going to place it on his chest, in the center, when an evil last minute thought occurred to me and I placed it on his left nipple.
I had no idea he could jump so high, it was amazing really. He socked me in the arm and we tussled briefly until we were brought back to reality by a female voice.
“Oh. My. God. I don’t think I have seen you out of your house all year!” came a brassy voice, which I instantly placed as belonging to Becky Collins. “And look at this! Who is that with his shirt off and rolling in the grass?” she asked as if speaking to someone, when in fact she was alone. Greg stood up and moved away from me like I was on fire, and I stood slowly, not sure what the problem was.
“So Greg, when did your specialty become psychotherapy?” she asked sneeringly, emphasizing the psycho portion of the word. What was her problem? I eyed her defiantly and she studiously ignored me.
“Just hanging with a friend,” Greg said warily. She walked around him in a slow circle, speaking slowly as to a small child.
“Jake Tull has no friends, I saw to that. Who does he think he is anyway? When I talk to him, I expect answers. If he thought he was being smart, he wasn’t. In fact,” she said coming to a stop in front of Greg, “it’s his biggest mistake since leaving the womb.”
“What are you taking about?” Greg asked.
“Look, Greg. I know you’re a smart guy, you know no one is supposed to talk to Jake until he decided to talk to me, so how about you go home and we’ll try and forget this ever happened, okay?”she said, saccharine dripping from her voice.
“Becky, Jake doesn’t talk to begin with…” Greg began, but she held up a palm flat to his face to silence him.
“I don’t want any defense for him, just do it Greg. No questions, just do it.” She said eyeing him.
“And if I don’t?” he asked defiantly.
“Then the whole school will know your little secret tomorrow, you know the one I mean.” She raised her eyebrows for emphasis. “Unless of course,”she said finally looking at me, “Jake is ready to talk sense.”
“You have no right,” I said.
“I have all the right, and the dirt to back it up sweetheart,” she said. She turned to face Greg again, “If you don’t believe me, ask Mickey Terrell.” And so saying she headed back down the street. I started after her and Greg placed a restraining hand on my shoulder.
“It’s okay, I guess I should probably go anyway,” he said dejectedly. I shook my head vigorously but he had turned and headed for the house. What could I say? I had to find the words! He went inside and I followed him as he grabbed his book bag and shirt from the hall.
“It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside.” I began, “If you only knew, what I’m going through.” I fell silent searching for more words while Greg faced me.
“Look, Jake she’s going to make a lot of trouble. She’s already going to be giving you a hard time, more than you need, and I know I’m not ready to try and face what she’s going to throw at me.” He hefted his bag on his back and looked at me with eyes that were close to tears. “Jake, you just don’t know what rumors can do and I can’t put you through it for me. See ya later.” He turned to the door and I cried out to him.
“What about me? It isn’t fair!” I felt myself being drawn to tears now. How foolish could I be? I opened the door and let him in, let him into my life and he was leaving? He said we were friends, he said he loved me! “How can you just turn and walk away when all I can do is watch you leave?”
He shook his head. “Jake, you don’t understand,” he began, back tuned to me. His tears were standing in his eyes and mine began to leak as well.
“We’ve shared laughter and the pain, we’ve even shared the tears,” I said, tears running down my cheeks as I watched his tears fall.
“Jake, please don’t do this,” He said between the small sobs that were slowly taking hold of him. I knew that the fight was lost, instinctively, and it hurt. Oh god did it hurt, but maybe he just wasn’t strong enough to get through whatever it was she was threatening him with. I reached up and wiped my eyes and then took his hands in mine.
“Friends never say goodbye.” I paused, then changed songs, “Never have to say goodbye, just see you later,” I said, and tried to smile to let him know that I would try to understand. He nodded his head, and then walked out the front door with slumped shoulders.
My heavy heart went with him.
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