Jump to content
Still Time - Fall Anthology 2023 - Leap of Faith Due 10/1 ×
  • Author
  • 4,816 Words
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Spinning - 3. Chapter 3

At six a.m. precisely, he opened his eyes slowly and he stretched out to his full five-foot-eight-inch length while letting out a gentle yawn. Years of this ritual, going to sleep at ten to get a full eight hours of rest, meant that he didn’t even need to set an alarm. In fact, he didn’t even keep one in his room.


He swung his legs out over the floor, and sat up on the edge of the bed, giving his blood a moment to redistribute so he didn’t get a head rush. Closing his eyes again for a moment, he sat breathing deeply and enjoying the early-morning quiet that could only be found when all the late-night party-goers had passed out for the night and the more sober folks were still sound asleep. This was the best part of living alone, in his mind; he had the freedom to keep his own schedule, and he always had this place of peace to return to when he needed to decompress and let go of the tension of from the day. Leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, he said a short, quiet prayer before rising to meet the day.


Standing naked by his wardrobe, he looked himself over. The last six years of proper care had sculpted his body into a machine of endurance and efficiency. Lean muscle stretched taut over his slender frame, like woven cotton rope under tension below his skin. He never checked, but he was well into the single-digit measure of body fat, all excess burned off by countless hours and thousands of miles in the saddle. Muscular, but far from bulky, the only part of him that he would consider big were his calves and quads, giving him the strength he needed to tackle long climbs and sprint for finishes. He dug in a drawer for some clean cycling clothes, skipping a morning shower since he’d be returning in a couple of hours drenched with sweat anyway. He slid into some snug spandex riding shorts and fastened a heart rate transmitter around his chest.


He reached over his head to scratch an itch on his upper back, one of those impossible to reach itches that you can’t quite nail unless you use a stick or push your arm so far, you feel like your shoulder might pop out. Glancing back into to the mirror, his eyes settled on the reflection of his left shoulder, where a fine random spread of faint scars created an area where his skin wouldn’t quite tan correctly. He kept them covered, so they didn’t get as much sun as his arms did anyway, but even after years of healing and exfoliated skin layers, they never completely faded and never truly tanned. But looking up into his own eyes, he saw no scars, no pain; instead, he saw serenity. How far we’ve come, he thought.


Donning a college team cycling jersey and allowing it to hide the scars from the outside world, Josh Martin slung his battered backpack containing his shoes, sunglasses, helmet, and water bottles over his shoulder, pulled his door open, and stepped into the hall. Locking his sanctuary, he turned left toward the storage room to retrieve his bike and do his daily forty.




I wanted to die. I don’t like to sound cliché, but at the time, I was too miserable to be at all creative about the situation. Quite simply, I wanted it all to just end.


My college life was over. How could I stay here when the only person I even really knew, not that I really fucking knew him, evidently thought I was a total freak? I would run into him everywhere – it was just bound to happen, and that was assuming I even bothered to leave my room. But really, what was the point? So I decided right then that I would just withdraw from all of my classes, and take academic failures or incompletes or whatever they were called. I’d sort out the shit with my GPA later.


Well shit, I thought, if I’m pulling out of classes, why would I bother living in this cave? I might as well just leave town for the semester. I could go home…okay, well that would really fucking blow, so maybe not, but I could find somewhere to crash. Maybe I could hide out with my aunt in New York state for a few months. She’s always been pretty good to me, and I’m sure she could put me to work around the house, and I bet no gay-acting-but-really-straight mind-fucking college kids would prey on me there. Maybe if I pleaded with the financial aid office, I could call it a mental breakdown and get some sort of sympathy housing refund, or pull money out of next semesters‘ loans. I saw “rooms for rent” posters up just about everywhere, and for cheap, so how hard can it be to eek out a living around here?


I just needed to find a hole to crawl into for a while and get my shit together. If I could get my shit together – I felt like some twisted little lizard-thing that had decided to take the next little stumbling step in evolution by edging his way out of his dark, damp, dank cave home into the sunlight outside, only to be chased back in by a hungry turkey vulture. But I think I realized that I had maybe enjoyed that little touch of sunshine I felt. It wasn’t just the price I had to pay for having a friend, it was a taste of that freedom that I had been so afraid to allow myself before.


I wanted that. It was mine. It wasn’t his to take away from me. I wanted to be out; I wanted to walk around this fucking campus without worrying about running into him. I wanted to run into the cycling kids around town and get a nod of respect or at least one of recognition. Fuck that, I wasn’t going to just drop it all. Maybe I wouldn’t go demanding answers, since I didn’t want to - or was too afraid to - even look at him, but I’ll be fucking damned if that motherfucker was going to stick a knife into the heart of this little pathetic life I was trying to lead here, right after sticking a knife in mine. No fucking way.


Disgustedly, I scrutinized my surroundings. This room had been my cave, my home, my sanctuary for many months and so often it was the only place I felt comfortable and safe. But now I saw that it was really my prison cell, the box that kept me trapped in a self-destructive, self-imposed isolation. Suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly at all, this space represented all that was so shitty in my life. My shyness, my complete dearth of friends, the way I buried my feelings, and even worse my identity were the mortar holding together these cinderblock walls. The few pathetic attempts I made at personalizing this room – a few rock posters, some cheap batik-print makeshift curtains over the windows, and a few contraband candles were all shit that held no real meaning for me. Where were the comfort, safety, and sanctuary now? I could feel those walls pressing in, as though Ben were trying to force me back inside for good, and it stirred a deep nausea down low. I’d had enough – I needed to get out.




“How’s it goin’, chief?”


This was becoming a familiar scene. Once again I sat in the shadow of the sports complex, and again, Josh stood over me, asking how I was. I paused my iPod so I could hear him properly.


“Not bad,” I lied, and from the look he gave me, he knew it.


Josh had, once again, just wheeled his bike out and was about to go for a ride. I noticed that he had a new bike, or a bike that was new to him at least. I wasn’t an expert yet but I was learning, and I had seen his old maroon ride often enough to notice he had something new. This was another Cannondale, but it had sort of a brushed raw aluminum finish; it was a sleek machine, looking like it was going real fast even when it was standing still. He leaned it against a concrete pylon, in a way that only the padded seat actually touched the upright post, so the paint wouldn’t be scratched.


He sat down across from me on the grass, in sort of an odd motion that looked a bit like his legs crumpled under him. However he did it, the net effect was that he went from standing to sitting cross-legged in about half of a second.


“What’s on your mind, Jeff?” he asked, his expression soft, but neutral. “Romantic issues again?”


I nodded, but remained silent. Josh was the type of person I probably could talk to, but where would I even begin? I sure as shit wasn’t going to just blurt out that I had asked Ben out and he turned me down flat. I couldn’t just tell someone I was gay, that I had asked someone out, got burned, and that my life was over, all in one breath. Any one of those items by itself was too much for me to feel comfortable sharing; all together, it was unthinkable.


“I asked someone out, and they said no,” I heard myself saying, “and it hurt.”


Where did that come from, I wondered? I didn’t really intend to say anything. Although, as far as such things go, that wasn’t half bad.


“Ah, so you took my advice? That’s pretty brave, you know. A lot of guys around here don’t have ‘dates’, they have drunken hookups at parties that don’t require any verbal skills at all. So you got turned down, huh? I bet that stung a bit. Still, you stated your case and they said it wasn’t what they wanted, right? I mean you gotta respect that, you don’t really want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with y…” he paused, mid-sentence. “Wait, there’s something else, isn’t there?”


He had seen my scowl. It wasn’t so simple, it wasn’t just the storybook chivalrous ‘may I court you, madam’ and ‘nay, I have eyes for another’ exchange. Ben had sought me out, pursued me, befriended me, gotten under my skin, and then sent me what I thought were pretty clear signals of him being interested for weeks. Maybe in Josh’s world, fortune-cookie dating advice worked every time. I wonder if he had a cookie to cover closeted guys getting their hearts eaten by cycle-jock creeps who led them on. I answered despite myself, though I wasn’t sure if it was for my benefit, or because I wanted Josh to know he was wrong.


“It was a little more complicated than that,” I snapped, “when you think you really know someone, and you think you’re…well, going somewhere…and they hint and nudge and lead and everything…”


“Ah, the other side’s not playing fair?”


I just scowled. It was cool of Josh to talk to me, or want to help out, but this didn’t feel to me much like he was doing me any good.


“Look, man, it works out that way sometimes. Who knows what they were thinking, maybe they were leading you on, and maybe flirting is their nature. Maybe you were looking for something more than they were willing to give? Personally I’ll go to great lengths to avoid hurting someone’s feelings but at the same time, when it comes down to it, I’ll be honest with someone even if it means being blunt. I’m sorry you got hurt, but you have to forgive them for not being on the same wavelength as you. Or at the very least, forget them if they can’t even spare the courtesy of being kind.”


He stopped for a moment, and sort of cocked an eyebrow at me.


“Oh. Shit. You mean he…oh, what a fucker…”


I just stared at him, stunned.


“Oh Jesus Christ!” I swore, frustrated, and half-heartedly send my iPod skittering across the walkway. My face fell into my hands, and I seriously through about clawing my eyes out.


“Hey, hey, easy there. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have just outed you like that, but I mean, really, it wasn’t that hard to figure out. I only ever saw you around with him, and when you said you had spent a lot of time with someone and they had led you on, I just sort of put together that you were talking about Ben…”


Goddammit! Did everyone on the fucking planet need to know? I pushed myself to my feet, and scooped up my discarded mp3 player. Without looking, I could feel that the chrome back had been scuffed up when I tossed it. Later, I’d be upset about that, and even more so if it didn’t still work, because I didn’t have much if I didn’t have my tunes. But right now, I wanted to be somewhere where people didn’t know all my personal shit that I wasn’t ready to fucking share yet.


I had taken about three strides when I was brought up short.


“HEY!” barked Josh. Jesus, did he just yell at me?


I turned around and looked at him, and he had a calm but irritated look on his face. He waved me back and pointed at the spot where I had been sitting seconds before. I don’t know why I complied, maybe it was the shock of being commanded by someone I had no obligation to obey, but I slowly walked back over. I didn’t have the chance to sit as instructed, though, because Josh stood back up and gave me a hug. Not an affectionate hug, as such, and not one of those manly half-hugs with the “I’m not gay” triple back-pat, but just a solid, supportive, friendly hug. He stepped back but put his hands on my shoulders, holding me in place.


“Jeff, it’s cool. Don’t even give it another thought. Who you spend your time with is nobody’s business but yours, and I’m not going to say anything to anyone.”


I was looking at the ground. This was just too much too fast, and I wasn’t processing it.


He moved his hands from my shoulders to the sides of my head, gently but firmly lifting it so I was looking into his eyes.


“Come with me. I know what you need.” He led me off towards the south side of campus, wheeling his bike along, his stiff-soled cycling shoes making a sharp clapping noise with each step.




I stepped into his room, and was reminded all over again that what I thought passed for a sanctuary was a pathetic attempt. Josh’s room was spartan, but not harsh or bare; it was simple and serene, with a sort of organic supportiveness. Shoes stayed at the door, but every exposed surface of the floor was covered with woven mats which were much more pleasant for stocking feet than the industrial linoleum hidden below. The walls were a very calming shade of green, sort of mossy or sage, and it was really the perfect color for the room, but it must have been a great coincidence because it seemed that every interior wall of the building was painted that same hue. The bed was a firm-looking bare mat in the corner, only a few inches high, but with its simple pillow and thin blanket, neatly folded and stacked, it seemed oddly inviting. A simple desk, a bookshelf with a few books, a rectangular mirror on one wall all had their place, attractive by their function and placement rather than their style or adornment. There was enough light to see by, comfortably, filtered by roll-up bamboo window shades.


Something struck me as odd about the room, or its contents, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Josh spoke before I had a chance to mull it over for long.


“You, my friend, are a mess. I know I don’t know you well enough to be telling you your business, but it looks to me like you have no mechanism for dealing with the shit that’s going on in your life. So I’m going to give you one that works for me – maybe it’ll be good for you, maybe you’ll hate it, but for now it’ll be better than nothing and you can always find something you like better later on.”


He reached up over his wardrobe and pulled down a package, something made of black cloth in a sealed plastic baggie. He handed it to me.


“Cycling shorts,” he told me, “I can lend you everything else you need but borrowing someone’s shorts is just nasty. I haven’t used those yet, so they’re yours.”


I looked at him, uncomprehendingly.


“You don’t wear underwear under cycling shorts,” he explained.


“I don’t have a bike, you know…” I said. I didn’t really feel like riding a bike at all. I’m not sure why he thought this would be some sort of cure for my ills.


“I’ll lend you my old one; it’s just sitting in the storage closet down the hall until I get a chance to put it up on eBay.”


He pulled out a cycling jersey for me to wear. “I’ll need this back,” he told me and picked up a small toolbox before leading be down the hall to the storage closet.


It took Josh about fifteen minutes to set the bike up for me. The height of the bike frame itself was about right, but the seat had to be lowered, he had to put flat pedals on it since I didn’t have cycling shoes and those funny lock-in cleats. Handing me a spare helmet that had been hanging on the bike’s handlebars, he told me to duck into the bathroom around the corner to change, and we stowed my clothes and his tools in the closet and wheeled the bikes outside. I was apprehensive, and I told him so. I probably hadn’t been on a bike since I was thirteen. He brushed off my concerns, figuring that what I knew would come back to me quickly and what I didn’t know, I could learn.


Cruising easily through town, Josh went over the basics of riding on the road, teaching me about the “proper” and “common” ways to signal for turns, how and when to ride beside or behind another rider, how to make left turns in traffic, pointing out road obstacles to other riders, and anything else he could think of that I needed to know. Once we looped back through the downtown area, though, he dropped the hammer and took off like a cheetah. I was still confusing the left and right gear shift levers, but after a few minutes of flailing at the pedals and holding on tight, I managed to catch up to him. I was pretty sure he was easing up to wait for me though; I was pedaling as hard as I could but he was an experienced racer. He could no doubt drop me any time he wanted.


The next twenty minutes I spent working my ass off, responding to his drill-sergeant commands to keep pedaling hard, not to let up, because that was how to build endurance quickly.


“Cycling is one of the most painful sports,” he explained, “because you’re constantly pushing your body to its healthy limits to get better, and keeping it at that limit while you race. You have to get used to the hurt, the feeling like you can’t push any more and sustain your cadence. It’s just how it is.”


He helped me to start developing a good form, keeping my body from flopping around when I was pedaling hard, teaching me when to ease up to recover energy a little bit, and when to push hard to maintain constant effort. We were on an “easy route” according to Josh, which didn’t make me feel very good since I thought I was going to DIE at any moment, and I had to negotiate some pretty steep inclines, at least in my opinion. At first, I tried to mimic his behavior, which was sort of like standing up on the pedals with his ass off of the seat. When I stood up, though, I felt tippy, and when I tried to crank up the hill like him, my left foot slid off the pedal and I slipped back onto the saddle, almost nutting myself.


“Easy, man,” he said, reversing direction easily and coming around to ride beside me, “You can’t really crank on flat pedals. You’ll have to get some proper shoes and these clipless pedals if you want to do that. Drop down to the lowest gear, and just spin.”


I looked at him with a furrowed brow.


“Spinning – it’s what you call dropping to a low gear and bringing your cadence way up to get yourself up a steep hill. The low gear means you don’t have to push nearly as hard to move the bike, but you have to pedal a lot faster to keep moving forward. Basic physics of gears, man. Spin up the hill; catch your breath and rest up a bit so you can take off again when you get to the top. You don’t have to attack every hill, you know. Sometimes you gotta sit back, spin up the hill, and take it easy for a bit, just like in life.”


Great – more nuggets of wisdom from fortune-cookie-boy. But then I thought for a second, and I realized that since he got me on this bike, I had been completely consumed by it, forced to pay attention to signals and traffic in town, and my burning quads and calves on the back roads. I hadn’t thought about Ben once. Shit, I thought, maybe Josh does know what he’s talking about after all. My grudging admission was interrupted by Josh taking off again, and I hustled to keep from losing him.


A short while later we headed back to campus. We had done a fifteen-mile loop, which Josh seemed to be relatively pleased with. He said he tried to do forty miles every day that he could get out, which left one or two days during the week for rest and recovery. I couldn’t picture riding forty miles per day, never mind two hundred per week, but fifteen sounded like a lot, and I was proud of it.


Back in his “sanctuary”, we sat on the floor and sipped Gatorade from ceramic mugs after mixing it from powder. He pulled off his shirt at one point and toweled himself off, getting rid of some of the sweat on his arms and face before it had a chance to dry and leave that itchy crusty salt layer. He was facing away from me, and I saw for the first time that he had a really nice form from all those hours of riding, but also that his shoulders seemed to be…marked. It was like a fine lattice of tiny scars going down to the top of his bicep, where a short sleeve might fall.


I couldn’t think of anything that would leave marks like that. Splatter burns are random, I knew from photos in one of my psych classes when studying trauma. Maybe some sort of shrapnel? Whatever it was, he was lucky to have it end right where his shirt would fall, so he didn’t have to walk around with idiots like me staring all day, or asking about them.


At that moment, Josh looked back over at me and I looked away, but I was sure he saw me looking at his shoulders. He stood up and walked to his dresser, took out a t-shirt, and pulled it over his head. It hugged his body, the long and lean physique of an endurance athlete. His hands tucked casually in his pockets; he stared at me for a few moments, as if weighing some decision, before sighing, drooping his head, and walking back over to sit next to me again.


“I made them,” he said, almost in a whisper.


I didn’t know what he meant; I told him so.


“I made the scars on my shoulders. I used to cut myself when I was a kid, maybe fourteen or fifteen.” He paused, and took a deep breath. “I wouldn’t be telling you this but I can see you’re curious, and you had to share some pretty personal stuff with me today.


“When I was little, I was really unstable, emotionally. Maybe it was the puberty thing, I think it’s more a biological deal but whatever the reason, I was depressed a lot, quiet, and I just felt…numb. I felt numb all the time. I’m told a lot of kids have that problem, and they end up hurting themselves, cutting like I did, just because the pain is something you can feel, something that seems real. Terrible, though, you can see, because I was fucked up at fourteen and I’ll carry it forever now.”


“My parents found out, which felt like the end of the world at the time, but it ended up being a good thing. They took me to see some doctors, and they called it ‘borderline personality’ or something. They all wanted to do the same thing – dope me up and keep me ‘stable’, but my dad really didn’t like that idea. He works in international trade – he’s traveled all over the world, you know - and he’s always thought that our culture is just sick with overindulgence and apathy, and that we’re all being slowly killed by the ‘luxuries’ that people treasure as part of the American dream. He knew that kids watching six-plus hours a day of mindless drivel peppered with sexually overtoned, poor-body-image-inducing, materialistic advertising on a fifty-inch plasma screen is not a necessary or valuable part of our culture, and that people in other parts of the world were healthier and happier. He thought we could do better as a family and maybe that could help me deal with my shit too.”


“So they got me started, but I knew I didn’t want to feel like shit either, and so I took the idea and really ran with it. We got rid of the TV, and I took up cycling and fell in love with it. We started eating better, but I was the one that almost completely weaned us off of meat. We would read together as a family at night instead of watching movies. On the weekends, we worked in our garden to grow food to eat so we didn’t have to buy as much, and so we knew we weren’t eating pesticides and shit.”


“So with the cycling and the other changes, I got better – I stopped cutting, I was less depressed, I was in better physical shape, but most of all our family grew so much closer, and that gave me a support system to help me deal with the problems I couldn’t figure out on my own. Now, I wouldn’t ever go back to the other way of living. I study eastern cultures and religions here at school for fun but also for inspiration; you can see I don’t own much in the way of possessions. In fact,” he paused, with a smirk, “I don’t actually keep anything electronic in here. It makes it completely peaceful, to me.”


And that was it – the ‘odd thing’ I sort of felt in the back of my head, earlier, but couldn’t put my finger on. He didn’t have a computer, a stereo, or even an alarm clock. Talk about minimal, clean living. Sheesh. How did he make it to class on time?


“So, do you understand where I’m coming from now, when I say that cycling might be a good way for you to clear your head when you have a lot of shit going on in your life?”


I nodded.


“So you’re going to keep riding, right?”


I nodded again.


“Good. I’ll cut you a sweet deal on my old bike.”

Comments & feedback to dezlboi-at-yahoo-dot-com. Thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended (or committed at all, hopefully).
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
You are not currently following this story. Be sure to follow to keep up to date with new chapters.

Recommended Comments

Chapter Comments

There are no comments to display.

View Guidelines

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Newsletter

    Want to keep up to date with all our latest news and information?
    Sign Up
  • Create New...

Important Information

Our Privacy Policy can be found here: Privacy Policy. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue..