I ushered Dad, Stef, and Grand out of my room and then went back to my chair and sat in it, my face jammed into my knees with my arms wrapped around my legs. It was like I was in a vertical fetal position. I had this overwhelming desire to go into JJ’s room and just hug him, but I couldn’t do that. He didn’t like me enough to put up with that kind of intimacy, and he didn’t know that I knew about what his coach was doing to him, so he’d just think I’d lost my fucking mind. I wondered how this would impact a guy, having someone do that to him. I remembered my experience in Paris with Gustave, and how he’d made me want him to fuck me. And how that had made me feel guilty, like I’d been a willing participant. JJ would be going through something similar, I decided. He’d probably be blaming himself. No wonder he’d been such a little bitch lately.
I shivered. I wasn’t sure if it was from a chill, or just because my body was reacting to the emotional ride I’d taken it on. I turned up the fire, and suddenly remembered that Robbie had gone outside. I’d given him slippers, but it was cold out there. I grabbed the afghan on my couch and opened the patio door. He was sitting on my patio in one of the chairs, staring out at the lights of Palo Alto. He seemed oblivious to the cold, even though he was shaking.
I wrapped the afghan around his shoulders, but he jumped, because he wasn’t even aware that I was there. “Looking for Santa?” I asked.
“Just what I need. Another man climbing up my chimney,” he joked. I laughed, really laughed, because it was funny, and because I needed the relief. “Thanks for the blanket.”
“No problem,” I said. I went back inside and sat by the fire again, letting it warm my bones. They’d gotten me another artificial bearskin rug, just like the one I had in Malibu. I’d told Stef that I liked it, and he remembered and got me one for this room too. That was so typical of him, to think of things that made me happy and to get them for me. I moved over even closer to the fire, sitting on the rug. For some reason I was cold, and I couldn’t get warm.
I heard the door open and Robbie came in, shaking as bad as I had been. “Come sit over here,” I told him. “It’s warm.”
He came over and sat down with a thud. His skin was covered in goose bumps. “Pretty cold out there. Not the smartest thing to do, going out there in just a T-shirt.” I shrugged. “I just needed to get away and think all by myself.”
“I get that,” I said. “We all had about half an hour or so to deal with this before you got this bomb dropped on you.”
“You must think I’m a really shitty person,” he said morosely.
“Well yeah, but why would you say that?” I asked, joking with him. He gave me his cute grin, the one that made him adorable.
“For sleeping with Jeff.”
“Dude, that was hot,” I said. “For an older guy, you’re really attractive.” That brought his cute grin back.
“You’re not pissed at me for that?”
“Jeff and I are friends, and we’ve messed around. He’s an awesome guy, and I like him, but that’s as far as it goes. If he was a guy I was really into, like my boyfriend or something, then I’d be pissed at you.”
He nodded. “But I cheated on your dad.”
“Yeah, and he cheated on you. I’ve been thinking about that whole cheating thing since the last time I slept with Tony. He fucked my brains out, even though he had this girl with him that may or may not be his girlfriend. And here’s what I decided. I’m in control of myself, and my life, but I’m not in control of other people. If Tony wants to fuck around on his girlfriend, that’s really not my issue, or my problem. We have no commitment. If we did, it would be an issue. If I have a boyfriend, and I make a commitment, then it’s my deal. And I won’t fuck around on him.”
“So it doesn’t bother you that he has a girlfriend and he’s cheating on her?”
“It might bother me if I liked her, but she’s a bitch,” I said, grinning. “Seriously, that’s his deal. He made the commitment to her, if he did, so it’s up to him to live up to it.”
“So you’re not pissed off at me for getting Jeff to fuck me?”
“No, according to my world order, that’s Dad’s job,” I said jovially.
“Tough for him to do, since he fucked Wade,” Robbie said bitterly.
“As a relatively impartial observer, I’d say you’re even. I think that with all the other shit going on around here, you would both be idiots if you made a big deal about this,” I told him honestly.
“If he’s willing to do that,” Robbie said.
“Guess you’ll have to ask him about that.”
“He didn’t really seem to want to even listen to me,” Robbie said, oblivious.
“I think that his issues with you fucking around are pretty insignificant compared to the fact that none of us get along, and that JJ’s been fucking raped by his coach for the past couple of months, at least,” I said, probably a little too brusquely.
“We’re getting along right now,” he said, and smiled at me.
“Pretty remarkable,” I said sarcastically, but I smiled back at him.
“Thanks again for loaning me the blanket and slippers,” he said. I could tell what he was doing. He was trying to work his way back to a good place with me, but so much shit had happened, he wasn’t sure how to do it.
“I didn’t want you to freeze your ass off,” I joked.
“How come even when I treat you like shit, you’re still nice to me?”
I looked at him, making sure our eyes connected. “Because even when I’m pissed off at you, I still love you.”
He smiled at me to thank me for saying that, but he didn’t tell me that he loved me back. Maybe he didn’t. Instead of letting that totally fuck me up, I looked at him, and he seemed to be mentally floundering around in front of me. I realized then just how fucked up Robbie was right now. “I feel like I just woke up from a nightmare. While I was in it, everything seemed so real, but now that I’m awake, it seems like some weird fantasy.” He paused. “And the reality I woke up to is even worse than the nightmare.”
“So you’ve been analyzing all of this,” I said, stating the obvious. Robbie’s mind worked like that. “Tell me what happened.”
“I don’t know,” he said, confused. “I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I was fighting the good fight. And now, I wonder if I didn’t just make things worse. Did I enable this? Did I help JJ’s coach molest him?”
“I kind of feel the same way that you do,” I told him. “I’m wondering why I didn’t see this. If we go back a couple of years, before JJ started skating, he used to be this happy guy that was pretty fun to play with. I mean, he’s always been a Mommy’s boy, and he’s always been a tattletale, but he was still fun to be around.”
“Then he started skating,” Robbie said.
“Yeah, I think that he got competitive, and he’s good, so he got a big head, and that made him more of a dick. But even then, he could be fun to be around. I guess when this started happening, it squeezed any joy out of him. He was a total bitch in Norway. So I don’t know if it was Mom checking out on him, the coach perving on him, or the coach really fucking around with him that’s finally made him like he is.”
“I thought it was just your mom checking out on him,” Robbie said. “If that was the case, then I felt like it was my job, my obligation to fill in for her, and to try and help him get through this.”
“I get that, and I think that’s a pretty cool thing to do, but when everyone else is slapping you in the face, telling you you’re fucking up, why didn’t you hear them? Why didn’t you listen?” I really wanted to know that.
“I thought they were all biased. And JJ has a way of building his own little world. He pulled me into it.” He stopped to think about that. “I don’t think he’s doing it to be evil, I think he does it to insulate himself.”
“If he’s got this coach fucking him, the fewer people that are close to him, the less likely it is that people will figure it out,” I said, as it became clearer to me.
Robbie stared at me, getting clarity with me. “Makes sense. JJ builds a world around one parent, shuts everyone out, and then he only has to handle dealing with one person. He only has to worry that that person will figure out what’s going on.”
“Only none of us figured it out,” I said.
“Maybe that’s because there was so much conflict and arguing, we weren’t unified enough to even raise those suspicions,” Robbie suggested.
“Do you think his coach told him to do that?” I asked. “Do you think his coach tried to spark those arguments?” I wondered if he’d done that in Norway.
“I don’t know,” he said, then really got depressed. “I remember reading that sometimes kids get roped into this shit because they’re looking for a male parent. They do it when their own fathers aren’t around.” He was approaching this nervously, probably because I’d spent a lot of time before I ran away busting his balls, and my dad’s, for being no-show parents.
“I guess that could do it for some kids, but I don’t think that’s why JJ did it,” I told him. “I’m thinking he was more likely to do it just so he could win.”
Robbie thought about what I said. “I can see that. Thinking back to when I was his age, playing football, trying really hard to make the team, if the coach would have told me I could play if I blew him, I might have done it.”
“Yeah, but you like to suck dick,” I teased.
“Yeah, but I had one ugly-ass coach,” he said, cracking me up.
“When I decided that I didn’t want to surf professionally, when I didn’t want to go down that road, that was part of it.”
“You were worried that you’d have to blow your coach?” he joked.
“Hell no,” I joked back. “My coach was smoking hot.” He chuckled, and then we both felt guilty for joking about something that was so horrible, at least where JJ was concerned. “I kept thinking that if I did that, it would become so competitive, surfing wouldn’t be fun anymore. There was one dude I met who did that, who was like 17 or something. He was so into winning, it was all he lived for. He was bullshitting with Jason and me, and he was talking about how he had to do better than the other guys, because he had to get all these endorsements and shit.”
“It can get pretty cutthroat,” Robbie agreed.
“No shit. I can see that dude doing something like that. I think that if someone was there who could have helped him win, and all he had to do was fuck him, I think he would have done it. He was that intense.” I paused as I thought about him, and how incredibly hot yet driven he was. “JJ acts the same way that he did. He’s like that. I think he’d do whatever it took to win.”
“And the coach has all the power,” Robbie concluded, shaking his head. “Where did we let him down?”
“By not freaking out when he turned into a total little bitch,” I said honestly. “I wonder if this started after Mom got pregnant and wasn’t as involved. I wonder if that’s when the coach made his move.”
“We let him down by not being involved in his life,” Robbie said.
“And on not calling him on his bullshit,” I added. “That’s where he got you.”
“I don’t know about that, Will,” he said thoughtfully. “I think I was in his world. I think that’s the nightmare he experienced. He took me with him for everything but the sex. He shut himself off from everyone except your mom, and then he shut himself off from everyone but me. I did the same thing. It doesn’t seem like bullshit. It seems like the way things are. He created his own reality, where no one would know what was really happening, and no one would get caught.”
“It’s going to be really hard for him to come back to the real world,” I said. Robbie just nodded. “So why did you sleep with Jeff?” I asked, changing the subject.
He knew the answer, he just didn’t know if he wanted to tell me. In the end, he did. “I wanted to feel like someone loved me.” He sighed. “Didn’t work. Felt fucking great, but didn’t work.”
“Maybe it would have, if I wouldn’t have ruined it by walking in on you,” I teased.
He smiled. “No, it wouldn’t have mattered. That’s not love. That’s just a fuck.”
“I like those,” I said, making him laugh. He laughed with me, and then he got serious, very serious, in a philosophical kind of way.
“Did you ever fuck up so bad, that just saying you were sorry didn’t seem like it would be enough?” he asked me. “Did you ever treat someone so badly, that even you didn’t think they should forgive you?”
“Yeah, I’ve felt that way,” I said. “Remember when I came into your room, in Santa Cruz, and slept with you and Dad?” He nodded. “That’s how I felt.”
“That’s when you felt like we shouldn’t forgive you?”
I thought about that, and realized I’d been wrong. “No, actually I don’t think that was it. I think that was just my reaction when the whole thing was over. I think that it actually happened when I first met you guys in Santa Cruz, after I’d gotten back,” I said.
“So what made it better?”
“I think that I had to throw it all out there, and tell you how I felt, and let you decide if you still wanted to be part of my life.”
“How do I do that with you?” he asked sincerely.
“You’ve been doing that. That’s what we’ve been doing,” I said. “That’s what this conversation has been all about.”
“We’ve been talking about JJ, and about me, but not about you.”
“Alright,” I agreed. “I want to know one thing. I don’t know if you have the answer, but I want to know. Why am I always the bad guy? I mean, I’ve tried to be supportive of JJ. I know I’ve pissed him off, but it’s easy to piss him off.”
“Maybe because you’re smart enough to figure out what’s really going on,” Robbie said. That was flattering and scary all at the same time. “You were fucking around with those guys in Norway. What if one of them would have told you something, even in passing. What if Shane Jackson would have told you that he learned to suck cock that well by blowing his coach? Then you’d know.”
I stared at him, and felt my mouth fall open. It made so much sense now. No wonder JJ didn’t want me fucking around with the other skaters. No wonder he wanted to keep me away from Shane Jackson. “Wow.” I uttered that one word, and then said it again.
“Kind of makes sense now, doesn’t it?” he asked.
“It does,” I said. “I lied. I have another question.”
“Why was it so easy for you to write me off?” He just stared at me, his face contorting with anguish. “Why?” I wondered if he’d argue that he hadn’t, but he didn’t do that.
“It wasn’t easy, but it was all part of the program. I think that to really motivate people, to rally them for a cause, you have to have a bad guy. You were the bad guy.”
“Why did you pick me to be the bad guy?” I didn’t get that at all.
“I didn’t pick you. You already were the bad guy. I think that your mother and JJ had already cast you in that role.”
“I feel really betrayed that you went along with them,” I told him honestly. He didn’t say anything, but a tear fell down his cheek. Only I couldn’t stop. It was like Pandora’s Box had opened, and it was all coming out. “I felt like you didn’t love me anymore. Every time I tried to reach out to you, you slapped me down. When we were in that board meeting, I instinctively jumped in for you. Even tonight, I tried to stick up for you, and you just turned on me. What did I do to make you not love me anymore?” It had started out slowly and deliberately, and by the time I ended my little speech, I sounded hysterical and desperate. “I’m not a bad person. I love my family. I fight for the people I love. I haven’t done anything to you to deserve this. Why? Why don’t you love me anymore?”
“Will, I’d like to say that I didn’t mean to do that, but I did. I did jump on board with you being the one causing the problem. I did slap you down every time you tried to do something nice for me. I did rebuff you, every time you tried to make things right with us. I wanted you to be gone. I didn’t want you around. I don’t know how I can explain it to you, other than to say that it’s like I lost my sanity for a while. It’s like I was living in a different parallel universe.”
That kind of freaked me out. “In a weird way, that makes me feel better.”
“You know, there’s only one person that I love more than you and your brothers, and that’s your father. I fucked up things with him almost as bad as I did with you. I don’t know if that makes you feel any better, but it’s supposed to.”
“And he’s one scary dude when he’s pissed off. You’ve pretty much convinced me that you were crazy,” I joked, trying to lighten things up.
He moved closer to me and reached his hands out, taking my hands in his. “Will, there are really only two things I can do at this point. I can look at you, right now, and tell you that I’m sorry, and ask you to forgive me. And I can look at you, right now, and tell you that I love you.” He paused for just a second, letting his beautiful lavender eyes drill into mine. “I’m sorry, I’m really really sorry. And I love you. I really do.” He paused again, to take a breath. “And I have to hope that that’s enough. That you’ll forgive me for treating you like shit, and that you’ll still love me.”
I’d known Robbie all my life, and I’d interacted with him plenty of times. The only time I’d seen him this sincere was at his commitment ceremony to my father. He meant what he said. “It’s enough.”
He smiled, a big smile, almost a serene smile, and then the next thing I knew he grabbed me, dragged me toward him, and wrapped his arms around me, giving me one of those massive hugs he was so good at. I hugged him back, and literally clung to him, just savoring being close to him after being so distant for so long. I’m not quite sure how long we stayed that way, but it was truly meaningful. We finally broke apart physically, but our bond was back, our emotional bond. “Thanks Will.”
I snaughed, mimicking his gesture. “I’m easy. You still have to do this with Grand, Stef, your father, and everyone else,” I joked. “You’ll be busy today,” I said, looking at the clock.
He nodded. “And your father.”
I stood up, and held out my hand. He took it, and I pulled him up. “Yeah, but you’re going to do that right now.”
“He’s asleep. I don’t want to bother him,” he said.
I rolled my eyes. “He’s not sleeping. No one could sleep after that,” I said, gesturing at my computer that held those horrible pictures. “He needs you, and you have to be there for him.”
I held his hand and led him down the hall to what had been their room. I knocked, and Dad answered quickly. “Who is it?”
“Will,” I said. “See, he wasn’t sleeping,” I said to Robbie quietly.
“Come on in.” I opened the door, almost worried that he’d be in there with someone, but was relieved to see he was alone. His expression had been passive when he saw me, but when he saw Robbie, that transformed itself into a frown. “What do you want?” He was talking to Robbie more than me.
“I need a favor,” I said.
“What?” Dad asked skeptically.
“There’s this guy who’s really important to us, and he’s been acting like a complete fucking idiot recently. I mean, he’s probably been about the biggest fucking idiot ever.”
Robbie rolled his eyes at me, but Dad was warming up to my playful approach. He didn’t really want to fight with Robbie. Now, more than ever, he desperately needed Robbie. “Probably,” Dad agreed. Robbie gave us a theatrical frown.
“So I’ve spent the last hour or so talking with him, and he’s pretty much convinced me that he was indeed a big fucking idiot, probably the biggest fucking idiot ever, but he said he was sorry, and that he still loves me. I believe him.”
“You do, eh?” Dad asked.
“Yeah. So you’re a pretty good judge of character. I was wondering if I could leave him here with you, and maybe you could hear him out, and let me know what you think.”
“You’re asking a lot,” he said, but he was just playing around.
“I know. Maybe you could make it a Christmas present?”
Dad nodded. “Merry Christmas, Will.”
“Merry Christmas,” I said. I gave them both big hugs and left, closing the door firmly behind me. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t hear yelling coming from their room.
Christmas Day, 2000
I sat in my room in a really weird mood. I was totally freaked out by what had happened to JJ, and that was threatening to drop my mood to an all-time low. At the same time, I was pretty euphoric that I’d managed to repair my relationship with Robbie, or at least I’d started to fix it. And it was Christmas, which was usually a really fun time. I looked out my window and saw the sky start to lighten as dawn began to break.
I left my room and wandered through the house, admiring all the Christmas decorations that Grandmaman had supervised. Every room, from the TV room to the Great Hall, had been decked out for the holiday. I’d been so not into the Christmas spirit, I hadn’t noticed it before, but I noticed it now. When I got to the tree in the Great Hall, I was surprised to see presents under the tree. We’d opened them all up the night before, and when we were done, there hadn’t been any left. I went over and looked at them, and they were wrapped differently, but they were all the same size, and there was one for pretty much each person here. I found mine; the label said, ‘To: Will, From: Santa.’ I giggled, remembering how as a kid we’d dashed in here to find out if Santa had left presents. I shook the present gently, trying to figure out what it was, but it didn’t make any noise.
I really wanted to do something to try and make things better between JJ and me, but I didn’t want to tip him off that I knew about his sexual interactions with his coach. This gave me the perfect opportunity. I went down to his room and opened the door carefully. He was lying flat on his back, snoring softly as he slept. I walked up to him and watched him sleep for a few seconds. He even looked unhappy and bitchy when he slept.
I jumped up and pivoted as I came back down so I landed on his bed, but on my side, right next to him. The force of me landing on the bed tossed him in the air, and woke him up. “What the fuck?” he asked, all pissed off.
I laughed. “Dude, its Christmas morning.”
“I know that,” he said, being bitchy. “I was sleeping. Now get the fuck out of here.”
“Remember how when we were kids, we used to get up even earlier than this and run down to see if Santa came?” I asked.
“Yeah, and I remember how all the adults were pissed off because we made them wake up early,” he said. “Kind of like I am now.”
I decided to laugh at that, and take it as a joke. “They weren’t always asleep. Remember when we busted in on Dad and Pop?”
That did it. That memory made him laugh. “Dad was fucking Pop, while wearing a Santa hat.” We totally cracked up, remembering that scene.
“And all day long, whenever we walked by them, we’d say ‘ho, ho, ho’,” I added, making him laugh even more.
“We should do that,” he said. “Let’s go wake them up.”
“Let’s go!” I agreed. So just like we did when we were little kids, we snuck down the hall, giggling, until we go to Dad’s room. “Let’s listen first, just so we don’t get a replay.”
“I don’t hear anything,” JJ said.
“Neither do I,” I agreed. I pushed the door open a bit and we peeked in. They were lying in bed, their bodies intertwined, with the covers pulled down to just above their waists. It was a really touching, really beautiful scene.
“Let’s wake them up,” JJ said. We pushed the door open all the way, took off running, and jumped on the bed, landing on them, and scaring the shit out of them.
“What the fuck?” Dad demanded.
“That’s what you said,” I teased JJ. “Wake up. It’s Christmas morning!” It was only then that I noticed that it smelled like sex in the room, but I was hoping JJ wouldn’t pick up on that.
“Go away,” Robbie groused, and tried to put his head under the pillow.
“You know how to wake him up?” I asked JJ. JJ got an evil grin, and we both jumped on Robbie and started tickling him. He thrashed around, knocking Dad out of the bed in the process.
“Fine,” he said. “I give up. I’ll get up.”
“Time to wake up Grand and Stef,” I said to JJ, to keep him in his playful mood. We snuck up to their room and peeked in. Grand was already awake, sitting up in bed in his flannel pajamas, reading some papers. Stef was sleeping next to him, wearing a silk sleep mask that matched his silk pajamas, and sprawled out on his back with one arm over his head, and the other by his side.
Grand looked up at us over his reading glasses. “A delegation, this early in the morning?”
We ran over and climbed into bed with them like we were little kids. “It’s Christmas morning. Time to wake up,” JJ said.
Stef partially raised his mask and peered out at us. “I will remember this and pay you back one morning when you want to sleep in.”
“Scrooge,” I said, making Grand chuckle.
“Are you going to wake up Frank and Grandmaman?” JP asked.
“No,” I said. “They might be busy. They still have sex.” JJ giggled, while Stef gave me a dirty look.
“I’m hungry,” JJ said.
“You will probably have to make your own breakfast this early in the morning,” Grand warned.
“Let’s go mess up the kitchen,” JJ said. It was so cool to see him like this, like he’d been when he was younger.
“When do we get to open the presents?” I asked.
“Presents?” Grand asked. He didn’t know?
“There are presents under the tree from Santa,” I said.
“Indeed,” Grand said, and looked over at Stef.
“Do not look at me. I am not a fat, hairy, old man,” Stef said, cracking me up. JJ and I left them and went to the kitchen. We were going to make something exotic, but we settled for cereal.
“So how’s your computer?” he asked me. I almost lost it when he asked that, but pulled myself together pretty fast.
“Fast as shit,” I said, grinning. “How about your laptop?”
“I haven’t messed with it yet,” he said.
“Want me to help you get it all set up?” I was way better with computers than JJ.
“Yeah,” he said. “Thanks. It will be good to have it when I go back to LA. I can take it to the rink with me.”
“That’s pretty handy,” I said cheerfully, even though when he mentioned skating and LA, he got tense. “Let’s go.”
We went down to his room and spent the rest of the morning getting his new laptop set up. I helped him transfer over files from his old laptop, peeking as I did to see if he had any porn on there. He didn’t. After I was done, I helped him get his settings customized, something he’d never really done before. When I was done, he looked at me nervously, and then looked at his watch. “I asked Robbie if he’d take me to see Mom today. I need to get ready to go.”
“Mind if I go with you guys?” I asked, like it was no big deal.
He smiled at that. “Nope. We leave in forty five minutes.”
“I’ll be ready,” I said. I would be ready to go, but I wondered if I’d be ready to see my mother.