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    Parker Owens
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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.

A to Z - 41. Chapter 41 Back to School

Back to School

No special warnings for this chapter.

Questions and issues raised in this chapter or any other chapter can be discussed at the A to Z story thread here: http://www.gayauthors.org/forums/topic/40860-a-to-z/

My mind wandered idly during the warmdown laps at the end of swim practice. As I moved almost languidly through the water, a problem nagged at my brain. How to get nearer to you? After having you so close before Christmas, just seeing you around town or in school didn't seem anything like enough.

I'd almost come out to you then before Christmas, huddled together on the bed, watching a movie. But later I was glad I had chickened out. Lena and you had kissed at the party, I knew it. I'd seen you leave the game room, and Lena followed maybe thirty seconds later. That was pretty transparent. You weren’t fooling anyone with that maneuver.

So you were straight, and I was jealous. But I couldn't help my attraction to you, and I realized I'd do anything to stay near you. I even put up with Mary Ellen Schmidt, so you’d think I was normal.

But where the hell did you live? How could I find you out of school?

And then I knew. The realization hit me hard enough that I muffed my turn and left me with a scraped up hand. I hardly cared.

 

January 6

It was so good to get back into school again. I felt safer there than in the church furnace room where I spent the last two nights of the Christmas vacation. My money was in my library closet hidey hole, so I could eat. It was good to get back into a routine that I could understand. But most importantly, I got to see Zander and my friends every day.

My friends. It has a fantastic ring to it. Lunch is getting to be one of my favorite times. Terry is always full of life, and Zander and Kaz are frequently sparring over music or sports, or something. And I've met some of their other friends at the table, too. While I’m not the most talkative one, at least I can sometimes get something into the conversation from time to time.

“Are you going to drive to swimming meets when you get your license,” I asked Zander.

“No, I don’t think so,” he replied. “It sounds cool until I remember that I’ll be exhausted afterwards, and the last thing I want to do is pass out while I’m driving. Besides, Mom and Dad sometimes like to come and watch.”

About the only cloud on the horizon is the sandy haired girl from the party. She’s attached herself to our little group pretty firmly. Zander’s girl turns out to have a name, Mary Ellen Schmidt. She made sure to find our table and to sit next to Zander. She’s been there every day and shows no sign of tiring.

I try to be forgiving and to remember that Zander is straight, but on Thursday, when Mary Ellen started hanging on Zander’s shoulder, I made an excuse and got up.

On Tuesday, Kaz and I arranged to meet for running every morning except Sundays, unless it snowed overnight. Kaz wants me to meet him in the weight room after school. He says I need to add strength to my upper body to balance all the muscle I’ll get from running. Whatever that means. I wonder if he thinks I’m his guinea pig or something. We’ll see how that works out.

I have to remember that my first commitment is to do my shoveling at the Abbott’s and Mrs. Marjorie’s house. Honestly, I really need the money. My summer cash stash is down to about $450, and I’m not sure I can hold out until June.

Maybe Mrs. Marjorie will have weekend work for me to do come spring.

All the teachers are focused on getting us ready for exams. I hadn’t really thought about exams much before – I studied when I could and got middle to average marks on them. Sometimes Dad whipped me for doing worse than he expected, sometimes not. Now, I really want to try to do better than average. I got A’s in the first quarter, and I want the exams to go as well in the second. And I’m working on that big story project for Mr. Warfield. I finally got something going, something about aliens and other planets. Someplace safer than my life, anyhow. Just once, I’d like to pretend that I can be super smart, even if I can’t be popular or athletic or rich.

Anyways, Kaz and Zander complained that the teachers were loading them down with work. I just thought we were getting a normal workload, I guess.

Today, we got snow in the late afternoon. I watched it come down through the big windows as I emerged from the weight room, all sweaty from what Kaz put me through. I decided that, if it was going to snow for a long time, I ought to shovel right then so that I might not have as big a job in the morning. I had the time, why not?

Darkness overtook me before I could get back to school. The athletic entrance was still open for team practices and so on, so I went in that way. The way into the pool area was on my right, through a door marked ‘Observation.’ I wondered if I could just slip in for a peek.

A rush of warm, humid air, like opening the door to a summer afternoon, met me, along with the distinct smell of chlorine. In front of me was a set of bleacher seats, where parents lounged waiting for their kids to finish practice.

Swimmers churned the water in the pool down in front of me, doing laps. At first, I had no clue who anyone was, but I eventually picked out Zander. His motions were graceful and fluid, wasting nothing on extra splashing and thrashing. Amazed, I watched him execute a little flip turn at the end of the pool and kick off the wall.

A whistle blew, and everyone got out of the pool. Zander’s dark hair was plastered to his skull. He pushed up his goggles – they made him look like some long, lean insect – and he stood there, chatting with a teammate. I tried not to look, but I couldn’t help noticing the tiny dark swimsuit Zander wore. I’d never be able to walk around in something like that. He was so damn gorgeous and sexy, I got hard just sitting there.

I wasn’t about to let that go on. I quickly got up and left before I got a stain on myself. But on my way to the library closet, I stopped at the restroom and grabbed a whole bunch of toilet paper. In my dark little closet space, I stripped myself down and jacked off, dreaming of the long cock I’d seen outlined under Zander’s swimsuit.

 

January 8

Saturday was a quiet day here at school. I did some shoveling, came back, studied, and tried to forget how hungry I was. I took a long, hot shower. I closed my eyes under the hot water, and imagined being naked with Zander. I pretended that he’d let me kiss him, on his lips, all over his creamy skin, everywhere, and especially...between his legs. I admit it, I wanted his cock in my mouth. I still do. I stroked myself, thinking about what it might be like to kiss down his body and take him in. I erupted into my hand, imagining Zander’s tool sliding in and out of my throat. I’m ashamed, because I got off fantasizing about by straight friend. He doesn’t deserve that. I need to focus on something else, because I don’t want to ruin his being my friend. Note to myself: no more Zander fantasies.

Today, I had to go back to Mrs. Marjorie’s and the Abbott’s because it snowed again overnight. Twice in one weekend. It didn’t seem very fair to me.

However, it had its compensations.

As I was finishing the front walk and driveway, I had the cold, wet shock of a snowball’s sudden impact. Another one flew over my shoulder as I turned.

There, grinning from ear to ear, stood Zander. “Gotcha!” he cried.

“Zander?” I asked, astonished.

“Yep,” he replied, still grinning. His hands were already busy forming another missile.

I looked at him warily. “What are you doing?”

He launched another snowball at me, hitting me on the thigh.

“Starting a snowball fight.” He picked up another handful of snow.

“What? Why?” I asked. This time, I had the wits to block his shot with my shovel.

“Why?” he stopped, puzzled. “Why not?”

Why not? When was the last time I’d made a snowball, let alone had a snowball fight with someone – anyone? Maybe when my mom took me outside when I was little. I don’t know. I stood there, thinking about it. Zander wasn’t quite sure what to do. In that moment while he paused, I made up my mind.

I dropped my shovel, scooped up some snow and hurled a badly formed snowball back at Zander.

It went way wide but that didn’t keep him from yelping in exaggerated fright.

He stepped aside and threw another at me, which missed. By then, I was ready with a return volley of my own. Better packed, my shot missed Zander by an inch or so.

“Hey, that was close!” he protested, laughing.

His next one glanced off my shoulder.

I had a better shot now, and I flung a good, round snowball which hit Zander squarely in the chest, where it exploded spectacularly.

“Aaaugh! You got me!” he yelled.

I followed up my advantage with another snowball, this one missing him by a little bit.

On the other hand, Zander’s next shot was deadly, hitting me on the hat brim. My face was instantly very cold. Clearly, it was time to retreat. I dashed up the driveway toward Mrs. Marjorie’s backyard. I heard Zander’s footsteps behind me.

“You can’t get away that easy!” he shouted.

Suddenly, I felt his arms wrap around my midsection, as he tackled me into my beautifully neat snowbank. I got a face full of snow, and my hat went flying. It didn’t matter. We were having fun.

Finally, panting, I twisted around and Zander released me.

“What are you doing here?” I sputtered, wiping the snow out of my face.

“This was the only place I knew where I could look for you,” he gasped, standing. He offered me a hand. “Hell, Andy, you run fast.”

I pulled myself up.

“Well, you found me.”

He grinned. “So when do you get done here?”

“I was about done until you started pasting me with snowballs. I’ll just have to clean up again.”

Zander looked around. “Clean up again?”

“Yeah. You know, just re-scrape the pavement and trim the snowbanks.”

He looked at me strangely.

“Trim the snowbanks? Who ever heard of trimming snowbanks?”

“Well, it’s what I do,” I returned stubbornly, walking to pick up the shovel I’d dropped out front. “It won’t take too long.”

“No, hey, wait a second, Andy,” Zander followed, sounding contrite. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to mess up your work.”

I couldn’t help but smile. I lifted the shovel.

“Here, let me do it,” he said, catching up to me and taking the shovel out of my hand.

Our eyes met for a second, and there was a look in his face that I couldn’t read. I blinked.

“Sure. Go for it,” I finally managed.

Zander may be a fantastic artist. He may be a stellar swimmer. But I think I’ve got him beat as far as cleaning up a snowy sidewalk. He took just a few moments to flip some of the snow we’d knocked down up off the walkway, leaving icy places where we’d stepped. And the banks weren’t at all square. Zander would have gotten a beating from Dad over that.

Ugh. Very bad thought. Anyway, I just couldn’t leave it improperly done. Something inside me just wouldn’t let it go.

“Zander, I gotta tell you, I learned better than that,” I said when he stood back up, apparently finished.

I took the shovel from him and quickly scraped up the snow that would turn to ice, neatened and leveled the bank at the sidewalk, and then hustled to the back to do the same at the spot where I’d been tackled. Again, a quick scrape and a neat squaring off. I tried to fill in the hole where I’d fallen, but that wasn’t really going to work.

“You some kind of snow shovel artist or something?” I heard Zander ask in disbelief, walking up behind me.

“Yeah, that’s it. Now I’m done. Let me just put the shovel back.”

Mrs. Marjorie was still at church, so I didn’t knock on the door to get paid. We walked out the driveway.

“What do you want to do?” Zander asked me.

“What do you mean?” I asked puzzled.

“I mean, I came looking for you so we could hang out. I wondered what you wanted to…oh.”

Zander’s face seemed suddenly very sad.

“What is it?” I asked, getting worried.

“You had plans for the day, didn’t you? I was just assuming…”

“No. I had no plans at all, nothing,” I hurried to get out. “Really. So do you have anything special in mind?”

“Well…maybe,” Zander admitted with a bit of a smile. “I thought we could walk over to Riverside Park. Go skating, maybe.”

I shook my head. “I don’t have any skates.”

“No problem. They’ll loan you a pair.”

“Who will?”

“The city rec. department. They run the rink.”

Zander looked really up for it, and who was I to refuse him? “Okay, fine,” I agreed, “but there’s one thing you have to know.”

“What’s that?”

“I can’t skate.”

“No problem,” Zander said confidently, “I’ll show you.”

Skating is harder than it looks. We arrived at the park rink, and I observed maybe a dozen other people there, gliding effortlessly over the long rectangle of ice. I told myself that I could do this. Zander showed me the little shack where an uninterested kid about our age asked Zander for some ID and pulled out a pair of skates for each of us.

There were changing benches off to the side.

Zander was really kind and showed me how to lace up the skates really tight. I still wobbled as I made my way to the door leading onto the ice, but I think it would have been worse if I’d tied up my own skates.

I hesitated at the entry as Zander glided out onto the ice before me. He turned gracefully, then approached. I took a tiny step onto the ice, followed by another. My sense of balance was all over the place. I wobbled. I just knew that if I moved, I was going to crash down onto the ice.

Not only would it hurt, I’d be embarrassed, and Zander would be disappointed, and that would be the end of things. Oh, Zander would be nice about it, I knew, but the end result would be the same. He wouldn’t want to be around an incapable freak like me.

Zander reached out a hand to steady me.

“Now watch,” he said, “just plant your foot like this and push off.” He demonstrated effortlessly. I stood there, scared to move. He returned.

“You OK?”

I nodded slightly. I was nervous and afraid. “Yeah. I’m OK.”

Just incredibly embarrassed that I’m frozen in place. This was a stupid idea.

“So, I’m gonna grab your hands, OK?” Zander tried another tack. “You push off, and I’ll just skate backwards while you hang on.”

Skate backwards? How can anyone skate backwards? I could barely stand still, let alone go forwards. But I trusted Zander, so I nodded again and tried to do what he suggested.

And, unbelievably, it worked. A little push off, and I skated forwards. My ankles turned inwards, and I wavered a bit, but I actually skated.

“I’ve got you, Andy, don’t worry. Keep going.”

I tried again, a little more confidently this time. I was rewarded two ways. First, I got a decent push off and glide this time. Second, and best of all, I was treated to a fantastic Zander smile. I tried pushing off with the other foot. And then again.

“Yes!” Zander let go and did a fist pump. “You did it!”

I don’t know how he managed it, but Zander kept skating backwards even though he’d let go, grinning at me as if he’d won the lottery.

And I kept doing exactly what he’d told me to do. I was actually skating. On my own, without completely embarrassing myself, or him. It was a marvelous sensation, almost as if I was flying. Then, almost too late, I mentioned a real problem that suddenly cropped up.

“Zander?”

“Don’t worry, Andy, you’re doing great!” Zander called out, still skating backwards in front of me.

“Yeah, well, I think you forgot something.”

“What?”

“I don’t know how to stop.”

Zander glanced briefly at the fence looming up very quickly behind him. Then he somehow slowed way down and actually caught me in his arms in a big hug. He stopped us a foot from the wall. For just one second, we stood there, motionless.

“Sorry about that,” he said as released me. Damn. I never wanted him to let go. “Listen, stopping is the next thing. You just need to turn one skate like this – " he demonstrated, putting his right foot out perpendicular to the left – “and push down and out. Here, you try.”

And for the next hour and a half, Zander taught me how to skate. Eventually, I fell down – all right, I fell down a bunch of times – but he was incredibly patient and nice to me every moment we were there. I wasn’t going to be any Olympic skater, but I could manage myself on the ice without getting too embarrassed. By the end, we were doing circles and figure eights comfortably around the rink. Zander made sure to stay on the outside, so he always had to skate faster than I did.

I enjoyed myself thoroughly. When was the last time that happened? I’d had a snowball fight, learned to skate, and spent an afternoon on my own with Zander. No problem there.

As we changed back into our boots and shoes, Zander’s phone buzzed.

“Text message,” he explained, examining it. He made a face. His thumbs flew across the screen as he replied. He looked up. “Sorry. That was my dad. He’s coming to pick me up in about five minutes.”

“No problem. I understand.”

It wasn’t as if I could invite Zander back to my house or anything.

We didn’t have a long wait in the rink parking lot. Zander’s dad drove up in the Toyota I’d seen earlier. Mr. Stevenson got out and motioned Zander to go around to take the driver’s seat. He walked around towards me. He greeted me.

“Hey, Andy, how’s it going? Gotta get this boy more driving time. Big test coming up. Can we give you a lift home?”

“I’m fine, sir, and no thanks – I don’t want to be a bother.”

I saw Zander shake his head, then get in. Through the open door, Mr. Stevenson asked again, “You sure? It’s getting cold.”

“I’ll be fine, thanks anyway,” I assured him, as he opened the passenger door and got in.

“See you tomorrow,” said Zander happily and waved.

I waved back, and they were off. See you tomorrow. But I could savor today.

 

January 16

A very long week of routine. This is good. I ran with Kaz every morning except Thursday, when I had to shovel out the Abbott’s and Mrs. Marjorie early before school. He’s been very encouraging, trying to get me to push harder, run faster. Kaz actually brought a stopwatch with him one morning.

“We’re gonna get a 5K time for you this morning,” he asserted.

I had no idea what he meant by that. We did our usual slow warm-up run through the quiet dark streets of Blackburn. Then, as we approached a corner, he took out the stopwatch and said:

“We’re gonna run five kilometers now – that’s about three miles – run as hard as you can for that distance. I’ll keep pace with you this time, so don’t worry about anything else, OK?”

I nodded, jogging along. I knew he could keep up with me, effortlessly, no matter how fast I ran.

“OK, now – go!”

Off I went, doing my best, while Kaz loped along beside me. It seemed like it was going to go on forever. Somehow, Kaz knew the right distance, because eventually, he hit the stopwatch again, and we slowed down. My chest was practically on fire.

“Twenty four minutes and twenty seconds. Not bad, and we can get that down,” he said.

It didn’t matter to me. I was glad that we’d slowed down. I was ready to pass out. I sure hoped he would go easy on me in the weight room.

Classes have been a regular diet of exam review stuff. I’ve been trying to study hard in the afternoon and at night when everything is quiet, spending extra hours on Physics, especially. That one and Trig are going to be hard.

On Tuesday, I snuck into Zander’s swim practice. I didn’t want to mess him up, so I tried to stay well out of sight, but I couldn’t stay away. Maybe I thought my psychic encouragement would help him do better. Maybe I just wanted to support him. Or maybe it was because he’s incredibly hot.

On Thursday, there was a dual meet. Zander explained it to me at lunch that day.

“We’re hosting Stoutsville tonight. Just one team, so each individual event goes quickly. It should be a tough meet, they have some good swimmers. If I have to face their number two guy in the 200 meter free, it’ll be close.”

“When does it start?” I asked

“Around five thirty. Don’t worry, I’ll be ready.”

He didn’t seem nervous, but I sure felt that way. Maybe he hides it better than I do.

Anyway, I slipped into the stands at the pool at five fifteen. I wasn’t going to miss anything. Swimmers from both teams were stretching and warming up. The pool reflected the lights with a lustrous shine.

The first race was a girl’s relay race, which Blackburn won. A boy’s race followed. Zander wasn’t in it. But in the next boy’s race, Zander stepped up on the starting block. He seemed very loose and relaxed, but as the moment for the start approached, I could see him focus and gain intensity.

At the start, he seemed to stretch out and practically fly until he hit the water. He cut through the water like a knife. Through the first two lengths of the pool, Zander and his opponent from the other school seemed very evenly matched, neither gaining or falling behind. But on the next turn, the other boy must have taken too long, because Zander was suddenly a body length ahead. By the final length of the pool, it was clear that Zander was gaining, putting more distance between them, as he hit the wall, victorious.

There was polite applause, a few cheers. I wanted to shout, to whoop. But I didn’t want to be noticed, so I kept quiet. I did notice Zander’s mom down several rows and to the left of me. She looked really happy and gave Zander a thumbs-up sign when he got out of the pool. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

There were several more races, and then some diving, and then Zander was up for another race. This time, he swam using a weird stroke I’d never seen before, using his arms kind of like windmills. In any case, he had the other kids completely outclassed, and he won that race handily. A little while later, Zander had the second leg of a relay race in which he had to swim as hard as he could for one length of the pool. In the last event, he had the last leg of a similar relay race, but with a distance twice as long.

In the last race, Zander was magnificent. Blackburn was behind in the race, and Zander was against the boy he had beaten earlier. At first, it looked like he wouldn’t make up any time at all, but then it looked as if it might be possible. And then it was more than possible, it was happening. And when the swimmers hit the wall, Zander had the first touch.

It had been incredibly exciting, and the cheers were a little more full this time. I couldn’t help but yell – at least a little.

I heard about that the next day, at lunch. Zander’s been kind of tense at lunch these days, but I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s the pressure from exams and stuff.

Anyway, there was a moment when Mary Ellen was gone from the table – she hung on Zander’s arm nearly every lunch - and Terry and Kaz were in their own conversation.

“You were at my meet yesterday,” said Zander. It was a statement, not a question.

I nodded.

“You were there for the 400 free relay.”

“I was there for everything,” I said, carefully examining my tray.

“Why?”

“I dunno. I never went to one of those things before.”

“But you don’t swim.”

“But you do,” I said, very quietly, “I hope you don’t mind that I was there.”

There was a broad smile, the one I love so much. “No, it’s OK. I don’t mind at all. The next meet here is a week from last night.”

And then Mary Ellen was back, jabbering about something or other.

 

January 20

Another week of exam review. The last one, thank God. I’m getting sick of it. More snow this week. I had to shovel in the morning on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday this week. Kaz convinced me to go out running with him after school Monday and Wednesday, but at least we missed the weight room. He told me that he didn’t want me to miss a day of training,

He hasn’t told me what it is that I’m training for, but maybe I’ll get to know that someday.

At lunch, Mary Ellen continued to hang all over Zander. I don’t exactly know when they have time alone together, because he’s always swimming or drawing or working. And I don’t think she’s on the swim team.

On the other hand, she started to notice me at the table.

“Hey Andy,” she said, turning her smile and chatter in my direction, “are you going to Zander’s meet on Thursday? I’m going.” Oddly, Zander didn’t seem very interested.

“Umm, I was thinking about it,” I answered evasively.

“Well, we should sit together, if we go. I can keep you company. Be the cheering section.”

I saw Zander make a wry grin in my direction at that.

“No flirting, Mary Ellen,” interrupted Kaz, “Andy’s taken.”

I turned, shocked, to Kaz. I didn’t know I’d been claimed. I didn’t know I was eligible.

“Who’s the lucky girl?” Mary Ellen practically simpered.

“Yeah, who is it?” challenged Zander. He looked a little sour, and his voice had an edge to it. “Have you been holding out on us, Andy?”

I shook my head vigorously, tongue tied.

“Aww, come on, Andy. You know my little sister Lena’s sweet on you,” Kaz said.

I looked at him, then to Terry, then to Zander, confused.

“Well, that’s sweet!” Mary Ellen charged on. “She can come sit with us on Thursday. Oh! Just a second!” She excused herself.

“You’ve been hanging out with Lena?” Zander demanded.

“No. No way. Sorry, Kaz, I know she’s your sister, but…no.” I tried to explain without offending Kaz.

Kaz smiled. “I know. But she asks about you now and then. She remembers you from the party. The twins are completely boy crazy, but she’s remembered you for over a week. That’s gotta be a record.”

I had no practice in trying to be straight. Just experience in being invisible, which isn’t the same thing. I wasn’t sure what to say.

“I guess I’m flattered. But she’s not really my type.”

Kaz looked surprised; Zander was harder to read. “So who is your type, Andy?” interjected Terry.

Zander groaned. This was more like it. “Look out, Andy. Run now, while you can. Terry thinks she’s an expert matchmaker.”

She glared at Zander. “Hey, now, I’m not bad. I’ve brought plenty of happy couples together.”

Kaz and Zander both laughed at that one. But she wasn’t going to be put off.

“But really, Andy, who is your type? I bet we could find someone for you.”

I shook my head. “No need. I’ve got my eyes on someone already.”

“Wrong thing to say!” Kaz cried out, burying his face in his hands in mock drama, “now you’ll never hear the end of it!” He was hamming it up; he could have tried out for the school play.

“So who is it?” asked Terry eagerly.

Zander just watched. He wasn't smiling.

“Look, I’m the slow, careful, step-by-step kind of guy, all right? I’m not going to give away anything and mess it up,” I said deliberately. No way would she ever learn that I’m the way I am…gay. No way am I ever going to tell her that the one I want is Zander.

Terry crossed her arms over her chest and frowned at me.

“We’ll see about that.” This was not going to be the end of this conversation, I could tell.

Thursday’s swim meet was pretty anti-climactic. The other team wasn’t very big, or very skilled. Zander swam in only two events, and won them both by a mile. The hardest part for a spectator like me was that I wound up sitting with Mary Ellen, who was full of questions, which I hated.

“How long have you known Zander for?” was the first.

“Uhh, since the fall. Since I moved here.” True enough, I guess.

“We’ve known each other since grade school,” Mary Ellen said with satisfaction. Ugh. I did not want to know about her big crush on Zander in the fourth grade.

“You don’t swim, do you?” Well, that was a pretty obvious one.

I just shook my head.

“Do you run with Zander and Kaz?”

“Some days.” I wasn’t going to mention that I’ve only gone running with Kaz.

“Have you been as busy as Zander studying for exams?”

“I guess so,” I shrugged.

“Terry says she doesn’t have your number. What is it?”

“Don’t have a phone.”

Mary Ellen was stunned for a moment.

“Did Zander get a new cell phone?”

Another shrug.

“Does Zander answer texts?” she pouted. Clearly, Zander wasn’t good about responding right away.

Shrug again.

“Have you been to Zander’s house?”

Nod.

“What’s his bedroom like?”

Shrug.

When she wasn’t pestering me with questions about Zander, she droned on and on, spouting useless gossip about people I didn’t know.

I tried to tune her out, but it wasn’t very successful. Finally, I tried a diversion.

During the diving competition, I pointed out a well-built, blond hunk of a swimmer on the Blackburn team. His swimsuit seemed, if possible, tighter and skimpier than the rest of the boys’. If nothing else, it showed off his equipment to some real advantage. Not that I was really looking.

“Who’s that?” I asked her, pointing.

“Oooh, that’s Bruce. Bruce Mack,” she gushed, practically drooling, “He’s a senior, and Melissa says he’s a great kisser.”

Maybe this guy was. But from where I could see and watch, the guy looked as if he was full of himself. Hell, what did I know? I never met him.

“So you don’t know this from personal experience?” I prodded. Maybe I could get her to ramble instead of asking questions.

“No, but if Bruce offered, I wouldn’t say no!”

I was shocked. What about her practically manic pursuit of Zander? Was this just some game to her? For some reason, Bruce Mack chose that moment to look up into the stands in our direction. Mary Ellen waved, and the blond hunk waved back.

Today at lunch, Mary Ellen was the first one to the lunch table, right after me. This was unusual, as I’m usually last or next to last after her. She sat down next to me, as she often did. Not long after, Zander arrived and sat down across from Mary Ellen. Before she could get up and move, Terry and Kaz followed and casually placed their lunches, one on either side of Zander.

Mary Ellen acted as if this was fine, but I could tell she was a little annoyed. No hanging onto Zander today. I could also tell from the tiny smirk on Terry’s face that this was not an accident – this was a little plan she and Kaz must have cooked up before.

Mary Ellen tried to put the best face she could on things, but she practically fumed. Her conversation wasn’t quite as bright and perky as usual; she was pushier and maybe a little more sarcastic than yesterday.

Was Terry the matchmaker trying to play the break-up artist, too?

Zander, on the other hand, looked more relaxed and less stressed than he had for a while. I wondered if Terry and Kaz just hadn’t told him about their little plan.

Mary Ellen eventually settled for rattling on about parties and pre-exam week social stuff she knew about for this weekend. Assuming I don’t have to shovel any new snow, this weekend will mean studying and writing--and getting to the Laundromat. My clothes are getting really worn, so I may have to get to Herschel’s Variety to get some mending supplies – needle, thread, that kind of thing. I think I might have shrunk my clothes in the last wash, because some things just feel tighter. My old flannel shirt kind of feels like it’s riding up my wrist. Unfortunately, there isn’t much I can do about that.

  

January 22

Not much to tell about this weekend. Shoveled yesterday. Laundry today. Went to the grocery with shoveling money and got stocked up on food. I’m always hungry. Maybe it’s all the running and lifting Kaz and I are doing. I can’t remember how many miles he said we did the other day.

Did one nice thing – I ventured over to the skating rink on my own, showed them my school ID, and tried skating by myself. I remembered how to do it, though I fell a few times. But I missed Zander – it’s not the same without him.

Mostly, I finished writing my big story for Mr. Warfield – due tomorrow – and studying for exams some more. The exam schedule is weird – some days I have just one exam in the morning, or just one in the afternoon. One day, I have both Trig and US History. I have nothing next Friday. I’ll just have to hang around, if only to get lunch and breakfast, which they are still serving, thank God.

Poor Zander, he has a meet on Tuesday, the same day as our English exam. I wonder what he and Mary Ellen were up to this weekend. I get stupid, crazy jealous about them doing stuff together, which is pointless. Zander’s been a great friend to me, and that’s all I can expect. Just remember: he’s straight, he’s straight, he’s straight. It doesn’t always help, but sometimes, I feel powerless to stop the envy coming out. It’s good that I have to be alone, I guess. How do you tell a moth not to get too close to a flame? Do you think it will listen? But that’s my problem with Zander. If I get too close, I’m certain everything will just go up in smoke.

I remain profoundly grateful to Craftingmom for her indefatigable editing.

Please leave a review. Your thoughts and reflections of any kind are most valuable and welcome.

Copyright © 2016 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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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.
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OK, so this chapter made a few things clear: 1) Zander hasn't come out to Kaz, Terry or anyone else besides his parents. 2) Kaz and Terry are pretty certain that Zander is gay and has the hots for Andy. After this chapter, I'm with the other reviewers of Chapter 40 that Kaz and Terry were referring to Zander and Andy with the "they're cute together" and "he was more relaxed than I've seen him in months" comments. With Andy's enigmatic comments about who his "type" would be, I think Terry is bound and determined to see A and Z together. If Andy gets straight As again, and wins the writing competition, I wonder if his secrets will come out? Will someone want to talk to the parent of this "star student"? I guess we'll see. Thanks for writing!

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On 12/22/2015 12:41 AM, xleroc said:

OK, so this chapter made a few things clear: 1) Zander hasn't come out to Kaz, Terry or anyone else besides his parents. 2) Kaz and Terry are pretty certain that Zander is gay and has the hots for Andy. After this chapter, I'm with the other reviewers of Chapter 40 that Kaz and Terry were referring to Zander and Andy with the "they're cute together" and "he was more relaxed than I've seen him in months" comments. With Andy's enigmatic comments about who his "type" would be, I think Terry is bound and determined to see A and Z together. If Andy gets straight As again, and wins the writing competition, I wonder if his secrets will come out? Will someone want to talk to the parent of this "star student"? I guess we'll see. Thanks for writing!

You are really good about making connections; perhaps you teach English Lit? This chapter was fun and difficult to write at the same time. So may activities for Zander and Andy to try, but skating seemed like, fun. It was. Funny how even a homeless kid, stashed away in a closet can feel busy, busy busy at times. Wonder how Zander feels. Swimming season can be grueling, I think. Exams are coming up. They'll be terribly busy then, Many thanks for your perceptive review!

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I've really been enjoying this modern version of The Odyssey. Wonderful job of writing. Thanks for all your creativity and hard work Parker Owens! Very well done. I eagerly look forward to the ensuing chapters.

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On 12/22/2015 02:47 AM, reeves99 said:

I've really been enjoying this modern version of The Odyssey. Wonderful job of writing. Thanks for all your creativity and hard work Parker Owens! Very well done. I eagerly look forward to the ensuing chapters.

Thank you for your kind comments. I appreciate your reading the story and your thoughts on Andy's life. It has been quite a journey so far. There are more chapters to come; the next one is Wednesday.

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WOW!

 

Obiviously, you have made me both redundant and boring Parker, three reviews begin with "wow", and just in case you failed to hear it the first three times: WOW!

 

I was so impressed with chapter 40 that I actually expected to be disappointed with 41. Did not happen: once more you surprised me by wiggling the plot in a way I did not aticipate. You did so much "RIGHT" in this chapter, I struggle to identify the most impotant.

 

From Kaz:

 

"And then I knew. The realization hit me hard enough that I muffed my turn and left me with a scraped up hand. I hardly cared."

 

Totally vague ... I don't understand what he is really saying ... frustrating ... and Oooof ... much like the journal I kept at that age .... LOL ... I don't fully understand half of what is in my highschool journals ...

 

It is silly of me to expect to understand the private words of Kaz!

 

REALLY RIGHT: Zander finally expresses some affection to Andy; he picks a fight! Gay or not, this is the language of adolescent boys! I like you = snowball in face. (Btw, no snow where I grew up ... bb guns and bottle rockets is how we communicated ;) )

 

This chapter was so real because of all the things that were NOT said. The physical nature of the friendships as expressed in running, swimming, skating and snow missiles .... my mind was flooded with memories of my own youth as I read!

 

Finally, Andy has turned an ugly scary corner. He is still scared and leary. yet interacting at a deeper level

 

Thanks again for sharing your talent with us!

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On 12/22/2015 05:56 AM, said:

WOW!

 

Obiviously, you have made me both redundant and boring Parker, three reviews begin with "wow", and just in case you failed to hear it the first three times: WOW!

 

I was so impressed with chapter 40 that I actually expected to be disappointed with 41. Did not happen: once more you surprised me by wiggling the plot in a way I did not aticipate. You did so much "RIGHT" in this chapter, I struggle to identify the most impotant.

 

From Kaz:

 

"And then I knew. The realization hit me hard enough that I muffed my turn and left me with a scraped up hand. I hardly cared."

 

Totally vague ... I don't understand what he is really saying ... frustrating ... and Oooof ... much like the journal I kept at that age .... LOL ... I don't fully understand half of what is in my highschool journals ...

 

It is silly of me to expect to understand the private words of Kaz!

 

REALLY RIGHT: Zander finally expresses some affection to Andy; he picks a fight! Gay or not, this is the language of adolescent boys! I like you = snowball in face. (Btw, no snow where I grew up ... bb guns and bottle rockets is how we communicated ;) )

 

This chapter was so real because of all the things that were NOT said. The physical nature of the friendships as expressed in running, swimming, skating and snow missiles .... my mind was flooded with memories of my own youth as I read!

 

Finally, Andy has turned an ugly scary corner. He is still scared and leary. yet interacting at a deeper level

 

Thanks again for sharing your talent with us!

I'm glad this chapter resonated with your experiences, as it did with mine. Boys often do physical stuff to initiate and sustain friendships. Snowball wars where I grew up - but we played with BB guns and stuff like that, too. Kaz has taken Andy under his wing. Or maybe he's just trying to make him live on 'planet running,' as Zander put it. Skating with Zander was very real to me. I remember wobbling across the ice at a tender age. Your very kind words are so encouraging, and I thank you for them. Even more, thank you for letting me share this story with you. There will be one more pre-holiday chapter this week, then a brief hiatus until after Christmas. Thanks again.

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I hope his story is a great success!

 

Very sweet day spent with Zander. They need more time together, but how? At least Terry and Kaz are teaming up to get rid of Mary Ellen. Nice to see Andy warm a little to Terry. I guess if he's feeling a bit more confident, he can handle her inquisition without too much discomfort and see it for what it is, her trying to be a friend.

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On 12/22/2015 06:13 AM, Puppilull said:

I hope his story is a great success!

 

Very sweet day spent with Zander. They need more time together, but how? At least Terry and Kaz are teaming up to get rid of Mary Ellen. Nice to see Andy warm a little to Terry. I guess if he's feeling a bit more confident, he can handle her inquisition without too much discomfort and see it for what it is, her trying to be a friend.

I hope you enjoyed their day together half as much as Andy did. That day was really fun to write about. It helps that Andy is going to watch Zander swim, even if the two of them are terribly busy as their exams approach. I enjoyed conceiving Terry as a character, and at one point I toyed with trying a chapter in her POV. I thought that confused matters, though. Maybe I could do that as a 'short' some day. You're right, though, in that Andy sees her probing as a much more friendly thing than he did back in September. Thank you so much for your insight, and for reading so far through this story. One more pre-holiday chapter, and then a brief hiatus until after Christmas. No Julmust for Andy :( .

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It takes an annoying girl like Mary Ellen to get the ball rolling, lots to anticipate from her flirting with other boys as well. Good to see Andy getting out of his shell by trying different things, especially with Zander. What is the realization Zander has as to where Andy is living? Lots of exciting surprises await in this story. Another great chapter.

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On 12/22/2015 07:43 AM, slapshot said:

It takes an annoying girl like Mary Ellen to get the ball rolling, lots to anticipate from her flirting with other boys as well. Good to see Andy getting out of his shell by trying different things, especially with Zander. What is the realization Zander has as to where Andy is living? Lots of exciting surprises await in this story. Another great chapter.

Well, he didn't know so much where Andy lived, as where to find him. Just in time for a snowball war. And Mary Ellen surely rocked the boat and made Andy uncomfortable and jealous. Clearly she makes Zander uncomfortable, too. Between snow and exams and swimming and everything else, Andy and Zander have had quite a month. And January isn't even over yet. Thanks so much for your review and for reading.

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There was so much good stuff going on, I didn't want this chapter to end. The skating, the snowball fight, the swim meet and Zander's grin knowing Andy would be there. It all had me smiling big for them. Kaz and Terry, who may have an inkling as to what's what, are good friends to Zander. Keep Mary Ellen at bay..
Zander and Andy, thrown off by the miscues, remain unaware they share the same feelings. Yet they are growing closer, playful and Andy is ever trusting of Zander. There is that draw toward each other, be it hesitant at best. I love seeing the potential of who Andy can become.

 

Loved it Parker, if you couldn't tell...

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A very nice chapter Parker!

 

It becomes abundantly clear why Andy needed to return. Now he has a whiff of peer friendship, he can't let go. That's so good for him. Not only the friendship, but Kaz making him a runner and building his body (to where he'll need new clothes :) ) and Zander teaching him to skate and throw snowballs. :o All the stuff he missed in his former life.

 

He should have caught on that Mary Ellen isn't the gf. She asks Andy about Z's house and room. She doesn't have a clue about all the things she should have known. Maybe the penny will eventually drop. :unsure:

 

Kaz and Terry make a cute couple in more ways than one!!

 

Thanks for this great chapter. It's nice to feel Andy smile.

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As usual, this chapter is pregnant with anticipation. Something has to give. Andy. although enjoying his newfound freedom is, again, just hanging on the edge of exposure. I'm looking forward to some change in Andy's life... He almost started to run again... Thank that he didn't.
C'mon, man! You could carry this on for months and it's on the verge of being annoying. SOMETHING different has to happen, and PLEASE don't have Andy back on the road again.
I'm anticipating that either Andy or Zander is going to come out to the other; that Andy will be forced for one reason or another to get honest about his past; that Zander's dad is going to help Andy find out what happened to his miserable, despicable dad; that Andy will finally experience relief from his past.
I guess I'm hoping that there will be a few chapters about Andy learning about real life in the modern world, experiencing what normal kids experience, like with the movie and ice-skating. I was amused that Andy never had a Coke before and was surprised by the carbonation and sweetness of the beverage. It reminds me of the stories of kids raised by monkeys.

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On 12/22/2015 10:54 AM, Nahrung said:

As usual, this chapter is pregnant with anticipation. Something has to give. Andy. although enjoying his newfound freedom is, again, just hanging on the edge of exposure. I'm looking forward to some change in Andy's life... He almost started to run again... Thank that he didn't.

C'mon, man! You could carry this on for months and it's on the verge of being annoying. SOMETHING different has to happen, and PLEASE don't have Andy back on the road again.

I'm anticipating that either Andy or Zander is going to come out to the other; that Andy will be forced for one reason or another to get honest about his past; that Zander's dad is going to help Andy find out what happened to his miserable, despicable dad; that Andy will finally experience relief from his past.

I guess I'm hoping that there will be a few chapters about Andy learning about real life in the modern world, experiencing what normal kids experience, like with the movie and ice-skating. I was amused that Andy never had a Coke before and was surprised by the carbonation and sweetness of the beverage. It reminds me of the stories of kids raised by monkeys.

You are both kind and patient, my friend, and I do appreciate it. Andy's life unfolds slowly, as most lives do. It is fun as an author writing about people discovering the familiar things we all know. It is one of my favorite themes in literature. Not that anyone would call A to Z literature. Andy chose to stay in Blackburn, and was treated to a snowball war and a skating lesson with his favorite person. Soon he will take his mid year examinations. Perhaps his marks will be as good as the last time. That's normal enough, though quite new for Andy. Through the month of January, he has become more firmly established in the tight circle of Kaz, Zander and Terry. This in itself is both normal, and heartbreakingly new for Andy, too. And perhaps a little scary, too. Many thanks for reading and for your heartfelt review. One more chapter before the Christmas holiday, then a very brief break until after.

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On 12/22/2015 10:07 AM, skinnydragon said:

A very nice chapter Parker!

 

It becomes abundantly clear why Andy needed to return. Now he has a whiff of peer friendship, he can't let go. That's so good for him. Not only the friendship, but Kaz making him a runner and building his body (to where he'll need new clothes :) ) and Zander teaching him to skate and throw snowballs. :o All the stuff he missed in his former life.

 

He should have caught on that Mary Ellen isn't the gf. She asks Andy about Z's house and room. She doesn't have a clue about all the things she should have known. Maybe the penny will eventually drop. :unsure:

 

Kaz and Terry make a cute couple in more ways than one!!

 

Thanks for this great chapter. It's nice to feel Andy smile.

Did you feel Andy smile? Imagine how Zander must feel, seeing that. Poor guy, he doesn't know quite what to do. And then life intervenes, inconveniently - exams, swim meets, chores, driver's tests, and so on - what's an over scheduled teen to do? It is a lot of fun writing about and conceiving Kaz coaching Andy in running. If nothing else, Andy may gain a little more confidence in himself because of it, something he never had before. And yes, Kaz and Terry are cute, too. As long as I weren't single, it might be fun to meet them. Returning to your last sentence, if you felt Andy smile, then I am very happy. Many thanks for your review, and for reading. One more chapter before Christmas, then a brief break. Thanks!

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On 12/22/2015 09:15 AM, Defiance19 said:

There was so much good stuff going on, I didn't want this chapter to end. The skating, the snowball fight, the swim meet and Zander's grin knowing Andy would be there. It all had me smiling big for them. Kaz and Terry, who may have an inkling as to what's what, are good friends to Zander. Keep Mary Ellen at bay..

Zander and Andy, thrown off by the miscues, remain unaware they share the same feelings. Yet they are growing closer, playful and Andy is ever trusting of Zander. There is that draw toward each other, be it hesitant at best. I love seeing the potential of who Andy can become.

 

Loved it Parker, if you couldn't tell...

Thanks for the very kind review. You have said so many nice things, I fear to disappoint you one day. But this month (January) could have been a hard one, one of the hardest. Andy did not chose despair, though he is jealous of the putative gf (Mary Ellen) and distracted by exams. And there is always snow to shovel. I'm sure Andy can't wait for spring, despite the end of his regular income from sidewalk and driveway clearing. I do so appreciate your reading Andy's story, and your many reviews. One more chapter before Christmas! Many thanks.

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A really good, interesting and well written story – Thank you. It reminds me a lot of my own past, a past that I have moved on and recovered from; but I didn’t have a kind family like Zanders who cared or indeed friends whose support is becoming available to Andy. As I’m English things were different but similar in so many ways. I have grown up now and have ‘chosen’ my own family and I have spent most my life working with and supporting disadvantaged/disenfranchised young people whose lives are devastated by abuse in all its horrific forms; hope for a better life is a key fact in moving on, but survival is a day-to-day struggle for everyone, more so I feel, for abused people. Thank you ;-) Gx

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Another great chapter! I love how zander is seeking out Andy to spend time with him. Loved them at the skating rink :-) and Andy has to be getting the hint that Mary Ellen and Zander aren't an item... Between the questions she's asking Andy about zander and the way Terry and Kaz seem to be phasing her out. Can't wait for the next chapter.

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I won't review this latest chapter, but want to comment that this story was brought to my attention only a short time ago, and I've been binge reading all the chapters avidly. Great work, great read, but now that I'm at the 'working front' I'm frustrated at having to wait for the next savoury chapter.
My thought is that Andy is too hungry all the time, and should be wasting away. I don't believe he could be working hard and bulking up in any way, what with the lack of real food. Maybe he's eating more than described?

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On 12/22/2015 10:40 PM, Bart said:

I won't review this latest chapter, but want to comment that this story was brought to my attention only a short time ago, and I've been binge reading all the chapters avidly. Great work, great read, but now that I'm at the 'working front' I'm frustrated at having to wait for the next savoury chapter.

My thought is that Andy is too hungry all the time, and should be wasting away. I don't believe he could be working hard and bulking up in any way, what with the lack of real food. Maybe he's eating more than described?

Andy eats at two publicly funded school meals each day, supplemented by whatever he can buy for an evening snack. School meals are dull fare, but can be purchased (relatively) cheaply. That he is slowly eroding his cash stash probably means he is 'doubling up' by buying two meals at a time once in a while. The problem occurs on the weekends when there is no school. Thank you. For reading thus far, and for your perceptive review

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On 12/22/2015 08:43 PM, Graham said:

A really good, interesting and well written story – Thank you. It reminds me a lot of my own past, a past that I have moved on and recovered from; but I didn’t have a kind family like Zanders who cared or indeed friends whose support is becoming available to Andy. As I’m English things were different but similar in so many ways. I have grown up now and have ‘chosen’ my own family and I have spent most my life working with and supporting disadvantaged/disenfranchised young people whose lives are devastated by abuse in all its horrific forms; hope for a better life is a key fact in moving on, but survival is a day-to-day struggle for everyone, more so I feel, for abused people. Thank you ;-) Gx

I really appreciate your reading this story, and for staying with it thus far. Andy at least understands a little hope, or he wouldn't have stayed in Blackburn. Thanks so much for your review!

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On 12/22/2015 09:50 PM, Kjamieson said:

Another great chapter! I love how zander is seeking out Andy to spend time with him. Loved them at the skating rink :-) and Andy has to be getting the hint that Mary Ellen and Zander aren't an item... Between the questions she's asking Andy about zander and the way Terry and Kaz seem to be phasing her out. Can't wait for the next chapter.

Andy clearly loved every minute he got to spend with Zander, at least as much as you and I did. Certainly, he can observe the details of Mary Ellen and Zander interacting, but he's never been in any kind of boyfriend - girlfriend dynamic, so his understanding of the cues and signals will be limited. Kaz and Terry are probably not going togetherness guides in this, either, still, watching the two boys enjoy each other's company is wonderful. Thank you for your review and for reading Andy's story.

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On 01/03/2016 02:38 AM, Mikiesboy said:

I liked it. I'm waiting to see what happens. ..

Glad you liked this one. And no, this can't be all there is to it... Thanks for sticking with Andy's story, Tim.

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Okay, an explanation for Zander's behavior at the party, I'm still not happy about it. lol.
I find it kind off prophesying that Kaz is training Andy how to run. Didn't he do that enough? I hope that's not a metaphor what will happen next.
A great chapter. Thank you for sharing. :)

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