I'm starting to look like hell. I'm not getting enough sleep. It's not the nightmares so much, although I still have those. It's this damn story. Now that I've started, I can't seem to stop. I write at night when my lover's asleep, and I'm exhausted when I get done. I want to be through with it, but during the day I think of more that I have to put down, and I can't hold it in. I have to return night after night to the story...to the story.
As I lay in bed that night, I tried to block out the noise in the house. I thought over the last five days. God, had it only been five days? I had found the heights of joy. New vistas had been opened to me. I found love; not the kind a parent has for a child, but the way two people who are not connected by blood can find -- at an emotional and spiritual level. A discovery level. A personal journey level. I felt things with my body that I had never felt before, and longed to feel again and again.
And I had ended a friendship. A 14-year friendship. I don't think two people had ever had a closer friendship than Danny and I. I loved him. I hadn't really known that until the last few days. But what he did to me today was unspeakable. I was trying to sort all this out. I was struggling with it. He may have made up his mind six months ago, but it was all new and frightening to me. He seduced me.
What he did humiliated me, and a friend does not humiliate a friend. A lover certainly doesn't. I knew this would not be easy to do, but the friendship was dead. Over. Finished.
The next few days were tough. I ignored Danny completely. He came to get me to walk to school, but the first morning I told him to go away. The second morning I left before he got there. I started doing that every morning. In school, he would look at me, but he never came near me. I didn't talk to him, and I went out of my way to avoid him. I made no effort at all to acknowledge his existence. In family ed we were given a group project and allowed to pick anyone we wanted as a partner. I was the first to speak up; I chose my deskmate, Tim.
Going home was no problem. After my injury cleared up a little I was back on the baseball team, and we had practice every night. Basketball season, of course, was over, and Danny couldn't use the weight room cuz of his arm, so he walked home and I played ball. We had a fairly good team, winning about two-thirds of our games. Almost no one came to watch us, so it was easy to spot Danny in the few bleacher seats. That's all I did, spot him. I didn't wave, didn't even look.
There were some year-end parties, of course. I'd go, and sometimes I'd leave when Danny arrived, or I'd just move to another area. I did my best to avoid him. Once, at Becky Decker's party on her farm, we ended up at the snack table at the same time. He looked awful.
"Hi, Justin," he said happily.
"How 'ya been?"
"Who cares?" I answered.
You know that light in his eyes I told you is alwasy there? It went out at that instant.
"I've been missing you. It's not the same neighborhood anymore. I'd like to get together and talk."
"Fuck off," I said, and turned away.
It was the most we'd talked in a month.
But I went to a lot of parties and hung out with other guys. I was having a pretty good time. At that same party at Becky's, she and I slipped off behind the tractor barn for a few minutes.
"It's nice to see you smile," she said.
"Whaddya mean?" I asked.
"Well, since you and Danny had that fight, you haven't been smiling much." I hadn't realized it showed. I thought I had been smiling. "What did you guys fight about anyway?"
"Can't tell you," I replied.
We talked a little more, then got quiet and just looked at the stars. I was always amazed at the stars out in the country. They were so close, and there were so many more than we could see in town. It was nearly pitch black behind that tractor barn, and I was hypnotized byt the stars. I felt Becky's hand in mine as she snuggled next to me. My arm slid around her, and then we were kissing. He lips tasted soooo sweet, and her hair was like strands of fine silk in my hand. I pulled her to me and our kiss lasted a couple of minutes. We held each other tight throughout, and in the middle of it, I thought of Danny. The kiss he gave me the last night we spent together. I recalled every detail of it, the light of the room, his nakedness, the fullness of his lips and the way he made my heart pound as he lowered himself to me. The whole last half of the kiss, that's what I thought of. And when I realized that's what I was thinking, I jumped, and broke off the kiss.
"What?" Beckey said.
"Nothing, sorry," I replied quickly. And kissed her again.
We kissed again, and again my thoughts went to Danny. Dammit! I put my hand on her breast, and she slid hers up under my shirt, feeling the still-new skin that had replaced my injury from the bike accident. We reveled in each other four about 15 minutes, but my mind was divided, and I couldn't stop. Becky, Danny. Finally, Becky broke off the kiss and slid her hand out from under my shirt.
"What's the matter, Justin?"
"Nothing's the matter, I told you."
"Something is, I can tell."
"Your heart's not in it. You're just going through the motions," she answered.
"No, I'm not. This is fun."
"Well, yes, I can feel that you're excited. But, ummmm, I opened my eyes once, and you were staring off at the stars. I think someone else is on your mind."
"No he" oh, god, what a slip -- think fast "eeere's where you're wrong."
"I don't think so. Justin, we've been good friends for years. Something's eating you up. Your parents?"
"Yeah, okay, yes, it's my parents. They're fighting all the time now. The last few months have been real hell."
She didn't say anything, just held me. I stared at the stars, and wanted to float among them, just visit them, see them up close, and drift on to the next one. We stayed like that, in each others' arms, silent. Danny could be silent, too. And as good as Becky felt in my arms, as sweet as her lips tasted, something was missing. I was too angry to know what.
The cruelest blow came June 23, Danny's birthday. He'd called to invite me to his party and left a message with mom. I didn't go. We had been at each other's birthdays since our first. Twenty-eight birthdays together, his-mine.
That day I did anything I could think of to take my mind off the party. I was supposed to be there, and no matter how mad I was, it did hurt. I was programmed to be there. I went and shot hoops in the park, went to the arcade, skateboarded, mowed the lawn. Anything. I even went shopping and bought a Doobie Brothers CD. I like the oldies. It's my dad's influence.
August first the arguing in my house was louder than ever, and my room just didn't cut it. I went out and sat on the curb. My parents were getting worse, and I'd been witnessing it first hand since I no longer went to Danny's to escape. I had a lot of friends and we did things together, but none of them I could talk to like Danny. It just wasn't the same. Most of them noticed the two of us didn't hang out anymore -- it was pretty obvious -- but when they asked why I said we had a fight. If they asked what about, I always said, "Why, are you a fuckin' marriage counselor?"
Danny's cast had come off the day before his birthday. His right arm was skinny and pale, and covered with dark hair. Looked sorta gross.
I was thinking all these things when a car pulled up.
"Hi, stranger." It was Mrs. Shaw, Danny's mother.
"Oh, hi," I replied.
"You haven't been over in more than a month. Is everything okay?"
I looked to see if anyone was in the car with her, but she was alone.
"Yeah, everything's fine," I said with false happiness. She saw right through it. She glanced at the front door of our house, where the noise was coming from.
"Justin, I can hear. I know it's not all right. You want to come and stay overnight at our house?"
"No. I can handle it."
"Justin, Danny misses you. I know you two had a fight. I don't know what it's about, but it must have been serious. This is the longest you two have been apart." I heard her put the car into park, then she shut it off.
"I don't need to know what this is all about. I'm not here to try to patch things up."
"Good," I blurted, and immediately regretted it. She was trying to be nice; I was being an asshole.
But she went on as if she didn't hear me. "After the accident, I said I was always glad Danny had you as a friend. I meant it, and I still mean it. I miss you myself, but Danny is really sad. But all that aside, I want you to know that our house is still open to you. If you want to come over tonight I'll fix up the guest room in the basement, and you won't even have to talk to Danny. George and Charlie" -- Danny's father and brother -- "would love to see you."
"No, thanks. I'm okay here. It's my house, I should sleep here."
She looked at the house, from which the argument was clearly audible.
"Okay, sweetheart. But the door will be open." She started the car and drove down the street home.
I walked back inside and slipped past my parents, down the hallway to my room. I got ready for bed, and read for a while. The argument was still going at 11:00, and still at midnight. I was desperate for relief. I couldn't stand it any more. I had to get out. The walls were closing in and my head pounded. I began to shake in my bed and I clutched the sheets. The room twisted, and suddenly I heard a ripping sound. I looked down and saw I had torn the sheet.
That did it. I grabbed a book, my pillow and a couple of other things just for the feeling of security, crept down the hall and out the front door. I stood on the front steps, and the tears burst forth in a great, wracking sob. I'd lost everything. My home wasn't mine anymore. I couldn't stay. As much as I wanted to, I had to get out. But I had no place to go. I looked around the neighborhood, and down the street I saw a beacon. The kitchen light at the Shaw's was still on.
Barefoot, wearing only a pair of nylon shorts from the ballteam, I stumbled through the yards, my eyes on the light. A lone street lamp cast a feeble glow, and I tripped a lot as I walked across the neighbors' yards, but at last I was standing in the driveway. I saw a movement in the kitchen, a shadow. It didn't look like Danny's, so I quietly snuck up the stairs and tapped on the window of the door.
Danny's mom cracked it open a bit, gasped when she saw me, opened the door and swept me into her arms. I just started crying.
"Please, can I stay here tonight?" I choked out.
"Of course, honey. Come downstairs. Are you hungry? Thirsty?"
"No. Nothing. I'm nothing. I can't feel anything. I'm just cold and tired. That's all."
There was a guestroom in their basement that doubled as a playroom. A bed was all made up. She pulled the covers back and eased me into it. Then she sat down on the edge of the bed.
"Don't, Mrs. Shaw. Don't ask me what we fought about. I can't tell you."
"No, I wasn't going to. I was just going to tell you that Danny misses you. I know boys' egos can get in the way of saying I'm sorry. He's really miserable, and so am I because I haven't seen you much lately. I'm not saying this to make you feel sorry for him. If he did something wrong, he has to be big enough to apologize for it. It takes a lot of courage to say 'I'm sorry,' and a lot to accept it."
"He did apologize. But he betrayed my trust. He humiliated me. I guess I don't have the courage right now to forgive him."
"Well, being humiliated is a big thing, a lot worse than an argument." She sat there and looked at me, and I knew where Danny got those eyes. "You're getting so big," she said. "I can't believe you two are growing up so fast. And growing apart. But, Justin, no matter what happens, I want you to promise that you'll do what you think needs to be done. You've got to be your own person. No one can tell you what to do." She leaned over and kissed me on the forhead, tucked the covers under me, turned out the light and left.
In the darkness and the silence of the house, wrapped in the sheets, I dropped off to sleep almost immediately.
I woke up slowly. I felt comfortable and secure. I could hear family noises upstairs, but I was facing the wall, still wrapped in the blankets, nestled in that wonderful bed. I laid there thinking. Then I slowly began to stretch, my legs, my arms, my back, and I rolled over. I gasped in surprise and curled into the fetal position, because there, sitting on a chair, was Danny.
"What the fuck...you scared the shit out of me," I said.
"Hope not. You'll have to wash those sheets yourself." Great. He's being funny. I'm being angry. I wanted to hit him.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Watching you sleep."
"Cuz. The day I came home from the hospital, Mom said you stayed in my room all day while I slept. She says you just watched me. I wanted to see what it was like."
"That's when we were friends, and you were hurt," I pointed out.
"Justin, you're hurt," he said in almost a whisper, "and I'm the one who hurt you."
I sighed. I'm not sure why. We looked at each other. His eyes were lifeless, it seemed. The sun was streaming in the window. Danny was dressed in a t-shirt and basketball shorts, barefoot. His hair was mussed. He had no expression on his face. He was just looking at me.
And I felt my heart melt just a little bit.
But there was silence between us. I didn't know what to say. He was afraid to say anything. But he sat there. I guess he thought since I hadn't said "Fuck off" right away that maybe things could change.
I think the hardest thing for a person to do is change his mind. I think we all feel sorta wimpy when we do that, like our old beliefs were wrong, and nobody wants to be wrong. I hate being wrong. I'll fight anyone who says I'm wrong, even if that someone is me. It took a sudden and almost violent act for me to change my mind about Danny, and something like that wasn't bound to happen again to change my mind back. But fourteen years of friendship. Maybe Danny had been right -- I can't throw all that away. But could I trust him? Did he learn from his mistakes? There was no doubt they were mistakes. And then I wondered, had I learned from his mistakes? From my own? Had he learned from my mistakes? I can really complicate up an issue, but I really did think those things.
Then he said quietly, pointing to the nightstand, "I brought you a glass of orange juice."
And I realized I was thirsty. He knew that. Well, no big puzzle there. Most people are thirst in the morning. But he'd brought the orange juice.
"Thanks," I said, and gulped it down.
"Well, since you're awake, I'll go. You dont' have to get up yet if you don't want to."
He got up from the chair and moved toward the door.
"Ummmmm." The words wouldn't come. All I knew was that my world was crumbling. The guys I hung out with were okay, but I didn't fit with them like I'd fitted with Danny all those years. There were no inside jokes. I couldn't finish their sentences and they couldn't finish mine. They didn't get my sense of humor (yeah, I had one, despite what this sounds like) or laugh at my jokes the way Danny had.
They hadn't pressed their lips against mine. They hadn't risked everything for the simple favor of taking me to the highest, most extreme height of passion and pleasure I've ever felt in my life. They hadn't cried over me.
"Danny," I said again.
"Ya wanna go for a bike ride this morning?"
"Um, sure, if you want to."
"How about we ride up the path to the swimming hole?"
"Yeah, okay. I think I'd like that a lot."
I have something here the doctor says will help me sleep. I don't want to take them. I think tomorrow I'll flush them down the toilet. I can sleep for a while wrapped up with my lover, and when I can't sleep, I can listen to him breathe and feel his warmth. That's where I'm going now.