Frank and Brett weren't the only top swimmers in the school team: five other human porpoises also flew through the water leaving me with no hope to qualify, especially in the freestyle.
Despite my woes, I did okay in the backstroke and butterfly but not well enough to rejuvenate my pride. Worse still, two of my best mates, Graham and Brett were part of my audience. And if that wasn't dispiriting enough, for some reason my e-mail failed to reach G, or so I thought. He hadn't replied for a week.
One afternoon, Brett suggested the use of my legs in the pool needed improving. I almost bit his head off and rejected his offer to walk me home after showering. I dressed in my track suit and pissed off home by myself. Even Graham kept his distance to avoid becoming the target of my frustration. He was out back collecting Roo's crap when the phone rang. It was Brett.
"Hey, Kyle, what's up?"
"You're always going on about being there for me when I need it. I just want you to know I'm also here for you. I understand you don't feel like talking right now, but when you do just shout. Okay?"
Next morning, I failed the freestyle trials. Brett rubbed salt into the wound by beating Frank by half a second. So there I was, surrounded by winning mates, and couldn't even make the top six.
In the change room, I slapped Brett on the back, quite hard. He spun around, no doubt expecting to fist someone. "Bloody hell, that is painful, bro."
"Want me to help you out of your black Speedos?"
"Shuddup, Kyle. What if someone hears you?"
"Okay, can I wash your back then?"
"Jesus Christ, Kyle, stop that!"
"By the way, you've got a boner."
Brett covered his waist with a towel, sat on a bench, and asked me to please go away.
"Okay," I shrugged. "See ya." Yeah, I was in the mood to annoy him. You know how it is; I was so pissed off with myself I wanted to piss everyone else off as well.
The following day, my performance improved as if by magic; I managed third in the 100m fly. That was just for starters. Later I won the 200 and 400. "You got lucky," Brett smiled as we exited the water. He was happy for me.
"Maybe I'll get lucky again," I said. And I did: second in 400m backstroke behind one of the fastest swimmers, a cocky bloke named Kenny. After the swim, I approached him with my hand outstretched to congratulate him, but he ignored my offer and shouldered past.
"Cease! Desist!" Brett warned, recognizing the fire in my eyes at being snubbed. "Do not think those thoughts. I'm a prefect and I'll bust you if you lay a hand on Kenny."
"Asshole. Him, not you."
"Yep, and a big asshole even though he's only 15."
"What's he doing in the senior squad?"
"He's faster than you in the backstroke, and he's right on your tail in the fly."
"He's 15 and he shouldered past me. I should smack him for shoving a senior. I would have copped a smack when I was 15."
"That's `cause you're so damn hittable," Brett laughed. "Hey, mate, that was some awesome swimming."
"Thanks. It's a pity Graham left before the trials, though. I wish he'd seen me kick ass."
"You wanna come round to my place after school? I gotta get changed before I meet Susan."
We entered his room where I sat on his bed and watched him remove his track pants and boxers. Then he stepped into a fresh pair that featured a neat pouch to accommodate his jewels, presenting an inviting bulge. I rose from the bed, stood behind my mate and placed my hand on his crotch. He immediately spun around to face me. "Whoa, boy! Hey, Kyle, that's not why I invited you around here."
My face and ears instantly burned. "Fuck! Sorry!"
With his hands on my shoulders Brett smiled. "Hey, mate, it's cool. It's just that there's a time and place for everything, and I don't want you getting the wrong idea about us. Okay? What happened between us was pretty special for me, and I want those times to remain special."
"I'm sorry, I thought..."
"You thought I invited you here to jack me off?"
"Kinda," I said feebly and lowered my eyes.
"Yeah, well you're my mate and I thought it would be cool to have you here while I change. Then I can walk you home before I go to Susan's."
"I feel pretty damn stupid."
"Why? `Cause you touched my dick?" Brett wrapped his fist around mine and gave it a friendly tug, then resumed dressing. I watched his lats bulge like steel rods that ran the length of his sides as he pulled on his running shoes. And when he tied his laces, his biceps formed tight powerful balls.
"Thanks for not getting mad at me."
"Mad at you? I'm always mad at you, Kyle. Well, nearly always," he grinned.
That afternoon after school, Melanie called. As I spoke to her on the phone, the grommet breezed in. "Who are you talking to?"
"Melanie. She wants to blow you."
"Yeah, right." He grabbed the phone, thinking I was joking and that nobody was on the line. The grommet proceeded to carry on about blow jobs and how he couldn't wait for Melanie to do the dirty deed. Oops! When he heard Melanie's voice he went into serious shock, apologizing profusely. "I'm sooooo sorry, Mel. I thought Kyle was joking. Oh, God! I'm soooo embarrassed!"
When I told Brett about it in the locker room next morning, he collapsed with laughter. It was a full minute before he could speak. "You are bloody low-down wicked, Kyle! I would've clobbered you!"
"He did." I showed Brett the bruise on my arm. "Check that."
"Good for him."
"Yeah? Well, you should see the bruises on his legs."
"Oh, so you beat up on lighties? You're a bully." As we continued to change into our school uniforms, the convo got around to Brett's affection for Susan. I asked him if he ever had those same feelings for Melanie. "You sure you wanna go in that direction?"
"Melanie and I never got any further than sex when we needed it. I'm surprised you and she have lasted as long as you have."
"It's my charm."
"I just don't wanna see you get hurt."
"We're in love!"
"You're in love!"
"Why do you say it like that; like it's one-sided?"
"Can I tell you something without you rushing off to tell Melanie?"
"Not sure. Depends."
"Then I can't tell you."
"Okay," I agreed. "I won't tell Mel."
"Sorry, Kyle," he said, changing his mind. "I can't tell you."
"Ahhhh, fuck! Don't do this! Now you're gonna have me wondering what the hell this is all about!"
"Hey, it's nothing anyway."
"So tell me."
"Forget it. I'm sorry I said anything."
"Some kinda mate you are."
"I hate it when you say that! So you're not gonna tell me?"
"Pretend I didn't say anything."
"Yeah, right. So I'll go ask Melanie what it was you never told me."
"Now you're being stupid."
"Touché. Okay, if you're so desperate to know go ask Stuart."
"Ask him what?"
"What it was like fucking Melanie."
"If Stuart told you that then he's lying."
Brett sat on a bench and put on his leather shoes. "No, Stuart didn't tell me. Susan did. She wasn't supposed to tell me but we have this weird relationship where we don't have secrets."
What I was hearing simply could not be true. "Melanie wouldn't do that."
"No?" Brett stood, took his school blazer from the locker and threaded his arms through the sleeves. "She's a slut. That's why I left her."
My fist hit Brett so hard on the jaw it almost knocked him unconscious. He struggled to his feet and felt his swollen lip. "Fuck you, Kyle. I should break your fucking neck. You begged me to tell you and now you can't handle the truth."
"It's a lie!"
"Is it? Stuart's been fucking Melanie for a while now. That's the problem with having a mate like Stuart. He sees every chick as a conquest."
"Melanie wouldn't do it."
"Yeah? Well, he tried it with Susan as well."
"He's my best mate! He wouldn't do that with my girlfriend."
Brett buttoned his jacket, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He saw blood. "Maybe she came onto him."
"I'll phone Susan and ask if she thinks it's true."
"Leave Susan out of this, bro."
"Why? She told you didn't she?"
"Stop being childish and leave Susan alone."
"Scared I'm gonna fuck her?"
"You? Don't make me laugh, Kyle. Don't ever ask me anything again. You got a short fuse, and you better learn to deal with it before you get hurt."
I was so incensed by that stage I literally shook with rage. "So who's gonna hurt me? You?"
"Quit while you're ahead. Okay? Before we say things to each other we'll regret later."
"Nah, let's sort it out now and be friends later." I placed a hand on his chest and shoved him backwards.
"I can't believe you're doing this," he protested. "I'm doing everything I can to avoid hitting you because you're my mate."
"So? Hit me!"
"Fuck off, Kyle. I'm outta here. Speak to me when you cool off."
As he turned to leave, my fist grabbed his blazer. Fade to black. I regained consciousness about fifteen minutes later and headed home. Then I phoned Stuart.
"Is it true?"
"Yeah. She wants a man, Kyle, not some wussy gay boy."
Stuart answered the bell at the front security gate of his house. He appeared nervous and tried to calm the situation but my rage was unstoppable. The first punch sent him reeling. Then some back-up guy appeared at the doorway wanting to know what was going on. I didn't give a rat's ass. I was in a mood to take on twenty guys. But, as it happened, Stuart, who stood a head taller than me, took good care of himself. After five minutes of copping blows and receiving a heavy kick to the groin, I staggered home, battered, bleeding, confused and, above all, hoping somehow G could make sense of this impossible catastrophe.
"Friends are there to fuck you up" was the subject line of the e-mail I sent to G from my dad's computer. I told him everything. But my inbox was still empty. Was he dead? Did he suffer a heart attack or something? Had his computer crashed? Right now, I needed G more than ever. I felt so alone, so helpless, so friendless. All my mates had deserted me. My girlfriend had deserted me. Worse, she had betrayed my trust. Okay, so Graham remained loyal but all he got in return was my bitterness and sharp rebuke.
When G finally managed to get his email server problem sorted, his reply was not what I expected. To be fair, Kyle, you can't expect to be sharing yourself sexually with your friends and expect Melanie to remain faithful only to you. Not only that, having sex with Stuart's girlfriend on the weekend as payback solves zip. You're adding fuel to an already raging fire. Fires go out, mate. Once all the fuel is spent they fizzle, just like Wollumbin. What was a massive volcano is now a beautiful and peaceful Paradise.
Despite the sage's blunt advice, Brett and I remained incommunicado. In class, we ignored each other and concentrated on our lessons. At swim prac, we acted like strangers. And all the while, Graham pestered me, wanting to know why Brett and I weren't talking.
On Tuesday, depression got the better of me and I stayed home from school. Even the weather was depressing; windy and chilly. Despite that, late in the afternoon, I walked down to Little Watego's beach below the Byron headland and lighthouse. The surf was flat and mush. I was alone. Even the regular rock fishermen were absent.
"Why weren't you at school today?"
I turned to see Brett seated on a rock next to mine. "I was sick this morning," I said blankly, and gave no indication I was pleased to see him.
We sat there for a long time in contemplative silence, staring out to sea. It seemed the wind carried away whatever trace might remain of our friendship, leaving in its place an unfathomable vacuum. Then Brett spoke: "I'm turning in my prefect badge, Kyle."
That got my attention. "What the hell for?"
"Next time, I wanna be free to give you a good fucking hiding and knock the shit right outta you without worrying about my position at school."
I couldn't resist smiling. "Don't do that. If anyone deserves to wear that prefect badge it's you. You're one of the best prefects at school."
"Can I be honest with you, Kyle--as a mate?"
"I'm not in the mood for any heavy shit right now."
"You're never in the mood. You think that everything is supposed to be okay and happy, and that it's all some big game. The problem is that when something heavy comes down on you, you handle it like a bull in a china shop."
"Like everything, Kyle. You let Mitch get to you. And this whole stuffup with Stuart, your best friend. Melanie's been at Susan's place every day crying her eyes out. Graham comes to me every day to ask when you and I are gonna speak to each other again."
"He's a persistent bugger."
"He's just confused, Kyle. And he's feeling it as well. He says you've been miserable at home and abrupt with him."
"He said that?"
"Not in so many words. He gave me the impression he thought he was in the way."
"You're okay, though. Right?"
"Oh, yeah, sure. I'm fine, surrounded by friends. I'm doing okay. Hello, you dickhead, I'm not sleeping at night and Susan keeps telling me I'm like a million miles away. But, hey, I'll live."
"You're used to being a loner, anyway, so it shouldn't hassle you."
"Is that what you want, Kyle? For us to go our separate ways, and maybe back to how it was?"
"I thought maybe you were the one who wanted that. I dunno. My brain is fried, and I'm not thinking straight."
"Hey, Kyle," Brett said after a pause, "I haven't had a real friend for as long as I can remember. Oh, sure, I've had guys I hang out with, and guys I fight with and that kinda thing, but I never had a real friend until you came along. Fuck knows why but I like you...more than anyone I know besides Susan. You taught me what real friendship is all about. Your friends grow on fucking trees but for me? They come along once in a fucking blue moon."
"Was that a blue moon? I thought it was my nuts that were blue. You were peeking again, huh?"
My joke cracked us both: perfect timing. And the tension drained like a shore break rushing back to Mother Ocean. But Brett wasn't finished with his lecture.
"I'm here because I'm your mate, Kyle. Pulling this stunt today--staying away from school. That's not the Kyle I know. The Kyle I know faces his problems right between the eyes. I want us to be friends. Right about now I need a friend, and I can't afford to have you just walk away. If I know you as well as I think I do, then I think what happened with Stuart and Melanie is eating you up big time `cause you need friends too."
"Yep, pretty much."
"Nope," I lied.