What made Brett tick? The better I got to know him, the more convinced I was that something sinister simmered just below the surface. I was desperate to know exactly what. In the gym showers one morning following a pretty wild sparring session, I asked him if Susan was his steady girlfriend.
"We go out, that's all. My last steady gave me too much grief. I play the field now."
"Is she the one you got beaten up over?"
"Yep. But I also wanted to beat up on that guy. He'd been needling me all night."
"Why are you so aggro all the time?"
"I'm not really. I just want the other guys to think I am so they leave me alone."
"Why, why, why. Enough with the third degree, damn it!"
"Okay, okay. Cool it."
"See what I mean? Hey, your eye's looking a lot better. Maybe I should convince you to grow your hair a bit longer."
"I like it shaved."
"Makes you look mean--the Mean Man--but I know you're not really mean. Sure, you get aggro sometimes but..."
Brett interrupted with the most unexpected request: "Hey, Kyle, you wanna come around to my house this afternoon after swim training?"
"Oh! I'll probably be surfing with Stuart and Graham." Shit! I wasn't thinking straight. I'd blown it big time. Brett mumbled something about it being no big deal, and toweled his head to hide his disappointment. Kyle to the rescue! "But I can come around afterwards if that's okay."
"Hey, it's no biggie, Kyle. If you're busy..."
"Honest. I'd really like to."
Brett greeted me at the door and introduced his mom, a handsome woman in her late thirties. Anyone would have thought I was the Prodigal Son or something. She made such a fuss, Brett figured I needed salvaging from his mom's clutches. He asked me if I wanted to see his room.
"Wow! This is really cool," I said as I entered, then went to the window to observe the greenness of the park next door. "Makes me feel kinda privileged. I mean, I see you every day but this is your own personal space."
Posters of rock bands and one topless girly picture plastered his walls.
"Her? I dunno, just some chick from a horny mag. It's my jacking poster."
"You jack off?"
"Like you don't?"
"I just thought with all the girls you screw and all..."
"Hey, Kyle, I don't screw everything that moves, okay. But I do jack off most every morning before I shower."
"Sometimes. But in the mornings I have this total cockstand, so I do it then. And you?"
"Hell, every bloody night!"
Brett placed a Powderfinger CD into the player, turned up the volume, then proceeded to remove his school uniform. I found it curious that he remained naked while hanging his clothes in the closet before dressing in jeans and a tee. I'd seen him in the buff a thousand times but, for some reason, each time was like the first time. He was in superb physical shape which, to my mind, warranted constant and detailed scrutiny.
My new friend became more and more of a puzzle each day. One time in the ring, he pummeled the hell out of me despite my indignant protests. But, later, following a stony silence in the showers, he draped an arm around my shoulders. He withdrew it just as quickly, as if suddenly realizing it might suggest a sign of weakness. And then: "Sorry if I lost it this morning, mate. Guess I just had to let off a lot of steam. But I feel better now that I've hurt you."
Later that day, during lunch, we sat together outdoors on a school bench. "Thanks for putting your arm around me this morning, Brett."
"It kinda happened."
"I'm glad it did. It said a lot. A hell of a lot. Hey, why don't you come around to my house sometime?"
"I'd like to, honest. But with all the sports I do at school and the chores I do at home for my mom, it's kinda hard to find the time. And when I do, I like to go clubbing `cause I can hang loose and get all the shit out of my head."
I was tempted to ask him what shit. What the hell was bothering him so much that he suffered from so much aggression and anxiety?
I wanted Brett to know that I liked him. I guessed he knew already, but I felt the need to actually say so. After a sparring session in the ring one morning, the words tumbled out of my mouth: "Hey, Brett, do you know something?"
"Like I think you're pretty cool."
He shook his head. "Like how?"
"Well, don't get the wrong message, Brett, but you're pretty hot looking. I guess you've got all the chicks wetting their panties when you're around." Brett removed his gloves, trying to appear nonchalant, so I continued. "I mean, it's like when I was at your house--how you can just go ahead and fix things like you do; and you work hard. It's like you don't need anybody around `cause you're so good at everything. You're strong and you look after yourself."
"Is that all?" he said but couldn't control the grin that spread across his killer face.
"So you want me to go on?" I laughed.
"Hey, Kyle, I'll let you in on a little secret. I'm not that great. I seem to piss people off more than anything, and there's a whole bunch of stuff I can't fix. But thanks."
"Maybe you wouldn't piss people off if you smiled a bit more. Makes you look different--kinda cute even."
"Bloody hell, Kyle," he cracked, "if I didn't know you better I'd think you were hitting on me."
"Now there's a thought, but your dick's too tiny."
"Yeah, right." I pulled down my shorts, removed the cod-piece and flopped out the old fella. "Let me tell you something, when you're this well furnished you don't need to be jealous of anything."
He followed my example: "Now, Kyle, I want you to look real hard. You've got to admit, THAT is a cock. And it's a pussy eater as well."
"Okay," I admitted, "yours is a little bigger--but only a little."
"And getting bigger."
All this talk about size stimulated testosterone and, sure enough, the topic got around to masturbation again. I didn't want to give the impression I was obsessed with the activity so I invented a little white lie: "It's like a sort of study I'm doing. Guys are always putting shit on other guys who admit to wanking, but I'm discovering that, if truth be known, most of the critics are wankers themselves."
"All of them, buddy," Brett said emphatically. "Remember that swim tour we did last year? Well, a few of the guys and I had a jacking competition."
"Outtasight!" Oops! Maybe my response sounded overly enthusiastic, but it apparently didn't bother my mate.
"Yeah, those sessions are awesome `cause you get all crazy watching the other dudes milk their lizards."
"You mean me?"
"No, you idiot! You, me, them--all guys do. Anyway, are we gonna shower or what?"
Both of us sported skin-splitters in the showers. It was embarrassing but also a sign of camaraderie; a sharing of experiences and information that couldn't be freely discussed with parents or most peers.
At lunch, Brett surprised me by re-introducing the topic. "Hey, that convo we had--you know about what. That was pretty cool! I've never spoken to anyone about that kinda stuff before without getting totally red-faced."
"You mean that? Well, I figure most guys think it's uncool to talk about jacking `cause it doesn't fit their dumbass macho image."
"I guess so. And that other stuff you said about me--y'know, about me looking hunky. Thanks. I think you're a pretty cool guy as well." He paused while a broad grin claimed his face. "Okay, maybe not too much on the hunky stuff but, hey, I can't be choosy."
The school bully was a guy named Mitch. Graham and Mitch's younger brother Ryan had become good friends, and it was Ryan who told me that Graham had been molested by Mitch during a sleep-over. I was enraged, to say the least, and challenged Mitch to a few supervised rounds in the ring.
Brett knew I was mad about something, but not the reason why. Then he discovered I'd nominated him as my second for the match; to be refereed by the coach.
"You're crazy, Kyle. I can beat the hell out of you but Mitch is a much bigger guy. What is it with you two anyway? Did he call you a faggot or something?"
"Nope. He doesn't have the guts to pick on me. He picks on the little guys."
"So you picked on him?"
Mitch and I settled in our corners as the coach read the riot act, then asked us to don our headgear. Brett was beside me: "Watch out for Mitch; be boxed as a lighty before he got so damn fat."
"Now you tell me?"
I panicked for a few seconds, fearing obliteration, but forced myself to concentrate on the job at hand. This was for my little bro's honor. The bell rang, and I jumped into center ring. Mitch walked straight into my fists which sent him flat on his butt. Woohoo! My confidence soared. Mitch leaped to his feet; eyes burning with hate. He lost his cool and I flattened him again. Yes! Mitch's second, a big guy we called Jolly Jim, shook his head in despair. Jim was a popular guy on the swim team and I couldn't figure why he accepted the job as Mitch's second.
Mitch was so riled, he struggled to his feet again and launched a flurry of fists at me even before the coach had a chance to continue the match. I copped a smack on the cheek that sent me reeling. Then I heard the coach call "Break!"
Fortunately for me, Mitch's total lack of cool in the third round gave me the opportunity to send that ton of lard crashing unceremoniously to the canvas for the third time. The coach called an immediate halt to the match. Mitch was seething with hostility.
As I emerged from the showers I saw Brett waiting for me. "I wanna know what that was all about," he demanded.
I nursed a bruised scratch from where Mitch's glove caught me illegally. "Hey, Brett, you're a real friend. Just believe me when I say I can't tell you, at least not right now."
"Whatever--but be careful, okay? Mitch has a lot of school friends who stick by him. Take my advice, Kyle, I know the evil bastard. Watch your back."
"Thanks for the warning, but I'll be okay."
"Famous last words. Are you going to the Powderfinger concert Saturday?"
"Nah, can't afford it."
"I know why you can't afford it. You're always spending your damn money on other people. Stuart told me you bought the little grommet a used surfboard. Anyway, I'll tell you all about the concert on Monday. I wanna see you suffer."
"You should grin more often, Brett. It suits you."
"By the way, you surprised me today, mate. You outclassed that guy by a country mile. Congrats. But, like I said, watch your back."
That afternoon after school, Brett invited me for a Coke at the local shop. The conversation was mostly idle chat but friendly, and I took it to mean he enjoyed my company. However, it was Sunday evening before I heard from him again. He phoned unexpectedly.
"Hey, Kyle. How's it going?"
I was pleased to hear his voice and couldn't resist revealing it. "Hey, mate! It's going cool. What's up?"
"Nothing much. Had a cool weekend. The concert was great. Stuart got totally trashed."
"Yeah, I saw him in the surf today. He looked like crap."
"I'm surprised he made it. Must be one fit mother."
"You better believe it. You and Stuart get along pretty well, huh?"
"Yeah, he's cool. His folks are rich and I know some of his friends are toffs but Stuart doesn't carry on with all that posh bullshit. He's a regular guy. Anyway, I just thought I'd call you to see if everything's okay."
"Yeah, pretty much."
"See you early tomorrow at the gym?"
Now what was all that about? I wondered as I replaced the receiver. He called just to check if everything was okay with me? Nope. I didn't buy it. I figured there was something else on his mind but, for whatever reason, he decided against telling me about it.
Next morning in the ring, Brett jabbed me in the breadbox so hard I went down like the proverbial sack of potatoes. "Your gut's too soft," he reasoned, then lectured me about needing a million sit-ups a day. "You gotta harden up, matey."
Brett invited me to hit his stomach with as much force as the punching bag. He was kidding, right? But no. "Go for it."
After several punches, I backed away. "Damn! I'm having no effect!" That six-pack of his was like a wall of iron.
"Not that you can see," he said, "but let me tell you, there's enough power in your fists to floor the average bloke. And, yeah, it was painful. If I didn't have strong stomach muscles each one of those punches would have toppled me."
"You got super abs."
"I'd be a liar if I denied it, but I work at it."
Swim training was on in earnest as the winter champs drew closer; just two weeks away. Three other schools were involved. The coach organized billets and I volunteered to host Kim, Robert's friend. That wasn't such a stroke of genius as it turned out. But I had a more pressing problem. Coach gave me permission to be excused from training. I was about to head home when Brett approached me, wanting to know why.