At the gym Monday morning, Brett's chipper mood departed conspicuously from the norm. Why?
"Beating Kim in the backstroke?"
"You got it. Now keep hitting me."
Brett stood with his gloved hands rested on his head, and instructed me to punch his gut for three periods of 30 seconds each. It was like hitting a punching bag that refused to budge. After the third period, I invited him to do the same to me.
"You're kidding, Kyle," the 300-situps-a-day pugilist warned. "You're not fit enough."
He was right, but I managed to survive two periods of his aggressive pummeling. "You're a sucker for punishment," he grinned when I surrendered.
"Yeah, that's why I hang with you." Then I asked what drove him to compete against Kim in the pool on Saturday.
"I knew I could beat him. You knew as well."
"It's like wishing for things. Sometimes you put this negative thought in your brain that you're unable to accomplish something, so you never do. The reverse is also true. You convince yourself that you can, and you do."
"Oh? You mean like I convince myself my cock is better than yours, and it is. Like that, you mean?"
Fortunately for my health, Brett cracked up laughing instead of cracking my ribs. "Hey, Kyle, you know exactly what I mean--and your cock will never be better. Anyway, it would have been cool to take that asshole Kim's medal, but at least he didn't get the gold." After a thoughtful pause he added, "Kyle, can I ask you something?" His serious expression concerned me a little. "What was it between you and that Kim guy?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why did you hate him so much? I mean, he was a dick but you really hated him."
"Did it show that much? Anyway, it's a long complicated story."
"Will you understand if I can't tell you?"
"Whatever it was, it must've been pretty bad."
What an understatement. I explained to Brett that I regretted keeping secrets from him, and appreciated his friendship. "It's just something I can't discuss with anybody."
"Okay, but try to remember this: don't ever think you can't talk to me about anything. At least I can listen."
Brett noticed my moistening eyes and refrained from further interrogation. Was his need to confide secrets as strong as my need to share mine? I guess at that moment I empathized with his motives for keeping certain things to himself.
One morning, my shoulder troubled me during a sparring session. Brett offered to apply Reparil gel after we showered. His strong, soothing hands banished my soreness when he asked: "Hey, you doing anything tonight?"
"No. You wanna go somewhere?"
"Not a club or anything. It's just that..." His voice trailed off as he replaced the cap on the tube of ointment, and his mind searched for the appropriate words. "Well, you're always going on about your folks and everything... I mean, I've seen your mom at the swim meets and, well, you know, it would be kinda cool to meet them."
I was thrilled. "You wanna meet my folks? Like one on one? Hey! That would be wicked!"
"What should I wear?"
Later, after school, Graham breezed into my room to show me his first pube. "Gimme a closer look," I asked, then grabbed the tiny hair between my thumb and forefinger and plucked it. His initial shock turned to fury! "Do you realize how long it's taken me to grow that thing? Now I don't have any!" I handed him the pube and said: "Sure you do. Put it in a matchbox as a keepsake."
"Yeah, right. So at the beach I show the girls a pube in a matchbox. How are they gonna know it's really mine?"
As previously arranged, Stuart arrived and placed a blindfold on the little guy. Then we stripped him and bound his wrists behind his back. "What are you guys doing?" He was genuinely worried. I eased his anxiety by telling him I was about to fit him with my old wetsuit. "That old piss-filled thing? Yuck!" I ordered him to shut up and remain still.
Stuart and I took each side of the bottom half and pulled it up his legs toward his waist. Graham complained of his nuts being crushed. "It's okay," I said, "they're only little ones." In fact, Stuart and I pulled so hard we lifted the grommet off the floor.
When the suit was fitted, and his nuts rearranged (compliments of my helping hand), we stood Graham in front of the bedroom mirror, then untied the blindfold. The kid was speechless. He stared in disbelief at his reflection for at least a full minute before I broke the stunned silence: "Pretty cool, huh?"
Finally, Graham produced a few softly muttered words: "Hey, Kyle, this isn't your old wettie. This is a new wettie."
"Well, it's not quite new, but it's in helluva good nick."
"Oh! This is awesome!" Then he almost shattered me with an unexpected declaration: he couldn't accept it. A long interval followed before I asked gently, "Why?"
"'Cause I see you doing chores around the `hood and stuff to make money and this must've cost a whack. And I'm never gonna be able to give you anything like this--ever."
"Hey, Graham, it's not about you having to give me or Stuart anything in return; it's about you making us laugh and having fun; being the guy you already are. And it didn't take a whole lotta chores. Stuart put some bucks in as well. We both knew you'd love the wettie, and that you'd take good care of it. Besides, the girls are gonna love it as well."
"This is so cool," he gushed, still admiring his reflection. "I don't know what to say."
"A hug would be cool."
"It doesn't sound like enough, though."
"A hug would be fine."
Following two enormous hugs, one for me and one for Stuart, the little guy asked: "Do I look as good as I think I do?"
"Totally spiff," I smiled. And he did. A better looking or cuter grommet you never did see. "When I saw it for sale in the surf shop, I figured it would be a good fit, but I didn't expect it to fit as well as it does. The beach groupies aren't gonna miss out on a single muscle, bro. They all show."
After Graham and Stuart left, I was busy on the phone to Graham's mom when dad answered the front door bell. I heard him say, "I'm very proud of my son," before informing Brett about the wetsuit I bought for Graham's birthday. Brett wore beige chinos with side pockets, a white t-shirt hanging loose--accentuating his impressive pecs and flat stomach--and his best sneakers. Meanwhile, I tried to calm the grommet's mom about the cost. She was freaking big time.
Brett favorably impressed my folks that evening and vice versa, for which I was chuffed. It was important to me to have my folks approve of my friends, and a bonus if the reverse was also the case.
Over the following weeks, clubbing with Melanie, Brett and Susan became a regular Friday or Saturday night event, so I guess it wasn't surprising in the gym one day when Brett asked if Melanie and I had `done it'. "Not yet. We're both still trying to find out about each other."
Brett mimicked the act of intercourse, which I found somewhat irritating and even demeaning. "You don't know what you're missing, dude," he teased as his hips stabbed the air.
"Can we change the subject?"
"Am I embarrassing you?"
I ignored his remark. Fact is, I was pissed at being interrogated about a subject most guys at school boasted of despite never having laid eyes on a damn pussy, let alone done anything with one. Brett sensed my mood and got back to the business of sparring by asking me to tape his hands. "I usually do it myself," he explained, "but it's something you also need to learn."
"Nah, it's too much of a hassle," I argued. "Besides, you're my only spar partner."
"I thought you enjoyed working out."
"I do, but not enough to take up boxing as a sport. Maybe it's the company," I grinned.
Brett was engaged to compete in a boxing tournament due shortly and asked if I'd like to attend. "The tourney's gonna be cool: it's a club comp with little guys from 9 years, up to 19 year old seniors. You wanna come and watch?"
"Depends. I'd like to."
"Just watch your tongue. Don't go yelling anything stupid while I'm in the ring. Okay?"
That night the home phone rang. It was Brett. "Hey," he said rather hesitantly, "I had such a cool time with your folks the other night, I was wondering if it would be okay if I rocked over for a while."
"Are you kidding? You don't visit often enough, bro!"
I was excited: that stomach-churning anticipation of something wonderful about to happen. That's the way it always was with Brett, at least for me. It was all smiles at the front door, then all smiles again with my folks in the living room where the conversation got around to the upcoming boxing tournament. My dad surprised me by demonstrating great interest, which impressed Brett. Questions were fired from all directions and my handsome mate was only too eager to satisfy everyone's curiosity about his sport.
Later, after Brett left, I was in the kitchen with my mom, helping with the dishes.
"He's going to turn a lot of heads, that one."
"Who?" I asked casually.
"Your friend, Brett."
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, he's very good looking but, at the same time, a little rough around the edges--a bit like someone else I know."
"Yes, but also like you."
My next question tumbled out of my mouth before I had a chance to consider it. "You think I'm good looking?"
"Haven't any girls told you?"
"Not like that," I said modestly as I placed a stack of dishes in a cupboard. At the same time I wondered what the hell my mom was getting at.
"Okay, then, I don't want to give you a swollen head, but you and Brett won't remain as handsome as you are now if you keep boxing. You're older now, and your punches are a lot harder. You'll get badly hurt if you continue. It's time to grow up, Kyle, and--what's the word?--chill."
On the morning of the tournament, although I wasn't directly involved, I attended the team training session. Brett was as tight as a barramundi's rectum. "I've never seen you so determined," I remarked as he left the ring after a few rounds with the coach.
"The guy I'm fighting tonight is from one of the fancy rich schools. He beat me twice already and both times I got hurt. I was hoping I wouldn't be facing the same guy this time."
"Well, I know you're not in the mood for being talkative right now, but I'm here if you need me." Later, during recess, I quizzed him. "What's the buzz? I've never seen you this intense before. Are you scared?"
"Scared? Me? No way, Jose. It's just this guy. It's more a psycho thing than anything else. He goes all out to hurt me `cause he knows where I'm vulnerable."
"Oh? So tell me."
"Why? So you can hit me there too?" he grinned, then decided to confess: "In the ribs, just under my armpits. I keep lifting my arm to hit him and his timing is always perfect. Folds me like a piece of paper." He pointed to the spot under his arm. "Just there. Lemme show you."
I lifted my arm as instructed and received a poke from his finger. "Ouch! Wow, that really is a soft spot for sure! Damn!"
Then another surprise. "Hey, Kyle?"
"Wanna hang a bit after school so we can go for a juice or something?"
"Cool, but don't you need to rest a while before the tourney?"
"Yeah--but I just need to hang for a bit."
Brett's anxiety concerned me. This was so contrary to his normally confident, even arrogant, behavior. Following extra team training that afternoon, we strolled in silence to the beach where we bought a couple of fruit juices. We drank them on the sidewalk. Not a word was spoken, not even during the walk back to our respective houses. "Thanks a stack," he said as he was about to enter his front gate.
"Before you go, can I tell you something my dad said?"
"He said you'll win even if you come second `cause you're that kinda dude. And he said none of my friends is a loser."
"Your dad rocks, Kyle. He truly does. See you at the tourney tonight."