Grounded in Air
Copyright © 2009 by the author under the pseudonym Gee Whillickers. All rights reserved.
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This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any actual place, event, or person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This story is intended for adults and contains subject matter not suitable for children. Parental Advisory in effect.
** 8 **
Donny had struck up enough courage to talk to his mom about Fred, but nothing was really resolved. It wasn't much of a conversation really, lasting only thirty seconds. All she would say was that she still needed to do some thinking and that she didn't want to talk about it yet. One good thing did come out of his attempt though. She let him phone Fred. It wasn't much of a conversation though. Donny knew his mom was listening from the hallway, so he kept it to small talk about his leg feeling better. Donny knew he would be seeing Fred in school tomorrow, and he figured they could talk more then.
Rick came over and they spent a happy few hours talking and playing games. On more than one occasion Rick attempted to open a discussion about why he became angry enough to take off on his motorbike like he did, and what the deal was between him and Mr. Dorian. Not to mention a few other emotional topics.
But after all of the excitement lately all that he really wanted was some downtime and to have some fun. So, he steered the conversation away from serious topics. He just wanted to spend a bit of time feeling normal for a change. Actually, he admitted to himself that one of the reasons he kept the conversation light was because he was still having trouble figuring out how much he should tell Ricky about Fred. He did promise that he would talk about some of this stuff at another time though, he just wasn't up to it right now. Ricky hesistated but then accepted this, with an admonishment that he would be asking again another day, so Donny had better be ready for it.
The very best news of all was that Ricky had managed to convince his mom and dad to take him to the motocross track on the weekend and enroll him in the training program. Rick was so excited about this he stood up and kept moving around the room while explaining it, with his arms flying everywhere. At one point, much to Ricky's embarrassment, he almost knocked over several glass figurines Donny's mom kept on a display shelf against one wall. Ricky just couldn't seem to sit still while telling him. Donny was excited for him, and promised to try and make it to the track on the weekend. He wanted to go there anyway, he figured it might be fun to watch even if he couldn't ride.
Friday morning arrived and Donny was back at school. He was getting lots of attention and questions about his splint and crutches, and found that he had a bit of trouble answering them. His answer of "motorcycle accident" just led to excitement and more questions, usually starting with, "Oh wow! Really?! What happened?" Finally Ray rescued him by telling people to give him a break for a while. Donny smiled his thanks as they moved their separate ways to their classes.
At lunch Donny stopped in to Fred's classroom. Fred was sitting at his desk unwrapping a tuna and lettuce sandwich from its plastic wrap, and he smiled broadly at seeing Donny hobble in on his crutches, brown bagged lunch hanging from one hand. Donny smiled his own hello and sat down on the chair beside his desk, leaning his crutches against the blackboard.
"Sorry I didn't talk long yesterday on the phone, or say much. My mom doesn't think I should be talking to you at all," said Donny. The expression on his face said more than his words. His eyebrows were furrowed and eyes widened in worry. The thought that he might be prevented from seeing Fred except during free time in school hours was not what he wanted to deal with right now.
Fred's smile was reassuring, but to Donny it looked forced. "Donny, I know. Your mom pretty much let me know what her thoughts were at the hospital the other day. She loves you, you know. She wants to make sure you're safe."
"But you are safe! It's not fair! She shouldn't be doing that." Donny's voice was rising along with his anger.
Fred's eyes looked steadily at Donny. He waited until Donny seemed to have control of his anger. "Donny, I think you know as well as I do why she's doing it. I can see it in your eyes. You don't like it, I don't like it, but we both know she's doing it out of love, nothing more. She's not trying to hurt you."
Donny's eyes looked away from Fred's. "I know. But I don't know what to do. I want her to understand. I'm trying so hard to figure out how to deal with stuff, instead of hiding. How do I make her understand?"
Fred took a long time before he answered. "Maybe we need to consider the possibility that you can't."
Donny began getting scared. "But what if she keeps us apart?"
"I don't know Donny. Right now, I honestly don't know." Fred's eyes weren't meeting Donny's after this. He just looked out of the classroom window, blinking rapidly.
* * *
It took some pleading but Donny managed to convince his mom to let him go to the track on Saturday with Mr. Crayson. His mom was being very protective and acting like he needed far more supervision than before his accident, and before she told him about her concerns regarding Mr. Dorian. Besides, she didn't see any point for him to go to the track since he couldn't race and couldn't even get around all that well. His mom still just didn't understand how important his racing was to him, much to Donny's disgust. But it was important to Donny to be there. He didn't really know why, he just felt like it was somewhere he needed to be, to feel some familiarity or something. Donny was waiting impatiently by the front window waiting for Mr. Crayson to arrive to pick him up. Finally he saw his old pick-up pull up to the house. He yelled goodbye to his mom and crutched his way as quickly as he could out the door and into his truck.
"Heya kiddo, how's the leg?" asked Mr. Crayson once Donny manged to get himself inside and his seatbelt on.
"It's fine. Doesn't even really hurt, it's just a pain to get around anywhere."
"Just what the hell were ya doin' riding on the streets anyway? I thought I knew ya better'n that," asked Mr. Crayson.
At Mr. Crayson's question Donny suddenly remembered that he hadn't talked to Mr. Crayson yet, and he didn't know about all of the past few day's drama.
Donny squirmed in his seat before answering, "Yeah, well, I thought I knew me better than that too. I was just real real mad. Wasn't thinking. It was stupid. I got home from school and mom said we were moving again and I freaked. I don't ever remember losing it like that before. It was weird. Anyway, now we might be staying but lots of things are still messed up."
"I'll say! Now look at ya!" Mr. Crayson's gaze was on Donny's bad leg. "How's yer bike?"
More squirming before Donny answered. He was carefully looking anywhere than directly at Mr. Crayson. "Um, well. It's...It's wrecked. Busted frame, busted crankcase. It's totalled. Mom got it taken to the metal recyclers."
Mr. Crayson looked over at Donny, shock on his face, "Hell Donny, what are ya gonna ride when yer leg gets better?"
Donny's voice was quiet now, his face almost expressionless. "Well. Nothing I guess. We don't have any money for a bike."
Several silent seconds went by before Mr. Crayson spoke again. His voice was almost as quiet as Donny's. "Does any of this have anything to do with that fella I met the other week? That teacher?"
Donny stole a glance over at Mr. Crayson. His face was carefully neutral. No help there. Donny figured he knew what he was asking, but he just didn't know enough about Mr. Crayson's feelings on the matter to give the answer he was looking for. Besides, it wasn't really the issue anyway. Well, not initially, and not directly.
"No, not really. Like I said, I got home from school and found out we were moving again. I just lost it for some reason. Kinda went beserk and took off before I knew what I was doing. You'd think I'd be used to it by now. I mean moving. But I was starting to feel happier here, starting to make friends." He had to stop. He was getting emotional again. He hated that. It seemed like every conversation he had lately led to him fighting to keep his emotions in check. He knew Mr. Crayson could hear it in his voice.
"Hey, it's ok Donny. I don' mean to pry. I was just worried about ya." He looked pointedly at Donny for a second before turning back to the road. "You've been through quite a lot lately."
Donny brooded for a moment, and then felt he could risk a comment. "I guess it was kinda about Fred. He was one of the friends I was talking about."
Donny looked over at Mr. Crayson one more time, trying to read his expression, figure out how much more he should say.
Donny decided to continue. He steeled his nerves before opening his mouth. "Mr. Crayson, I can tell from last week, when you met him, and from what you're asking now. You're worried about Fred. And because of what happened a few weeks ago, about everyone talking about me being gay. You're worried if he's trying to hurt me or take advantage of me. He's not, ok? He's not. At all. I promise."
Mr. Crayson let out a slow breath before talking. "Donny, yer right. I was worried. Still am, truth to be told. I don' care if you're gay...well, like I said, you know about my brother. If you're gay, that's not anything at all in my books. Now I'm not saying you are, you actually haven't said one way or the other and you don't have to. None of my business. From what I know, some kids, probably most, don' even know one way or the other yet at your age. My brother, he says he knew for sure when he was nine. I believe him. But this isn't like that. It's not even really about that. You hear so much about this kind of thing these days. Fred bein' an adult an' all. I jus' don' know what ter think." His inflection was getting stronger as he became more emotional, more uncomfortable.
Donny answered. He felt comfortable enough now for the truth. Well, at least some of the truth. "Mr. Crayson, it's ok. I know. I'm gay. I know for sure now. I didn't know for a long time, and then I knew but pretended I didn't for a real long time. I couldn't handle it. And then I met some people, and Fred. Now, it's different. Really. I can handle it now. I can even like it, like myself again. Fred and me, we talk a lot. He helps me understand stuff, and forces me really think things through rather than just reacting all over the place all the time."
"You promise me he's not hurtin' ya? Or doin' anything wrong or that you don' want?"
"I promise. He's kind, and I can talk to him, and I can be myself with him. I...Well, I love him. He's wonderful. I promise."
Bill Crayson looked over at Donny for a moment before returning his attention to the road. He was silent for several minutes. When he finally spoke again it was on a different subject.
"About yer bike. Lemme think on that for a bit Donny. I dunno, don't get any hopes up or anything, but lemme think on that a bit. Like I said, there's probably nothing I can do."
Donny glanced over at Mr. Crayson. Oh sure, don't get any hopes up, he thought. How was he supposed to do that after those comments. He tried really hard to keep his expression neutral.
Mr. Crayson glanced over at him and smiled slightly after seeing his face. "Donny, remember, don't think there's anything to this," Mr. Crayson said.
Whoops. Yet again Donny wished he'd learn to control his emotions better.
Mr. Crayson changed the subject yet again. "Donny, one more thing about Fred and then I'll let it go. I'll trust ya. I'm having some trouble with this though. It's hard for me to understand how this could be anything other than wrong, and I'm worried you'll get hurt, one way or another. But if you can promise me you'll talk to me if you need to, if you feel like yer getting' hurt, in any way, if you can promise me that, well, then I'll do my best to treat Fred, to talk to him and see him, for what he is. Your friend, a friend that you care about a lot. That's all I need to know. That's all I'd better know. If I'm wrong about this, I'll be real pissed Donny. At Fred fer sure, then at you, but mostly at myself. I hope to hell I'm not wrong. Can I have your promise about that? That you'll talk to me?"
Donny turned to him and gave him a warm and very sincere smile. "I promise. My best ever promise. Thanks Mr. Crayson."
They had arrived at the track and it took a few moments for Donny to get his crutches sorted out and manage to make his way across the gravel parking lot into the main building. Mr. Crayson had to go off and talk to some people so Donny was left on his own for a bit. Now that he was here, he wasn't quite sure what to do with himself. He figured he'd watch the first race and then make his way over to the training track and see how Ricky was doing.
The race was fun, but it wasn't the same just watching it. Not even close. He wanted to be out there. He found himself criticizing all of the riders near the end of the pack in his mind. He just kept thinking 'No, don't brake there you idiot. Shift! Shift!! Geez, what a retard.'
He turned his attention to the leaders, but that wasn't much fun either. Ryan Tiller was leading the race, what else was new, he seemed to be riding like he was pissed off at the world today, and the last thing Donny wanted to do was see him win and hear the small crowd cheer for him. Despite Ryan's bullying and and his horrible "entitled" attitude, Donny had to admit he was a awfully fine rider. He levered up onto his good leg, arranged his crutches under his arms, and made his slow way to the training track.
Once there, he stood nearby watching. The training area was a large area separated from the rest of the property by pylons. About half of it was paved and about half was a flat dirt track. There was various equipment around the area, ramps, tires, lumber, pylons, and other things.
There were four instructors and a group of twenty kids. He figured the youngest was maybe six or seven and the oldest was in his mid teens. All of them geared up in various mis-matching and mostly used or borrowed equipment. Their parents probably told them the same thing his had told him, a long time ago. "We'll see how it goes first, I'm not spending a bunch of money on stuff you'll never use." All except for one or two kids of course. There was always at least one. Some rich kid. All decked out in the latest and most expensive gear. Stuff most riders won't ever wear for real, because most riders already knew what the actual best and most comfortable stuff was, and often it wasn't the most expensive stuff. The bikes owned by the track were old, but servicable for the purpose they were being put to. They were either owned by the track or sometimes by the trainers, usually their kid's old bikes after they had grown out of them.
Donny stood leaning on his crutches watching, just at the edge of the paved area, where the kids were currently working on learning to control their bikes.
He saw Ricky, but Ricky was too busy to wave to him, probably hadn't even seen him yet. Most people probably would have been surprised by what the kids were working on already. Donny wasn't surprised. He knew how fast motivated kids on bikes could learn. And he knew how quickly the instructors pushed them to learn new things. Two hours in and already the kids were working on safely getting the bike over small obstacles. They were learning how to try and lighten up the front tire to raise it over a short piece of 2x4 lumber sitting on the ground. Donny knew they would be moving onto riding over car tires laid on the ground next. But a 2x4 was a safe way to start, it was small enough than when the kids didn't quite "get it" at first all they would do is end up bumping heavily over the lumber.
Donny moved closer, to where a few kids were lined up to take turns at the obstacle. Donny stood in front of the 2x4, watching. A kid, maybe nine or so, came up to the 2x4 slowly. Donny waited, watching, smiling to himself slightly, knowing what he was probably going to see. Sure enough, the kid tried to pull his wheel up the way he probably did on his bicycle at home when jumping a curb. He yanked back hard on the handlebars. The front tire bumped heavily over the board. Donny found that he couldn't stand there and do nothing. He waved at the boy to stop.
"You're trying to wheely like on your bicycle," Donny said after he had the kid's attention. He had to yell to be heard over the engine noises. "Remember, this isn't the same. It's way to heavy for that. Use the bike's engine and springs to do the work for you. Or your shoulders are going to kill you tomorrow."
Donny knew this was true. He remembered from long ago.
"Just before you get to the 2x4 push down hard on the handlebars. Down, not up. You want to compress the front springs. Then, quickly lean back a bit, move your butt back on the seat a bit maybe, and give it a bunch of gas. A good blip of the throttle. Your tire will sail right over that thing. The springs popping up and the engine will pull the tire right up. Try it."
These bikes were great to learn on, old, not very powerful and heavy. So there was almost no risk of a kid pulling the front wheel skyward and flipping over. A great way to get the feel for things before moving on to more sensitive, and dangerous, bikes.
Donny waved at the other kids in line to hold up so the kid could give it another try. He noticed that for some reason they were all watching him. Listening. They obeyed, waiting so the boy could give it another go, even the kids older than him. It wasn't until quite a bit later that Donny realized how strange that was.
The boy circled around, approached the board almost at a walking pace, glanced up at Donny, and then did his best to follow Donny's instructions. It wasn't perfect, but this time he got the tire off the ground. The front tire cleared the 2x4 by a good two inches. Donny smiled and cheered.
"Beautiful!" he yelled. "Now you got it. Way to go!" Donny pumped a fist. He almost felt like it was himself that just succeeded, and he found himself grinning in reaction to the boy's smile at his success.
The boy, beaming, circled around to the back of the line. The next boy, a kid maybe twelve or thirteen, started his approach. He too glanced at Donny before hitting the 2x4. He had obviously been listening to Donny as well. He cleared it easily, and immediately turned to Donny and gave him the thumbs up as Donny cheered at him too, just as boisterously, before the boy turned back towards the back of the line.
The next boy had a bit more trouble. But it wasn't that bad, and the kid was young, only six or seven years old. He had a fiery determination though, and a natural ease on his bike that made Donny think he'd be great after a bit of practice. Donny made him go over it again waving to the next kid in line to hold up. Once again, the boys in line obeyed without questioning. Again, Donny didn't even think about this until later. After a few instructions and encouragement, this time that boy too cleared it without a problem.
"You guys are awesome!" Donny yelled over the sounds of the bikes. "One more time!"
The boys each took another turn. Every one of them clearing the 2x4 easily. While Donny was congratulating the last boy and giving a couple of minor pointers of things he noticed, he looked up to see Henry, the head instructor, watching him.
Donny felt embarrassed suddenly. He probably wasn't supposed to be here, for sure he wasn't supposed to be acting like he was an instructor or something. His face reddened and he started to turn away, intending to go back to the main track.
Just then, Henry blew the loud whistle that told the riders to come in and turn off their bikes so they could listen. Donny changed his mind, his curiousity kept him very near, behind the group of new riders, wondering what Henry was going to say to them.
Henry spoke. "Ok guys, nicely done out there. Almost everyone seemed to get it, especially one group." Henry glanced towards Donny, making him redden once again. "Ok, up next, we're gonna try some figure eights. You guys have seen the painted lines on the pavement out there. I know, they look way, way too small, too tight to do on these big heavy motorbikes. Guess what, they're not. Watch."
One of the other instructors made a point of getting on his large heavy street bike. A 1000 cc Honda. Far larger and much heavier than any of the small dirt bikes the boys were on. He then proceeded to maneuver around the tight figure eight, standing up on the footpegs and leaning hard to get the bike to go where he wanted, feathering the clutch and throttle to get the speed and balance he needed.
Henry blew his whistle and got the kid's attention again after they were done clapping at the instructor's feat. "Ok, if a two hundred and fifty pound guy can do it on a five hundred pound street bike, most of you guys should be able to do it easy on these light, short dirt bikes. Now, we're going to break up into groups. Four kids with each instructor. They'll explain what to do and then I want all of you to give it a try.
Donny was only half listening. He wanted to watch the kids try the figure eights for the first time. That was always fun, watching them go way wide the first time through. Then something odd struck him as Henry was naming which kids would go with which instructor. Four kids with each? He counted, and smiled to himself, wondering when Henry was going to realize his mistake and have to backtrack.
Henry was still assigning groups. "Finally, Ricky, Ashton, Larry and Carson. You guys are with Donny over there.
Huh? Donny looked up to see Henry pointing in his direction and four kids moving their bikes towards him. Henry was smiling broadly, obviously enjoying Donny's confusion. Donny just stared back at him until he saw Henry nod at him once, then turn away to his own group. Donny looked around. Four boys were watching him. His friend Ricky was grinning, obviously at least half-understanding what had just happened.
"Um, right." Donny suddenly felt awkward. This wasn't like before, with the 2x4. Now he was actually supposed to teach these guys something. He wasn't prepared at all. What the hell could he teach 'em? What did he know? He was a just a kid, younger than some of these kids here!
He kind of shook himself. Well, if he was here anyway, he might as well give it his best effort. Still not as good as racing, but definitely better than sitting back there watching Ryan Tiller get all the glory again.
"Ok, guys. Listen up." He heard his own voice starting to sound confident again. Well, why not? He knew this stuff. "Here's what we're gonna do. I'll bet we can show up every other kid here within five minutes. Every one of you is going to do this in turn. Here's how you're going to do it..."
Donny explained what to do. How to make the bike do the work, how to stand up and squeeze the gas tank between your knees for better control, how to lean and shift and use your weight to make the bike do what you want, convince it that it wants to, how to feather the throttle and clutch to help turn and balance, to keep the speed at just the right spot.
It took more than five minutes, maybe closer to ten or fifteen, but he watched, finally, as his group of boys each, one after the other, did the tight figure eight almost perfectly. He high fived them all, told them how great they were, and then turned towards Henry, catching his eye. Donny grinned at him from across the training area, raised his eyebrows, put his hands on his hips as best he could around his crutches, and smiled cockily as if to say, "So there!"
Donny was having fun. They worked for another two hours, trying new things, teaching, laughing, encouraging. At the end of the session was a contest. Each group would go through a kind of course, trying out almost everything they had learned today. Slalom, obstacles, figure eights, tight turns, and a ramp. The group that did it the best, with the fewest errors, would get free coupons for a slushee.
Donny was cheering and high-fiving his group as best he could without dropping his crutches after they won handily.
Afterwards, they all moved off to find their respective parents and take off their sweaty gear. Donny stood there feeling rather satisfied with himself and watched Henry approach him.
"Nicely done Donny. Sorry for the little set-up there, surprising you like that. After watching you help with the obstacles I figured you were good for it. One of our instructors quit a couple of days ago, and we were shorthanded. Listen, can you be here next week again? This time from the beginning. It doesn't do for our instructors to wander in late."
"Umm. I guess." Donny shook his head slightly, frustrated at himself. He wanted to sound a bit more confident than that. He looked up at Henry, this time meeting his eyes steadily. "Sure. Next week. I'll be here, as long as I can get a ride. I'll let you know for sure by Tuesday at the latest." He smiled at Henry and turned away, looking for Mr. Crayson.
"Hang on Donny, you don't want to forget this," said Henry, forcing Donny to turn back again.
Donny looked at Henry's hand. He was holding four twenty dollar bills towards him.
Donny looked up at Henry's eyes and waited for the punchline. Not quite sure what he was supposed to do.
"Well, come on, I don't have all day. Take it. Sixty bucks per instructor per session, except for racers or former racers. They get eighty. Now come on, I've got to pay the other guys too." Henry smiled at Donny, obviously enjoying Donny's confusion.
Donny reached for the money slowly, wondering if it would be snatched away before he touched it. Soon it was in his hands. "Uh, thanks! Thanks a lot!!"
"It's the other way around Donny. You're a hell of a teacher. Those kids listened to you like you've been doing that for years. You know your stuff. Good work, and thank you. Very much."
Henry then turned and walked away.
Donny stood staring at the money for a minute before giggling to himself, stuffing it in his pocket and shuffling off on his crutches to find Mr. Crayson.
* * *
"...and I even got paid for it!" Donny was just finishing telling Mr. Crayson what he had managed to find to do at the track today while they were driving back. Mr. Crayson was chuckling, which of course for Mr. Crayson, meant it was even louder than his old rickety noisy pick-up truck bumping down the freeway.
"That's great Donny! I'd be happy to give ya a ride next week if yer mom can't. Good on ya!"
Donny quieted down and enjoyed the ride for the next few minutes when a thought occurred to him.
"Um, Mr. Crayson?"
Mr. Crayson turned at looked at Donny, noting his tone of voice. "What is it Donny?"
"Well. I was wondering. Could you maybe help me a bit? Talk with my mom? About Fred?"
Donny saw Mr. Crayson's look, thought he was going to start shaking his head. He hurried to continue.
"Please! I want...I need her to understand. I have to be able to see him, to spend time with him. It means everything to me! She doesn't get it," Donny pleaded.
Bill took a few seconds before answering. "Donny, I'm not even sure that I get it either." He turned to look at Donny's face. "Ok, I'll talk to her. But I'm not gonna get drawn into this Donny. I'll say my piece and then go. Your mom is gonna do what she thinks is right, either way. Best I can offer. Ok?"
Donny smiled weakly. "Ok, thanks Mr. Crayson."
Donny was kind of liking this 'take things head on' approach he was trying. It seemed he was getting way more stuff done, and way more quickly, than when he used to hide and avoid.
* * *
"The problem is, Donny, as far as most of the world is concerned, she's right."
Donny heard Fred's words and thought about his own response. They were sitting in the same ice-cream shop, at the same high table, as the day they had met. Donny's mom had allowed limited contact, only in public, after a short discussion with Mr. Crayson and a much longer one with Donny. They had argued, they had fought. Finally, they had a real discussion. Donny had done his best not to pout, or yell, or brood, or become angry. He really tried hard. He tried to listen, to explain. He almost succeeded too, just slipping up once or twice with his voice tone. Still, he was pretty proud of himself. When he did catch himself pouting or starting to yell he managed to stop and actually apologize to his mom before trying to make his point in a different way. Fred had given him that idea.
Strangely, Donny thought, that had seemed to make the difference. He was as honest as he could be about his feelings, leaving out the physical parts of their relationship, and especially leaving out his hopes for more of the physical part of their relationship. He wasn't trying to hide that, not really, well, ok, maybe he was, but he just somehow just didn't think it was any of her business.
He told his mom about why he had been alone so long, why he didn't have any friends for such a long time. His fears, and his hurts. He explained how he had begun to take risks again, and how Fred had supported him and listened to him and tried to steer him. In the end, it was the best, the most honest, conversation Donny remembered having with his mom in a long, long time.
So, here they were, at the ice cream shop, on Sunday afternoon. Talking. Just talking. It was nice, but Donny couldn't help wanting more. Still, it was better than before. He pulled his attention back to what Fred was saying, about how the world would view their relationship.
Donny finally replied, "Maybe that's what everyone thinks, but that doesn't make it true. Maybe it's true for most people. It's not true for me though. For us."
"What if it is true though? No, no...don't interrupt. Just listen for a minute. What if that's what a lot of kids think, at first? If they're in this kind of situation. And what if you end up changing your mind later, when you're older? What if you end up in twenty years hating me and feeling like you're were taken advantage of, feeling like you were abused? Donny, I don't want that. I couldn't handle that."
Donny asked, "Well, if that's true, why did we already do stuff?"
Fred looked around the shop quickly. "Shh, keep your voice down. Maybe this isn't the place for this conversation, but I guess we don't have much choice right now. Donny, I'm not sure I can answer that. I don't have all the answers you know. Maybe we shouldn't have done anything. I didn't regret it at the time. Don't regret it now. But that doesn't mean I don't worry about it too. Maybe you don't really know yet what you want."
"Well, I don't know how I know, but I just know. I won't change my mind. I won't feel different when I'm older. Maybe I would if this were different. If I wasn't sure, if I was confused and you tried to make up my mind for me. But I am sure. I'm sure that I'm sure. You're not trying to influence me to do what I don't want. It's not like that. In fact, it's almost the other way around." Donny stopped talking and shifted his splinted leg from the chair it was propped up on to the floor. "Fred, I liked it. A lot. It's not wrong. Not for me. But if you don't want to, then we won't. 'Cause then it's not gonna be any fun anyway. You're just gonna be worried every second that you're going to traumatize me." He rolled his eyes as he said this, making sure that Fred saw it.
Fred laughed quietly. "Oh, believe me, I want to. I think about you all the time. I don't mean just that way. I mean I think about you. I was so worried when you got lost. I thought I was going to lose you. Donny, I knew right then, with no doubts, that I love you.
Donny grinned. "I think that's the first time you told me that. Guess what? I love you too Fred." He looked steadily at Fred and for some reason, he didn't even blush.
Donny continued, "That's why it's not wrong Fred. To do stuff I mean. It doesn't feel wrong, it just feels like another way to say I love you."
"That's how it's supposed to be Donny. That's the only way it should ever be," was Fred's quiet answer.
* * *
Donny's splint had finally been replaced by a walking cast. No more crutches! It had been three weeks since the accident, and it would be another two at least before the cast would be removed. Then there would be some physiotherapy work to regain strength and joint flexibility. The time was going much too slowly.
Despite his mom's concerns about Fred, she had allowed more contact and had slacked off to some degree on her level of protectiveness and supervision. As a result they had been able to steal a few moments together here and there, just enough for some much needed hugging, kissing, and cuddling. Donny wanted more of course, but somehow right now that was almost enough. Donny found in the past few days and weeks that he was more open, more relaxed, and that he smiled more. Of course, that changed how people talked to him too, and his circle of friends at school was steadily growing.
He was still helping to instruct the new riders at the track each weekend. He didn't think he'd enjoy it as much as he did but he found it was fun. He discovered how satisfying it was watching someone succeed at something difficult after he had helped them with it. He found he could enjoy their success almost as much as they did, and that it was a heck of a lot of fun to share that.
Donny was glad that he could move around on his cast without the crutches now, it made it so much easier. He was sitting in the small dingy cafeteria at the track after the training session sipping a coke and waiting for Fred to pick him up for the ride home. That in itself was another miracle, his mom allowing Fred to drive him home. The cafeteria wasn't large, only ten tables or so, and it looked like anyone would expect a cafeteria to look like at a local dirt track. It was scruffy, worn, not quite dirty, but almost. Very casual with cheap wood paneled walls, ancient light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, not really needed during the day with the bright sun shining through the large windows on both sides. Racing posters and advertising all over the place. Self serve lineup at one end where you pushed your tray through the selections to the casheir at the end before finding a seat. Donny took another sip of his coke. He had a smile on his face as he remembered how proud Carson had been today after he had finally made the jump he was working on. A smile that vanished in a puff of smoke when the chair opposite him was suddenly occupied by none other than Ryan Tiller.
"You're a fucking asshole Donny," said Ryan.
A lovely and pleasant conversation starter thought Donny. Now how to respond? Lots of clever and not so clever retorts sprung to mind, but none of them seemed worth the effort. He wasn't even feeling scared, or worried. Just annoyed. And a little bit confused about why he wasn't scared or worried. He decided to say nothing, to just look at him and see what he wanted.
"I mean, here you are, thinking you're King Shit around here, that if you can't race you'll be an instructor and suck up to everyone so hard they'll all be talking about you like you're some kind of little hero. It's sickening. And by suck up, with you being a fag and all, I think we both know what we're talking about here. I'll bet your mouth is sore after the last few weeks, isn't it?" Ryan finally tailed off.
Ok, that's interesting. Funny how not being scared meant he could pay more attention to things, to what Ryan wasn't saying as well as what he was saying. Beneath all of that bluster Donny realized that Ryan was jealous. Of him. The privileged rich kid who always won and had the best of everything, jealous of the bikeless kid with a busted leg who's family had no money. He wondered if he had slipped into an episode of the twilight zone or something.
Not only that, but Ryan was sitting here talking to him. That meant something else too, other than jealousy. That meant he wanted something. From him. If Ryan had just wanted to insult him he would've done that and walked on by. He was surprised at himself for figuring all this out in just a few seconds, but he wasn't sure how it really helped. He didn't know what to do about any of it. So, he waited some more. He still didn't say anything.
"Great. You can't talk anymore either. That along with the fact that you're a stupid prick with a busted leg who can't even race right now and give me some decent competition out there."
More and more interesting, thought Donny. Somewhere buried deep in that vitriol Donny could swear he spied a compliment. From Ryan Tiller of all people. And his voice tone was all wrong. It wasn't a bullying or mean voice. It was at best a half hearted attempt at being mean. But there was more too, something else underneath all that. It was almost like Ryan actually wanted a conversation but didn't have the faintest clue how to have one with him. Well, Donny supposed, maybe he didn't. Time for him to say something he figured. The direct approach seemed to be pretty successful lately.
"What do you want Ryan?"
This seemed to surprise Ryan. He looked like he hadn't been expecting that. He'd probably been expecting him to cry and run or cower in fear. It took him a few seconds before he gave an answer.
"What do I want? Nothing from you twerp. I'm just wondering what the hell you have to be smiling about. Your bike is wrecked. Your leg is busted. You don't got any friends. And you'll never have anyone that cares about you," Ryan said.
"Well, I guess you're half right Ryan," is all Donny answered. He even started to smile again, just a tiny bit.
Ryan's eyes narrowed and he crossed his arms on the table and put his chin down on them, looking at Donny. Again, Donny had surprised him. If he was judging Ryan's expression correctly.
"You're supposed to be miserable. Fags are supposed to be miserable forever," Ryan said.
Donny thought about this odd comment. What was he getting at? And just what was the look he thought he saw on Ryan's face for a second? Something else occurred to Donny.
"Where's Shaun?" asked Donny. It was unusual to see Ryan without his ever present tagalong behind him.
This time, Donny got a noticable reaction. Ryan looked down and away for a second, and he could see Ryan's jaw clench hard for a second.
"None of your fucking business Donny!"
That hit a nerve. Donny knew he was finally getting somewhere, getting closer to the reason Ryan was sitting here in the first place. He just still couldn't figure out at all where this was heading.
Just then he saw Fred enter the cafeteria and swing his head around looking for Donny. Fred's eyes met Donny's and Fred smiled. Donny then saw that the smile vanished as he noticed Ryan sitting there. Donny had told Fred all about their previous interactions and had pointed him out once or twice. Fred began walking faster towards the table. Donny tried to wave him off without Ryan noticing. It must have worked. Fred stopped, a quizzical expression on his face. Donny nodded subtly to Fred, and tried for a "yes, I'm sure" expression. Fred shrugged and sat down at an empty table some distance away, obviously watching carefully to make sure Donny was ok.
Donny didn't even know why he had done that. Why he wanted this conversation to continue. It was so strange to be talking with Ryan at all, never mind to actually be prolonging a conversation. He just knew there was more, somehow. And for some reason, it seemed important.
He tried hard to think, to figure something out, what to say.
"Something happened," is what Donny came up with after a few seconds.
"Yeah, something fucking happened!" Ryan stopped at that.
Donny saw Ryan's jaw clench hard again, his body tense. Maybe his eyes were slightly moist? Donny knew that look. It was exactly how he imagined he looked when he was trying very, very hard to control his emotions. To not cry.
Ok, Donny knew he wasn't a genius like Ray, but even he could add two and two. Ryan wanted to talk to him. The gay kid. Even though he obviously didn't have a clue how to go about it. Ryan was upset. Something happened with or about Shaun. All that kind of narrowed the possibilities a bit. But there was still too many. He didn't want to make any assumptions and get burned.
One more time with the direct approach. "Look, I don't want to make any assumptions here Ryan. But something's going on. I dunno what, and it's probably none of my business. Maybe though, just maybe you're sitting here because you want to ask me something. Or maybe not. Maybe your watch alarm went off and it was bullying time, so you sat down."
Maybe he shouldn't have added the last part. Ryan bristled and almost got up to leave. Then, another expression Donny hadn't seen before on Ryan's face. It looked maybe like guilt. Ryan settled himself down again, but he still looked tense.
"His parents. They sent him away," Ryan said.
"Away where?" asked Donny.
"To some camp or something." Ryan's voice was sullen. Maybe even...sad?
Donny was confused. Why was this a big deal? With the money these guys had it was probably on some private tropical island somewhere.
"So, what then? You guys are rich, right? It's probably cool. Jet skis and beaches and gourmet food and skeet shooting probably. I don't get it," Donny said.
Ryan shook his head. "Just 'cause my family has money doesn't mean everything's perfect Donny. Believe me, far from it. Shaun didn't want to go you idiot. He was forced to go. And it's not some some resort thing. They sent him away to get fixed."
For half a second Donny had visions of a dog getting fixed and then realized that couldn't be it. Then another thought finally occurred to him. Oh shit.
"Fixed. Like, changed? They're gonna try and make him so he doesn't like the wrong thing? So he likes the right kind of people instead?" That awkward phrasing was the best way Donny could figure out to ask that without saying what he was thinking.
"Yeah. So he's not...so he's not gay. Like you. Like..." This time Ryan's control escaped him. A few tears started falling slowly and he sobbed once as he finished, so quiet Donny could barely here him. "...like me."
This just was not how conversations with Ryan Tiller were supposed to go. Suddenly he wasn't a bully anymore. He was just a kid. A kid who was hurting badly. And Donny had absolutely no idea what he could, or should, do about it.