25: TWO ROOMS AT THE END OF THE WORLD
August was hot. Too damn hot.
And that's why we had been in the pool in Cody's backyard almost
every afternoon. The pool was a recent addition, but it hadn't been
installed for the specific purpose of giving Cody and his friends a
place to cool off during the summer. Tatyana was pregnant, and she
didn't believe in giving birth in the traditional manner. Instead, she
on delivering the baby in water. If she wanted to do that, I didn't see
couldn't have just done it in the bathtub. I also wasn't sure what
effect the chlorine
in the pool might have on a newborn baby, but I wasn't about to go
questioning Tatyana's eccentricities.
What was even odder, though, was that Cody didn't know who the
father was, nor did he seem to
care. In fact, I didn't know anything about Cody's own father. Had he
also just been some nameless sperm donor like this one seemed to be?
And even though she was only one month pregnant, Tatyana was convinced
that the baby was going to be a boy, and she'd already picked out a
name -- Alexei. She said it was a good Russian name. I asked Cody why
he didn't have a Russian name as well. He told me that he did (although
he didn't tell me what it was), but that he'd taken it upon himself to
change it to Cody when he was nine.
Strange family! I thought to
The swimming pool was really nice, though, and didn't detract at all
from the beautiful Japanese-style gardens that Tatyana and Cody had
created in their huge backyard. It
was complete with wooden
walkways, a small wooden bridge that extended over a miniature pond --
with large, orange carp, frogs, and water lilies -- and a rock garden. And it being
summertime, the flowers and plants were in full bloom. It was
truly breathtaking and very tranquil.
At any rate, Toby, Cody, the twins, Delcondris, Tuwanda, Natalie, and I
were all swimming in the pool
one afternoon, as had been our habit ever since the temperature had
so intolerable. It was the first time the whole group had been together
since Mikey's funeral. Even Dominic and Ryan had come along, too. On
the one hand,
I was glad
that Ryan was rejoining the rest of the world, but on the other,
was a bit awkward, mostly because Ryan knew about me and Ben. I
didn't know how I was supposed to act with Ben while Ryan was around.
Would it be inappropriate to hug and kiss him? What about holding
hands? We weren't really into the public displays of affection, but
occasionally we forgot that other people were around, and I didn't want
to upset Ryan or anything if he happened to see Ben and me playing a
Ever since our little talk right after Ryan got back from baseball
made what I thought was a serious effort to be nice to me. I wouldn't
say that we were exactly the best of friends again, but there was
progress. I didn't want
anything to screw that up, and I hoped he could handle my being with
Ben now. He'd said he was happy for me, although with Ryan, it was
hard to tell what he was really feeling. Ryan and Ben didn't say much
to each other, but I didn't
notice any dirty looks passed between the two of them, and no fist
fights or anything broke out while we were messing around in Cody's
pool, so I figured
that was a good sign.
As for Dominic, I was really glad that he'd decided to hang out
with us. None of us had seen him since the memorial service for Mikey,
and I had been worried
about him. I could have called him, I suppose, but the period of time
right after Mikey passed away wasn't exactly easy. Despite the
heat, being the good Goth boy that he was,
Dominic came dressed in all black -- black jeans, black t-shirt, black
spiked dog collar, and even black eye-liner. I was disappointed,
because I wanted him to join us in the pool, and it didn't appear as
though he was dressed for the occasion.
I was about to see if Cody
had an extra swim suit that Dominic could borrow, even though Cody was
quite a bit smaller, but then I got quite a surprise when Dominic
his clothes to reveal a swim suit underneath -- black, of course. I was
also surprised at how hot he looked without his clothes on. I'd figured
Goth boys tended to be on the pale side, but he had a really nice tan.
He said he got it from working outside with his dad doing construction
during the summer. I also noticed that he had both of his nipples and
belly button pierced, and a tattoo of what appeared to be a cross
between a sun and a ninja throwing star around his navel. Other than my
earring, I'd never considered getting anything else pierced, but I had
to admit, Dominic looked totally hot!
Cody had set up his stereo system outside, and it was blaring some of
my favorite music -- classic rock -- as well as some more recent
dance music (which I'd never really gotten into). Everyone was loud and
rambunctious, running around the yard, playing frisbee, splashing
around in the pool, and just having a great time. Even Tatyana --
dressed up as an Egyptian queen, and referring to herself as
"Cleopatra" -- was floating around the backyard, doing something
that looked like Madonna's "Vogue" dancing. It was a peculiar sight.
As the sun rose higher in the sky and the temperature became
increasingly unbearable, everyone ended up in the pool, and we started
up a game of "Marco Polo."
"MARCO!" Cody shouted.
"POLO!" the rest of us yelled back in unison.
"Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!" Cody shouted, in what sounded like a shrill war
cry, as he bounded through the water toward me.
Before I knew what hit me, Cody had grabbed ahold of me and pushed me
under the water, thereby making me "it" in our little game. However,
when I came back to the surface, sputtering water, I realized that
they'd gotten me again ... the little bastard had stolen my swim suit!
Unfortunately, unlike Toby at the water park, Cody jumped right out of
the pool with my shorts and ran around the backyard like a
wild man, swinging them around like a lasso and screaming his head off.
If I hadn't been naked and totally embarrassed, I might have enjoyed
the sight of Cody scampering around in his tiny pair of white Speedos.
at that moment, I was just hoping that a shotgun would miraculously
fall from the sky so I could shoot the little bastard.
I was so bewildered by Cody's inexplicably immature behavior, I didn't
stop to think that it might be even more embarrassing to chase him
around the yard, buck naked, rather than just waiting in
the pool until he'd finished having his fun. It took the whistles and
catcalls from the other guys to bring me crashing back down to reality.
And as I chased after Cody,
the best I could do was cover my crotch with one hand and my ass with
the other. I was absolutely
mortified. The fact that there were girls
staring at my bare ass didn't make it any easier, either.
The next thing I knew, I felt a pair of strong arms grab me, and I was
unceremoniously tossed over someone's shoulder. It was Ben. He then
proceeded to start smacking my butt, and before long, the others had
lined up and were taking turns swatting me. They weren't hitting me
hard, but something about being forcibly held like that, naked and
vulnerable, touched a nerve.
I started to panic.
Then I started to scream and thrash around wildly, kicking and hitting
anything within range.
Maybe they thought I was just playing, because they kept up their
"Put him down, dammit!" I heard Ryan's voice. He sounded extremely
Within moments, I felt Ben set me down, but by that time, I was in the
midst of a full-blown panic attack.
"Connor, are you okay?" Ben asked, putting his hand on my shoulder.
"Don't touch me!" I shouted, slapping his hand away, before dropping to
the ground and curling up into a little ball.
I was really starting to freak out now. Not only had Ben's grabbing me
and swatting me on the butt set me off, but being naked in front of
all those people, and everyone seeing me having
a panic attack -- something that only Ryan and Toby had witnessed
before -- made it much worse. I was totally embarrassed and
ashamed. Now everyone was going to see how much of a freak I was! I'd
made so much progress over the past few months, and my episodes
had become few and far between. Why
was this happening again now?
I heard worried voices all around me, but I couldn't make out whose
they were. As I lay there on the ground, trembling and
whimpering, I suddenly felt a pair of strong arms holding me. I wasn't
sure who it was, since my eyes were clenched shut, but something seemed
so familiar ... like the scent of strawberries and Irish Spring soap.
But, for some reason, I
couldn't place it. I knew it made me feel better, though ... safer,
then felt another pair of hands helping to put my shorts back on.
"Connor, what's wrong?" I heard a male voice asking.
"He's having a panic attack, stupid!"
"What should we do? Does he need an ambulance or something?"
"Just be quiet and back off! He'll be fine in a few minutes."
Within a few minutes, my breathing had returned to normal, my panic
mostly subsided. Now I was just left with the shame and embarrassment
of being seen in that condition. Once I'd calmed down enough and was
able to sit up and open my eyes, I saw everyone gathered around me.
Some of them looked
concerned, while others appeared confused.
But before anyone could say anything to me, I bolted. I had to get out
of there. So, I quickly found the rest of my clothes and got dressed.
Ben tried to stop me and talk to me, but I had to get out of there. I
ignored him as I finished getting dressed, and then headed to my car as
quickly as possible. I didn't know how I could face any of them ever
again. Months of steady progress now seemed to have all gone down the
As I charged through the front door,
I saw that Maggie was there, much to my chagrin. I simply brushed past
her in the
hallway and ran upstairs to my room. I heard her calling after me,
but I wasn't particularly in the mood to talk with her. Unfortunately,
after locking myself in my room, I heard Maggie knocking on my door.
"Connor, open the door," she said. "What's going on with you?"
"I'm fine. Just leave me alone," I groaned.
"Connor, open up now," she repeated, her voice starting to grow
agitated. "Don't make me get the screwdriver and take the door off its
That was something I definitely didn't want happening. I loved my door.
But it also pissed me off that she would even consider doing something
like that, invading my privacy. If I wanted to be left alone, why
couldn't she just leave me alone?
"Fine," I sighed, then walked over to the door and let her in.
"What on earth is going on with you, Connor?" she asked. I couldn't
tell if she was angry or worried.
"I just had a little anxiety attack. I'm fine now," I replied.
"It's not just that, Connor," she continued. "There's been a lot of
tension around here for the past couple of months, and not all of it
has been Ryan's fault. I want to know what is going on with you. Why
have you become so stand-offish with me?"
I really didn't want to get into this right now, but she had me backed
into a proverbial corner. So, now I was going to settle this problem
once and for all. I just hoped I could control my temper.
I didn't want to get into a fight or shouting match. All I wanted was
be left alone for a little while. Sure, I'd had a slight panic attack,
but I was fine now -- well, maybe still a bit upset about what had
happened -- but I didn't need to be babied or talked down to like I was
a little kid.
"Look, Maggie," I began. "I'm very grateful for everything you've done
for me. You've given me a place to live, bought me all kinds of things,
and helped me out a lot. I'll always be thankful for that."
"Well, I'm glad you finally noticed that, Connor," Maggie said, with a
sarcastic edge to her voice.
"I just don't know if this is working out. I'm not used to being
'mothered,' and I don't like it. It makes me feel uncomfortable, and,
frankly, sometimes it just pisses me off. I've talked with Dr. Frazier
about it, and he said that a lot of it has to do with my past
experiences with my mother. I'm not trying to make excuses or anything,
but ... maybe it would be better if I just moved out."
"Connor, that's just ridiculous," Maggie laughed. "I've told you
repeatedly that we want you
to be here. All of us want you to be here."
"See, that's what I don't like," I pointed out, my temper bubbling just
beneath the surface. "You talk down to me, and I don't like it. I've
always been able to take care of myself and that's what I'm used to. I
think maybe you should pay a bit more attention to your own two sons,
who haven't exactly been all peachy over the past couple of months, and
stop picking on me."
She most certainly looked upset by that comment. I hoped I wasn't being
harsh, but I hadn't been in the mood to have this conversation with her
to begin with.
Maybe it would have gone differently if she'd approached me at a
different time. But she insisted on pushing me. Definitely not a good
"I think that was uncalled for, Connor," she replied through gritted
teeth. "And I don't see how I've been picking on you. But we do need to
come up with some kind of solution here. I don't
want you to leave. I've made that clear from the beginning. So what do
you propose we do about this tension between us?"
"How about you start keeping the checks that the State sends every
month," I suggested. "Between my social security checks and the money I
make at my job, I'm doing okay. And I'd like to start paying you rent
and pay you back for the things you've bought me. I've done everything
I've been asked to do. I've kept up with my appointments with Dr.
Frazier, not missing a single one. I've done everything he's suggested,
including taking all of my meds. I've got my friends for support, too.
I took care of Toby when he was sick, I've tried to help Ryan as much
as I can, especially since you weren't around to do those things. I
don't get in trouble, I get good grades, and I think I'm pretty damn
responsible. I just want to be left alone."
"You're only sixteen, Connor," Maggie pointed out.
"And you don't think I'm more mature than most guys my age?" I retorted.
"Yes, you are," Maggie agreed with a sigh. "But that still doesn't
change the fact that you're a minor and I'm your legal guardian."
"Well, I think my suggestion was very fair. And if I start screwing up,
then I won't complain if you want to step in and 'mother' me. But as
long as I'm doing well, which I have been, why can't you just cut me
"I hardly see you as it is, Connor," Maggie interjected. "So I don't
see what the big deal is."
"Maybe that should tell you something," I muttered, but loud enough for
her to hear.
Maggie's face turned bright red, and it was obvious that I'd pushed
"Okay, Connor, you win," she sighed. "If you're going to insist on it,
you can pay me fifty dollars per month in rent, and take care of
all of your own expenses. But I'm still going to insist that you take
the check from the State every month. You don't know yet whether or not
you'll be able to continue at your job once school starts again. I
don't want you to try paying me back for the gifts I've given you,
either. Unless I feel that you're having problems, I'll let you make
your own decisions, although I'd say you're already a heck of a lot
more independent than other kids your age. I
know that you have a 'mother complex,' so I'm trying to be as
accommodating as possible. Just, at least, please try to be civil."
"Thank you," I said. "But I still want to pay you back. If you won't
take the money now, then I'll give it to you when I turn eighteen."
"I can't say that I'm happy about this," she replied, sounding
exasperated. "I wish we
could find some way to get along better, and try to be a nice, happy
"Be a good mother to Ryan and Toby first," I said. "Then maybe I'll
feel better about things."
Maggie looked stunned when I said that, and for a moment, she looked
like she was about to tear my head off. But then she just sighed and
walked away. Maybe it was a bit too precocious of me to say something
like that to her, but I needed her to know how I felt. I wasn't a big
believer in her notion of a "happy family." The only families I'd seen
were ones where the parents either abused their kids, or tried to
control them and make them think and act just like them. Parents always
seemed to be harping on "respect," but most didn't seem to realize that
respect was a two-way street. If the parents didn't respect the kids,
why should the kids respect their parents?
At any rate, it wasn't exactly a "happy" resolution, but I felt
like the issue had been settled for now. The bottom line, though, was
that I would have felt much more
independent and happy if I was supporting myself completely. I'd proven
that I could not
only take care of myself, but others as well. If I'd had the money or
energy to file for emancipation, I probably could have won. But it was
just too much of a hassle. Plus, I didn't want to move away from Toby
... and I guess I didn't want to move away from Ryan yet, either. So,
this was the best solution I could come up with. And as long as Maggie
didn't push me anymore, things would probably be better. With her
continuing to work a hectic schedule at the hospital, at least I
wouldn't have to cross paths with her that much ... I hoped.
The next day at work, I had a
steady stream of visitors coming to see how I was feeling. To tell the
truth, I felt a little uncomfortable, because not only had everyone
seen me have
severe panic attack, they all saw me naked. I felt like
a fool, and I wished I could just crawl under a rock and hide. I
couldn't stay mad at them, though. They were just teenagers, after all,
and I knew that they wouldn't have done that to me if they'd known what
the result would be. So, what was the point of carrying a grudge? It
wouldn't change anything, anyway.
Ben was the first to come see me, and asked if I had a few minutes to
talk with him. I hadn't answered his phone calls the night before. I'd
just locked myself up in my room, hoping that I would wake up and it
would have all just been a horrible nightmare. But it wasn't. And now I
had to face my embarrassment and shame. I was a little angry at Ben for
having put me in that position, even though he couldn't have known that
I would flip out like that. I actually felt more embarrassed
than angry, because I was afraid that after he saw how much of a freak
I was, he wouldn't want to be with me anymore. Maybe that's why Ryan
broke up with me in the first place, because he was tired of being with
someone like me ... a total wuss. A loser.
"So, do you have a few minutes so we can talk?" he asked.
"Sure," I said, looking at my watch. "I can take my lunch break now, I
"Great," he replied, with a look of relief. "Let's go to that little
shop next to the movie theater."
I nodded in agreement, and we headed toward the other side of the mall,
not saying a word to each other as we dodged the throngs of summer
shoppers and made our way to the tea shop. It was a small, quaint
little place, decorated in a Middle Eastern motif. The owner was an
older man who had immigrated from Iran years and years ago. It wasn't a
popular spot with the younger crowd because of the high
prices -- it was some kind of special imported tea or something. I
wasn't exactly a tea expert, so I wasn't sure. But we chose it because
it was likely to be pretty empty. The
tea shop was dimly lit, the walls were draped with ornate Persian rugs,
the whole place was filled with the aroma of mint tea and the soft
sounds of Sufi music. It was a very tranquil atmosphere, and the owner
was friendly and talkative.
Once we were seated and
had ordered our drinks -- iced mint tea for both of us -- Ben started
"Connor, I'm so sorry about what happened yesterday," he said. I was
searching his eyes for some sign that he was disgusted or annoyed with
me for being such a wuss, but all I could see was concern and regret.
"Just forget about it," I said. "It's over and done with, and I'd
rather just forget about it."
"No, it's not okay," he interjected abruptly. "I never would have done
that if I'd known what would happen. I would never intentionally try to
hurt you. Please believe me."
He was practically pleading with me. It wasn't the reaction I'd
"You mean, you don't think I'm a freak or a wuss?" I asked, feeling
"Jesus, Connor, not at all!" he exclaimed. "I know what you've been
through. I should have known better than to do something like that. I'm
"It's okay, Ben," I sighed. "Really, it's fine. It's not your fault. I
wouldn't have even thought that would happen. I thought you'd never
want to see me again after witnessing that side of me."
"Are you crazy? I was afraid
you'd hate me for doing that and would want to stop seeing me."
"No, Ben. It was just stupid. I don't want to stop seeing you, as long
as you don't want to stop seeing me," I said.
"Well, then there was the thing with Ryan, too," he added, looking a
"What thing with Ryan?" I asked, genuinely perplexed.
"He was the one who held you and got you to calm down," Ben explained.
"Don't you remember?"
I really didn't remember ... at least, not at first. I had been shaking
so badly and was totally
spaced out. The only thing I could recall was the pair of
strong arms holding me, soothing me, helping me to calm down. And that
familiar smell, like strawberries and Irish Spring soap.
And then it hit me.
Like a friggin' ton of bricks.
Ryan had been the one!
And he'd made me feel safe. Knowing that, though, just confused me even
"No, I don't remember," I lied. I didn't want to upset Ben, knowing
that it was Ryan, and not him, who had been able to calm me down. Ben
"boyfriend." He should have been the one I instinctively turned to
in a time of crisis.
But, he wasn't.
SHIT! I thought to myself. It
wasn't supposed to be like that. I wanted to be with Ben. I was sure of
"Don't you think that means something?" Ben continued to prod. "I mean,
maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to think about trying to work things
out with Ryan."
"No!" I practically shouted, then instantly regretted raising my voice
"I'm sorry," Ben said sheepishly.
"No, I'm sorry, Ben," I said
with a sigh. "It just bugs me that you can't seem to believe that you are the one I want to be with.
Just because I was with Ryan -- was
being the key word -- that doesn't mean I can't be with you now.
He had his chance and he hurt me ... badly. I can probably get used to
the idea of being friends with him again. Maybe even good friends. But
he's not the one I want to be with. I wish you would understand that."
"I do understand, Connor," Ben said softly, running his hand gently
down my arm. "I just don't want to stand in the way if Ryan's the one
you're meant to be with. I want you to be happy."
"I know," I said, with a half-smile. "But trust me; I'm very happy with
"And you're not angry about what I did over at Cody's house?" he asked
"I was at first, but it's over now. And it doesn't change how I feel
about you," I said.
I hoped that would be the last time Ben and I ever had to have that
Most of the rest of the crew came by the shop to apologize as well, but
I didn't particularly want to hear anymore about it. I'd just as soon
forget the whole thing, because every time someone brought it up, it
back that horrid memory of lying on the grass in Cody's backyard, naked
as the day I was born, and having a fit in front of a whole group of
people. Who would want to be reminded of that?
Fortunately, it seemed as though Toby understood how I felt. Rather
than getting an apology from him, he just came waltzing into the store
shortly after I got back from having tea with Ben, looking as cute
be, and gave me a huge bear hug. He didn't need to say anything. The
hug said it all. Over the past few months, Toby and I seemed to have
developed something like that "silent communication" thing that he had
with his brother. I
didn't doubt that he would have done that a lot sooner if I hadn't gone
running off and barricaded myself in my room. Cody, on the other hand,
was beside himself. He seemed almost as upset as I had been the day
before when I'd gotten my ass slapped and gone postal.
"Oh, my God, Connor, I'm sooo
sorry!" Cody practically shouted as soon as Toby had let go of me. And
before I could prepare myself for the 'Cody Assault,' he latched on to
me as well.
"It's okay, Cody," I said, patting him on the back, trying to comfort
him. "It's over with. I'm not upset anymore."
"No, I was acting like a totally immature kid. I shouldn't have taken
your shorts like that," he said, still clinging to me for dear life.
"Uhhh ... Cody, you are a
kid," I reasoned. "I think teenagers are
supposed to act immature and crazy sometimes."
"But not me!" Cody exclaimed. "I really don't know what got into me."
"Well, maybe you should act like a kid more often," I said with a grin.
"Don't try to grow up so fast."
Hmmmm, that was pretty insightful of
Cody blushed and walked back next to Toby, latching on to him next. The
two of them were so adorable. And even though they were standing in the
middle of the store, where anyone could see them, they didn't seem to
have any problem being affectionate with each other. Although if
someone had had a problem with it, I was sure they'd get an earful from
Toby. That boy could swear like a drunken sailor.
The last person to come in, right before closing time, was Dominic. He
had walked in quietly while I was turning the power switches off on the
various display models of digital pianos, and I didn't notice him until
he was standing right beside me. It nearly scared the living daylights
out of me.
"Uhhh ... hey, Dominic," I stammered. "What's up?"
"Just wanted to say sorry about yesterday," he said, looking down at
the ground. "I didn't hit you, though. I didn't laugh, either."
"Uhhh ... thanks, but you don't need to apologize for not doing anything," I replied.
"Yeah, I do," he stated enigmatically. "I should've tried to stop them.
I know what it's like, you know."
"You know what what's like?" I asked, feeling genuinely baffled.
"The anxiety stuff," he replied, his eyes never leaving the floor.
Maybe there was something interesting crawling around down there or
"What do you mean?" I prodded him.
"I mean, it happens to me, too," he said, finally looking me in the
eye. "And because I know what it feels like, I should have seen it
coming, and I should have tried to stop them."
"Dominic, it's okay, really," I said, touching him gently on the arm.
"I'm fine now, and you didn't do anything wrong. And actually, I'd like
it if you'd hang out more with us. Actually, we'd all like that."
"It hasn't been easy, you know," he sighed.
"The anxiety?" I asked.
"No, losing Mikey," he replied. "I liked him a lot. I knew what
he was going through. I tried to get him to talk to me. But I'm just a
kid, so what do I know about helping someone who's going through that
kind of shit?"
"It's not your fault, Dominic," I said gently, pulling him into a hug.
"It's not your fault."
"We were just starting to get to know each other, and I thought things
were going so great. I finally met someone who I felt like I clicked
with. Why did it have to end like that? It isn't fair!"
Dominic began sobbing, right there in the middle of the store.
Fortunately, no one was around.
So, I just held him tighter.
"It's gonna be okay, Dominic," I said, rubbing his back as I held him,
his body continuing to be wracked by sobs. "We're all your friends now.
You don't have to be sad or alone anymore."
And from that point on, Dominic did start hanging out with us more
As the month wore on, everyone seemed
to settle into a comfortable routine. I also received the good news
that Lenny Sclafani, my attacker, was refused bail by the judge, and
his trial for the attack on one of the other kids was set to begin in a
couple months. The assistant D.A. seemed quite pleased (and proud)
when she told me that every single motion by the defense, including
requests to have the case dismissed, a change of venue, and a plea to
have certain pieces of crucial DNA evidence thrown out, had all been
shot down by the judge. It sounded like Lenny Sclafani's ass was grass,
so to speak.
Toby, Cody, and Ben had also started searching out small clubs where I
could perform and put what I had learned from Thom to the test. They
were successful, and I was happy to be back on stage again.
Besides some of my usual numbers, I also added a few new songs to my
set list, like "A Kiss Is A Terrible Thing To Waste," a powerful,
bombastic rock-ballad from the Wagner-esque rock musical, Whistle Down the Wind, written by
Jim Steinman. It was extremely long, and the most vocally challenging
song I'd ever performed, but it made a great opener.
Other songs I typically played included Billy Joel's "The Night Is
Still Young" and "My Life," Bonnie Raitt's "Circle Dance," Ryan Adams'
"Oh My Sweet Carolina," Elton John's "I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like
That" and the country-flavored ballad "The Fox," various Beatles,
and Bob Dylan songs, and, of course, Jim Reeves' "He'll Have To Go," my
closing number. Sometimes, Cody played acoustic guitar with me, but
usually it was just me and the piano. I'd given some more thought to
Thom's suggestion of getting a band together, which would certainly
allow me to expand my set list, but I still didn't know how to go about
recruiting people for something like that. And I guess I was a little
selfish, too, because I preferred having the spotlight on me.
of the gigs paid anything. They were mostly open mic things like my
that coffee house. But it was a lot of fun, and I loved performing just
as much as I ever did. Since my Wurlitzer electric piano wasn't very
versatile in terms of what sounds it could produce, I saved my money
and bought a used Roland RD-1000 digital piano. Once I had that set up,
along with a used amplifier and microphone that I had bought as well,
the Wurlitzer began to gather dust. Maggie had suggested trying to sell
it on eBay, but since it was a classic, I wouldn't hear of it.
During the times when I
wasn't working or hanging out with Ben, Ryan and I seemed to be moving
further down the path to becoming something like friends again. I think
away for three weeks was probably the best thing that could have
happened, giving both of us some space and time to think about stuff. I
still didn't know what exactly had been up with him ever since Toby's
leukemia diagnosis, but for the time being, I felt that it was better
to just let it go and focus on repairing the damage that had been done
to our little family. It was going to be tough, though. I didn't know
if it was even possible to make that transition from boyfriends to
being "just friends" with him.
We started doing things together like we used to, such as playing catch
in the backyard -- which I was really starting to get good at -- and
just hanging out and watching DVDs. Unlike before, though, there was no
cuddling. But it was nice, and as we started talking again, mostly
about mundane things -- like work, the upcoming school year, Toby's and
Cody's relationship, or whatever -- I gradually became more and more
comfortable with Ryan again. However, he never brought up my
relationship with Ben, and I didn't mention it, either. While that
probably kept us from getting into any uncomfortable territory, it also
revealed an underlying tension and awkwardness, a gulf that still
separated us, making our interactions somewhat superficial and
preventing us from becoming really close again. I was afraid it would
probably be that way for a while.
Had I been too quick to forgive Ryan? Sure, he'd been an asshole and
broken my heart, but I'd made mistakes when we were together, too. I
could never claim that I was a perfect boyfriend. And what good would
come out of holding a grudge against him? I had given him his space,
everyone had told me to do, and he'd eventually taken the first step
and apologized as soon as he got home from baseball camp. It may sound
cheesy, but it really does take a big man
to do that. If I had just brushed him off or not accepted his apology,
then I would have been the
Nevertheless, I had to admit to myself that if the tables had been
turned, and Ryan had a new boyfriend and I was single, I probably
wouldn't be behaving as well as he had been. I had no doubt that I
would have been a depressed, miserable, and cranky little bitch. So, in
regard, Ryan was handling things much better than I would have. But
even though they were rare, there were times when I wanted to see him
get visibly jealous; to let me know that he really did regret breaking
up with me.
He'd apologized for the way he'd acted, but he never said he wished we
were still together or anything like that. And despite the progress
we'd started to make in rebuilding our friendship, the thought that
maybe he didn't regret breaking up with me
still hurt. I kept it well-hidden, though. From both Ryan and Ben. It
wasn't because I was secretly hoping to get back together with Ryan,
either. I was happy with Ben. But a part of me, most likely my fragile
ego and low self-esteem, needed to know. Well, at least that's what Dr.
Frazier had told me when I brought it up with him during our weekly
Despite my traumatic experience at Cody's pool that day, we were all
back there the next weekend, and Delcondris hauled his family's large
grill over in his dad's Suburban so we could have a cookout. At first,
Tatyana complained that we shouldn't be eating meat, but Cody managed
to shush her up, and she eventually went back into the house to do
whatever it was she did.
In fact, for the remainder of August, we ended up having about two
barbecues every week over at Cody's. I felt bad that Delcondris had to
lug that damn grill back and forth, but he didn't seem to mind, and the
food was great ... despite Tatyana's protests every time she smelled
what she referred to as "that ghastly odor of burning animal flesh and
carcasses." Seeing as Tatyana was a militant vegetarian, I was
surprised that Cody enjoyed tearing into a big juicy steak or bacon
cheeseburger just as much as the rest of us.
It was Delcondris and Derek who did the cooking (of course, since they
were the straight guys) and for a couple of high schoolers, they sure
knew how to work that grill. Not only did we get the aforementioned cow
products, but also fatty, juicy sausages, corn-on-the-cob, baked
potatoes, and meat and veggie kebabs -- they even made strawberry
shortcake on the grill for dessert. How they managed to do that, I will
probably never know.
Fortunately, there were no more repeats of the "swim suit incident," at
least not done to me. Toby, however, got his swim suit swiped by Ryan,
but rather than chasing Ryan around and demanding it back, Toby just
lay down on one of the lawn chairs, buck naked, and looked as proud and
content as he could be. Even when Ryan returned his swim suit, Toby
didn't want to put it back on, until Cody forced him to, complaining
that he didn't want everyone else gawking at his boyfriend's goods.
I must admit, I was definitely one of the ones doing some gawking. Ben
didn't seem to mind, though, since he was drooling almost as much as
me. But how could you blame us? Toby was not only totally, undeniably
gorgeous, but the way he just oozed confidence and sexuality was
virtually irresistible. Toby was wrong when he'd suggested that I had
turned Ben gay. I didn't think something like that was possible. But if
there ever was a boy who could turn someone gay, Toby would be the one.
He was definitely something special.
I was glad that there didn't seem to be any hostility between Ryan and
Ben. I had worried about that a lot during those three
weeks that Ryan was at baseball camp, and especially the first time
we'd all hung out together after Ryan got back. They'd been friends for
a lot longer than I'd known either of them, and I didn't want to be the
one to come between them. However, as Ryan and I started to become
friends again, I did notice that something seemed a bit "off" whenever
I was getting ready to go on a date with Ben or sleep over at his
house. Ryan would ask what I was up to, and when I would tell him I was
out with Ben, he'd get a strange expression on his face. I couldn't
if it was disappointment, sadness, jealousy, or something else
altogether. It was completely unreadable, which was actually pretty
typical for Ryan. But he never said anything, and every time I saw that
look on his face, it was quickly replaced by a forced smile, and he'd
always tell me to have a good time.
When I first started to notice that, I didn't think much of it. But
when it kept happening, I started to wonder what was going on. It had
become pretty apparent that it was some kind of jealousy -- but what he
was jealous of, I couldn't be sure. Was it because he still had
feelings for me? Or was it just because he wanted to hang out, and was
disappointed that I'd been spending so much time with Ben? I thought
about asking him, but I doubted he would give me an honest answer about
something like that. But it did start to make me feel a little guilty
that I wasn't spending enough time with him, when he was obviously
making an effort to work things out.
One Friday evening in late August, I had a date planned with Ben,
something we did every Friday. We usually went out more often than
that, but Friday and Saturday night dates were pretty much set in
stone. Needless to say, I could tell that Ben was a little hurt when I
cancelled. I explained to him that if we went out, Ryan would be home
all by himself, and I felt bad about that. Maggie was working (as
usual), and Toby was spending the night at Cody's house. I could have
invited Ben to come over, but I figured that just the three of us
hanging out together might make for more than a few uncomfortable
moments. Fortunately, Ben was very understanding, albeit obviously
disappointed. I promised to make it up to him, though, and when I told
him exactly how I would make it up to him, I think he was a bit more
willing to miss out on one little date.
After I got off the phone with Ben, I went to Ryan's room to see what
he was up to. I found him lying on his bed, facing the wall. I walked
over and sat down next to him, and gently shook his shoulder.
"Hey, Ryan. What's up?" I asked.
He didn't turn around and his voice sounded muffled when he spoke.
"I thought you had a date with Ben," he said.
"I cancelled it," I replied.
"Why?" he asked, finally turning his head to look up at me. His
expression wasn't as unreadable as it normally was. This time, he
looked ... sad.
"I thought it'd be nice to spend some time with you," I answered,
giving him a soft smile.
"You should spend time with your boyfriend," he said, turning back to
face the wall again.
What in the hell was his problem?
"Well, I already cancelled it, so now you're stuck with me," I said,
attempting to mask the growing frustration in my voice.
"What did you wanna do?" he asked. He finally turned all the way
around, so I didn't feel like I was talking to a rock or something.
"Wanna watch a movie?" I suggested. "We can order some Chinese food ...
or Indian. Cody told me about this really good Indian take-out place
out on Route 45."
"Not really," he sighed.
I was starting to get the feeling that this was going to be difficult.
Ryan had been doing much better since shortly after he got back from
camp, but now he seemed depressed. I didn't like it.
"Do you hate me, Connor?" he suddenly asked.
"No, of course not," I answered. "What's gotten into you, Ry? What's
"Nothing. Just forget about it," he said quickly. "So, do you have any
"No, I don't want to forget about it, Ryan. I want to know what the
hell has been up with you for the past few months."
"I really don't wanna talk about it yet," he said, turning back again
to face the wall.
I was feeling very frustrated by now. The only thing I could think of
to do was to reach down and wrap my arms around him, something I hadn't
done in a long time. As soon as I did, though, he quickly pulled away.
"Please, don't," Ryan said, his voice barely above a whisper.
"Jesus, Ry. Please tell me what the hell is wrong with you. You're
scaring me," I pleaded with him.
"It hurts," he whimpered.
"What hurts?" I prodded him, reaching out again to place my hand on the
small of his back. This time, he didn't pull away, although I felt his
body tense when I touched him.
"I miss you, Connor," he said softly.
Well, shit. What was I supposed to
"I know what we can do," I said. "Stay
there and I'll be right back."
I went to Toby's room, signed on to his computer, and went to one of
the gay story sites that I sometimes visited. There was a story that
I'd wanted to read but had been a little unsure of. It was a
twenty-five chapter serial novel called "The Ordinary Us," by Dom
Luka. I'd read so many "coming out" and "coming of age" stories before,
but something about this one had caught my eye. So, I printed out the
entire story, which
ended up taking quite a while, then gathered it up and headed back to
Ryan's room, where I found him still curled up in the same position on
his bed, facing the wall.
"I'm gonna read to you," I announced.
He turned around and looked at me incredulously. "Read to me? I'm not a
little kid, Connor."
"Just shut up and lay there," I ordered him. "I'm gonna read to you, so
deal with it."
And I did. I lay down on the bed next to Ryan, and I read the entire
story to him in one sitting, from start to finish. I was reading until
the wee hours of the morning, and by the time I had finished, I was
exhausted, and I thought my voice was going to give out. But it was a
sweet story, and I was kind of sad when it ended. From the wistful
expression on Ryan's face, I could tell that he'd enjoyed it, too. I
was very comfortable, lying there next to Ryan, and part of me wanted
to just fall asleep right there. I didn't really want to leave him
alone if he was still depressed. But I figured it would probably be
best if I went to my own room. Sleep was a long time coming, though.
As I lay there on my bed, the moonlight streaming in from the window, I
couldn't stop thinking about how to deal with Ryan now. It was pretty
obvious now that he still liked me -- maybe even still loved me. It
wasn't exactly a startling revelation. Deep down inside, I always knew
that he did. He was just dealing with some heavy stuff, most of which
he had yet to explain to me. But things had changed so much over the
past few months. I had a new boyfriend now, a good job, lots of great
friends, and I was happy with my life.
Sure, I cared about Ryan. In fact, I probably still loved him. I
wanted him to be happy, but seeing the way he'd been acting recently
was worrying. It wasn't like before when he had totally shut himself
from the world. He was hanging out with everyone again and trying
to have a good time. But he wasn't happy, and I couldn't help
but feel that I was the reason for that. I really wanted to help him,
but I was afraid that by doing so, it might make things more difficult
with Ben. He already had a hard enough time believing that it was him I
wanted to be with, and not Ryan. And spending more time with Ryan
wouldn't help that.
So what was I supposed to do? I was so confused. There were so many
questions and doubts racing around in my head. I felt like Ryan
was my responsibility, but as long as I was around, and had another
boyfriend, he would probably be miserable. And I had no idea how long
it would take him to get over it. And I certainly couldn't just ditch
Ben. I wanted to be with him.
I wasn't sure if I loved him yet, at least not the way I had loved
Ryan, but I could see it happening at some point in the not-too-distant
future. What wasn't there to love about Ben? He was perfect in almost
every way. After being with him for close to two months now, I was also
pretty sure that it wasn't just a rebound thing. Something special had
between us. Was it as special as what I had felt with Ryan, though? I
didn't know that, either. And after being "together" for a while now,
why weren't Ben and I "official" yet? That was a really good question.
There were a lot of questions that I didn't have the answers to.
Copyright 2006. All
Rights Reserved. No parts of this story may be copied, reproduced, in
print or in any other format, without express written consent from the
This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to persons living or dead
are purely coincidental.
*Lyrics from "Seasons"
(written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin), Copyright 1970, Dick James
** Lyrics from "Electricity" (written by Elton John and Lee Hall), from
the musical Billy Elliot,
Copyright 2005, Universal Music Publishing, Ltd.
let me know what you think of the story! Send
comments to LittleBuddhaTW@hotmail.com