I thought that I must be dying on
Monday morning when I woke up. I couldn't remember the last time I had
so sick. My nose was running like a leaky faucet, I had a hacking
cough, my throat was sore, and my whole body ached. I figured that
it would probably be a pretty good idea to stay home from school,
especially since it was cold and rainy outside and I didn't want to
take the chance of getting even sicker. When I walked out of my
bedroom, however, I could hear my mother and Krull going at it again in
her bedroom. I decided that if she was going to be home all day getting
boinked senseless (and probably shooting up, too), I'd rather
go to school, sick or not.
When I got to school, I was bombarded with greetings and
congratulations from people I didn't even know. Getting approached
by a whole bunch of strange kids was a terrifying experience for
someone like me, to say the least, and feeling as sick as I did just
made it even worse. So I made a beeline for my first class, and did my
best to avoid people as best as I could, saying a simple "thank you"
when complimented by someone about my performance and,
as graciously as possible, darting away.
Despite the fact that I seemed to have gathered a number of "fans"
(although I was pretty sure that would pass by the time the
Thanksgiving break was over and there was some new drama or rumor going
around the school), Trent Lomax wasn't one of them. Fortunately, he
only had the opportunity to tell me that I looked like a "fag" dressed
up in what he called "my frilly pink shirt" (it was magenta, dammit!) and that "only
girls and fag boys play the piano." The "fag" insults didn't bother me,
because he would pick on me and beat me up whether he knew I was gay or
I was hoping that I would start feeling better on Tuesday morning when
I woke up, but much to my chagrin, I seemed to be getting worse. If I'd
had a thermometer, I would have sworn that I had a fever. I'd also
started coughing up thick, disgusting wads of yellowish-green phlegm.
The school day went on pretty much the same as the day before. I ran
into Toby in the hallway between classes and apparently he could tell
that I wasn't feeling very well.
"Connor, man, are you ok? You look like shit," he said.
"Jeez, thanks," I said, not trying to contain the sarcasm that was
clearly dripping from my voice.
"What's wrong?" he prodded, actually looking very concerned.
"Nothing. It's just a cold or something," I said. "Look, I've gotta get
to class. See ya later."
And with that, I was off. I wasn't in the mood to talk to Toby right at
that moment, and didn't even feel bad about totally dissing him. I was
in a pissy mood because not only was I sick, but I was about to have to
spend five miserable days at home, knowing that without school to keep
me out of the house for a good portion of the day, something bad was
bound to happen at the hands of my mother or Krull, the "fucking
machine." It always did.
It was just my luck that afternoon that I missed my bus and had to
stand out in the rain without an umbrella, feeling sick as hell, and
angry at the whole world. And I missed Ryan. I was sure that I would
feel a hell of a lot better wrapped up in one of his hugs, with Maggie
there to take care of me while I was sick. I never had anyone to take
care of me after my grandma died. When I was just a little kid and got
a sore throat, she would give me a hot mug of whiskey mixed with honey.
It tasted pretty raunchy, but it actually helped. I really missed
things like that.
As I was standing there alone at the bus stop, shivering from the cold,
my clothes soaked through to the skin, and trying to think about
pleasant memories from the past, I noticed a familiar dark green car
approach and stop right in front of me. The passenger side window
rolled down, and I saw the face of a rather perturbed-looking Ryan
scowling at me.
"What the fuck are you doing standing out here in the rain like that
without an umbrella?" he asked.
"I missed my bus," I said, trying not to make eye contact with him.
"Get in the car and I'll drop you off at your place," he said.
"No, thanks. I'm fine. The bus will be here soon," I replied. I knew I
was in a bad mood and was afraid that I would end up snapping at Ryan
in the car and making an already terrible situation worse.
"Get in the goddamm car, Connor!" he yelled, causing me to jump.
He'd never yelled at me before. I'd never even seen him look angry, and
wasn't sure how to react, not to mention being stunned that
he'd stopped at all. So instead of trying to argue, I just opened the
door and got in. He quickly shifted the car into drive and took off.
As we drove toward the trailer park, I was wheezing and coughing up a
storm, shaking quite severely from the freezing cold, and even managed
to hack up a couple good loads of phlegm into some tissues that were
sitting on the dashboard. It must have been a pretty pathetic sight.
"What's wrong with you?" Ryan asked, this time sounding considerably
less hostile. "You look like friggin' death warmed over."
"It's just a cold. I'll be fine," I answered curtly.
He just gave me a measured looked and kept driving.
As we pulled up in front of my trailer, the rain had slowed to a light
drizzle. I mumbled a quick 'thanks' to Ryan for giving me a lift and
opened the door to get out. But as soon as I did, the unmistakable
sound of loud screaming and large objects being thrown against the thin
walls of the trailer broke the silence. I winced at the thought of
having to walk in on whatever the hell was going on in there.
Suddenly I felt Ryan grab me by the shoulder and yank me back into the
"What're you doing?" I asked incredulously, attempting to wriggle free
from his vise-like grip.
"There's no way I'm letting you go back in there," he stated simply.
Before I had the chance to protest, he shifted the car into reverse and
backed out of the trailer park, tires squealing loudly.
As soon as we were back on the road, apparently headed in the direction
of Ryan's house, I started to feel the familiar pangs of anxiety
creeping up on me. Not only was I utterly confused by Ryan's reaction,
having no idea what to expect from him at this point, but he had also
gotten a quick yet terrifying glimpse into the environment I lived in.
I should have felt happy that he obviously still cared enough about me
to not let me go in there, but I was more concerned about what was
going on in his head, how he was feeling about me, and what would
happen as a result of he'd just heard. Did he still hate me? Was he
going to finally talk to me? Was he
going to call the police? What would Maggie say?
the questions that were now running through my frazzled mind. All the
I continued shivering from the cold, coughing practically non-stop, and
hacking up even more phlegm, which I was now having to spit out the
window since the tissues were gone.
We finally pulled up in front of Ryan's house. The warm feeling that
had always greeted me when I went there before was gone. All that I
felt at that moment was dread and a sense that I wasn't in control of
As soon as we walked in the front door, Ryan started stripping off my
"What are you doing?" I asked him, a little surprised.
"I don't want you dripping all over the house," he explained.
Once I was down to my underwear, he led me upstairs to his room where
gave me a pair of his flannel pajamas. They were a couple sizes too
large for me, but at least they looked warm. He also got me a dry pair
of briefs from Toby's room.
"Sorry about the pajamas, but Toby's never worn any, so you'll have to
make do with mine," he explained.
I just did as I was told, afraid to question what he was doing or what
was going on.
After I was changed, he motioned for me to get into bed. He then
proceeded to strip down to his boxer-briefs and slide into bed next to
me. By this point I was really confused, even more so when he wrapped
his arms around me, pulling me close, and rubbing his hands all over my
arms, legs, hands, and chest. It wasn't particularly sensual, but it
"Does this mean you and me ... I mean ... are we okay again?" I asked
I really wanted things to be okay again. I was hoping that this was his
way of telling me that we could go back to the way things were before.
"This means that I'm trying to get you warmed up as quickly as
possible. Using body heat is the best way. I don't want you getting
hypothermia," he said simply.
Well, at least he doesn't want me to die, I thought. That's got to
count for something, right?
We continued to lie there silently, Ryan holding me closely and rubbing
me to keep me warm. Despite all of the questions and fears that were
running around in my head, I felt that safe feeling starting to come
over me again, and I quickly dozed off.
When I opened my eyes, Ryan had left, and I found Toby sitting on the
edge of the bed staring at me, looking pensive.
"Hey," I said.
"Hey," he replied.
"Toby, I really ..."
"Stop," he cut me off. "I'm not going to let you push me away again.
I'm your friend, and that's that. I don't care how much you bitch or
make excuses, I'm not leaving your side. You're stuck with me. No
arguments. You may think I'm just a stupid little kid, but I'm not. So
just deal with it, you doofus."
He sounded an awful lot like his mother as he said that. I wasn't about
to argue with him. My throat was too sore to really talk much anyway.
But all I'd been going to say when he cut me off was "I'm sorry." I
want to push Toby away again. I needed him, and I wanted him there with
me. If I had known what "love" was then, that was what I was feeling
for him at that moment.
He held on to my hand as I stared blankly up at the ceiling,
neither of us saying another word. I wondered if maybe I had been
stupid all this time. I had been pining after Ryan, being miserable for
over a month and a half because he was upset with me. That had been one
of the worst times in my life, but trying to think rationally, I
realized that it was my own fault that I had gotten into that whole
mess in the first place. I hadn't been honest about what I was feeling.
Maybe I should have just chosen Toby from the beginning. He was only a
year younger than me, after all. Plus, he wasn't confused about his
feelings. He knew what he wanted, and he treated me well. It had always
been obvious how much he cared for me. Sure, Ryan cared for me a lot,
too, but could it ever be the way I wanted?
With Toby, I didn't have to
wonder about that. I couldn't think of a single reason why I shouldn't
myself fall for Toby like I had for Ryan. He was perfect, and he was here. Even during my time of
isolation, he was always there in the background, trying to bring me
back, trying to show me that he still cared. Why, then, couldn't I just
let Ryan go and be with Toby?
As these thoughts were conflicting with each other in my mind, I dozed
off again, with Toby still holding my hand.
The next time I woke up, the room was dark, and Toby was gone. I was
alone. I didn't really feel like going back to sleep. Looking at the
clock, I realized that I'd been asleep for quite a while. It was
already eight o'clock. I felt well-rested, but my body still felt like
shit. I was trying to decide whether I should just stay in bed, or get
up and go downstairs to see what was going on. It turned out that I
didn't have to make that decision as the door opened, and Maggie and
Ryan walked in, turning on the light.
Ryan leaned up against the dresser, his arms folded across his chest,
looking down at the floor. I couldn't decipher the expression on his
face. Maggie's expression wasn't that difficult to figure out, though,
as she came over and sat down on the edge of the bed. She was not a happy camper. I
noticed Toby standing in the doorway with a look of compassion (or was
it pity?) on his face. It looked like I was about to be ganged up on.
"First of all, Connor," Maggie started, "I don't know what's been going
on between you and Ryan for the past month or why you suddenly stopped
being friends, and I don't care about that right now. That's for the
two of you to work out on your own."
I just nodded.
"Secondly," she continued, "I told you to come to me if there was
anything wrong, and you didn't. I'm very disappointed in you."
Dammit, Ryan! What did you go and
"I don't know what Ryan told you, Dr. McCormack, but ..."
"Hush," she cut me off. "All Ryan told me was that you were sick and he
brought you here to take care of you. And by the way, I'll give you a
check-up in a minute."
I nodded sheepishly.
"But this time I had to talk with your mother, as a mother and a
doctor, if you were going to be staying here. So, I made Ryan take me
to where you live," she said.
OH GOD!!! PLEASE NO!
I glanced over at Ryan, and he actually looked guilty. He wouldn't even
look over at me.
"Ryan put up a pretty good fight until I threatened to ground him until
he was thirty and told him that if he wouldn't show me where you lived,
then I would get the information from the school anyway," she continued.
"Dr. McCormack, I can ..."
"Hush," she cut me off again. "I went to your house and knocked on the
door. Your mother answered, and needless to say, I was a little
shocked. Actually, that would be an understatement."
"When she answered the door, she was stark naked, which I obviously
found to be a bit ... shall we say, abnormal. I told her that you were
very sick and that my son, your friend, brought you to our house so I
could take a look at you and save you all a trip to the hospital, and
that I just wanted to meet with her and discuss it."
I couldn't even begin to imagine what kind of "discussion" my mother
would have with her. And oh my God,
she came to the fucking doorway naked! I knew something like
this would happen one of these days. I didn't even know what to say at
this point. What could I say?
"Let's just say I was a little shocked," she continued, "when she told
me ... how did she say it exactly? 'I don't give a fuck where that
pathetic little shit is as long as he's not here, and if he's sick he
can take care of himself. We don't need no fucking charity from some
stuck-up rich fucks like you, bitch.' I think that was basically the
gist of it. Then she slammed the door in my face."
Yep, that sounds like good ol' mom.