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"Alex? hon? You awake?" Mom called.
I found myself in the fetal position, sweaty, sore, and tired. I waited for some of the fear and horror to subside.
I thought, they seem even stronger this morning, like I had the dream more than once. Why do I keep thinking of it as a dream? It's a nightmare. And it was worse last night. Something... was...
Jeff was in it again! In his uniform this time! And he didn't even try to help!
I groaned and curled up tighter.
"Alex, almost time for lunch."
Lunch? I thought. She means breakfast. Then school. Ugh. No, wait, it's Saturday. They let me sleep late. Finally.
"Yeah, down in a minute," I replied.
A few coughs assailed me, but they were slightly less than what I had become used to.
I wanted to cry. No, I didn't want to cry, I felt as if I were going to cry. I furrowed my brow in an effort not to. I poked and prodded anger, trying to waken it to protect me from the tears. It wouldn't respond. It only yawned. rolled onto its back, then stretched.
Damn it! I don't need to cry. I can get Jeff to stay with me. I know I can. Damn it, he loves me! I know he does! He only likes baseball. No, he loves it. But does he love it so much he would get away from me if he had to so he could play?
I thought about that for a while, wondering if he really could care more for baseball than for me. I couldn't believe that he did, but I had heard him and the baseball jocks. I wasn't someone he should be hanging out with, not if he wanted onto the team. Not if they were to trust him on the field, or in the showers. I was a loose end.
Finally tired of thinking about it, getting a headache from doing so, I uncurled. I sat up on the bed and rubbed my eyes. I coughed some more, only a little discolored mucus dislodged. I felt exhausted. I knew that I wasn't getting much sleep, and I knew that I was stressed emotionally, but the constant dream of the van fire was wearing on me. Having it even though I had taken a sleeping pill seemed a sure sign that it wasn't going away easily or soon.
I looked to my desk where the three books about dreams and dreaming lay, looking forward to hopefully finding a solution to the nightmares. I hoped that between my new resolution to make changes in myself, and anything I might learn from the books, I could rid myself of the nightmares for good.
I stood with a series of groans at my stiff, sore back and legs, then headed into the shower with fresh sweatpants, Fruit-of-the-Looms, and a Queen tee-shirt. I had no time constraints, so I moved slowly and tried not to end the shower even more tired and sore than when I started it. Once done with the shower and other morning duties, I headed downstairs. I took it slowly down the stairs as well, still easily tired and worn out.
As I got to the second floor, I noticed a familiar and mouth-watering aroma.
"Grandma's potstickers!" I declared as I entered the small dining room.
While they weren't exactly the most fattening thing in grandma's old American cooking knowledge, they were certainly up there in calories and fat. Only lard made the doughy shells the proper consistency and toughness, and only butter gave the right flavor and browning. And then there was the calorie-dense filling of meat and cheeses. And potstickers needed mashed potatoes and gravy alongside.
"Make enough for dinner?" I asked, hoping so.
After her affirmative answer, lunch commenced in earnest. I wasn't particularly hungry, but I did put away a considerable number of the waistband busters between the usual talk and the new normal reminders to gain some weight.
A change of the new, smaller bandages. The last of the antibiotic pills and nearly the last of the pills for the burns. A new supply of the vitamins was due, and I wondered how long she would insist on my taking them. I was now down to only two pills in the morning, and I knew that there were only two more days of three pills at night. I actually felt a sense of progress.
Right after Mom's ministrations, Dad suggested that we clean the snow away from the fence. I whined a bit, hoping that Mom would rescue me from the chore. No such luck. Nearly an hour later, we returned to the warmth of the house. I had done as much as I could. I was sweaty and tired, achy and sore. My hand complained in particular, but my back and legs joined in as well.
Most of all, I noticed that while my breathing was fast and still a bit ragged, I was nonetheless able to tolerate the frigid air without too much coughing.
"Should have done that sooner. Before it had a chance to harden like that," Dad said as we peeled away coats, hats, and gloves.
"Yeah," I agreed. "I'm bushed. That snow almost won."
Mom was waiting in the kitchen, and I knew she had probably watched us. The water was boiling, and all she had to do was pour it into the cups and stir. She handed Dad a normal coffee cup, and one of the black soup bowls with a handle to me.
The marshmallows hadn't completely melted by the time I had most of the cocoa gone. She was ready with another packet and more hot water.
"Drink up, you can use the calories," she said with a wink. "Would the two of you be up to some shopping this afternoon?"
"Oh, come on," Mom insisted. "Do you some good to get out."
"I'd rather have a nice quiet house to rest up in," I answered.
"I think he's had enough exercise for one day," Dad said, rescuing me from the dreaded shopping trip with my parents.
"Fine, then," Mom said, throwing Dad a slightly miffed expression.
"Gonna pay for that," he mouthed at me when she couldn't see him.
"Thanks," I mimed back and exaggeratedly wiped my forehead.
He smiled and winked.
They discussed what things they wanted from what stores before I finished my cocoa and excused myself.
I considered smoking a joint, but easily decided against it. I had more studying to do first. I enjoyed getting high with others far more than alone, anyway. So, knowing that I was going to be alone until late in the day, I had little desire to be high. I also knew that I would enjoy the buzz later with Jeff all that much more if I hadn't been stoned all day.
I turned on the stereo and tuned it to one of the country stations. I softly sang along to "Kansas City Lights" and opened my English book. I tried to understand the complexities of the lesson, but they eluded me. I gave up on English and tried algebra. After a while it became tedious and dull. I lost interest and soon wondered why I even bothered to try. It had never seemed so hard to study before.
No matter how hard I tried to keep my mind on the schoolwork, it wandered incessantly to other things. Mostly, to one particular thing. Or, rather, person.
I went through every class and found I had no ability to get any of it done. Not even chemistry, which had always been something I very nearly looked forward to. I slammed the book closed and clasped my hands to the side of my head.
What the fuck's wrong with me? I asked myself. Why can't I even do my homework? Damn it!
But even then, thoughts of Jeff intruded.
I've got the plans ready for Jeff, already. I can't do anything more right now! Not until he gets here in a while. Either I'll get him to choose me or he'll go play baseball. I got to concentrate on other things, sometimes!
In sheer frustration, I picked up the heavy chemistry book and hurled it across the room, where it smoothly and efficiently glided across the entire length of a shelf, disbursing the model cars like a tornado through a car lot.
My rage was fueled. I had never been one to throw a tantrum, or fly off the handle, but at that moment, I was ready to explode. A simple toss of a text book had turned into the demolition of a dozen model cars. Worse, as I sat there quietly fuming, building toward a raging anger, the shelf rocked, one thin metal arm worked loose from its slot in the vertical bar holding it in place, then dropped out. The shelf tipped downward, sliding off the remaining support, and in what seemed slow motion, fell onto the shelf below, crushing the aircraft models on that shelf.
I waited in silence for that shelf to give way and to fall onto the table below where the ships sat, doomed and unsuspecting. The shelf rocked back and forth slowly.
"Go ahead and fall! Get it over with you fucking bastard!" I yelled at the top of my lungs.
My throat tickled, warning me of a coughing fit if I repeated the offending action.
"Fucking do it!"
The warning had been no bluff, and the coughing came.
"Is there a problem, son?" I heard Dad ask when the coughing slowed.
By then he had walked to the mess that was formerly models, and was putting the shelf back in place. I was silent once all the coughing was done, and Dad had put what remained of the models back where they had been, for the most part, and with most of their parts.
He dragged the other chair over and sat facing me.
"Anything you wanna talk about?"
I shook my head without looking at him. He placed my chemistry book on the desk.
"Looks like you've been trying to do your homework, at least."
His tone was meant to get a smile out of me, and I recognized it. I was in no mood to smile, though. My deep, slow sigh probably told him that much, at least.
"Getting caught up any?"
"So, want to at least grunt a syllable to two? Just so I know you haven't gone mute?"
That almost got me to smile. I crossed my arms instead.
"Muh. Mongo mad. Mongo no like book."
I had to try not to smile, but ended up cracking a half grin.
"Look, son. I can see something's bothering you. So that bothers me. Surely you can understand that?"
"Yeah, guess so. But don't call me Shirley."
I snickered along with Dad. I smiled a bit.
"I could go for watching that show again. Still got it?" he asked.
Huh. Doc says I should spend some time with my old man, and then I have a perfect opportunity. And that coincidence comes out of the coincidence where Erich and Carl get hurt and end up in the same clinic I got an appointment at the same time. I should be called, like, Ol' Coincidinki or somethin'.
"Yeah. I can bring it down and we can watch it," I offered, since there was nothing else to do.
"Nothing on I want to see. I think I could use a joint for the movie. You?"
"Huh?" I grunted.
He laughed at my obvious surprise.
"Son, we told you that we know about the weed. Hell, your mom and I both smoked our share in our day."
He had said much the same before, but hearing it again did nothing to blunt the sharp surprise of his asking to smoke a joint with me.
"We're just concerned that you might get too far into it. You smoke a lot of that stuff and you'll dull your edges. You're smart and quick, but even the smartest can be made a moron by smoking that stuff instead of doing things you need to."
I nodded in embarrassment.
"But I could use a bit of relaxation myself. Wadd'ya say?"
Smoke a joint with my dad? Is he insane? Is he on some kind of medication? Is it a trick?
"I'll probably laugh at the movie more, ya think?"
"So, fire in the hole... dude."
He held up a hand, making the "V" peace sign. I would have laughed if I weren't so stunned.
Oh my fucking God! I'm gonna smoke a joint with Dad? Really?
I suddenly had a rush of warmth and prickling skin. I wondered what horrible news he had to tell me that he thought doing it while we were smoking a joint together would make it less horrible.
"Last time I got high was with your mom while you were in the hospital. We were pretty worried, you know, and really needed a break from the stress. Your grandparents were with you, and we came home to clean up and get some sleep. We snuck into your stash and had an almost good time for a while."
I was blinking blankly at him. He started laughing.
"Don't be so shocked, ki- uh, Alex. We're not old fuddy-duddies, you know. Not yet, anyway."
"Dad... it's just, so weird!"
He laughed again.
"I bet! My parents would have freaked out and sent me into the military. But that was then. This is nineteen-eighty-three. And I think I could use a good buzz for Airplane, so whadd'ya say?"
"You know, if I told anyone about this, they'd never believe it."
"So don't tell anyone. I mean it, do not tell anyone. Period. Understood?"
I nodded, retrieved and lit a joint, then passed it to my dad with a shaking hand. I nearly visibly shook all over as we began smoking it together. I shuddered inside, powerfully. But in no time at all, I felt better about smoking that joint with my dad. We talked and laughed like two friends. I even told him some of the things going on, but nothing of the major things. When the joint was done, we went downstairs and watched Airplane. We laughed harder and more often at it that second time together than we had the first. By the end of it, my sides hurt from the laughter.
"Ya know, son, I really needed that. I haven't felt this relaxed for weeks."
I knew what he probably meant. It had to have been difficult to be recuperating in a hospital bed from first and second degree burns right next to your comatose sixteen-year-old son, whom you had pulled from a burning vehicle, limp and dead.
"Yeah, been kinda a rough few weeks, huh?"
"Hell yes, it has," he said with emphasis. "But hell, not just for me, or your mom. Look what you've been through."
He looked at me in a way I hadn't seen from him before. It was somewhat like a new teacher evaluating a new student. I could almost see him adding things up in his head.
He put his arm across my shoulder as we sat next to each other on the small couch.
"Alex, you really have been doing well. For a while your mom and I were, well, we were pretty sure we were going to lose you."
My stomach sank with the heavy emotional load those words carried.
"Then there was all the worry about how much damage was done. If you, you'd be, you know, damaged, somehow."
"If I was gonna be a vegetable."
He shook his mostly bald head, looking horribly sad.
"It was something to be concerned about. Your doc was, well, preparing us for, if, just in case."
I nodded solemnly. I knew.
"But I'm fine now. See?" I said, waving my arms above my head. "You got plenty of years to boss me around yet."
He grinned widely.
"I don't know about bossing you around much longer. You're sixteen. Cripes! I'm getting old."
"Not too old to take you down, though," he said, grinning evilly.
I lost my grin instantly. I jumped up and put the couch between us.
"Come on, son, get it over with quickly. It won't hurt so much that way."
"Oh no. Not goin' down that easy," I warned.
He feinted left, I moved away, and he switched directions and had me almost instantly. He got a good hold on my right arm and pulled me toward him. I turned, trying to pull out of his grip. He held tight and pulled me nearly over the back of the couch. I managed to break his hold. I ran to the other end of the couch and bobbed left, then right, to hide any intentions I might have.
"There's no escape," he warned.
"You ain't got the moves, old man," I tried.
He looked behind me, toward the doorway to the big dining room, and lost his grin.
"Sorry, dear, just a little play is all."
I instantly spun around to look behind me. Mom was nowhere to be seen. I grimaced, knowing I'd been had. I dodged left, only to find he had come that way. His arms went around me in a bear hug.
"So, the old classics still work, even on an honor student," he said in triumph. "Age always beats youth."
"Maybe, but youth might have a few new tricks," I said as I let my legs collapse.
I slid between his arms and rolled forward. I stood and turned, grimacing slightly as the burns on my back and side complained.
"And now you ain't got nothin'!"
"Well, that might be true, but you forget, I have an ally."
I thought for a moment before I figured out his ploy.
"I ain't falling for Mom behind me again," I said with a grin.
"Too bad for you, then," she said, wrapping her arms around me from behind.
Dad crushed me between himself and her, wrapping us all in a hug.
"Two to one ain't fair," I complained.
"Life isn't fair," Mom said softly in my ear.
The good mood of wrestling with Dad after watching such a funny movie, and after sharing a joint with him, kept Mom's words from propelling me into the deep, dark place they could have. Since she had spoken those words to me months ago as I had decried the unfairness of losing Toby, they had always brought back those hard emotions with vivid, overpowering clarity.
But now, wrapped between my parents in such a warm, loving situation, those words seemed nearly redeemed of any such horrible memories. Now only a momentary flash of a blurred, distant hurt was associated with them, though the feeling of Toby was still quite strong. And knowing as I did that Toby was fine, not gone, just not present in the same way, also dulled the hurt of not only those words, but of his memory.
Instead of the nearly constant depression, I was feeling good. My mood was high, my energy level was high, and I was high.
"Now, if you two are done rough-housing, before you break something for a change? Hon, your dad and I decided to head out to White Fence Farm between stores. You sure you don't want to come with us?"
"I'm sure," I said quickly.
Maybe too quickly, I thought. She knows I used to like going there. Well, until that camp, and what happened there. And what didn't happen. Besides, I'm no kid anymore, and that place is mostly for kids.
"Well, be sure to eat something for dinner," she said sternly.
"With potstickers in the fridge, you really worried I wouldn't?"
She laughed softly and let me go. Dad still held my shoulder as she left the room.
"At least this time we didn't break anything," he said.
He seemed to look though me in that moment, even though he was meeting me eye to eye.
"You know, son, I'm really going to miss having my little boy to play with."
I blushed hotly.
"Don't bother arguing about it. We both know you're growing up. Hell, this could be the last time we rough-house."
I knew what he meant. It had come out of the blue, and had been the first for nearly as long as I could remember. I knew that it could very well be the very last. I very much hoped not, even as I felt that it should, or could, have been.
He still held me by the shoulders, but soon pulled me into another hug.
"Do me a favor, okay?" he said into my hair. "Don't take anything for granted. Whatever it is. Enjoy it. If you want it, go for it. Okay?"
I nodded into his chest.
"Live your life, son."
"Okay," I said into his shoulder, feeling his sincerity and the sudden serious mood from him.
"Now, I've got to take your mom out shopping and to dinner. And get groceries on the way home. Be back in a few hours."
He pushed me back and smiled at me. I smiled back even though I had a hard time meeting his eyes.
A last messing of my hair before he walked into the hall toward the kitchen, where Mom was probably taking stock and making her list. For some reason, I wondered if they were actually going to pick up that Plymouth. I wasn't looking forward to getting it as much as I knew I should be. I almost hoped that Tom had made the whole thing up, but Jeff and I had overheard the discussion.
I pulled the movie from the VCR and headed upstairs. I wrote in the diary for a time, and then "Rockin' The Paradise" played on the radio. It was a multi-block in honor of the upcoming release of Kilroy Was Here and the upcoming concert at the Chicago Auditorium in four weeks. It was the first song, so I knew that two more would follow.
I turned on the synthesizer and played along as I sang along. I altered my voice, finally settling into a range near my new natural speaking voice, for the most part. I didn't try to match with the singer, I only tried to find where I could carry the notes. My sore fingers limited my playing considerably, even tried to irritate me, but I was in too good a mood for that to happen.
The second song was "Too Much Time On My Hands." It was another that Toby and I had sung and played to. The feelings stirred deeper. I smiled, but I felt the sorrow, too. I played along, doing almost decently enough that I wasn't frustrated. Almost. The singing, though, was awful. I had no illusions about ever being any kind of singer, I just enjoyed singing. I felt good when I could release tension and other emotions with my voice, no matter how it sounded. I simply enjoyed it.
Then they played "Don't Let It End," the song from the new album that was getting the most air time other than "Mr. Roboto." I began dissecting the song, as this was the first time I had the synthesizer at hand while I listened to the song. I pecked key combinations, finding some right, but most very wrong. It was frustrating. The morning that I had first heard it played out in my mind. I had felt those same feelings of loneliness and loss that I had for Toby, but that time it had been over Jeff.
When the commercial break began, I turned off the radio and sat there for a long time, feeling my moist eyes drying. No tears fell.
When Svengoolie started, I sat down with a joint and watched him alone for the first time in a long time. Maybe since I had moved and started high school. I couldn't remember watching Sven alone since meeting and befriending Tom. After Sven's bits, the "Man From Outer Space" began. I didn't remember it, and it was awful. Dubbed poorly, shot poorly, scripted poorly, and edited poorly. It wasn't even good enough for Sven, but I watched, for Sven.
Jeff was due to arrive soon after it ended, so I went over my big plans to make the weekend so wonderful that he would have to choose me over the baseball team. I hoped that I wouldn't have to do the one thing that Jeff seemed to want do to the most. I knew that it would hurt. Toby had been the first to do that to me. We had prepared extensively, and he had taken a long time and been very careful and patient. It had still hurt some. Tom had done it, too, the last time just a couple of months ago. And he was about the same size as Toby had been. It had been a little painful even though he had also readied me first, and also been very patient and careful. But Jeff was easily twice as thick as either of them, and very blunt, too.
I didn't want to have to do that - I was afraid to - but I was nearly willing to. I hoped that the substitute that I had in mind would be good enough for Jeff.
The doorbell rang. A quick glance out the window proved who it was, and I jogged downstairs and opened the door with as wide a smile as I could summon up.
"Heya, Jeff!" I said happily.
He'd gotten a haircut. Where once his nearly perfectly straight hair had hung in neat order all of its own, it was now center-parted and feathered back, all fairly short. Before, it seemed full and thick, and while it still didn't look thin, it was definitely less. I almost liked it, but as it was on Jeff, it looked good.
"Heya," he said back, walking in with a nice smile.
His mom honked from the drive. I leaned out and waved. She waved back and then pulled from the drive with another honk. We went upstairs silently.
"So, what's with the ol' synth, Froedrick? Thinkin' about replacing Doug Graves?" he asked with a grin as we topped the stairs.
"Nah, Svengoolie'd fire me after I break into Styx every time he tries to sing something. Plus all the sound effects would be Styx stuff."
"He might feed ya to Kerwyn."
"Yeah, and ya know where he'd bury the leftovers," I said in mock horror. "Imagine! Nothing left of me but an unmarked grave in..."
After a shared laugh at the old but still funny line, Jeff pulled up a chair and sat down next to me at the synthesizer.
"Good for getting the hurt fingers back in shape," I said, explaining.
"Been a long time since I seen you playing this thing. Since..."
He didn't finish, obviously having thought of exactly why I hadn't been playing the synthesizer for the last eight months. His expression told me he was well aware of the reason, but that he hadn't realized it until he had started speaking. He offered an apology while he looked down at his hands in his lap.
"Don't. I mean, been, going on a year. It's okay. Besides, I got you now," I said with a leer and a grin.
I wondered for how long. His conversation with the jocks came to mind, and I felt my heart sink, but in a different way from what the thoughts of Toby had always done - still did, but to such a smaller extent.
I wondered if Jeff was going to mention the baseball team, or if he was going to blow me off without even telling me why. I wanted him to choose me, and I was ready to make our time together tonight fun enough that he would have an easy time making the choice of me over the team. I just had to get out of or around the current topic.
He met my eyes as he asked, "You still miss him?"
As I looked into his beautiful blue eyes, I wondered if my own ghosts of Toby weighed on Jeff.
I nodded slowly.
"Guess I always will. Just the way it is."
Jeff nodded slowly.
I picked at the keys nervously, then played a bit from "Rockin' The Paradise" that I had been getting right.
"Now that sounds familiar," he said, grinning.
I grinned back.
"You can really play that thing."
"Just got the knack I guess."
"My Sharona?" he asked with a laugh.
I switched to it. It was a very simple song to imitate, and it came back quickly. I played the bass line with my left hand and the main guitar lines with my right. We sang the chorus.
"You can do the bass line for me," I offered, wanting him to be part of what I was doing.
His skeptical look was reward enough, but I wanted him to enjoy making music too. I reached for his far hand that lay on his thigh. I took his hand, noting the warmth of his thigh below it, and placed it over the keys. I placed his fingers and pushed them in order and in time. He caught on quickly.
"Just keep that rhythm," I said. "What'd you do to your hands?"
They were rough, toughened, cut in places on the back of his fingers and knuckles.
"Just from doin' stuff. Clumsy I guess," he said dismissively and with a shrug.
There was obvious dirt or other black material under his nails and seemingly worked into several of the cuts on his fingers and knuckles.
"This is cool," he said, grinning nicely.
He was holding the tempo and time well so far. I reached to cover his fingers with mine, and pushed down on his, showing him the complete bass line of the song. He grinned wider, obviously enjoying playing. He was bouncing his head in time.
I played the higher end, mimicking the guitars. I showed him how to do the major drums with the lowest keys with his left hand. I was surprised that he was able to play both parts at the same time. Eventually we were performing the entire song all the way through pretty well, and having a great time.
It was so like the time spent with Toby that I was frequently surprised that I was having such a good time instead of being down. I was really enjoying music again, and it was with Jeff, now. The deep ache over Toby was being matched by a high thrill of making music with Jeff.
When we took a break and smoked a joint, he asked, "So, you like the haircut?"
He had asked shyly; it was adorable. I wished that he would feel shy more often. Like he used to.
"I'm liking it," I said honestly.
I was already certain that he was going to be attracting some girls now. With his big, rugged build, and now a flattering hair style that was popular, I almost began worrying.
After several seconds of my enjoying his shy, embarrassed grin and blush, he changed the subject. Or, rather, he returned us to the subject.
"Think you can play something new?"
"New? I'd have to learn it, I guess, but I guess so."
"How about Jeopardy?"
"Dunno. Kinda hard. Have to hear it a bunch of times and see."
"Bullshit," he said firmly, surprising me again.
"What?" I asked, worried.
"I know you, Alex. I even seen you playing phantom keyboards to it. Bet you can play it right now."
I was put back a bit.
"Just because I move fingers during a song don't mean I can play it," I said in defense.
His expression told me clearly that he wasn't believing me.
"Where is it?"
I rolled my eyes in exasperation.
"I think it's near the start of tape sixteen."
"Thought so. Even know what one."
I couldn't help but grin. He found the right tape and began hunting for "Jeopardy." When I heard "Stray Cat Strut" I told him it was next. He found the start of the song and played it.
We played it several times, eventually singing along to it as well. I lost count of how many times we went through the song. Before too long I was playing along during most of it.
"I bet there ain't a lot of guys can listen to a song a while then be able to play it," he said, looking at me in a way I hadn't seen on him before.
"Just notes. Only a few, ya know. Just listen for 'em. Hear how they're mixed and toned and shit. Set things up right and it's easy."
"Dude, you're playing Jeopardy! It's a new song you never even tried before. And you're playin' it. And good. And after a few times practice."
"It's an easy song. Just hit the right keys at the right time when things are set up right."
He rolled his eyes at me and shook his head.
"And you're talking to me and looking at me and still playing it. And right."
"Man, I spent all my time on this thing, remember? Until..."
I'd almost said it, but stopped without thinking. I demanded of myself that I not back down from the truth.
"Until Toby died. Then I kinda didn't care about music anymore."
"A fucking shame, man. Not just Toby. That was, for sure. But, I mean that you stopped playing."
"S'okay," I said, trying to grin.
I pecked at the keys, playing "Jeopardy" for the most part. He moved closer to me, almost touching. That thrilling combination of wondrous emotions began. They seemed familiar, but also so new. I had sat at this synthesizer with Toby for endless hours during both of his visits, even though both visits had been far too brief.
Now, it was suddenly Jeff sitting next to me. Every glance into his eyes seemed like a solid reminder of our being more than our bodies. I knew that I wasn't looking into his physical eyes, but rather, into his ephemeral being. I knew the two of us had been together before, and probably would again. And I knew that we had been very, very close, for a very, very long time. Perhaps even more than once.
"What else can you play? I know... Styx. Anything else?"
"Tainted Love" popped into my head, surprising me. It had been one of those special songs between Toby and me, and sharing it with Jeff seemed wrong at first. It had been the last song we had sung together. Not for any special reason, it was just the song we had played and sung before we were sidetracked by our other favorite past-time, also for the last time. We never considered it would be our last song together. And at that moment, as I considered playing and singing it with Jeff, I realized that Toby may well have known it would be our last song together. That possibility propelled it into mythical standing. Suddenly, "Tainted Love" took on an even more private and powerful meaning. And surprisingly, I was even more willing to share it with Jeff.
"Jeff, uh, like, the day Toby left, we, the last song we did together. It was one of our favorites, too. I know you like it, too."
I started the drumbeats and pecked the first notes.
"Ooh! You know I love this song!" he said, grinning widely.
We sang together, grinning and giggling. I thought we didn't sound bad at all. Far from good, but not bad. His smooth voice sounded good to me. I was off the key, of course, and I'd crack and crackle by trying to go high. I dropped my voice near my new normal speaking range, and I messed around with it a while, finding the right notes for the first time. I tried different things with my new voice. Eventually I found that by forcing power into my voice, but holding it back, too, it made for an almost angry sound. I liked it. I closed my eyes and worked on it through the last part of the song.
He was grinning, wide-eyed and gape-mouthed as I opened my eyes at the end of the song.
"That was cool! That's the way he should'a sung it."
We did it again. Or, rather, I did it again. Jeff listened as I pushed my voice through my chest, but held it back, too, forcing a low, growling, almost angry version of the song out of myself. I found that I could waver my voice in that style. I liked how it sounded during parts of the song.
"Sing it with me?" I asked.
We sang it with each other at first, then at each other, then to each other; just as Toby and I had so often, and that final day.
And just as Toby and I had done, Jeff and I ended the song by moving together and sharing a kiss that led to another, and then another, and then our hands began roaming. Before long we were on the bed.
Jeff leaned me backward and was over me, his hands roaming. I tried to roll him over and be on top, but he was so much larger than I that it was impossible. I noticed that he actively resisted. He was an overwhelming presence over me.
We kissed and touched, removing clothing. His body was so much larger than mine. That didn't change anything, though. It wasn't that I didn't still want him, and even love him, it was that he seemed so different. Not long ago, it wouldn't have meant anything that he was larger than I, but now, it seemed that I found it less than ideal. It was intimidating, and I didn't like it.
I wanted to make it last, but Jeff was insistent and demanding. Even after we had undressed, he remained on top of me, directing my movements, and before we had done anything else, he was on top of me, pushing his massive cock between the front of my legs, under my balls. He humped me there, groaning and moaning.
"Want you," he mumbled into my neck as he kissed me.
"Me, too," I said back.
He rolled me over, forcefully. I was rather stunned. Then he pushed his cock between the cheeks of my ass. I tried rolling over, but he was heavy and stronger.
"Jeff, stop it. No way without doing something first," I said quickly.
"I can't wait," he said, pushing against me there.
"Ouch!" I said honestly as his hard, large cock rammed up against me.
Not only was I not ready, he didn't seem to notice, or care.
"Damn it, Jeff! Not yet!"
I squirmed and struggled until he let me free from under him. The mood of sexual desire was broken. I was almost angry.
"Damn it!" I said loudly. "We gotta do some stuff first! Even if I... "
Let you do that so you choose me over baseball, I thought.
He looked confused and maybe a bit angry.
I was breathless from struggling with him, and not entirely just from that as I said, "Look, Jeff, even if you had a small dick, you gotta, like, stretch it, first. Me, not you, I mean."
I didn't know if I was making any sense, and judging by his expression, I wasn't.
"It won't just go right in. Okay? Even a smaller one. Especially not a... nice big one like yours. Okay?"
I snickered out of nervousness. He nodded, his expression still confused and a little angry.
"So let's do whatever it is we gotta do first," he said with a sudden smile of anticipation.
I rolled my eyes.
"Make it sound so easy."
I tried to explain that it wasn't. And, even more so, not when the one entering is so large. I offered to show him by stretching him, maybe entering him, to demonstrate that it wasn't that easy. He wasn't tempted.
"So you want to fuck me, but you don't want me to do you?"
It wasn't much of a question, more a statement.
"I don't think I'd like it," he finally answered.
I had a question to ask him, but I found asking it was enormously difficult. I had to force myself to.
"Have, you ever... put a finger in... yourself?"
He looked stunned. I almost grinned at his cute expression.
"No?" I asked.
He shook his head.
"Not even once?"
Again he shook his head.
How could I explain it, then, I wondered. I'd have to show him in order for him to understand.
"Does it hurt?"
"No," I said. "Not when it's a finger. But something as big as..."
I gestured at his enormous manhood as it hung there between his thighs.
"Fucking thing," he said angrily.
"Look, just let me do you first. Okay? See what you think. Then you'll see what I mean."
"Just, let's just do something else," he said, moving so that he was sitting on the edge of the bed.
I was about to agree and do anything else he wanted sexually, but as he put on his briefs, and then his jeans, I knew what he meant.
I felt let down.
"What d'ya wanna do?" I asked him.
He shrugged without looking at me, then put his shirt on.
I followed suit and got dressed. We ended up on the Atari, playing Missile Command. We were quiet, and I wasn't enjoying myself very much. Jeff didn't seem to be, either.
I still wanted to keep him from leaving me for baseball, but I wasn't going to let him fuck me to do so. When it was my turn, I didn't pick up the joystick. Instead, I screwed up the courage to talk about it and then turned to face him.
"Jeff, I gotta know. Is it really that important that... that you do, that? You know, fuck me?"
He looked surprised and confused. He nodded.
"Just the tip?" he begged.
"That's the biggest part!" I replied. "Once that's in, the rest'll almost seem easy!"
I thought for a moment.
"Almost!" I emphasized.
"I can't help it I was born with this."
Oh, how perfect for the joke! I thought. But what a stupid time. He almost rapes me and then I get the perfect time for the joke.
I wondered if I should use it or not. I saw pros and cons. In the end, the desire to lighten to mood between us, along with the uncertainty of when I would ever get to use it, made the decision.
"Ya know, you technically raped your mother on the way out when you was born, don't you?"
"You're so sick!" he protested before laughing. "I, just, if we don't do that, then we're just jerking each other off. Literally! I mean, what are we doin' here?"
What are we doing? I repeated angrily to myself. What are we doing?
"It's that important to you?" I asked again, amazed. "We had a fucking great time last weekend. We didn't have to fuck to do it."
"Isn't it? I mean, we're just jerkin' each other off otherwise. Or, blowing each other off." He smiled, unable to refuse the humor of his argument. "But, I mean, you said you did with Toby. Both ways. And you did with Tom. And yes," he said, holding up a hand to stop me. "I know, they wasn't a tree trunk. Fine. But maybe it's just me, but I don't see me taking it. Even from you. Maybe. But..."
"Like me taking that thing! Maybe, someday. Maybe even probably. But not for now. Not right away. We gotta do some things, first."
"Okay. And I'm sorry. Honest, Froedrick."
His intensely blue eyes were soft and pleading. They melted me.
"Sorry? For what?"
"For... for having a mutant dick."
I laughed once, regretting it instantly.
"Sorry. I mean, it's not a mutant one. Just, really big. Shit, man, you're lucky! Every guy in school'd kill to have one like that."
"Every guy in school can have it!" he said, almost yelling.
He was upset, obviously so.
"Sorry, dude," I offered.
"Everybody wants a massive dick. Well, I can tell ya, it sucks to have one."
I almost apologized again. I knew that it was only a bad thing to have if the one you wanted didn't want it inside them, which made it my fault that it was a bad thing. I felt guilty. That guilt triggered other guilt, and suddenly I felt absolutely horrible.
What am I doing? I do nothing but hurt him. Time after time, I do things that make him feel bad. I kept pushing to give each other hand-jobs, even though it made him run away each time. I throw him out of my room because he can't deal with Tom knowing we had sex together. Then I go and give Tom that blow-job. If he ever finds that out, it'll hurt him even more. Fuck. What am I doing? Do I subconsciously want to hurt him? Is that what I'm doing? Hurting him so he won't hurt me with his, his, with that thing?
What about making him want to stay with me instead of joining the team? Is that just another way I want to hurt him? Is that all I'm trying to do? Hurt him?
No! I won't. I won't hurt him. If he wants baseball instead of me, he can. I won't try to make him pick me over the team. I won't.
"It's not you. It's me."
"Dude, look. If you was with someone who wanted a massive dick to be fucked by, it'd be a good thing. But it's me. So... it's only a bad thing because of me."
I drew up my legs and wrapped my arms around them. I wanted to keep drawing them up until I vanished into myself, so that I would be out of his way and he could go find someone who wanted his size.
"Who'd want it?" he asked, sounding disgusted. "Who'd want to be hurt by it?"
I had no answer for him.
He held his head down, shaking it slightly. His hands picked at each other absently. He sighed deeply. I could tell that he felt badly. I wanted to cheer him up, but no ideas came.
"It's built for girls," he said with anger.
I had no answer for that, either.
I felt a horrible mix of emotions. There was guilt over not being able to take him, over throwing him out of my room, over blowing Tom, over planning on changing his mind about joining the baseball team. I was terribly sad that I couldn't give him what he wanted, and sad that we didn't want the same thing, or rather, that we wanted the same thing, that we didn't want complementary things from each other.
He suddenly stood up and walked toward the door. My guts sank, seeing him walk away again, knowing he was going to leave again.
My heart fluttered painfully in my chest, making each breath feel shortened and thin. Most of my muscles wanted to shake and quiver. The heat behind my eyes threatened tears.
"Jeff, don't go home," I said softly.
"I'm not. I just wanna go be alone for a while. Goin' downstairs."
"You promise you won't leave?" I asked, sounding weak and afraid, not caring that I did.
"Promise," he said softly without looking back.
I dropped my forehead onto my knees, not wanting to cry, but knowing that I was going to.
* * *
I was saved from dying in the van again by the phone. At first it was ringing from the kitchen as the van burned around me, but once my head had jerked up from my knees, a quick glance around me proved that the phone was real, but the van and the fire weren't. Not this time, anyway. A further glance around my room proved that I had slept at least a couple of hours, that Jeff was still gone, and that my parents would be coming home soon.
The phone rang again.
I knew who it was. I knew that Jeff had gone home, despite his promise not to, and that he was calling to apologize.
Deeply in dread, I pulled myself up out of the tight, uncomfortable position and made it to the phone. The burns stung at the movement after being pulled so taut for so long.
It rang again.
I'm not sure I wanna answer it. What kind of apology can he offer for leaving again, like he did so many times before?
But hiding from it won't make it any better. I just learned that with Tom, right?
"Hi, hon. Your dad and I had a couple glasses of wine, and it's snowing pretty good, so we're going to stay at the hotel. Okay? We should be back tomorrow morning sometime."
"Uh, sure, Mom. Don't drive if you've had wine, and it's snowing."
"You feeling okay? You sound odd."
"Was kinda dozing off."
"Oh, good. You can probably use the rest. Did you have supper?"
"Yeah," I lied, wondering how I was going to get rid of some of the potstickers before they got home.
"Well, don't forget a snack, or dessert. Okay?"
"See ya in the morning, then. Good night."
I sighed in relief as I hung up the phone.
At least it wasn't Jeff calling from his place. I don't have to make up a story when they get home about why he's gone. Wonder how long he's gonna stay down there? Maybe I should go talk to him? Or maybe he won't care? But what if he wants to see it? What if he wants more time alone? What if he's not there? What if he did go home?
What the hell do I do?
Why is this so hard?
God, I miss Toby. It was so simple with him. Maybe I should be more like him, so it would be easier with Jeff. Would that make the difference? No. I can be a little more like Toby, though. I can be honest, sincere, caring, loving, happy, and fun. Or try to be. But all of them together won't change the situation between Jeff and me. I want us to be all or nothing. He only allows something in between. But now, is it going to end up nothing?
Why does he think we have to actually fuck? So what if we don't? Or if we just don't, for now. Toby and me didn't right away. Tom and me hardly ever did.
I curled up on the bed and wished many things. I was near tears again, but fighting them off valiantly. I ran many of the same thoughts of Jeff over and over in my mind, trying to make sense of them all.
I just wanted things to be easier, simpler, less difficult or complicated. I wanted easy answers, or at least answers of some kind. All I got were more questions, more worries.
I drifted to sleep.
"Yeah. Old Chevy, not started for a few days, in cold weather, used to driving every day. She's gonna be stubborn," Dad was saying again.
Jeff stood near him, wearing a baseball uniform, staring at me coldly, tossing and catching a ball. I thought, I knew he'd be cute in it.
I knew he had always been there. I knew there was nothing I could do. I was fated to live it again, over and over, while he watched.
"See if you can pop that hatch cover, will ya, son?"
I unlatched the one on the passenger side easily. The driver side was far more difficult. I pulled and yanked, afraid I might tear it off. The van shook from my efforts.
"Don't break it off. I tried. It's stuck good. Try to start it one more time then we get that clasp fixed so we can get to the engine decently. Go ahead and try starting it again."
"At least you know I ain't even started it," I answered with a sly grin.
He peeked around the hood at me with a grin. Jeff glowered at me from the other side of the hood, tossing the baseball into his glove. He shook his head sadly at me.
I didn't ask.
I moved the Styx medallion out of the way and then turned the key. The engine turned, barely beginning to catch. Dad called for another pump of the accelerator. Knowing what was to come, I pushed and released the pedal. The engine turned faster, then caught with a pop.
Another, louder pop, then a loud, whooshing boom as there was a bright, orange light, and I was knocked against the van door, the side of my head hitting the pillar.
Things went fuzzy, and wobbly, and blurred. Dad yelling my name. Flames on the dashboard now. I could feel the heat of the fire on my right side. I smelled the odor of burning carpet, oil, rubber, and plastic.
I killed the engine, but he flames still raged, even grew larger, burning the black shag-carpeted dashboard; closer, hotter. Thicker, blacker smoke curled up the windshield and rolled over my head.
I turned back to the driver's door, but Jeff was there, saying, "Why can't you let me be like Toby and Tom? Ain't I good enough?"
I started to tell him that I loved him, but my lungs rejected the air they drew in, making me cough uncontrollably. I couldn't keep my eyes open against the smoke and heat, let alone breathe it.
Dad's voice calling my name. I tried to yell for help, but my lungs still refused the smoke and I began a horrible coughing fit. I rolled the window down to get fresh air from outside the van, but the crank came off in my hand. The smoke increased and billowed out of the partially open window, still choking me. I slid as far from the blazing engine and dash as I could, pressing myself against the partially open door, shoving my face out the partially open window in an effort to find air.
I felt the heat of the fire singing my skin through my clothing. Images of my charred and smoking body being pulled from the van by firemen, my grieving parents held back by police, ran in my head. I clawed at the window, pushing my face out the opening.
Jeff pushed me back inside, yelling, "I'm not good enough? Why don't you want me?"
Real panic set in, forcing reason and rational thought to flee. Flames were spreading across the thickly upholstered dashboard, the carpet between the front seats near the engine bay, the overhead, and the curtains behind both seats.
The coughing became constant and painful. Each inhalation burned terribly; each cough hurt even more than the last. The chemicals, burning ashes, and the heated air triggered uncontrollable and gut-wrenching coughs.
I tried to make my lungs work, to draw in and take what oxygen they could from the smoke, but they refused. My heart's efforts doubled. I pushed my face into the small opening of the window, no longer caring if the glass broke and I was horribly cut; I only wanted the air.
The pain in my temple flared with each cough. I felt the familiar dizziness come, and knew I was about to lose consciousness.
My thoughts were to blame it on God, worry about not being with Toby in the afterlife, and how unfair it was that Jeff wanted to play baseball instead of spending time with me.
The heat of the fire, the pain of my skin burning on my right side and back, the pain as drops of flaming, carpeted dashboard burned through the legs of my jeans, the pain of my lungs filled with toxins and chemicals and hot ashes, the horrible suffocation.
I saw Jeff watching as I died, tossing his ball into his mitt over and over, glowering at me.
Then, suddenly, he was pulling me from the driver's seat of the van through the burning curtains and into the back. He threw me onto the bed. He rolled me onto my stomach and tore my jeans and underwear down in one swift, rough movement. I opened my eyes and tried to turn around, but I was weak and still coughing so horribly. I became horrified to a point that I had never experienced before when I found his belt holding my hands and arms to my sides.
Without warning, he placed the hot head of his thick cock against my hole. I tensed in fear and anticipation of even more pain. I shook my head violently and tried to scream denials.
How can this be happening? I railed. He loves me! He won't do this! It's a dream! A nightmare!
That hope was shattered when he pushed violently and forced himself into me. I could never dream that pain. It had to be real.
Like a red hot steel bar wrapped in industrial sandpaper, it split me open and tore its way into me.
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