The following story is for adults and contains descriptions of sexual contact between teenage males. If you are a minor it is illegal for you to read, or if you find the subject objectionable, read no further. All the characters, events and settings are the product of my over-active imagination. I hope you like it. Mail me or if literary analysis interests you visit Eliot's Space.
Falling through the Ice
The Arms Get Tired, Saturday, February 26th
Heather thought about Daniel as she sat at her desk. Spring seemed a long way off. Frozen drifts clogged all pathways and made getting where you wanted to go a tiresome chore. The plows didn't really clear the streets; they just seemed to push the snow around leaving obstacles for traffic and pedestrians alike. Heather found herself dreaming of spring sunlight and green grass. Her son needed spring too. It was as if the steady accumulation of dirty snow matched Daniel's slow drift into depression.
Heather had known the freshie year would be hard on him. She should have known her adolescent son would not talk to her about it. Fourteen-year-olds were new territory for her and she wasn't sure that she understood him. Heather envied Hagar having a daughter at this stage. Hagar's boy was away at school now, but the older woman had assured her that he had been much the same at Daniel's age.
She wasn't sure what Denver Hawke could do for her son, but she saw that Daniel got over to the Brass Lantern where he seemed to recharge his emotional batteries. Daniel didn't bring many friends home anymore. During rare moments of conversation together Daniel spoke of classmates she didn't know. Half a year into high school and he seemed to have lost touch with most his old elementary school friends. Arlo's mother had phoned Heather to vent her own frustrations. She was perplexed by her own son and Heather could not explain Daniel's gradual abandonment of his best friend.
As Heather glanced at another paper she realized that Mandy was all that was left of the gang Daniel had habitually surround himself with since grade six. Heather was pleased with their attachment. Many of the girls Daniel's age were a mother's nightmare. Heather laughed at her own enthusiasm for the pretty girl who ruled Daniel's day and filled his night's with restless dreams. Heather had to struggle to remember Daniel and Mandy were only fourteen stepping out of childhood.
Mandy came over frequently and this did not always please her son. Daniel would get unreasonably angry if Mandy came by herself. Mandy would persist in doing this despite his pleading. Heather could hear them argue about it in his room; Mandy confident in her ability to take care of herself and Daniel inarticulate about his concerns. Fortunately, they never seemed to stay angry at each other for long. The noise would die down and, except for Daniel's music, Heather would hear nothing from them. Her son always insisted he had to accompany her home and Mandy always argued against it. They were remarkably protective of each other.
Heather knew she was not being cautious about Daniel's activities with Mandy. She probably should have been. On a guilty search of Daniel's room she uncovered an unopened box of condoms. She hadn't worked up the courage to confront him about them. She had carefully returned them to his hiding spot and made more of an effort to watch the pair. The school frustrated her as well. Each time he came home bruised and battered by some school-yard fight she would phone the school. The vice principal would express sympathy and hint that Daniel might be falling into a bad crowd. It could send her into a towering rage she fought to contain. It was a small comfort to Heather that Daniel was a boy and therefore safe from the worst forms of abuse. Heather was sure she would not have been able to stand in Hagar Cole's shoes and watch Mandy leave for school and the dangers of the grade twelve boys.
Heather had considered sending him to a private school. She did not have to ask Daniel his opinion of that idea. His friends were at Riverview and Daniel had acquired his grandfather's dislike of private schools. Heather reassured herself that her good-natured son would be fine in the blackboard jungle. She knew he was an handsome boy who attracted attention, he had inherited that from his bastard father if nothing else; people had always been drawn to Daniel. Her son had a way of handling them all with grace. Daniel would figure out the school and learn to avoid the older boys who had not yet learned to like him.
Monday, February 28th
The first bell rang and Daniel's stomach twitched with a pang of disappointment. He knew it was time to head to his locker. There were, Daniel reflected, too many entrances and he was probably going about this the wrong way. Laine was proving illusive. Daniel was not always able to make their lunch date. Things distracted him from his new quest. He could never offer Simon or Mark a reasonable explanation for sitting at the same window every day. He also had to keep up the effort to share lunch with Mandy from time to time. Someone had to beat the older boys off with a stick if Mandy was not willing to do it for herself.
Apparently Laine did not use the south entrance. Daniel dejectedly slipped off the railing and headed into the school. It had occurred to Daniel in an optimistic flash that he and Laine might be playing a game of tag. What if Laine shared the attraction Daniel felt? What if Laine was sitting at a difference entrance waiting for him? It was all rather stupid; Daniel should just walk up to him and say hello. It was not like they were total strangers. Daniel shied away from the thought. It would have been nice to know Laine's schedule.
Daniel closed his locker and spun the wheel. He felt strung out and run down. He was always tired at school and he could not work up any interest in the next class. School had always been something Daniel enjoyed. The class work came easily to him and he had always been surrounded by his friends. School was not fun anymore. It had started with being cut from the track team. That still upset Daniel even though he had seen it coming. The track team was going to be his way to stay in shape until the next season of football. He really missed the physical activity. As if to show that Daniel darted through the crowd avoiding twelfth grade boys as if they were defensive tackles. He knew that if he could stay in condition he had a good chance of gaining a place on the older team in the fall. He just hadn't been fast enough for the track team Daniel reassured himself.
Football and his short time on the track team seemed to be it for the year. Daniel had faced the fact that he wasn't going to make basketball or volleyball. There were too many ninth graders with height or club experience. He was interested in wrestling but it seemed too much like what he spent his days avoiding in the corners of the school. He had tried the weight room a few times, but it was clear that he was just inviting attention from the crowd who were attracted to sweaty young boys straining their muscles while lying on their backs. His other interest would have been the swim team. He knew he could have kept his place in the pool. He had showed up for the try-outs after his gym teacher suggested he could win a spot on the team. When he saw the older boys and girls watching from the stands he turned away. It was just a Speedo advertisement for his availability in the shower room and hallways. The hope of joining the team in grade ten was a feint light at the end of the freshie tunnel and he tried to keep up his trips to the university pool. Like a wild deer returning to the watering hole, he approached the pool, like everything else, wary of the lurking predators. Meeting up with Cam made it easier. He felt protected by the nineteen-year old and flattered by his attention in the same way Denver flattered him.
Daniel had been on the run for seven months. Daniel wished his mom could take time off for a vacation. He needed out for a while. He turned a corner and realized he had walked into a crowd of seniors. Two students from his class stood amongst the older boys and girls seemingly caught in the older boy's conversation. Daniel felt the familiar anxiety that the older students would stop him. It seemed they were focused elsewhere though and he passed by unnoticed. Daniel hurried on.
Daniel caught a glimpse of Denver down the hall. They waved at each other. When he saw Denver he didn't want to talk about the constant humiliations and occasional assaults. Denver did not handle it well. Denver was always so sure he could solve Daniel's problems. Denver always fought back. After the beating he had received for defending Simon and the close call in the restroom Daniel wasn't fighting much these days.
He saw one of the creeps who had treated Daniel like dirt and humiliated him in front of some cute girls. He looked so normal leaning against a locker laughing with a couple of girls. The look in that boy's eyes had reminded Daniel of Jake and Frank. Daniel stopped to lean against the wall while he waited for his heart to slow down. He just wanted be left alone.
His first class was with Arlo. He never understood why he had been shifted into the class. It was not his learning community and most of the students were complete strangers to Daniel. Daniel sat in his desk trying to remember what they had been studying. The class was boring because the teacher never let anyone talk and they worked out of a decrepit old textbook. Generations of students had filled the margins with answers and obliterated the illustrations with graffito. Daniel and the others would work silently on the chapter questions until the last fifteen minutes when they would self correct. The corner of the white board slowly filled with the names of students who talked and the teacher added perfect little check marks showing the students condemned to detention. Daniel hadn't made any friends in the room. It was hard to get to know people if you never got to talk.
Daniel glanced at Chris and Arlo. Chris always pretended he wasn't there. Arlo always sat beside Daniel as he had in grade eight. Arlo was particularly depressing to have in class. Arlo knew Daniel and Mandy were going out but he still passed Daniel embarrassing notes. When the teacher took them he looked at the boy's with thinly veiled disgust. Daniel looked at the latest one in his hand. "Luke has a big packet. I wouldn't mind humming a tune on his flute. Do you want to come to a party with me?" Daniel scribbled "go for it" to the first and "no" to the second, and then handed the note back to Arlo. Mr. Hammer put his name on the board. Daniel sighed.
It came to Daniel that Arlo probably knew exactly what Laine's schedule was. He vaguely recalled Arlo mentioning he had classes with his ex-boyfriend. Daniel carefully ripped a strip off the bottom of a blank page. He started to write Arlo a note and then froze when he realized what a monumental mistake he was making. He glanced at Arlo as he carefully shredded the evidence into confetti. Arlo offered a small smile and Daniel responded to it weakly.
Mandy wanted Daniel to go to a chick flick on the weekend. He would have to share her with some girl friends. Maybe he could drag Simon along. Simon could distract the girls with his macho bullshit. On the other hand if he talked to Laine at lunch he could invite him to go to the movie too. It had been easy to talk to him in the fall. Daniel was not sure why he was searching the school for Laine when he had Mandy. Daniel wrote Mandy + Laine on his paper and then erased it vigorously. He was not really thinking straight at the moment. Whatever possessed him to think he could include Laine in his circle? It was bad enough he lived in dread of the moment when Mandy realized what a pussy he was always getting pushed around by the older boys. He could not imagine explaining his sudden infatuation with the dark haired Laine.
Daniel resented Mandy at times. Mandy had not had to face the year he had. She was safe behind her disguise surrounded by her new friends. He was frightened that she would drop him when she saw through his lies. His teacher was circling the silent room like a hawk. The total silence was killing him. Daniel raised his hand and left the room when the man had given his grudging assent.
Daniel was splashing water on his face when Chris joined him. After meeting his eyes Daniel turned back to the sink. The water did not help much, he needed a coffee, preferably while he was relaxed at the Brass Lantern and away from the mesmerizing dullness of his history classroom and the adoring attention of Arlo. He leaned on the sink and looked at his reflection. Beyond his shoulder Chris was hunched over the urinal. God Daniel hated restrooms. "So you as big a faggot as your bum-buddy Arlo?" Daniel ignored the comment and yanked a few paper towels free. "Which one of you top's? I'll bet you are a bottom Daniel. I'll bet you like it when Arlo drives that big salami of his deep into your fudge hole." Daniel turned back to lean against the sink. Chris glanced over his shoulder before returning to his business.
"Top? Bottom? You seem to be very familiar with the vocabulary Chris." Daniel welcomed the unfamiliar surge of rage. It made him feel alive. "Big salami, have you been dreaming of a little man-on-man action there Chris?"
"Fuck off Murrell; it wasn't me lapping up the jizz this summer. What a total fruit you turned out to be." Daniel crossed the floor and shoved Chris against the urinal to get his attention. "What the fuck!" Chris turned on Daniel but before he could follow through he found himself pushed back against the wall a second time. Daniel's face was brick red.
"That story has been following me around all year. You know how it went down. You just are not man enough to tell anyone the truth."
"What is that exactly?"
"I never sucked your cock."
"You were all set to. Greg and I should have guessed you were gay."
"You know, I don't have anything to prove to you. What if I was? Forget for a moment you're a bully and pathetic loser and I have a girl friend; say I'm hot for guys, say I've got a sexy boyfriend with a tight ass..."
"He's sick alright and I love it when he does me. I like his breath on my neck as he nails me Chris. I want to feel his long hair brush my belly when his lips are wrapped around my cock. He's my baby" Daniel crooned. "So what? What would it be to you anyway?"
"Faggot" Chris hissed.
"Yeh, right Chris. I'm the faggot with a girl friend. You creamed as soon as you got it out of your pants. What does that say about you Chris?
Daniel knew he had finally pushed the wrong button. "I'll get you for that."
"I'm scared Chris. You already did your worst. You told Arlo and he told my girl friend. Guess what? You don't matter now, so go tell your little story to someone else." Daniel paused when he reached the door and looked back to where Chris stood frozen with his fly open, "By the way Chris, you leave a bad taste in my mouth."
Daniel stepped into the hallway and leaned against a locker. He was shaking like a leaf. He could hardly believe his own words to Chris. Where had it all come from? The anger felt good. Letting his feelings out felt good even if he knew Chris would probably take it all for sarcasm, he still felt better.
Chris followed him back into the classroom a few minutes later. Their eyes met and Chris mouthed fag at him. Daniel responded with a finger. Mr. Hammer coughed once and added a check next to Daniel's name. Daniel sighed and tried to immerse himself in the boring work.
On an impulse Daniel followed Arlo out of the classroom and let his delighted friend lead him down the hallway. After priming the conversation with his opinion of Mr. Hammer it was easy to turn it over to Arlo. They dropped a floor below Daniel's next class. When Arlo reached his next classroom they paused across from the door. Daniel's patient attention to some minor excitement in Arlo's relationship with Donald was eventually rewarded by Laine's arrival.
Daniel's spirits soared and he felt a surge through his chest that reminded him of the sensation of riding a canoe through foaming water. Laine walked alone with an easy stride and an abstracted look on his face. He checked abruptly when he noticed Daniel standing near the wall with Arlo. Another student bumped into Laine and he resumed walking toward the door with his head bowed. Daniel watched him shear away from the door and cut through a stream of students before landing beside a heavy set girl. Laine exchanged some words with the girl. "Are you going to be free on Saturday?"
"Hmm?" Arlo was blocking his view so Daniel shifted to the right. Laine had dropped a heavy book bag to the floor and he had begun rummaging about in it. His dark hair was a curtain covering his eyes.
"I was thinking of having a few people over, you know maybe some of the old gang." That caught Daniel's attention and he reluctantly shifted his eyes away from Laine. He realized this served him right. He had shown interest. He must have been staring blankly at Arlo because Arlo resumed after a moment. "I mean, it would be nice don't you think?" Arlo smiled so hopefully Daniel felt shamed into a response.
"Who were you thinking of?" Daniel tried to say it lightly. Things were touchy between them. Laine had surfaced with a small student agenda and a pen. He turned slightly away from Daniel and offered his slender profile. The hand came up and casually pushed the spill of hair off his face. Daniel bit his lip as Laine slowly began paging through the agenda apparently intent on some errant information that would not wait until he was in the classroom.
Arlo hesitated. The idea for a gathering had come to him as they had walked to his class and he had not actually thought through the difficulties. The tight circle of friends they had shared was now fragmented largely because of the break between Greg and Daniel. The old loyalties did not seem to matter any more, Arlo thought bleakly. Even now Daniel's eyes had slid away from him again and seemed focused somewhere past his left shoulder. It had been so much better when Greg and Mandy were still together and Daniel had spent his free time with Arlo. There were too many disagreements among them all now. As usual Arlo could see it all clearly in his head. Greg and Chris despised Arlo because he liked boys. Daniel would not go anywhere without Mandy and she despised Amber. Daniel was clearly jealous of Arlo's relationship with Donald and Arlo loathed Simon. The bell would ring in a moment so Arlo needed to say something. Arlo moved into Daniel's field of vision. Daniel's met his eyes with a slight pout that made Arlo shiver with his need for Daniel. "Maybe we should forget the idea. How about coming over and just hanging out." Daniel shifted his binder as the bell rang and sighed before replying.
"I don't know, sounds okay I guess. I'm not really sure. Let me think about it okay? I might be busy. You know how it is. I'll get back to you."
Arlo was encouraged by the positive response. He knew what Daniel meant by the vague answer. Daniel was whipped. Daniel had to check with Mandy first. Arlo poked Daniel to cheer him up. "Hey dude, you sound like your married. I'm your friend right?" Daniel edged away. Arlo knew they both needed to get to class. His question brought a small smile to Daniel's lips.
"For better or worse, till death do us part."
"Well it's only ninth grade buddy, we haven't come to that yet. You know we are entitled to have other friends. Just because I am with Donald and you are with Mandy doesn't mean we have to be exclusive." Donald had explained this to Arlo before he had picked up an older boy who was coming to a party with them. They had what Donald referred to as an open relationship. Arlo could not help but notice the slight bulge breaking the flat plain of Daniel's body. Daniel was excited. Daniel was responding to him. All Daniel needed was a little encouragement to nudge him along. They were alone in the hallway now. "It does not mean you don't care about Mandy too," Arlo continued softly, "It doesn't have to be a big deal Daniel. What is so wrong with two guys enjoying being together?" Arlo won Daniel over with that. His friend seemed to relax and his smile softened.
"Your right Arlo thanks. I guess I better get to class." Daniel walked backward a few steps before turning away.
"Think about Saturday."
"Sure thing, we'll see." Daniel tossed over his shoulder. Arlo admired Daniel's figure as it moved confidently away. When he turned he was surprised to find Laine leaning against a locker near the door. Arlo did not say anything to his former boyfriend. Laine had lost his chance and if he was not ready for a serious relationship it was his problem. Arlo did not need him now. He could take Daniel up to the attic over the garage on Saturday. Arlo paused in the doorway of the classroom to catch one last look at Daniel. He flushed with pleasure, Daniel had stopped at the stairwell and turned back to watch Arlo. Daniel looked so good standing there with one hand casually on the door frame, shirt open to expose his tight tangerine t-shirt and the hard muscle beneath. Arlo looked over Laine's shoulder and waved to his friend. Arlo wished Laine would look up and notice Daniel.
Swim with a New School of Fish, Wednesday March 2nd
Daniel was eating lunch by himself. Mandy was at a club meeting somewhere no doubt surrounded by a growing assortment of admiring ninth and tenth graders. Daniel ate the cold tuna buns in lonely solitude. Laine was elsewhere it seemed. Laine's usual crowd sat chatting without him. A group of older boys threaded their way in his direction. They stopped a couple of times before ending their journey at his table. Daniel glanced at them when a black boy about his size sat down facing him. "I'm Roger. This is Bo, that's Peter and he's Nathan. You're Daniel Murrell aren't you?" Daniel looked at the four boys.
"We're on the cross country team. Denver said you're bummed out because they cut you from track. He thought you might like to work out with us."
Bo chimed in. "We're kind of the lost boys of the athletic program." Peter and Nathan nodded in agreement.
"We run together twice a week. Well, most of us run every day by ourselves."
"Well to be honest with you guys I was mostly trying to stay in shape for football. I don't know what kind of a long distance runner I would make." The boys sat down next to Roger.
"That's cool Daniel. We are just goofing around now anyway. We won't gear up to compete till the spring." Daniel wasn't much of a jogger. Unless there had a clear destination in mind, say the end zone, there hardly seemed any point in the exercise. He thought it over quickly and decided there were not any better offers.
"Sure. Thanks for asking me." They told him where to hook up with them. Bo shyly gave him some advice on what to wear; it was still cold.
* ** *
"Get over it Simon, it will be good for you. I haven't seen you run since the summer. Just pretend you're being chased by rapists." Simon was dressed like a street person swaddled against the cold.
"I can't believe you talked me into this." Simon muttered to Daniel. Daniel introduced him to the guys he had met in the cafeteria and they introduced him to a few more boys and girls.
"Simon's going to run with us. If he lights up a cigarette take it away from him." The others looked at Simon.
"Fuck you Daniel," and Simon took off after the grade twelve who was setting the pace. Daniel followed the pack and found Roger holding back with him. They ran in silence for a while along the snow covered side walk. Occasionally the path would be blocked and they would be forced to detour onto the street. The slate sky heralded a coming storm. It felt good to be moving again. Daniel had been missing this kind of exercise. Daniel searched for the kind of rhythm that sustained him through his canoe trips.
"I only started running last spring. Do you mind me giving you some tips?" Daniel was feeling agreeable so as they ran Roger shared what he knew and before long Daniel had changed his rhythm and felt himself relaxing. It was a long run and Daniel was feeling out of shape. "We usually run before school, but when it's cold like this we run in the daylight." Daniel let Roger increase the pace and they began to close the gap with Simon and the rest of the pack. "Not really that cold is it?" Roger was just a bit too cheerful for Daniel's taste. He grunted a reply and concentrated on the uneven surface beneath his feet. After another half a block they had joined the rest and Simon fell back a few paces to join him. Simon actually grinned at Daniel.
"I think I finally found a sport I like." Daniel refrained from sharing his opinion on running.
When they got back to the school Daniel was beat. He peeled off his clothes and pushed them into his book bag. If he was going to do this he needed to have more changes. The shower felt good and the new companions took the edge off the sense of loneliness he had been feeling during the day. Some days it was like a dark weight pressed down on him. The long stretches between Mandy, Denver and Simon were pain-filled moments of holding his breath.
Daniel lapsed into silence and let Simon talk for both of them. It was a luxury to be free of worry. The companionship of the older boys lulled Daniel into an illusion that he was safe from the aggravations of being a grade nine at Riverview. He soaped and rinsed himself idly. He wondered if Laine was sick. Laine in a baggy t-shirt and boxer briefs lounging on a couch, chicken soup beside him and a game in the machine. Laine rinsing the sweat of illness off his hard body in the shower, holding his head back so that the hard stinging water massaged his blemish-free temples and traveled down the wick of his brunette hair. Cooling rivulets would braid their way down the muscled expanse of his shoulders and back until they met the swell of his cheeks only to be channeled down the cleft and fall in scatters to Laine's feet. Soothing water would caress his long legs and cling to the small hairs, but a trickle would work its way between warm thighs to tickle the heat-stretched sack containing... Daniel was jostled out of his contented thoughts when Bo, Roger and Peter pushed him out of the hot jets and blocked him from view for a moment. Daniel and Simon stood behind a casual wall of flesh while some unfamiliar seniors stopped to chat. When the twelfth graders moved on the boys let the two freshies back into the circle. Roger glanced apologetically at Daniel. "It blows, I know. I remember what it was like." It spoiled the moment for Daniel. But he also realized it had been a while since anyone had helped him like that.
"No, thanks guys, that was cool." Daniel reluctantly tucked Laine away.
Mandy was waiting for him near the change rooms. Some seniors walked past her as she picked her nose and stared vacantly at them through her heavy rims. The sweater was truly ugly. Daniel had stopped noticing her school appearance months ago. Sometimes her good-will outfits even seemed cute to him. The last senior stopped to take a second look at her and Daniel's heart stopped until the twelfth grader moved on. He realized he had been hiding in the door the whole time. He was a shrimp hiding from sharks while his angel fish pretended to be a guppy. Daniel slammed his fist into a locker and went out to meet her.
God he was either angry or depressed these days, Mandy thought to herself. There were three more months and she couldn't believe the strength he had shown so far. She hated the costume she was wearing. She dreamed of being herself and styling her hair again. The play acting had saved her from many humiliations though. When they made her paint the mural she had shed her disguise to distance herself from her usual appearance. The girls had tried to ignore the eyes staring at their every move and turn it into a joke. Daniel wouldn't go away either. He insisted on staying to watch the entire thing. The experience helped her to understood why he avoided her at school. Some things should be private. Once some girls had made her give a boy a blow job. They had pulled a knife and threatened to cut her nipples. She had blocked the boy's face out of her mind refusing to remember him. The boy's penis had seemed big when she took it in her mouth. She had cried while she did it. When she had tasted the semen in her mouth and inhaled the same musky smell she smelt on Daniel when he kissed her lips she had turned the anonymous boy into her young Romeo and imagined her lips were on his organ sharing a gift of love instead of a rude violation. She should have told her mother and had them all charged. It seemed too late now.
Daniel looked better after his run. She hoped it worked out for him. He turned back to wave at some boys coming out of the change room then when nobody was looking he kissed her. She grabbed his coat and drew him back for a second longer kiss letting his groin touch hers. They lingered in the moment.
"Now I should put you two on detention for that kind of behavior in the hallways." Daniel and Mandy blushed at Ms. Canon. She smiled at them and continued on to the pool where one of her class problems was competing. She had promised to watch the girl. Heather thought about the two youngsters walking away behind her. They were so young, but their relationship seemed to be holding together. She caught up with Simon.
"Going to watch the swimming Ms. Cannon?" Now Simon didn't bother with relationships, he was a randy little bantam always on the prowl. The cliché little man trying to prove his penis was bigger than his body. He was a type of boy she hated in her classroom, but for some reason she liked him.
"So how come you and Daniel get on so well?" it was a rude question, but Simon amused her.
"What you mean is how come an honor roll, canoe paddling boy scout wastes his time hanging with a poor stoner punk like me?" he glanced at her sideways.
"Oh, that is not what I see when I look at you Simon. I've seen so much more than that this year."
"So does Daniel." Simon said softy. She liked him all the better for his gentle answer. She wondered about his black eye and the cut lip. The wounds made him seem uncharacteristically vulnerable to her.
"What happened to you Simon?" Simon was uncomfortable with the unexpected attention.
"I was tired of running. It seemed easier to get it over with." She wanted to hug the little guy. There were worlds that existed just out of her reach. Star crossed lovers in the hallway and a proud boy who fought because he was tired of running.
"So did you win?"
"No, I took a dive. Don't tell Daniel I said this, but sometimes you do have to let them win." Simon's words intrigued Heather. She let Simon go and sit down by the railing. when she looked his way a while later the scruffy fourteen-year-old was lost in the parade of young girls down by the pool.
Thursday, March 10th
"Awww... this is so sweet Daniel. Imagine you sitting out here on these cold steps while the snowflakes cover your frozen body just so you can see me first thing in the morning. Where's my hot cup of coffee?" Simon eyed the paper cup in Daniel's hand. It was indeed snowing and despite the hot coffee Daniel had grown uncomfortable sitting on the cement riser along the stairs. "What are you actually doing here anyway? You use the north entrance usually."
It was a fair question but the slightly embarrassing, and always intriguing answer was four steps behind where Simon had paused to greet Daniel. Laine was dressed in a battered bomber jacket and an old sweat shirt. His face was sheltered by the loose drape of the oversized hoody. Bright eyes glittered at Daniel for a moment from the depths before Laine swiped a wet nose with his sleeve and steered around Simon. He chose to pass between the two friends and Laine lightly brushed against Daniel's knee with the back of his hand. Daniel dominated his compulsion to study the play of cotton fabric across Laine's flexing butt and took a final sip of his cold coffee before replying. "Did you come in on the bus?"
"Sure, it's a bit cold to walk on a day like this." They went into the school together. Daniel glanced around but Laine had disappeared into the traffic. "So what gives Daniel?"
"Just wanted to connect with you before classes; see if you were running today." Daniel kicked himself. That was a little lame. He could have asked that in their English class in the afternoon. That was not a good reason for lurking on steps. Simon gave him a look suggesting he did not buy the explanation but seemed to let the matter go.
"Sure, that works for me. You going to run?"
"Yes" It had quickly become something important to both of them. They parted a few paces later with barely a word, two friends negotiating the heavy currents of the high school hallways as they moved separate ways toward their lockers.
Riverview's hallways were familiar territory to them now. The utter mystery of the school in September now seemed like the natural ebb and flow of the tide. Both boys effortlessly piloted themselves around the dangerous shoals and eddies keeping to safe channels. The school was an extension of the city streets and both boys were wise to its ways. Simon retrieved his morning binder and retraced his steps. After so many months he knew his teachers and paused on his way to class to use the restroom near the science library. As watering holes went Simon thought it a relatively safe one as it was close to a staff room and the General Office. The restroom was not without its irritations though. A large student with an attitude pushed Simon back into the hallway and almost off his feet when he tried to enter. Simon backed off to let the guy pass, counted to ten in his head and then gave the older youth the finger behind his back before pushing through the door.
Simon was surprised to discover Daniel on the other side leaning against the wall. Simon took in his rumpled appearance and the flush across his face. Their eyes met briefly and Daniel rolled his eyes in resignation. "Are you okay?" Simon asked quietly.
"Oh sure, it's all good." Simon let that go and watched Daniel cross to the sink. His friend bent over the porcelain for a moment and then snapped on both taps. Simon remembered his mission and moved over to the urinal. He considered the situation as he did his business. Daniel was splashing water on him face in the background.
"You know that guy?"
"Yes I know him." There was a defeated tone to Daniel's voice that worried Simon. Simon shook himself off and turned back to Daniel. "Wash your hands Simon." Simon snorted at the old joke between them but he refused to allow it to distract him. Daniel was studying the rush of water as it swirled down the drain. Simon moved over beside him and watched as Daniel flicked a scrap of paper towel into the sink. They both watched it swirl once around the margin of the whirlpool. The paper clung briefly to the porcelain before the relentless current caught it and snatched it down the drain.
"What are you doing tonight Daniel? You going to be home?"
"Yes I guess" Daniel reached out and slowly turned the taps off. "Mom's working late."
"Invite me for supper Daniel."
"Sure that sounds good." Simon was rewarded with a small smile. His friend was still in there; Simon could see it and it blunted his anger and lessened his anxiety over the situation. "You want to just come over after we run?"
"No, I have some shit to do first, but I'll be over by seven." Simon glanced around the walls of the indifferent restroom. "Let's get to class man."
Simon stood in the open door with his hands jammed deep in his coat pockets. Daniel narrowed his eyes at Simon's lumpy appearance and waved him in. "What do you have to eat?"
"I ordered a pizza." Daniel pointed to a box on the counter. Simon noted that Daniel had raided a few pieces from it already.
"When's your mom getting back?"
"Don'no, probably eleven."
"Good" Simon proceeded to pull six cans of beer from various pockets of his winter jacket.
"What do you have in mind Simon? It's not the weekend."
"You and I are going to have a conversation."
"Let's call it an intervention."
"This doesn't sound good."
"Well Daniel, it isn't." Simon cracked a can and handed it to Daniel who took it gingerly. He cracked his own and then wandered back to the front door. He grabbed Daniel's coat and tossed it across the kitchen. Daniel reflexively caught it then looked at Simon uncertainly.
"Are we going out?"
"No, I just need to step out for a smoke." Simon waited until Daniel had stepped into his shoes and then he led the way to the balcony. Daniel leaned on the railing and looked at the darkness. The snow was still falling heavily. There was silence between them as Simon lit a cigarette.
"What's on your mind Simon?" There was a cautious note in Daniel's voice.
"Do you know what you are doing?"
"I'm just trying to get by." There was no uncertainty between them about what the question or the answer meant.
"That's just it Daniel I don't think you are right now."
"You don't understand."
"Daniel, what is there to understand?" Simon sighed
"I can deal with things Simon. I appreciate you worrying about me but it is not that bad. It's mostly Jake and a few other people..."
"Jake? You know this guys name?"
"We've talked a little."
"Talked?" Simon let his anger and frustration slip through, "I would just drift him."
"Right, well you know what happens then." There was an edge to Daniel's reply.
"So sometimes it is still the right thing to do." Simon replied.
"Everyone says just get through the year."
"I say fuck that. I say fuck getting by." Simon took a final drag on his cigarette and flicked the stub over the railing. "People always like you. You are the popular guy. The thing is you are not very good at this being bullied thing Daniel."
"I've been hazed before. I know how to handle the veterans. "
"Yeh, the teams, I've heard you explain that before. So tell me Daniel, what team are you trying out for here? Hey, and more to the point; is this a team of guys you want to join? You're just paying your dues is that it? Joining the gang?"
"You know I don't mean that. They make me angry."
"Good, I'm glad to hear that." Daniel had not touched his beer. Snow flecked his hair and clung to his shoulders. Except for the odd glance he had kept his eyes on the twinkling lights of the city. Simon took a sip before continuing softly. "I will rip your heart out and dance on your quaking corpse if you breathe a word of this to anyone. I like you Daniel, It feels really good to be your friend. Even when I was the butt of everyone else's jokes you were decent to me. You were my hero. You always had it together too. You were always cool."
"Was" Daniel put a lot of stress on the word.
"I say fuck that too. This is not you. You are not that guy in the bathroom I saw."
"Maybe I am that guy." Simon let that go. He was not here about that and he did not want to let Daniel side track him into that conversation. Daniel finally added, "I don't know what else to do."
"Sure you do." Simon turned away from the cityscape and leaned his back against the railing. He studied Daniel's face a moment. "Well, maybe not. This is new to you isn't it?" Daniel shrugged. Daniel lifted the can to his lips with a trembling hand and he took his first sip. "Well it's not new to me let me tell you. I know this shit backward and forward. You will get no points with these guys."
"So go through the other again. You could do that?"
"If I have to. This will sound a little pussy but I really appreciated your standing by me in the cafeteria. Those guys frighten me. Mandy tore a strip off me for that."
"Why?" There was a ghost of the old smile there as Daniel looked at Simon curiously.
"Because they jumped you later."
"You didn't back down then." Daniel's laugh had a touch of hysteria to it. He tried to cover it with a drink of the beer. He barely felt the cold or the clammy damp on his face. Nobody had offered him an alternative that afternoon. He had been overwhelmed fairly easily. Jake had a way of overwhelming Daniel easily too. Troy and now Simon; it seemed they agreed he was not handling the hazing well. "You can walk away Daniel. These guys have some sort of control over you. Open your eyes and look around, it doesn't have to be this hard."
"You get knocked you down," the moment with Denver beside the pool was an old memory now.
"You still have friends Daniel. I know Mandy and Arlo don't like me but..."
"Shut up. You've stood by me, I'll stand by you." Daniel nodded his head mutely and the melting snow mingled with an errant tear on his face. Daniel and Simon listened to the sounds of the city below and watched the large flakes drop in the light breeze. Daniel could do this. Simon needed him to do it. "This beer is dead and the pizza is probably cold."
"Thanks" The two boys stared solemnly at each other. This friendship was very important to both of them now. They were such different people it seemed yet they had an understanding. Being the same was not everything. "I'll think about it Two-Bit" Daniel offered softly. Simon's lips curled into a brief smile and then he became thoughtful again. It was a very rare moment between them.
"I swear to God if you try to hug me I'll throw your pansy ass over this fucking balcony."
I Can Do No Other, Monday March 21st
It was as if the higher the snow piled up around Riverview High the worse things got for Daniel. Despite his conversation with Simon Daniel found it hard to walk away from the older students. A Goth chick was on his case. He was trying to make it to his English class when she dragged him into a girl's room. The senior jangled her chains and introduced a skinny freshie. "This little slut is Melissa. She's my freshie and I told her you would love to fuck her." Daniel looked at the Goth clone standing behind her. She wasn't ugly underneath the black make-up. The girl looked scared. Daniel looked away and listened to the flush of the toilet. The senior wasn't even going to offer them the dignity of privacy. He saw a few of his classmates slip by trying to avoid notice.
This was another first for Daniel. He stood in front of the black clad senior, trying to decide how to handle it. Daniel knew Simon would have done the girl gladly; but Daniel was almost sure Simon would not do it like this. It would be hard to do this, he reflected. Daniel always thought about Mandy when there were girls involved. Girls from his English class continued to walked in and out glancing at the corner where she'd pushed him. The next person who comes in was going to be Mandy, he thought. Daniel was as tall as the senior but she made him feel young and immature.
Melissa was resigned to it all, besides the boy was cute. Another time, another place she would have loved to meet a boy like him. Tiffany had made her do all sorts of things with the grade twelve boys. She wasn't a virgin any more. She supposed she would have to let this boy have her too. "I don't do girls like that." The boy's blunt answer surprised Melissa. The cute boy stood with his arms folded across his chest. Tiffany didn't look pleased.
"Are you refusing to do what you are told?" Tiffany moved in on the boy. Melissa didn't think she was big enough to intimidate him. "What's wrong? Do you think she is ugly?" The boy glanced at Melissa before turning back to her senior.
"No, but I won't do that to her." He started to push past Tiffany. Tiffany grabbed the boy by his forearm and Melissa saw her long nails dig deep into his flesh.
"I'll see you in Freshie court you little prick." She grabbed the boy's wallet out of his pants and looked at his school I.D. Melissa saw the boy try to grab it back but Tiffany threw it down a toilet before stamping out of the washroom. Melissa would have liked to thank the boy, but he was busy trying to fish his stuff out of the dirty toilet. She turned and trailed after her senior.
Daniel didn't know what to do with the soggy mess so he shoved it in his book bag. What a bitch Daniel thought to himself as he escaped the girl's washroom. He would have to connect with Denver to let him know what had happened. Daniel paused outside the classroom doorway to quickly text message his senior. Then he slipped into the classroom feeling good about what had happened. He had stood up to the grade twelve and he had been loyal to Mandy.
The feeling evaporated when he took in Mandy's hurt look. She stared at him for a moment, and then buried herself in some assignment Daniel had missed. Daniel scanned the faces of the other girls. Some avoided his eyes and others seemed to reduce him to the status of pond scum with their looks. Ms. Cannon looked at him expectantly so he reluctantly moved to his desk.
Mandy avoided Daniel's less that subtle demands for her attention. Two of the girls had caught her in the hallway before the bell and told her. It reminded her of the first time at the freshie party when she had been told Daniel had actually played with Chris. Daniel had been forced to do a lot of things. Could a guy be forced to have intercourse with a girl? She just couldn't see it. He would have to want to. How would he get his thing up? Somebody nudged her and passed her a note. It was from Daniel. She opened it up, "Nothing happened." she crumpled the note and shoved it in her pocket. Part of her knew she was not being reasonable. She knew they were both doing things they didn't like; but her heart felt betrayed. She wondered if he had been forced to do things with boys. The girls talked about it together. This was different, he could not care about her if he could have sex with another girl. She was supposed to be his first. That was the way she had planned it. Mandy brushed away the tears. She heard Daniel's urgent whisper behind her, "Mandy!" She ignored him.
Daniel was wild. She wouldn't even look at him. He wrote a quick note to Simon which attracted Ms. Cannon's attention when he tried to pass it down to him. He tried to blend back in but she wandered down to see what he was up to. Damn chicks, Daniel thought. Ms. Cannon leaned down to say something to him. "Daniel would you... Gosh! You're arm is bleeding!" Daniel glanced at his forearm and noticed the trails of blood smearing the desk. "Go to the clinic right now." Daniel hesitated a moment hoping Mandy would relent and at least look at him. Finally he admitted defeat. Daniel packed his things and dropped the note on Simon's desk as he left the room.
Got to Get Her out of My Mind, Monday evening
Daniel fretted through the afternoon and evening. Mandy had dropped off the map and he couldn't give her mother a plausible reason why he just had to talk to her. Frustrated by her stubborn silence he had braved the cold winds of an approaching storm and tried to jog his problems away in the dark.
Daniel had sat in misery while the nurse tended to his wounds. He had not known how he was going to convince Mandy that nothing had happened in the washroom. The weight of it all crushed him. Mandy had to believe him. Stand up to the seniors Simon had said. Well it had ironically backfired on him. He had not wanted to go back to the English class so he had hid in the clinic waiting for a reply from Denver. For the rest of the hour they had passed messages back and forth. Daniel poured his heart out to his friend. When the bell rang they had met.
Daniel ended up at the Brass Lantern. Karl walked by Eddie's small space and noticed Daniel lying on the couch. The boy had his shoes off and he was staring at the ceiling. Eddie was sitting near him on a chair playing guitar. The two old men connected for a moment. Karl didn't say anything to the boy but he knew something was wrong. It reminded him so much of the young Denver. When Karl had a moment he phoned Denver.
Daniel was helping in the kitchen when Denver showed up. He nodded at his senior but kept on working. Denver hadn't seen him like this very often. Denver sat on the couch and watched Daniel work. Finally Daniel sat down on the couch next to Denver. "Was it a bad day?" Daniel looked down and shrugged. He didn't want to talk. The pair sat together while Karl and Eddie worked around them. The older men left them alone. Daniel was so still and quiet beside him that Denver was surprised when he lay down on the couch and put his head in Denver's lap. Denver stroked his hair. Daniel closed his eyes. Denver sat with him for a long time wishing his young friend would bounce back. First relationships were so hard. Finally Denver said "Let me take you home."
In the car Daniel slumped down. He was having trouble focusing. His mind drifted from one thing to another. He had nothing to say to Denver he hadn't said before but it was comforting to have him close. Denver was always comforting to Daniel. "Do you want me to come up?" Daniel tried to focus. He shook his head, and then cleared his throat.
"No" he drifted back into space. The city was still locked in winter's embrace. The Echo climbed over the ruts as Denver turned onto Daniel's street. Daniel fumbled in his bag and found his phone. He turned it on and looked at a short list of missed phone calls. Nothing from Mandy's number. He turned it off again. Daniel didn't say much when he got out of the car. Denver let him go and drove away wondering what he could do to bring back his young friend.
Later Daniel stood in the shower. It was easier to handle the boys. When they forced him or made him do things with other ninth graders it all felt like jacking off or some mean extension of the hazing he had gotten on teams over the years. He could usually let himself focus on the feel of his own body and the pleasure he might grab if he was aroused. Occasionally he was drawn to one of the guys and it would have turned Daniel on if there hadn't always been an audience of unwelcome seniors making ugly comments. Jake at least liked his privacy.
Doing it with another girl was a problem. He could come back from school after Jake blew him and get right in the shower and work himself up with a fantasy about Mandy. Humping with another girl violating his mind. Daniel had thought Mandy would understand that and trust him. His cock stiffened and he began to anticipate the soul shaking release. She was more than beautiful to him. She was his real best friend. Daniel stared blindly at the tiles thinking of her scent and her liquid eyes. Her voice laughing out his name. He knew what a girl felt like now and Daniel hungered to touch Mandy and feel her skin against his. He could not let her slip away from him, not like this. He was urgent now. His fist only caressed his aching organ as he brought it to an end. He imagined the soft folds of Mandy's flesh welcoming him home. A guttural noise escaped him at the release. It was the primal orgasmic satisfaction and the agonized cry of loss. He watched the jet of semen hit the black tiles.
Daniel ran a finger through a trail and brought it to his lips. He thought bitterly that Mandy probably preferred to see him beat up and fucked by the boys than touching another girl. It made little sense to him. Daniel directed the water at the wall for a bit and examined his tender cock. He squeezed out a drop through the small mouth and studied it before lifting it to his mouth. He leaned his head against the tiles and concluded that the problem was guys didn't have as much control over their cocks as girls thought they did. He was just a boy, a bi one at that, looking for his next rut.
By the time Simon caught up with him on the phone he felt a little better. He had been lying on the couch letting his mom massage his feet when he phoned. Simon would laugh at him if he saw him being petted by his mommy. He needed a mom right then and anyway, she didn't get to hang out with him that much. Simon was as sympathetic as a person who never seemed to stay in a relationship could be. He let Daniel complain for half an hour. Daniel felt very badly used. He had always avoided telling Mandy the details behind what kept him away from class. He needed his girl friend to believe he could handle everything himself. He couldn't be weak in her eyes because there were always so many stronger guys out there ready to take her away from him. That Conrad wouldn't let up on her. Simon offered one slender ray of hope to brighten his evening. It suggested Mandy had not completely turned away from him. She had lined up his English and last period Art assignments so he wouldn't be behind. She had shoved them at Simon at the end of the day.
The Odyssey, Thursday afternoon
It was the English class from hell. Ms. Cannon had to have a class discussion on The Odyssey. As the wind blew intermittent sheets of snow against the classroom windows Daniel sat slumped in his seat thinking about Mandy. Mandy looked right through him every time her gaze switched from one speaker to the other. "Do you agree with that Daniel?"
"Heh?" he hadn't been following the conversation.
"Zola thinks Odysseus was wrong to stay so long on the Island of Circe. Do you agree?"
"Well it wasn't really his fault was it?"
"How do you mean?"
"Well he was trying to get home, right?"
"He was camped out with another woman while his wife was waiting for him at home" put in Yvette icily.
"She had him under a spell" Simon contributed "it was hardly his choice, she was a powerful witch."
"And his friends were all pigs" she hissed at him.
"I think Odysseus enjoyed staying with her. He was smart and clever. If he could escape from the Cyclops in a couple of days he should be able to get away from some bitch." Daniel focused in on Mandy.
"Mandy, watch your language there."
"Sorry, I meant witch. It seems like Odysseus was always on about getting home, but when it looked like he might have a good time he and the boys settled in for a while."
"What do you mean?" Daniel asked dangerously. Mandy stared back at him.
"Well there was the land of the lotus eaters." commented Wendy brightly.
"Odysseus didn't fall for that, he dragged his men away."
"Oh he wasn't so faithful; he just had to hear the Sirens even after he had been warned." Mandy attacked.
"Hey they were supposed to be babes, kind of like ancient porno. You got to check out the address and download a few files." Matthew wasn't helping Daniel's case.
"Let's move away from that thought Matthew." Ms. Cannon suggested. Daniel leaned back and folded his arms.
"Well, he had them tie him up so nothing bad would happen." Daniel knew that was a weak comeback.
"Just a little curious is it? Well what about at the end? He almost married the king's daughter didn't he? Face it Daniel, Odysseus isn't at pure as you think. Twenty years and he kept tripping up." That burned Daniel.
"Well what about his wife, Penelope? There he was struggling against the gods for all those years and she just sat back and had a huge party with a bunch of men who only wanted to get her in bed." Mandy was struck by the attack.
"I think it would be fairer to say they wanted Ithaca." Ms. Cannon added with growing concern about the suddenly open hostility between Mandy and Daniel.
"Okay, but she played the game. Told them she was interested. Let them hang around instead of saying no I'm with Odysseus here."
Mandy retaliated with a raised voice. "But that's just the point Daniel, Odysseus wasn't there. He was off having fun fighting monsters and pissing off gods. She was on her own waiting for him to come back. So the guys keep coming around her waiting for her to pick one of them." She brushed her eyes with an angry hand.
"Dude, she has a point, the lady was on her own."
"But he kept trying Mandy, against the odds he was trying, doesn't that count for something?" Simon pleaded with her. She looked at him briefly then toyed with her pen on the paper.
Daniel finally filled the silence. "So yes Odysseus was interested in the Sirens, and maybe he got tired and wanted a rest from time to time." Daniel paused and took a deep breath before continuing quietly, "He made it back to her didn't he? It's all he really wanted Mandy. And what about all the handsome suitors entertaining her? What was he to think when he got back and saw guys like Achilles making time with his girl?"
"Achilles died during the Trojan War Daniel." Yvette pointed out.
"Trojan, God that gets me every time."
"Yeh and everybody went into battle with their Shield on." Matthew and Kent snickered at their joke.
Mandy looked suddenly sad. "Oh Daniel don't you understand? Achilles is gay, he isn't interested in Penelope. He is interested in Odysseus."
"Gay?" Daniel repeated blankly.
"No way; Brad Pitt is not gay." Mandy and Daniel looked at each other. "Brad Pitt and Sean Bean were good friends. Sean convinced Brad to fight for the Greeks."
"I think you are mixing up the book with the movie boys." Ms. Cannon sounded exasperated. "I wouldn't want you to read too much into the relationship between Achilles and Petrohilos. A lot of modern ideas get mixed up into it." She was keen to avoid a digression into Greek homosexuality.
"Petrohilos is gay too?" Daniel hadn't thought of that. How stupid could he have been? He looked at guys all the time. Why had he not caught on to this? Holly shit, Daniel realized, Victor had been coming on to him all this time. Daniel felt very stupid. He had a sudden thought, "So what about the... the other suitors?"
Mandy sighed, "No he's definitely straight." Daniel nodded. Well that had been too much to hope for.
"So what can we conclude about Odysseus? Where does this leave us?" Ms. Cannon desperately wanted to get back on track.
"The dude got home and whacked all the suitors." Matthew gave Kent a high five.
"Penelope was glad to have him back even if it did take him twenty years." Simon said pointedly in Mandy's direction.
"Sure, but if I had been her I would have asked a few questions. You know, check him out for STD's."
"No girl, he had his shield remember? Like their mommas said, cum with your shield, or don't cum."
"Right Kent, I think you better step into the hall for a while."
"I'm sorry Ms. Cannon; I promise I'll shut up."
"I'm serious Kent."
"You're smiling Ms. Cannon."
"Stop hassling her Kent and get out." Simon snapped irritably. Everyone except Daniel and Mandy watched as Kent reluctantly left the room.
Daniel slammed the desktop and everyone looked in his direction. "He had a lot of enemies and they made it hard for him. He didn't want to go to war in the first place; he paid for it with twenty years of misery he didn't ask for. He did his best to get back to the woman he loved." His eyes were wide with hope that she would believe him. "Odysseus was faithful to Penelope."
"So he says." Mandy retorted softly. She turned away and talked pointedly with Yvette until the bell rang.
Daniel struggled through the last period alternatively thinking of better replies to Mandy's comments and raging to himself. When Denver dropped him off at home Daniel knew he was a mess. He tried to phone Mandy again but she still wouldn't talk with him. He'd spent the evening in his room. He lay listening to the wind howl out his misery. In the morning, he promised himself, when he saw her she would listen to his explanation.
So of course there was no school the next day. Daniel leaned against the window and watched the snow. The apartment felt safe and warm. It was a good place to watch the storm as it swirled around the towers and plowed drifts along the streets below. Traffic lights swayed violently in the wind and the familiar constellation of the city's west side was obscured behind the waves of snowfall.
Daniel had been enticed away from his computer by the smell of hot chocolate. It sat momentarily forgotten on the island beside his mother's lap top. He watched a car as it crawled down the blanket of snow and stopped at the frantic movements of a red light. It sat there blindly following the irrelevancies of traffic control on the deserted street before starting forward again in a hysteria of spinning wheels and fishtailing rear. High above it all Daniel could imagine the sudden roar of the engine and the high pitch whine of the tires. There were people on the sidewalks hunched against the wind making their way toward the stubbornly defiant shops.
Daniel turned away from the storm and sat with his mother at the island. The surface was strewn with careful piles of paper accented by yellow notes usually covered in his mother's careful script. An occasional note in a childish scrawl written by his mother's abrasive boss lingered on a page. His mother would peal such notes off the page, glance at them, and then discard them in a growing pile of yellow scraps between them. "You could pull me out of school and take me to Mexico. My classes are fine, I could catch up." She paused to look at him and then returned to the mysteries of her work.
"Sorry honey, this isn't a good time." She hated to disappoint him, even if he could imagine dropping everything for ten days, she could not. She noticed his subtle collapse and put her pencil down. He had been moping for a long time and she was beginning to wonder how long it would take the two good friends to heal their unexpected breach. Daniel had been incapable of explaining why the two were fighting. It had taken Mandy's mother to cautiously explain it to her. "I told you about my promotion. Things are crazy for me right now. Before long they are going to ask me to take some trips. I have to be ready for that. Listen, you have been cooped up here all day. I think you should go out." Heather couldn't imagine Daniel running into trouble on an evening like this. "Go rent some movies." She pushed a little harder, "you could see if Eddie and Karl need a hand." Heather doubted that the Brass Lantern was busy.
Daniel left his unfinished cup on the island and went to his room. He returned some time later dressed to go outside. Heather pulled two twenties from her purse and handed them to Daniel as he was shrugging his winter coat on. He yanked his toque down on his uncombed hair before shoving the money into his coat. He looked so cute and she wanted to hug him.
When Daniel stepped into the elevator he confronted Francis and Jason, towels draped over their shoulders, on their way to the small spa. They all murmured barely audible greetings and then silently contemplated the burnished door of the elevator. After a few floors the two boys quietly resumed a conversation clearly interrupted by Daniel's appearance.
"Morhart piled this PowerPoint presentation on us for Friday."
"PowerPoint's are kid's stuff."
"Sure, but we still have to do the research. What are you doing?"
"Channel Six News"
"So what are you doing then?" Daniel noted a hint of resentment in his voice.
"City gangs" Daniel caught the glance both boys tossed his way. I'm standing here in a three hundred dollar coat and because I live four floors beneath them and go to a public school they think I must be involved in gangs, thought Daniel. He became suddenly conscious of the faded yellow bruise on his cheek that was a final reminder of a bad moment at school. "Yes, my father has arranged a ride along and interview with the gang squad." The boys lapsed into silence for a moment. The ancient relic was nearing the end of is interminable descent. "Do you know what that faggot Stirton did during Latin?"
"I heard that, Art Braun said he ducked out of class to make out in the washroom with Sterling Heidt. Mr. Saliger caught them."
"Must be nice" The elevator stopped and the boys got out with out a further word to Daniel. He watched them go as the door closed. Thoughts of Laine had been pushed from his mind since his fight with Mandy had begun. Daniel could not even remember seeing the boy in the last few days.
Daniel stepped out into the lobby and paused to pull his gloves on before pushing out into the wind. He was surprised by how warm it was. The flakes clung to his coat as he started down the sidewalk toward his favorite video store. As long as he had known them Jason and Francis had avoided him. As far as he could tell they were the only boys his age in the building. Faye Szabo was in his grade and also attended Riverview High. They talked occasionally on the bus ride to school. There were others, mostly older, who he had little to do with. The building was an anonymous place with few attractions to draw young people together. Jason had moved into the building six years ago. Francis had been there longer than Daniel. They had played together once or twice in the hot tub when he was small. He remembered his grandfather chatting with Francis' father. Then the play had stopped and the two boys rarely even talked. Daniel felt a fresh blast as he turned the corner and headed into the wind up toward his favorite haunts. The boys mystified Daniel. He rarely had problems with people and he had never understood why the two boys seemed happy to shut him out. Once in grade five he had asked his grandfather why they didn't like him. The old man had thought a moment before suggesting that it was because they went to different schools.
Daniel watched another car struggle by and wondered if the destination was worth the effort. He felt warm in his coat and the boots he had worn that summer. It was kind of fun kicking the heavy drifts. He was curious about being a ninth grader in a private school. Did the boys have to face the hazing he did? The schools didn't sound so different from the little he had heard in the elevator. Riverview High even taught Latin. Daniel realized he didn't really feel like a movie or the long walk to the Brass Lantern. He saw The Little Island across the street and crossed he road.
As he shook the snow off, he took in the techno atmosphere. The place was empty except for some little kids banging away at video games by the door and three girls sitting in a booth near the window. He started toward a booth in the back but one of the girls called him over. He didn't know them well. They lived in some low-rises in the neighborhood. They were all just background for each other. He stopped to say hello and debated sitting with them. After a few words he moved to the solitude of the back booth.
While he waited for his club wrap he sat studying the cracked red and yellow vinyl of the bench across from him. The girls had been friendly. He could hear their chatter as they dissected the romantic chances the girl in corn rows had with a tenth grade boy named Cole. Daniel was memorizing the menu as his wrap arrived and the girls put the finishing touches to an elaborate scheme involving Cole, a boy named Ravi, and a movie theatre on Saturday night. Daniel bit into the wrap and chewed the smoked turkey and bacon thoughtfully. The girls were wrong. He had spent too much time agonizing through his relationship with Mandy. Hard as it had been to do it, he knew the girl's best bet was to look Cole in the eyes and tell him how she felt. If he had followed the impulse to accept the invitation, he might have told this to the girls. The familiar tension of being in the combat zone faded as he enjoyed the club and thought of Mandy kilometers away in her family room. He liked to imagine her in the soft terry-cloth boxers and T-shirt she liked to wear even when he came over. She would be curled up under her worn Sesame Street blanket. When he came over she would grudgingly share it with him and he could let his hand rest on her smooth thigh tantalizingly close to the heat of her sex. Daniel closed his eyes and remembered the feel of her lips on his. It gave him a hard on. He dropped the wrap and pulled his phone out. She would have a phone close to her. Daniel hoped she was ready to talk to him finally.
The line was busy. That was hardly a surprise. Mandy was probably dissecting his weaknesses with a girlfriend, or Arlo, which would be much worse. He put the phone down and picked up the wrap. His boner had collapsed and Daniel felt the sudden return of a knot in his stomach that wouldn't be soothed away by memory or the satisfying blend of cheese, bacon and tomato. He catalogued the boys who sat with her around the school. She was setting up a date to see a play. There was a chick flick Conrad enthusiastically wanted to share with her. Victor was going to drive her to school in the morning. Well he could stop worrying about those two anyway. Daniel felt dense about his ignorance until a new fear ravaged his mind. What if one or both of them was actually bisexual?
It was likely a girl he reasoned: someone like Yvette or Mallory ready to natter endlessly about how big a shit-face Daniel was. All he needed was the girls encouraging her to dump him like a turd in the toilet. Daniel tried her number again. He listened to the signal impatiently and closed the face again. He feared he would be Greg now; someone who hovered at the edge of her life like lost sailor cruising aimlessly through the dangerous waters of high school.
Daniel sighed heavily. It was time to go back to the apartment. The door opened letting in a blast of cold air and four boys who were clearly seniors from the way that the conversation of the three ninth graders in the front booth collapsed into abrupt silence. The four boys followed the wave of cold air to the booth next to Daniel's after a casual glance at the three girls. Daniel was frozen to his seat. The boys seemed to ignore his presence as he tried to become one with the brushed steel wall behind him. The girls resumed their conversation with subdued voices. Daniel concentrated on the fragments of his wrap and the ice in the bottom of his glass.
Daniel was an exhausted dragonfly caught in amber sap; too tired to struggle and so drained he could not find a way to transform the moment as Simon had urged him to. He sat head down, through a long half hour listening to the four boys' random conversation, sure that they would get around to him. When one of the boys turned around suddenly Daniel almost vomited. He stared at the boy with the pounding surf of his blood drowning out his words. A sudden gesture toward the bottle of Heinz brought Daniel out of his coma and he forced a hand to reach out and pass the ketchup to the boy without further comment. Two of the seniors wandered over to an arcade game while the other pair began discussing girls. The conversation propelled Daniel out of his seat and he braved the dangers on either side and, like a canoe swiftly shooting through the cliffs and whorl pools of a narrow channel, he slipped from the restaurant to the comfort of the constant storm.
(to be continued)
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