W.A.R. Part One - Black Summer
Chapter Seven - Boy-Pretty
by Jeff Wilson
I woke up in my bed the morning after what became known as the "Black Eye Incident." I didn't remember anything after falling asleep in the car. I had a massive headache. I sat up on the side of my bed as my head tried to adjust to being upright. The pain was starting to come back on the right side of my face, but it wasn't as brutal as the night before. My shoes were off and placed neatly by my bedroom door, but I was wearing the same clothes I'd worn the day before. I sort of remembered kind of flying to my room, like Superman or something. It was really weird. Those must have been some strong drugs!
I finally found the strength to lift myself up off the bed and to my feet. Everything was kind of swirling around me and it took a minute to regain my balance. I walked over to my dresser and for the first time saw the damage I'd done to myself. The right side of my face was all swelled up and red and my right eye was almost swollen shut. I could barely open it. The usually white part of my eye was a sick-looking red and purple color. A deep purple and dark blue bruise had formed a sickening dark ring around my eye. For some reason, I also had deep purple bruising around my left eye, too. I looked like a raccoon.
The house was deathly quiet. The only sound came from the outside world. It was close to noon. It was the latest I'd ever slept in. If I'd stayed in bed any longer, I probably would have found myself in a lake. So, I found my way to the bathroom. When I looked down I got very dizzy, so I had to sit down to pee. I found it kind of funny that I'd only injured my face, but it felt like my whole body was aching. My elbows and knees all felt stiff and sore, like I'd been in a battle. It seemed like so long ago that Brett and I had found that stupid tape that had started all the trouble. Had it really only been just yesterday that we'd been together?
"The tape!!!" I exclaimed. I jumped off the toilet so fast that I lost my balance and had to brace myself against the wall. I would have to be more careful until my head was on straight again. I don't know what I was even in a hurry for. It had been hours since I'd thrown my book bag at dad and then tripped over it. Surely dad had already found the tape missing and then found it in my bag. I was sure that he was already planning my punishment. When I walked into the living room, the first thing I saw was my book bag was gone!
"Oh no!" I cried. But then I found the book bag on the couch. I guess mom or dad moved it so it wouldn't be in the middle of the floor for someone else to trip over. I opened it and found the tape inside with my change of clothes just as I'd left it. I took the tape out of the bag and slipped quietly into my parents' bedroom. I found the key where Brett had left it and returned the tape to the safe. Everything was exactly the way dad had left it. I never felt so relieved as I put the key away and escaped from dad's room.
I'd gotten away with it.
I ran my hands over my hair and it was all sweaty. I decided a shower would be a good idea. I gingerly stripped down and then enjoyed the warm refreshing spray of water. My body didn't ache so much when I finished. Being clean had rejuvenated me. My hair was almost as dark as Brett's when it was wet. As it dried it would lighten up. My hair had been getting darker and darker as I'd gotten older, but when I got more sun, it got blonder. I wondered how long I could get it before mom mowed it down with the clippers again. Mom didn't buzz it all the way down, but she would cut it pretty short every couple of months. She usually got me right before school ended and then again when school was about to start.
I wrapped a towel around my waist and went to my room. I pulled out my clothes for the day, but I didn't put them on just yet. Instead, I went to the living room to lay down on the couch to watch tv. It felt weird to be almost naked in a room other than my own. It didn't take long for the towel to loosen and for me to begin enjoying my favorite activity. Just as it was starting to get good, I heard footsteps on the front porch. I covered myself in plenty of time before mom walked in.
"Oh good you're up," mom said. She did a double take when she saw I wasn't wearing anything, and the towel wasn't doing much to hide my... um... predicament. If she noticed (and she had to have noticed) she didn't say anything about it.
"You need to keep ice on that so the swelling will go down," mom instructed.
"Huh?" I asked.
"Your eye," mom replied. "You have some pain medicine on the table."
I sat up and readjusted my towel. Mom brought me a pill and the ice bag.
"How'd I get in my bed last night?" I asked.
"Your father carried you in. You were too exhausted to even wake up. He said you were getting pretty heavy."
"Oh..." I said. "He didn't say anything about... You know... What happened?"
Mom frowned. "You know how your father is."
"Okay," I said. That meant he hadn't said much at all. "So what happens now?"
"What do you mean, Billy?" mom asked as she began sorting through the cabinets in the kitchen. She was listening, but she was finding something to do in case I took the conversation to a place she didn't want to go.
"Are you going to ground me for getting into a fight with dad?" I asked.
Mom stopped sorting and looked at me. "Well, you can't play baseball now. You can't really do much of anything physical until your eye heals. And you're in a lot of pain. Don't you think you've been punished enough?"
"I guess," I replied. I couldn't believe I was actually getting a pass! Sure I had to crack my skull to get it. But still! My mother never passed up an opportunity to ground or punish me if the chance came along. I kept my mouth shut and was thankful that I wasn't in any more trouble. I lay down on the couch with the ice bag on my head for a while watching tv until mom had to go back to grandma's house.
"Don't you think you should put some clothes on, dear?" she asked before she left.
I did get dressed after she left. I never finished the business I'd started before she came over, but there'd be time later. I had a black eye to show off. I called mom to tell her that I was going to Dustin's house to let Frank know I couldn't play anymore. She warned me to be extremely careful about my eye. Of course I would be careful. I didn't want to have surgery if I messed up my head any worse!
I walked into the woods and up the hill. Though my face still hurt, it was getting better since the pain pill had kicked in. When I got to the flat area at the top of the hill, I turned left and down the path to the Smiths.
Dustin's house looked like it had been there for a hundred years. Its siding was weathered and half painted. Some spots on the back of the house didn't have siding at all, and you could see the wood beneath. The foundation was gray cinder blocks, and most of the yard was brown exposed earth. What you would call weeds in most yards was the only thing green in their yard. Various parts of various vehicles were strewn throughout the yard. There was no front yard, as the house was directly against the road with barely enough room for them to park their car.
I walked to the front door and opened the screen door (which was missing the screen) and knocked. After a minute or two Dustin answered. Even though it was miserably hot, he was wearing faded blue jeans. They were threadbare in some places and he'd outgrown them by a few inches. His shirt was an old Stone Cold Steve Austin pro wrestling t-shirt that had been his dad's before him. Music was blaring in the house from upstairs.
"Holy cow! Who punched you?" Dustin asked.
"Nobody. I busted it playing basketball," I replied.
"Sure you did!" Dustin said. "Did your dad beat the crap out of you or something?"
"Don't be stupid. My dad doesn't hit me. You know that," I answered. "I just tripped in the dark and busted my face on the coffee table."
"Okay, if you say so," Dustin replied. I could tell he didn't believe me.
"It's true. Anyway is your dad around?" I asked.
"My dad? What do you need to see him for?"
"Well, I can't play ball anymore."
Dustin smirked, "Oh I see. Since Cry-Baby Reilly quit you have to quit too, huh?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked.
"Nothing," Dustin scowled. "Just seems you and him are spending a lot of time together. I mean, you've barely been around here. This is the first time you've been here this summer. I thought we were tighter than that."
"We are tight!" I replied. "It's just... Brett's cool. You know. I don't mean that you're not cool... I mean... I don't mean to leave you out of stuff. But Brett's all by himself over there and he gets bored. You know what I mean?"
"No. What do you mean?" Dustin asked.
"I..." I stammered, not really knowing what to say.
"Whatever," Dustin snipped. "I don't care. I get that I'm not as cool as Reilly. Just don't forget you have other friends besides him. I don't care. Whatever. Have fun with your boyfriend."
"He's not my boyfriend," I said way too defensively.
"I know. Don't be such a jerk. That's all I'm saying. I was your best friend long before he came along. I get bored too, you know. Anyway, dad's not even here. He's at work. That's why Amanda's got the music up so loud. She's got her boyfriend Max up there and they don't think I can hear them doing it."
"He got a job? That's great!" I said.
"Don't get too excited. It's just summer work at a construction site. Your dad got him the job actually."
"He did?" I asked. I had no idea that dad could do something like that.
"Sure. Your dad's pretty cool even if he did bust your face up. So, you want to hang out for a while?"
"I can't," I said. "I have to get going."
"Going to watch your grandma?" he asked.
"Nah, I was going to head over to Brett's..." I said. Even as the words escaped my mouth I realized just how horrible I sounded. The effect on Dustin was visible. While he'd been in a pretty good mood, it was like a switch had been flipped. I saw a flash of anger sweep across his face. But then, just as quickly, it was like he turned it off. As if he put on a mask. He smiled.
"Oh I see," he replied, his voice straining to sound normal. "Tell him we missed him on the team."
"You're not mad?" I asked.
"Why would I be mad? It's a free country. You can do whatever you want. I don't care." Dustin said. The smile on his face looked almost too pleasant to match the icy tone in his voice. It was like he was trying too hard to be polite. "Have fun. Jerk each other off. Whatever."
"It's not like that!" I protested.
"Whatever," Dustin said, his voice cracking. "I don't care."
"I'm sorry..." I said. "We'll hang out later on this week, okay? I promise!"
"Sure. Whatever," Dustin replied.
Before I could say anything more he closed the door in my face. I sighed. But then, I couldn't just stand there looking at the door all day, so I headed back to the woods. I looked back to the house. I could still hear the music coming from Amanda's room. Dustin was right. You could hear them doing it if you knew what to listen for. Amanda was two years older than us, and Max was a few years older than her. I didn't really get along with either of them very well. I felt really bad about ditching poor Dustin. But I really wanted to talk to Brett. We'd hang out later. I'd make sure of it. I didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings. Dustin would just have to understand, I thought to myself. He couldn't get mad at me for having other friends.
When I got to the top of the hill, I found Brett walking from his side of the woods. As he got closer, I could see his expression change from his usual happy-go-lucky smile to confusion to concern. By the time he got to me, he was really upset.
"Oh my god, Billy! What happened to you?"
"My dad punched me in the face," I said seriously.
"Don't be an asshole," Brett scolded. He didn't believe for a second that my dad would hit me. I filled him in on what had happened after I left his house. His concern grew as I related my argument and then my unfortunate spill. By the time I got to the story of the hospital he looked ready to cry.
"It's all my fault!" Brett said.
"How do you figure?" I asked.
"If I hadn't told you to skip the game and convinced you to watch that stupid tape you'd be okay."
"It wasn't your fault," I soothed.
"I feel like such a douche bag," Brett continued. "Your dad was going to be at the game and everything. You would have been so happy to see him there. I ruined everything."
"You didn't ruin anything, Brett. Dad's had lots of chances to come to one of my games. He's the one who should be sorry, not you."
"I'm still sorry though," Brett moped. "God, I can't believe how fucked up everything turned out." He leaned close to me and examined the damage. "Does it hurt?"
"A lot!" I replied. "It's like a steak knife right in the eye."
Brett groaned as if he was feeling my pain himself. He gently touched my face. "I can't believe how swelled up it is." He looked closely at me, so close I could feel his breath on me. He stared into my eyes. He smiled. "I wish my eyes were green like yours." He sighed.
"Why?" I asked. I hadn't ever really thought about my eyes being anything special.
"I just think they're cool," Brett replied. "You have really nice eyes. They're unique. Not a lot of people have green eyes like yours. Mine are just boring old blue."
"I like your eyes," I said. "You have pretty eyes."
"Pretty?" Brett laughed. "My eyes are pretty? So now you think I'm pretty?"
"You know what I mean!" I said. "Boy-pretty, not pretty-pretty."
"Is my dick pretty, too?" Brett laughed.
"Why do you always twist whatever I say and make it into something perverted?"
"Because I'm a pervert!" Brett exclaimed, "and you'll be as sick and twisted as me by the time I'm done with you!"
"You're crazy!" I laughed. Brett was a goofball. If he had to go five minutes without making a joke I think he'd explode.
"It is a shame what happened to your eye though. You had a nice face until you went and fucked it up."
"You think I have a nice face?" I asked.
Brett smiled. "Well, you're not boy-pretty like me, but you're not ugly. You look a lot like your mom and she's kinda hot."
"Oh gross!" I gagged.
"So how long are you going to look like somebody punched you?"
"The swelling is already starting to go down. I'll be back to normal in a few weeks."
"Cool," Brett said. "I guess you'll be `boy-pretty' again after all."
"I don't know about that..." I said. "I'm just an ordinary guy. I'm nothing special."
Brett stopped smiling and got serious. "Look... I don't want to sound weird or anything, but you are a good-looking guy. I mean, I'd kill to have your eyes. And you have great hair too... I mean look at this mess I've got. I've gotta wear this stupid hat to keep it all down. But you... Well... What I mean is, I really think you get too down on yourself. Like, you're too hard on yourself. That's what I mean. You're too negative and sarcastic sometimes. You should loosen up and have more fun. Sometimes you just have to shut up and let somebody say something nice about you. You're my best friend and I think you're awesome."
"You think I'm awesome?" I said.
"I think you're the most awesome guy I know."
"I think you're awesome too," I said.
"I am pretty awesome," Brett laughed. "Just don't get down on yourself. Sometimes you think too much. Quit thinking of ways you suck and think about all the ways you're great. You're really smart. You can be funny in your own weird way. You have a nice face when it's not all swelled up and half bruised. And you have a dick that can shoot a load over your head. Your life is good. So quit bitching and smile once in a while for fuck's sake!"
I was so overwhelmed with the good feelings that Brett was filling me with that I couldn't help myself. I pulled him close to me and hugged him as tight as I could just like he'd hugged me the day before. I felt his arms around my ribs squeezing me back. It felt so good and so perfect that I didn't ever want to let go. I didn't want to face another day without having him with me to hold me up and support me.
When we did let go, Brett smiled at me and laughed, "What the hell is `boy-pretty' anyway?"
"I don't know," I laughed. "Not ugly, I guess."
We walked to his house together and played video games for a while. There was no repeat of our previous encounter. In fact, neither of us even brought it up. It was just a good time of two friends trying to kill each other in video game form like we usually did. When I had to leave, Brett offered to walk with me, but I didn't want him to. I didn't want people treating me like I was broken or anything just because I was a little hurt. I'd be okay. When I got to my house, I saw that dad was home. So, I went to grandma's house. Mom fed me and took care of me until it was after dark.
"Don't you think you should go home and go to bed?" mom asked.
"Can I sleep over here tonight?" I asked.
"Billy..." mom sighed. "You can't avoid your father forever."
"I'm not avoiding him. I just want to sleep over here in the air conditioning," I lied.
"Go home, Billy," mom replied.
I kissed mom and grandma good night. Slowly, I trudged to the door. I took one last look back at mom and hoped that seeing my saddest puppy dog look would change her mind.
"Yeah?" I asked, hopefully.
"Your father loves you very much. Just because you get angry with somebody doesn't mean you stop loving them. It's part of being a family and this family has been through enough. Please talk to your father."
"I will," I said. "But I don't know if he wants to."
"I know he does, Billy. For all his stubbornness and faults your father is a wonderful man. It's hard to see right now because we're all so stressed out and tired. He wants to be there for you, for all of us. But you have to make an effort too."
"Okay," I said.
I closed the door and reluctantly walked the short distance across the road from grandma's house to mine. The night air was cool and moist. The rain of the previous night had cleared the oppressive humidity from the air and made everything a little more bearable. I could have spent the night outside and never gone inside. I could have just avoided my problems with dad. I sort of wanted to do that; just run away and never have to deal with him again. But there was another far larger part of me that wanted to clear the air with dad like the storm had done last night. It may not be pretty, but at least it would be over.
I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the storm I was about to encounter. I didn't know how the situation would end up, but I knew it wasn't going to be easy to get through. I turned the knob of our front door and prepared for the worst.
Hi! Another chapter for ya! Hey, thanks to folks who send comments! You are always appreciated, especially in the early going! It's always my hope that you're enjoying what I'm writing. I also hope that you'll support the good folks at nifty, who do a great job of hosting these stories. Email is always appreciated! You can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org See you next time!