WHAT LIES WITHIN: CHAPTER 5
Sometimes dreams alter the course of an entire life.
-- Judith Duerk
Ugh. Another Monday morning. The only thing that gave me the strength to haul my butt out of bed and go through the usual morning rituals was the promise that after this year, it would finally end. After I graduate from High School, I assured myself, things were gonna be different for me. Way different.
After a quick breakfast, I hopped on my board, and began the slow uphill ride to school. As I made my way through the neighborhood, I felt a chill in the air that I hadn't felt in a while. I guess summer was truly over...I think we we're finally starting to feel a hint of the coming winter. The early morning light seemed to have a starkness and clarity to it that was quite a contrast to the hazy, warm summer mornings I had grown used to lately. It kinda makes you see things in a different way...it gives you a whole new outlook on the world. Funny how the weather can affect you like that.
I stopped for a second to adjust my backpack. Since I wasn't in any real hurry this morning, I slowly peered around the neighborhood for a moment. Yep, everything was pretty much the same as it had always been, but this morning did feel subtly different for some reason. The trees seemed less dense, and some were beginning to show the signs of the impending color change and leaf drop. Everything seemed a little less green...tired. Ready for a change.
Maybe it was just the fact that it was a little bit earlier than my usual time to be heading off to school. I was anxious to get out of the house this morning. All weekend long I had been feeling this subtle, building pressure inside me. My mom kept giving me strange looks and asking me odd questions all weekend long. She seemed to know instinctively that something different had been going through my head lately, and my first reaction was to get out of her sight. I just didn't want to deal with her right now. If there were any cracks starting to show in the wall I kept around myself, I didn't want her to be close enough to notice. Besides, it was so much easier to blend in and be anonymous at school; it actually seemed like the least stressful place to be right now. At school, I felt like everything was under control...predictable. Just the way I liked it. I hate surprises.
I mulled that thought over in my head as I rode along, through the seemingly endless rows of identical tract houses in my neighborhood. It always struck me as strange how they all try so hard to stand out as being different...you know, with different paint jobs or different landscaping...but, if you stood back a little you could see that they were all really exactly the same where it mattered. On the inside.
"Yo Rusty! You better hurry up, dude..." someone called out with a laugh, as the bell began ringing. I raced down the hallway, struggling with my heavy backpack and carrying my board under my arm. Man, if I could just ride that thing in the hallway, I could get there so much faster...
So, I cruised into the graphics lab a few minutes after the bell rang for fifth period...fashionably late, as usual. I wound my way through the crowd, and tossed my backpack and my board on the floor next to my computer workstation. I shook out my hair, and combed it back over my ears with my fingers. I do that a lot, I guess. Nervous habit or something.
"Nice of you to join us today, Mr. Thompson."
"Hey Mr. B," I replied. "So, what's the plan for today, dude?"
"Well, Russell," he said (and thereby not-so-subtly emphasizing the fact that he had used my full formal name, rather than the slightly less formal term I had just used to address him--hey, he must be on one of those `you guys gotta treat me with a little more respect here, or I'm gonna get fired one of these days' moods he has sometimes...), "Download the photos on this microdrive cartridge, check `em out, run anything you think needs it through Photoshop, and print up a few of the best ones for us to check out. This is from the kid that's gonna be our new photographer, I hope. Let's see how good he is," he said, handing me the small square cartridge.
I wandered over to the `fridge, pulled out a Pepsi, paused for a second while I gave very serious consideration (honest, really!) to putting my two quarters into the collection can (but, I ultimately decided against it), and made my way through the room. Before I could do my own work, I had to check on the other nerds to make sure they weren't totally fucking anything up. Man, I swear Photoshop is not that hard to learn. But, these fuck-ups haven't got a clue most of the time. It takes them, like, three hours to do what I can finish in 5 minutes. Mr. B insists that I let them do it anyway (with my supervision, of course). My life would be so much easier if I could just do it myself. Sometimes, I feel like I do more teaching in this class than Mr. B does. But, then again, he's not really a computer type. So, he teaches the writing, I teach the computer graphics. We have a good arrangement. I make an automatic A for the class, and he gives me a lot of freedom. And lately, it seems, I really need the breathing room.
I popped the cartridge into the reader on my desk, and waited a few seconds for the first thumbnails to come up on my screen. Hmmmm. Ok, our boy seems to be stuck in B&W mode here, but it looks pretty cool. A really creepy old house, shot with some nice camera effects. Good composition, great tonal range and balance. Next, a long landscape shot of the same house from farther away, with a dramatic and foreboding sky of darkening clouds creeping over it. Cool. I love the way he's composed the little bit of trash in the gutter to give it a little emotional tug. Nice effect. Next, some boring `average Joe' types sitting on a park bench...more park people...boring...zzzzzzzzz.
Ok, let's see what's next here...WHAT THE?!!
"Holy shit, Batman..." I thought to myself, as I quickly paged through the next few images. There I was, flying over the edge of the bowl, doing my stuff. It was him! The kid from the skate park was the new photographer. Well fuck me! I should have recognized the camera; I just bought it for the lab a few weeks ago. But, it's a pretty common model. Lots of people must have `em, I'm sure.
I sat back in my chair and looked out the window, as my mind wandered back to last Friday. I had been in such a strange mood. For some reason, I did something I always promised myself I would never do. I let down my guard for a split-second, and that kid just got to me, somehow...totally got inside my head. He reminded me so much of Billy Jenkins...just sitting there looking so pathetic, staring at me wide-eyed in fear and amazement. His eyes were like huge, pale blue dinner plates. It was like he had never seen anything in his life remotely that fascinating to him before. He was so nervous; he could barely even talk when I approached him. But, for some reason, I just had to talk to him. I don't really know why...maybe it was that stupid dream that I'd had about Billy the night before.
As I was laying in my bed last night, my thoughts kept going back to that kid...and it occurred to me that maybe he really reminded me of myself as much as Billy Jenkins...the way I used to be, I mean. Lookin' at him, you could just see it...he was a good boy. Clean. Neat. Good manners...respectful to others. Never been in trouble his whole life, I'll bet. Then, I realized that day with Billy I'd been reliving lately in my dreams had kinda been the last day of my `old life.' It was my last memory of the old me...or the real me?
As I paged through the rest of the images on the disk, they looked pretty familiar at first, since we'd all looked at them together on Saturday after he shot them. Ya...this kid is pretty good. I pulled some up to full screen resolution, and I was duly impressed. They totally communicated the sense of awe and wonder he felt watching us...the same thing I had seen so obvious in his eyes. He made us all look like we were gods...defying the laws of nature, or something.
But, as I came to the end of the sequence, I found some shots that I hadn't seen before. Of just me! There I was in picture after picture; shirtless, tanned, bad-ass skater boy...and the way he shot the pictures it was just obvious it was a real turn on for this kid. I instantly felt a sickening feeling growing in the pit of my stomach as I clicked through image after image...a feeling I hadn't felt in a long time. I quickly closed the browser window, so nobody could see anything `accidentally' looking over my shoulder.
I sat back in my chair again, and closed my eyes tightly as I fought back a tear. All of a sudden, things were getting a little too familiar here. It was one thing to be reminded of Billy, and having to re-live some of those wistfully sad memories. But this was totally different...this was taking me back to a place I promised myself I would never go again.
I was surprised, hurt, and maybe even a little bit pissed. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! I didn't want to be having these feelings again, damn it! But, looking at those photos, it just hit me hard...like a ton of bricks. It was abundantly clear that he had taken these photos of me because he was attracted to me. I excited him sexually! There was no denying it; those photos were pretty sexy. It was kind of a surprise to me, because I had never really pictured myself in that way...I mean, I never really saw myself from a point of view like his before. I knew how I felt on the inside, and it didn't really match the view of myself I was seeing in these pictures. I felt kinda strange, actually. It was just the power of the photos this kid had taken...they really made you connect with what he was feeling at the time; I mean, you could practically feel his erection in each photo.
But, worst of all, it also made me feel that awful, sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach that I swore, three years ago when I started High School, that I would never let myself feel again. It just wasn't right. It's not supposed to be like this. It's not normal, right?
This is so weird. I almost feel a little bit violated, or something. Not that you expect someone to walk up to you and ask for your permission before they get turned on by you, or something. But, this was different. Hello! He was a GUY! We're in high school now, and you just don't do shit like that...I mean, people get killed for less than that. I had promised myself I would never feel that way about another boy after Billy died...a promise that I fully intended to keep. Especially if I wanted to stay alive. And now, another guy is `interested' in me?
I had succeeded in convincing myself long ago that I was only supposed to be interested in girls at my age...I mean, I'm seventeen now, not twelve. Ya, a few girls have openly shown their interest in me at parties and stuff. A few of them even spread their legs for me, or gave me a blowjob. But with girls, I felt like it was just a part of the play...like they were only doing what they were supposed to do. It was their `role' to play, and it was important to their status on campus which guys they could `get.' I never felt like more than a trophy or a milestone for them. I knew they didn't really `like' me...shit, they didn't even know me. Still, I guess they must have thought I was good enough looking to be worth their attention...after all, looks were the only currency that seemed to really matter to them.
But, this seemed so utterly different. These photos didn't need captions. They screamed it out. At the very least, this kid had like, a total crush on me or something. God, I could just picture him jerking off on his bed while looking at those pictures of me. Fuck! I'm just not sure I can deal with this right now...
I picked out a few of the shots that I figured Mr. B would like best (except for the `sexy' ones, of course...), and put them in a batch print run on the photo printer. I hid the other image files way in the back corner of my hard disk, where nobody could find them easily. Then, with about two minutes to spare, I slipped out of class. I was half way across the parking lot when the bell rang for sixth. Sorry folks, but I'm outta here! I got things to think about. And, the last thing I need right now is to see him walking into the lab. God, definitely not that...
Before long, I found myself back at the park. I picked out a nice sunny spot on a gentle mound, and pulled off my shirt so I could soak up a little sun. I laid down on my back, folded my arms behind my head, and drifted off to think about stuff until the rest of the skate freaks came around later.
That sickening feeling I had felt in my stomach was still haunting me. It had been sooo long since the last time I had felt it; since that day I keep re-living in my nightmares...that day with Billy Jenkins. Man, it seems like every time I turn around lately he's in my mind...in my dreams. What is this all about?
Now, this kid comes along, and has me all fucked up. Damn him! If anyone saw those pictures, and found out some gay little sophomore boy was pervin' on me...well, there's just no way I can let my `rep' get blown now. In a little less than a year, I'm outta here. I'm free. But, if I blow it now, I can look forward to a year of absolute hell. No fuckin' way, dude! None. Ever. The more I thought about it, the more pissed part of me was getting at the kid for dragging me through all this shit again...making me feel all these uncomfortable feelings. Why did he have to go and mess up my perfect little world?
I decided that I simply had to erase those damn pictures. It seemed like the only way I could get rid of that sickening feeling in my gut. I mean, I totally respected the kid's work from an artistic point of view, but this was just way too dangerous for me. Hell, it scared the shit out of me. I don't think I'm gonna relax for a second until I erase those files. Maybe I could finally get past the damn nightmares after that, and get some sleep for a change.
I looked at my watch. Hmmmm. I think I'll go back to the lab a little later after everyone's gone today, and do it then (Ya, I have a key to the lab...shhh! Don't tell anyone! Mr. B. will get in loads of trouble if anyone knows...). At least that way, maybe I can sleep tonight.
I closed my eyes, and tried to block all those uncomfortable thoughts out of my head for a while, and enjoy a little sun on my body as I lay there on the grass.
I could see the slim younger boy with the pale blue eyes just standing there, looking at me in awe and wonder. The sun warmed my nude body as I lay there on the grass. I could feel my erection as it arched proudly over my stomach. I was so hard, it almost hurt.
I could see the boy's eyes were totally focused on my hardness. Eventually, he looked up, and his eyes connected with mine. I could sense my eyes begging him to come closer. As he knelt gently beside me, his eyes never left mine. I could see the incredible lust and desire hidden behind those huge, soft, fearful eyes. I smiled at him and nodded. He tentatively reached his hand out and placed it on my stomach. I shivered a little bit...it felt so incredible to be touched by him. Slowly and carefully his other hand brushed the hair off of my forehead. He leaned down to kiss me very softly on the lips, then began moving slowly down my body...nuzzling me on the chin, the neck...finally on my chest. As his tongue slowly teased one nipple, one hand gently stroked across my shoulder, while the other hand slowly wrapped around my hardness. His kisses moved down across my stomach, teasing the few hairs that run from my navel down to my crotch. I closed my eyes and let out a satisfied groan...I had never felt anything this good before in my entire life. As I felt the warm and wet sensation on the head of my dick, my whole body stiffened in a sudden spasm. I could feel it beginning deep inside me...I reached down and gently put my hands on the back of his head as he...
"HEY! Wake up, Rusty!" I heard someone laugh.
"Shit, don't wake him up now! Can't you see he's having a dream about screwin' some hot chick or something?" another laughed.
I slowly opened my eyes, squinting up into the faces of a couple of the regular skaters, as they stood there silhouetted against the bright sunlight. Their eyes were all fixed on my crotch, as they laughed and commented rudely among themselves.
Immediately, I knew what they were laughing about, because I could feel my erection straining against my shorts. God, I was hard. I can't remember the last time it felt that hard.
"What are you lookin' at fuckwads?" I asked angrily. "See somethin' there you like?"
Those kinds of comments usually shut them up, and were really kind of expected when any guy was caught in an embarrassing moment like mine.
"Shit Rusty, we're just givin' ya a HARD time, like usual," Tim Petersen laughed. "No need to get pissed, man."
I looked at my watch.
"Oh Shit! I gotta run, dudes. Catch ya later," I said, trying calmly to hide my panic as I grabbed up my stuff and jumped on my board. I took off across the park as fast as I could, partly just to get my mind off of that dream. Damn! Why did I have to dream about that shit at the park? God, I was so embarrassed! Of course, I could easily keep up the act and play it off as nothing to those guys. But, deep down inside it really upset me. What is it with all these dreams lately? You just can't control your dreams, and that kinda annoyed me. Fuck!
I skated as hard as I could back to the school graphics lab, in an effort to work off some of the pressure building inside me. I was feeling so disappointed with myself. Why was I so weak all of a sudden? Shit like this just doesn't happen to me. I always have it under control...or, at least I always used to.
As angry and disappointed as I kept telling myself that I was (or that I should be...), deep down inside another part of me was totally awakened by that dream. It kept reminding me over and over again how goddam sexy it was. My whole body was tingling with this weird sensation...it made me feel sooo...alive? Sexy? Something like that.
Shit, nothing has gotten me that sexually aroused before in my entire life, at least not since my trip behind the garage with Billy Jenkins. Certainly not the few blowjobs or casual party fucks I've had with some of the chicks from school. Man, I hardly came at all the last time Stacy gave me a blowjob, she was so fucking awful at it. The girl had no technique! Yet, I almost came in my shorts just dreaming about him doing it. Damn!
My mind immediately brought back the image that was seared into my memory from that dream: his soft brown hair falling over his big blue eyes...his lightly freckled cheeks...his shy, awkward smile...his soft pink lips wrapped around my...
NO! I can't let myself keep thinking like this...I was almost completely hard again. Shit!
I made it to the graphics lab, and let myself in with my key. As I sat there waiting for my computer to boot up, I kept thinking about that stupid dream. It made me feel really sexy one moment, angry and frustrated the next, and then really guilty and disappointed in myself after that. God, why am I so fucked up about this? I mean, so what if the kid is attracted to me. I can just do the safe thing and ignore him, right? I don't have to do anything about it...I can see he's already scared to death of the world as it is.
But, for some reason I just can't make myself ignore him. I guess I kinda feel a little bad for him, actually. I can imagine how it must be for him. Shit, stop kiddin' yourself Rusty! That kid could have easily been you if things had been different, and you know it! It's taken your total effort in self-control and constant vigilance over your own behavior for the last five years just to make sure that you weren't in his place right now...
NO! I REFUSE TO BE GAY, GODDAM IT!
That's how people die...at least, that's how Billy died. And, I don't wanna die. Yet.
I leaned way back in my chair, and put my hands on my head as I closed my eyes. I just have to stop thinking about this. I'm so frustrated and confused right now; I'm not sure if I'm gonna start crying, or start breakin' shit.
I just can't believe I'm looking him standing there, just gawking at me.
It took me a second to realize that it really wasn't my imagination, or a silly daydream. It was actually him. He isn't supposed to be in here! Shit, I thought I had locked the door. Here I am, sitting in front of my computer wrestling with my inner demons over this whole business about him, the stupid pictures, Billy Jenkins, the dreams...and he fuckin' shows up, standing right square in front of me with this pitiful look of surprise and confusion on his face...It's times like this when I think (no, when I'm absolutely sure...) God has definitely got a sense of humor.
At that point, everything was just a little too much for me, and I did what I always do when my back is pressing firmly against the wall. I ran. I got the hell outta there as fast as humanly possible. I refused to even let myself look at him, or to speak to him beyond the minimum necessary words. I don't think my brain was capable of much more than that anyway, at the moment. The look on his face when he saw me here was burned into my mind, and it was just killing me. No, I wasn't very nice to him, and I'm sure he didn't have a clue at first.
But, I'm sure he'll figure it out pretty quick.
I kicked myself over and over again in my head, as I rode home on my board. I was mad at myself because I was sure that little episode would end up hurting his feelings. And, I was mad at myself for even caring about him, or his damn feelings. As much as I wanted not to care, I simply couldn't make myself feel that way. But, I reminded myself, it was dangerous to care about someone...because; experience had taught me that's when you end up getting hurt.
I had already learned that lesson the hard way once, and I swore to myself it would never happen again.
I should have seen it coming.
I walked in the back door, with my head still spinning from all the strange and disconcerting thoughts I'd been having lately. Mistake number one. My mom can sense these little opportunities from a mile away, I think. As soon as I had stepped in the door, she made her first move.
"Rusty...can you take out the trash tonight? Tomorrow's the pick-up..."
Huh? Damn. She caught me off guard again...I hadn't been able to clear my head and focus on the serious business of family life before I entered the battlefield because I had been surprised (ok, and a little intimidated, as always) to see my dad standing in the kitchen when I came in. That momentary little hesitation was all it took. As soon as I realized that I hadn't really paid complete attention to what she said, my heart sank. In front of my dad, no screw-ups were allowed...no matter how trivial. And there was definitely nothing trivial about an opportunity for him to jump all over my ass, as far as he was concerned.
"What Mom?" I asked sheepishly.
"Goddamit Rusty! Pull your head out of your ass and listen to your mother once in a while. Shit, I can't believe you sometimes. Don't you speak fuckin' English?"
"Yes dad, of course I do...I `d barely even gotten inside the door..." I began, but I was cut short by another blast.
He just waved me off dismissively as he gave me his patented look of disgust and disappointment..."Don't give me any of your Bullshit attitude! Just do what she fuckin' asked you to do...you know your mother doesn't expect that much from you, at least you could fuckin' pay attention. Jesus, what a fuckin' idiot you are sometimes. Wake up!" my dad yelled. He was just getting warmed up. I could tell he was starting to enjoy this, as usual.
God, I really hate him sometimes. Ok, you're right...most of the time.
He popped the top off his beer, as he gave me a long stare while he was preparing himself for another assault. Thankfully, mom stepped in and shooed him out of the kitchen for a minute.
I looked at her, and just shook my head. She gave me an understanding look, and started handing me plates and silverware to put on the table.
"Still got something on your mind, I see," she observed. "Well, I'm still a pretty good listener, even though you won't talk to me anymore..." she said, giving me her best `make-your-son-feel guilty' look.
"It's nothing, mom. I just wasn't quite prepared for all that when I walked in. Don't worry. Next time I will be," I said, rolling my eyes.
"You know Rusty, I really do try to get him to lighten up on you. He never talked to Josh or Mark like that. As far as he's concerned, both those boys walked on water...heck, they still do. He just doesn't understand you, `cause you're not like him...like them. He doesn't know what to say to you, and that makes him feel uncomfortable...which frustrates him. So, it's really not totally about you. A lot of it's about him," she said, giving me her usual little pat on the arm.
"Thanks mom. I do appreciate your help...at least you understand me, thank god. I honestly don't think I could live with him if you weren't here," I said pensively.