That was also the summer that his hormones started saying hello... and WAKE UP!... and GOTCHA!... and Ooops... and OH Shit!... and all sorts of other stuff. With Mitchell, those things had already started when I became their guardian. And he seemed to handle puberty rather well. At least I wasn't aware of him having any real difficulties. But then again, he didn't very often feel a need to come to me with that sort of thing. As I said, he was more reserved, a thinker. He preferred to work things out for himself and didn't seem to be as comfortable talking about or displaying his body as Jason did.
Jason, on the other hand, talked about everything, especially his body. He rarely wore anything more than his Fruit of the Loom briefs around the house, and practically insisted on swimming nude unless we had company. Of course, Alex was never considered company. So I wasn't really surprised when he came home from a party one Friday night a few months after his 13th birthday wanting to talk about something that had happened. I was sitting in the TV room reading a book. Mitchell was still out on a date.
"Pop, can we talk?"
I put down my book and looked at him standing there in front of me. I couldn't help noticing how cute he was, standing there in his Dockers® and button down shirt.
"Sure, Jason. What's up?"
He sat down on the foot stool facing me, shoving my feet gently to the side to make room.
"Well, I wanna talk about a game we played tonight."
He did seem a little nervous, so I prodded him along.
"Yeah? What game was that?"
"Spin the bottle."
"Kids still play that game?"
"Yeah. It was Pam's idea."
"So? Was it fun?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Well, the others seemed to think it was fun. But I don't know. I just didn't seem to get as much out of it as most of the others."
"What do you mean, son? Why don't you tell me what's really bothering you?"
"Ok. Here's how it went. One person would spin the bottle, and the spinner had to kiss whoever the bottle pointed to when it stopped. If it stopped at a person of the same sex, then the spinner kissed the person to the right. We sat boy, girl, boy, girl."
"Yeah? That's the way we played it years ago. So did you kiss right there in front of everybody?"
He actually blushed a little at my question.
"No, Pop! Geez! We went into the next room with the light off."
"Sometimes the kids that left were gone for a really long time, like maybe they were really getting into it or something."
More silence as I waited for him to continue at his own pace.
"But I never seemed to have much fun at it. And it never made any difference which girl I was kissing. I mean, Janie even grabbed me and hugged me and stuck her tongue in my mouth. I think she was disappointed when she was done 'cause I just kinda stood there and let her do it."
"So none of the kissing bothered you? Got you excited? Made you breathe funny?"
"Nope. I don't think it did anything for Alex either. I kept watching him all night to see if I was missing something, but each time he came back in the room after kissing someone, he'd just look over at me and sorta shrug his shoulders."
"Well, I was just wondering. Is there something wrong with me?"
"Gee, son, I don't know. I wouldn't think so. You're still young, barely 13. Maybe you're just not ready for this sort of thing yet. Have you talked with Alex about it? See how he feels?"
"Not yet. I was a little nervous about it, and I think he was too. So we talked about a bunch of other stuff on the way home."
"Well, I wouldn't worry about it, Jason. You have plenty of time to get interested in the opposite sex and just as much time to get used to and interested in kissing. Just let things happen naturally and don't get all riled up about it."
"OK Pop. Thanks!"
And with that he got up and sat down in my lap. Even at this age, he still liked to huggle. And why not? I was 42 years older than him and I still liked to huggle.
A couple of months later, Jason made plans to spend Friday night at Alex's house. I took them to an early movie and dropped them off at the Stroh's house just before10:00. I went home and the boys went immediately to Alex's bedroom, stripped down to their undershorts, brushed their teeth, and then sat on Alex's bed to talk, as was their custom. These guys could talk for hours. It was one of the things I loved most about their friendship. They were always so comfortable with each other.
The topic that night was the party.
"What did you think of Pam's party Jason?"
"Oh, I had lots of fun. I really enjoyed the music she had on. She kept playing that Billy Gilman CD over and over. He is just so kewl!"
"Yeah, I really like that song, I wanna Get To Ya."
"Yeah, that's kewl! And I Think She Likes Me."
"Oh, yeah. That's kewl!"
"Do you like me, Alex? I mean really like me?"
"Duh! Jason! This is me, Alex, your best friend in the whole world for six years! Of course I like ya! More than anybody, man."
"Thanks. Me too. Really like you, I mean."
"So, Jason, what's this all about?"
"Well, I was just wondering how you felt about that game we played. You know, about kissing the girls."
"Well, did you like all that kissing?"
"Well... no... not all of it."
"Any of it?"
"Uh... no, not really. Did you?"
For once in their lives both boys seemed to be at a loss for words. There was a long period of silence as they each looked back and forth from the other's face to their hands clasped in their laps, each apparently lost in his own thoughts. Finally, Jason spoke up.
"Do you think maybe it was because we didn't have any experience at it? Kissing I mean?"
"Sure. That must be it. I never kissed a girl before. Not on the lips anyway."
"Me neither. On the lips, I mean."
More silence as the tension built in the room. Was the temperature rising? Was the air conditioner off? Had the furnace kicked on?
"Would you...uh... do you uh... I mean, uh..."
"What, Jason!? Say it!" Alex said, just above a whisper.
"Well, I just wondered if maybe you'd uh... wanna practice... with me I mean."
Jason's face was turning red with embarrassment and apprehension. Would his best friend think him weird? Queer? Would he freak out on him?
Alex just looked at his friend as he felt his heart skip a beat. What's happening to me? He thought to himself as he sat there in the ensuing silence. He's my best friend. He just wants to practice so we're ready for the next time. What's wrong with that? Doesn't mean anything.
"Uh, sure, I guess... Sure! Let's do it."
Alex was sitting close to the edge of the bed, so Jason shuffled over towards him, his butt cheek and thigh just barely on the bed. As the boys leaned toward each other, their eyes locked, time seemed to stand still. In unison, as their bodies leaned beyond the position of stability, they rested their hands on the other's bare knees. Then as their lips touched, their eyes closed.
And time stopped. Hearts stopped. Thunder rolled. Sparks flew. The lights went out. And Jason fell off the bed.
Picking himself up off the floor, Jason felt his heart beating as fast as it ever had in his toughest wrestling match. With a dizzy sensation, he felt hot tears well up in his eyes and roll down his cheeks. Without explanation, he grabbed his slacks and thrust his legs into them, picked up his shoes and shirt and ran from the room.
"Jason!... Wait, Jason! ... Jason!"
But Jason wasn't listening. He wasn't hearing anything beyond the wild beating of his heart and his own ragged breathing. He raced down the hall, through the living room and was out the front door before Alex could even get to the hallway. Jason ran as fast as he could down the street and into his own house, slamming the door behind him as he ran to his bedroom upstairs. He didn't even see me as he swept past me at the top of the stairs.
When I got to his room, I found him sitting in the middle of his bed, shivering, his body quaking as though in fright, his breath coming in rapid gasps. But he didn't look frightened, really. More like shocked. I wondered what had happened to bring on this condition, but before I could ask him anything he started hyperventilating. I ran downstairs and grabbed a lunch bag and rushed back to hold it over his nose and mouth.
As I was helping Jason get himself under control, the phone rang. It was Alex, and he didn't sound any better than Jason. In fact, his gasping voice scared me, especially when I remembered that his folks were at a dinner party and not expected home until much later.
"ALEX!" I yelled. "LISTEN TO ME! Alex! Hang up the phone. Go to the kitchen. Get a lunch sack. Hold it over your mouth and nose and breathe deeply! You'll be OK, son! Just do as I say! I'll be there in a minute!"
I sat there holding Jason's bag and listened until I heard a dial tone. Jason was calm enough to get rid of the lunch sack as I hung up the phone. I lifted him onto my lap and rocked back and forth gently, trying to get my own emotions under control. Finally, I was able to get Jason to tell me a little bit about what had happened. He finished by saying, "I don't know what happened, Pop. My eyes were closed. When our lips touched I saw a million stars and then everything just went black. The next thing I knew I was on the floor. I was so scared I just started crying. I had to get out of there. What happened, Pop?"
He was starting to weep softly by the time he finished. We had only talked for about 5 minutes, and I was worried about Alex. I told Jason to lay down on the bed and rest while I went over to check on his friend.
"I'll be right back, Jason. Just don't worry. We'll get this sorted out."
As I ran across the street to Alex's house, I knew what had happened. In my heart I knew. I just had never experienced it this strongly before. And I certainly hadn't expected to experience it this way.
I found Alex in just his undershorts, curled up in a ball on the floor of the kitchen, clutching a lunch sack to his face, tears streaming down his face. He looked up at me with fear in his eyes. In a voice choked with emotion, he tried to find out what was wrong.
"What's wrong, Mr. Bedinger? What's wrong with Jason? What happened? What's wrong with me?"
I picked the kid up and carried him back to our house. I couldn't very well leave him home alone. Not in his present condition. Since it was dark out and he hardly ever wore more than he had on now when he was at our house, I didn't even bother getting his clothes. He could wear something of Jason's. I was worried about both of them.
When I got back to the house with Alex, I went directly to Jason's room. Jason had slipped out of his slacks and was curled up under the blanket in his undershorts. I looked at him as I sat down on the bed, Alex in my lap with my arms wrapped around him. Jason's breathing was back to normal, but his eyes were red and still had a look of either fear or bewilderment in them. He had obviously been crying. We sat there for a few minutes while Alex calmed down. I watched Jason's face as his eyes flicked back and forth between mine and Alex's. As the look on his face turned to one of confusion, we were finally able to start talking.
"Alex, Jason has already told me what he can about the incident at your house. Do you suppose you could tell me what you think happened?"
In a halting voice, with frequent starts and stops and some hiccups, Alex tried to explain.
"Well, we decided to try kissing each other... As practice...(hiccup)... In case we were ever invited to another spin-the-bottle party. I'm not sure what happened.... (sniff) ... We were staring at each other's face... (hiccup)...and I put my hands on Jason's knees, and he put his on mine as we leaned towards each other. I remember his skin felt awfully warm.....(sniff)... Or maybe it was my hands that felt warm on his skin."
"Yeah," said Jason. "I felt that, too."
"Then it seemed like the closer we got, the slower things were happening. I remember he had his eyes open, and I was staring right into them."
Alex stopped for a moment as though in thought. Then he sat up straight and turned to look at me.
"Did you ever notice how pretty Jason's eyes are?" he asked with a look of pure innocence.
I saw Jason blush at this comment, but he was smiling, too. Obviously Alex's remark had made him feel good. Then Alex slumped back to his original position and continued.
"By the time our lips touched, our eyes were closed. I remember, 'cause Jason's closed first."
"Yeah, I remember now. Alex was still looking at me when I closed my eyes. I remember wondering if he was going to close his too, 'cause the girls always closed theirs."
"Then our lips touched...(hiccup)... I felt a shock, you know? Sort of like when you walk across the carpet and touch something metal? But it was stronger, and different, not exactly like that , but sort of.... Then there was this flash! Like when somebody takes your picture with a flash attachment when your eyes are closed."
"That's right! That happened to me, too. And I saw stars and heard a noise like thunder!"
"You too? You heard thunder?"
The boys fell silent for a moment and just looked at each other. I think they were figuring out what had happened. They were quiet for about two or three minutes, which seemed like forever at the time. Then Alex continued.
"That's when Jason fell off the bed. It was like he just passed out. He just sort of toppled over and fell off."
As Alex made this last statement, his voice sort of tapered off to a whisper, his eyes never leaving Jason's. I glanced at Jason and saw him looking at Alex the same way, their gazes locked. I accepted that as my cue to leave them alone. From the way they were looking at each other, I felt they were going to work it out for themselves and didn't need me there. Besides, Mitchell was due home at any moment, and I wanted to be downstairs when he came in. So I stood up and let Alex stand on his own by the bed. He was lifting the blanket and crawling in next to Jason as I shut the door behind me.
... to be continued
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