That night, Jace again comes into my dreams. The first in a long series of recurring wet dreams. When I wake up, Max is sleeping in the corner. I’m afraid he’ll try to lick me, so I hurry to the shower. I’m holding onto the faucets, remembering this position from prior sexcapades. I swear I’m being raped from behind but refrain from finding if it is true, while my dick makes the shower wall looks shell-shocked. It’s been two days.
I go to Robby’s and we ride to Gables High together. The office makes us wait, so we miss home room. Assistant Principal Spencer comes out and explains to Robby that he is being demoted to Junior status. He has to pass the first half or he’ll be put on suspension. He tells him to see the lady in the office to be reassigned classes.
“I’ll be watching you, mister.” The dick yells at us as we leave. We laugh.
I get him into all but my Spanish II class. The office says if the teacher approves he can be in it as well. He’ll even get credit for Spanish I if he passes Spanish II. Very logical.
We walk into Mr. Clark’s English class. I introduce Robby to him.
“He in your band, Castle?” His mouth hangs open and drops even further when Robby winks at him, with his back to everyone else. The boy sitting next to me is made to move, so we can sit together. He is soon surrounded by she-bitch wolves, sniffing and ready to begin licking.
“Thank you Mr. Clark. Tim encouraged me to join your class. Still doing Shakespeare?”
“Oh, you like Shakespeare. You would be an excellent Mercutio.
“Oh, from Romeo and Juliet. We did our version of it on New Year’s Eve. In it the lovers escape alive.”
“I read you had a multitude at your show.”
“It was incredibly sad, because the bard dies. There were ten thousand in attendance, we did five performances in one night.”
“What role did you play?”
“I always play the priest.”
“Oh, he plays Juliet, in the tradition of an all boy cast.”
The girls look at me and giggle. They all move closer to Robby. Mr. Clark lets everyone ask questions. Some of the boys think they can embarrass Robby. “What about that video that was on TV?”
“Well, Mr. Clark said to talk about the performance. But that was just publicity to get people to come to Jace’s memorial. I think I said Tim got caught by his girlfriend or something being naughty.”
Several girls ask if we have girlfriends.
Robby answers, “We all have girlfriends except Hippie, who’s our groupie king, and Michael, who was Romeo in our performance. In real life, his girlfriend is a secret because she is only 14. They’re both Italian and their families are rivals here in Miami. Michael lives in a castle south of Byrd Road”
Now the girls were ew-ing and ah-ing as Robby spins out the story.
“You think I would be a good Mercutio? I can play multiple roles.”
“Oh, yes, as long as they are never both on stage at the same time.”
“I love tragedy, except when it really happens.”
“Well, I knew he would like being in your class, Mr. Clark,” I speak up.
He looks at me but speaks to Robby, “Yes, I can see Tim as Shylock. I saw him pricking himself in class when we did ‘Merchant of Venice.”
“Tim takes his acting very seriously, studying the Strasberg ‘method’ technique. He gets carried away. With pricking, he will keep doing it until someone has to bandage his hand. I fear for his sanity.”
The girls want to know about Jace. I tell them he was my boyfriend, which brings the girls back to my seat.
“But you have a girlfriend,” someone complains.
“I have two.”
They all drew in sharp breaths.
“I believe he was my soul mate, in life and in death.” Jace is dancing with glee.
Mr. Clark is stunned, but his habit of keeping order ends the confessional. We go back to the lesson. After class Robby walks up and says to Mr. Clark. “I need you to sign some form. Can I come back later?”
Mr. Clark is in deviant heaven.
Next, we have Biology, which is weird science. No false gods here. She tells Robby he has to pass the final to pass the course. I promise to tutor him.
We sneak out of science lab early to get to Spanish early and are at Senor Chavez’ desk well before the bell rings.
“Buenos dias, mi profesor”
“Bueno, Sr Castillo. ?Qui este te amigo?
“Mi estimato profesor, este mi amigo, Roberto.
“Buenos diaz, profesor. Estoy Roberto.
“Si, al casa de mi amiga.”
“Sr Chavez. Mi amigo quiere estudiar in te clase aqui, ? Este posible?
“Si. Bien venide, Sr Roberto, Senta, por favor.”
“Muchas gracias, Sr Profesor.
At Nutrition, everybody plans to go to my place or Robby’s, but we both say we were standing by our promises not to ditch. I think they finally go to Dawn’s. Without weed, the gang quickly self-destructs. Iggy eventually becomes a source, but soon everyone owes him for weed. They all have to wait until final bell for Robby to appear.
Soon all the girls and a few male hangers-on corner us and want to know everything about the band.
The question left hanging is, ‘how could I have both a boy and girlfriend?’
“Do you guys all believe in sex before love?” I ask.
All the girls shake their heads, “No,”they all agree
Then the boys say the same.
“So who’s harder to love, girls or boys?”
All the boys yell girls and the girls yell boys.
“Then you agree that it is easier to love your someone like yourself?”
They look dubious.
“It’s easier, so we don’t really notice that we love our best friends until something happens that makes it obvious.”
“Like what?” they ask.
“My first boyfriend hated me because I beat him in a swim race, so we challenged each other to a grudge race, in the Bay.
“I found that out when I saw a speedboat coming right at us in the dark. I pulled Scott barely out-of-the-way.”
“No, he goes to private school.” They’re disappointed. No gossip here.
“He went from hating me to loving me. We had a great summer together.”
“I don’t kiss and tell, but it did involve several girls.”
“You were having sex with boys and girls?”
“And together with girls.”
“You mean in the same room?”
“In the same bed, holding hands, banging away and switching.”
“Did they know?
“Who they were fucking?”
“That you did it with each other.”
“We weren’t interested in each other in the moment. The girls kept us busy.”
“What happened at the end of the summer?”
“My New York girlfriend comes to Miami Beach every July. Scott saw how much I love her, got jealous, and started fucking one of our mutual girlfriends, but never told me. He was jealous, so he wanted to cheat on me.”
“Boys are jerks.”
“I just felt left out. They got caught. He told me he never loved me and called me a fag.”
“What did you do?”
“I hoped to get him back. Then Jace found me.”
“You didn’t find and seduce him?”
“No way. He was scared of being gay. He would sleep over but not take his clothes off.”
“How did you both get together?”
“Love before sex. We held his hands one night as we fell asleep listening to Pink Floyd. Because nothing happened, he kissed me in the morning, saying he now trusted me. After that I can’t say, but teen age love is powerful. Now I’m giving you Mr. Clark’s Shakespeare lesson.”
“Thank you, Castle.” Mr. Clark was listening.
“Busted,” someone says.
“Sorry about the language,” I say to him.
He pulls me aside, wanting to talk about Robby. He is smitten.
“I’m so happy to have actual performers in our class.”
“There’s the drama club.”
“They’re tedious with their posturing and pouting. They’ve never performed for thousands of people.”
“It was strange on Tuesday night, with all those people singing my lyrics with me.”
“How did you feel?”
“It made my heart swell. I could feel it.”
“How could you go out there after you had lost Jace?” He was being pretty personal for a teacher.
“I believe he’s watching over me. He wanted the show to go on. There was so much love for him that night. I’m sure he’s got a big head now.” Jace makes a face at me.
Mr. Clark looks at me, “Oh, Tim. I’m so sorry.”
He hugs me right there in Nutrition.
“We gotta go to Spanish class early so Robby can prove he deserves to skip Spanish I.”
“You know you can always talk to me?”
I whisper in his ear, “You know, Robby’s really straight. He just wants to be in your class.”
Mr. Clark turns beet red. All the kids think I’m propositioning him. My bad reputation is budding.
Robby gets into all my classes. His charm works for him. Now he has to pass. English appears to be an automatic A+; all the rest will require studying. I promise to tutor him to help him catch up, but I know it will test his marijuana maintenance theory. Our studying will undoubtedly be done under the influence. He believes that what we learn while high is remembered only when we’re high. Robby just wants to keep me high all the time. He feels it’s his responsibility to keep me from mourning Jace. Jace signs that when I’m stoned, he’s stoned too. It means I’m a stoner for life.
We go directly to Michael’s after final bell and meet everyone else. John is there with Mike Jr.
“Why aren’t you at swim team?”
“Well, I told Mike he’s one of our singers so he should be here for practice.”
Mike Jr looks a little sheepish. I smile at him. “Don’t let people manipulate you, Mike. He just doesn’t want to work out and isn’t thinking about you missing practice.”
“Yeah, Coach is going to have a snit-fit when he sees me.”
“It’s not too late to get there, Com’n.’
John puts on his sulky face, but he goes with me as we ride to the University pool. I go up to Coach Diaz to say hi. He is pleasant and doesn’t make me feel like a quitter. I explain the situation with John, telling him it’s confidential why he’s staying with the Watts. He needs to be with Stu or Mike after school, which means he’s to join the team. Coach tells me to speak with Coach Earl, where John will be on the B squad. He tells Mike Jr to get in the water. Mike Jr gives me a Speedo for John. John gets all red, so I take him to change and speak with him about needing to go along with everything and especially not to manipulate Mike Jr or Stu.
“I feel like I’m in jail.”
“The only alternative is for you go to Social Services. They’ll put you in a group home. Just enjoy your freedom. This is not jail. So, put on the suit and jump in the water. Nobody can see your balls in the water.”
He laughs, “Then turn around. I don’t wanna a fag seein’ me naked.”
He comes out with his towel wrapped around his waist. We go to Coach Earl’s group. Coach gives me a big smile. I know he’s always liked me.
“One of your bike riders?” he asks.
“Well, he’s actually my band member’s little brother.” John glares at me. “And one of our roadies,” I quickly add. “He’s staying at the Watt’s for a while. He’ll be on the team, too.”
“Welcome. What’s your name?”
“Well, Sir John, jump in the empty lane. Let me see how well you swim.”
“John, go home with Stu and Mike afterward. No coming to Michael’s.”
“Right.” He’s as sulky as Max, when he doesn’t get his pot.
Coach Earl asks me to wait until he gets John settled. I watch the B team, remembering when I was a scrub. It seems so long ago, almost two years now. I watch John struggle to swim a lap, with his head up. Coach gives him a kick board and tells him to do laps with it.
He comes over and gives me a hug. “Sorry about your friend. I remember him from the Christmas caroling. He was so good with the boys. How anyone could kill him is beyond me.”
My normal tears aren’t there anymore, so I smile. “You’ll always be my favorite coach.”
“Well, Coach Diaz doesn’t try too hard to be popular.”
“You got that. But you’ve always been on my side.”
“I read about the memorial for Jace. Are you are a rock star now?”
“Everybody thinks so, but our band only has four songs that are our own. Sex, love, drugs and god.”
“Sounds like rock n roll. So, what’s the story about Sir John?”
“It’s confidential. I told Coach Diaz. You should know, too. He’s Jace’s step-brother. His older brother killed Jace. Social Services took John away from the parents. He’s staying with the Watt’s.”
“Is he in danger? Should we keep an eye out for him.”
“That would be great. His brother’s in jail, but they may release him. John should always be with Stu or Scott, and Mike, too. He’s still at his old school. We want him to feel comfortable, so he’s here with you. He’s not a jock and has Speedo issues.”
“That’s pretty normal. If there’s trouble, who should we call.”
“Just call the police. Mr Antonio’s his court appointed guardian.”
“Mike Antonio? You got a heavy hitter there.”
“He’s our drummer’s dad.”
“You certainly get the right people on your side, Tim. By the way, you might want to make an effort with Scott. He’s really mad at you.”
“Thanks, Coach. I’ll try. Last time we talked he was pretty mean and since then, all he does is glare at me. I’ll make an extra effort.’
“You did really like him at one point.”
I get a little red. Then I thank him and walk away. I see Scott get out of the other workout and head for the bathroom. I laugh about cornering him there, but figure what the hell.
“Hey,” I say while he’s at the urinal. He turns around so quickly he sprays all over the floor. I laugh but he glares at me.
“What do you want?”
“To try to patch things up as much as possible.”
“Well, good luck. You really did it this time. Everyone knows it’s me who you say was your first boyfriend.”
“Well, if we’re going to talk, it better not be in a bathroom.”
He snickers, and we walk out.
“Call me at home. Thanks for dumping that kid on us.”
“Okay, I’ll call.”
He dives back into the pool.
As I walk away, I realized the old me would be shaking, but I’m not. Jace gives me the thumbs up. I sign to him, “Do you read all my thoughts?”
He signs, “Only when I want to.”
“You have this power over me?”
“Always have, even from the grave.”
Then I think about his funeral.
He signs, “Why?”
“’Cause people need to say goodbye to you,” I think.
“Okay,” he signs.
I go back to Michael’s but no one is practicing, except Robby on the drums with boring solos. I put on the Black Sabbath album and we cheer up, singing the lyrics. I pick up the SG and follow the Jimmy Iovine guitar licks, turning the notes in my own way. Everyone else sings along to the album.
“Where you been?” Michael asks.
“Swim team,” I say.
“What,” Robby cries, “You going back to that?”
“No, I had to get John set. You should see him in a Speedo.”
All the girls shriek. Jazz looks mad, wanting to stand up for his friend.
I tell them how they call him ‘Sir John’ after he was so polite to the coach.
This leads to a discussion about band roles. Stu and Mike are acting like they’re in the band after the kids show.
“They were pretty good,”
“We ain’t havin’ kids in the band,” Robby asserts.
“We ain’t kids?” I ask. “And, what about the roadies? Are we going to make them work and treat them like slaves or something?”
“Well, roadies get benefits, like all the girls talk to them.”
“Yeah, the groupies just want to know how to get to Hippie.”
“So groupies are part of the band, too?”
“It’s like the song, ‘The In Crowd’
“I’m in with the in-crowd, I know where the in-crowd goes.” I sing.
“We don’t want people to think we’re snobs?” Michael notes.
“How about being the out-crowd?” Mary says.
“You mean change our name?”
“We can’t do that. We’ll just say anyone who wants to hang out with us and sometimes be in the show are ‘in with the out-crowd.’ It will be how we describe ourselves, The Out-Crowd. All our fans are pretty out there.”
“Yeah, no more frat parties or preppy parties. We represent the real people.
“Yeah, the faggots.”
“And their 12-year-old groupies.”
“We play metal, glitter, Motown, R&B, oldies, drug rock. None of that music is mainstream, not the Silent Majority.
“How about a song for Nixon? ‘He’s out with the in-crowd,’” Michael sings.
Mike Sr came into the music room. “You’re singing about Nixon?”
“Yeah, we’ll run Jace for President in the Dead Party.” Robby jokes. Mary is about to slap him, when I laugh. So does everyone else.
“Yay. The Dead Party. All the Dead Heads will vote for us.”
“We’ll get no votes ‘cause they all get lost going to the polls.”
Mike Sr stands there realizing I wasn’t the only wise ass in the band.
“You want to hear the funeral plans?”
No one is excited about going to church.
“It’s a private funeral service at the funeral home. No one is invited.”
“That’s not fair.”
“What about John? It’s his brother.
“We’d have to get court permission, as his family is under a restraining order.
“You think we should protest, Mike?” I ask.
“I think you should be careful what you start,” he answers. “You and your dad have to meet with the police investigators so they can close the case. Do you want me to represent you there?”
“You think I need a lawyer?”
“They might ask you questions about your relationship. It’s still against the law in Florida to have homosexual relations.”
“What? We’re just kids.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll keep you from saying anything prejudicial. I think the police just want to close it out and see that Jeff gets punished.”
“Okay. I’ll let you know when you have to talk with the investigators. Better tell your dad to be prepared.”
“He won’t want to talk about anything gay. He got a promotion and is going to be giving speeches about the right to have guns.”
“Good for him. So you’ll need to keep control of your anger for his sake, too. With that crowd, having a gay son may trump his heroics in saving that son.”
“Okay. I need you to keep the investigation from being more than a family tragedy.”
“I love tragedy.” Robby pipes up
“He’s in my Shakespeare class now,” I explain.
We go back to writing our song about the out crowd. Jace indicates I should pick up the SG. He guides me in playing the simple melody of ‘The In’Crowd.’ Then we play it backwards, reversing the inflections of the lyrics, from ‘in-Crowd’ to ‘Out-crowd.’ It’s going to be our latest original song, or sort of original.
I ask Susan to call me when Dad comes home so we can talk. I then call the Watt’s.
“Hi, Mom,” I pipe up when she answers, ‘how’s it going with everything?”
“Well, John can be difficult. He seems to mind Mike better than Stu.”
“They’re the same age. Stu can be anoying when he wants something.”
“Did you tell Stu that John is his older brother because I had told Jace to call me Mom?”
“Oh, yeah. Is it causing you a problem?”
“I’ve been told I can no longer adopt wayward boys.”
I laugh. “It all started when I defended Jace from his older step-brother. I told John I considered Jace my brother, which meant John also was.”
“I’ll never understand boys.”
“That’s because you’re too good to us.”
“Well, do you want to talk with Stu, he’s standing on my toes to talk.”
“Actually, I told Scott I’d call him. I saw him when I dragged John to the pool.”
“Oh, I’ll have him get on his phone. I’ll keep Mr. Nosy from listening.”
“I want to try to make up some with Scott. It’s not fair he’s dragged into all this.”
“Well, good luck. I’m holding off on the advice department.”
I wait as I hear Scott being told to talk with me.”
“What?” he says after picking up.
“A lot,” I say. “I’m sorry you’re involved in all that is going on. I tried to keep your name out of it.”
“Really, well that might work for anyone who doesn’t know me.”
“I don’t know you any more, Scott.”
“So why were you talking about me then.”
“That Scott is in my heart. I still love him.”
“Stop it. We never loved each other. We had fun and then we grew up. I love Lydia now.”
“How’s that working for you?”
“Shut up. It’s none of your business.”
“You say we both grew up, but you act just like when you used to be so mean to Stu. You lied about my friendship with him then.”
“Well, maybe you are turning him into a little fag like you. I remember how you made Mike into a junior version of yourself so you all could fag off together.”
“Why are you so angry about being gay? You were happy then.”
“You turned into a stoner waste case.”
“I changed; Jace’s death makes me harder at heart. But where he is in my heart is the same place where I hold you. We can’t change what we were last summer, in North Carolina. The happiest day of my life was when you won the State Championship.”
“That was you manipulating me. I’ll never come close to that time again. You had me wrapped around your little finger.”
“That was a bad thing? I didn’t call you to argue. I know what I said in the papers and on TV has made your friends think you’re gay. You value them more than you do me. I’m sorry. Please do me the favor of coming to Wilkie and Jill’s place. Let them help us find common ground.”
“What have they got to do with it?”
“They knew us when we were together. Jill sang in our band while David was in England for Christmas. He came back early for Jace’s memorial. They knew Jace and me like they knew you and me. Your mother is still Mom for me and is saving Jace’s brother from all that’s going on. She had Jace call her Mom, when he had never had a mom before. I don’t want you to love me as a boyfriend but I need you to be my brother again. On Saturday we can ride over there together. Please?”
“Call me on Saturday. I may be busy.”
“You’ll be glad. They are our friends from when we were together. Now put Stu on.”
I heard him yell. “Stu, the asshole wants to talk to you.”
It takes five seconds for him to come to the phone.
“Hey, little bro, you were incredible Tuesday night. Did you have fun?”
He goes on about all the great things that are happening.
“Am I ready to have a girlfriend? All these girls are calling me and want to do things like movies and to meet their friends.”
“Well, just do group things. You don’t want a girl who is the boss of you.”
“No comment. I just tried to be friends with Scott. I asked him to go bike riding on Saturday.”
“Can we come too?”
“Well, we’re going to see Jill and Wilkie. Maybe they can talk him into being my friend again. Why don’t you and John stay at Mike’s. We can meet you there afterward?”
“John’s a pain, but he listens to Mike.”
“Remember John is your brother too. You don’t get to choose your brothers.”
“He acts just like Scott did at that age. And Scott’s gone back to being an asshole, too.”
“Watch your language.”
“Jeez, Tim, you guys say that all the time.”
“That’s why you can’t be in the band. We’re a bad influence on you.”
“But I’m in the band, aren’t I, Tim?”
“Don’t worry, bro. We talked about it today. We’ve created a separate band for part-time members, it’s called The Out-Crowd. We’re writing a song about it.”
“Give me the words so Mike and I can practice them.”
“Well, John’s also Out-Crowd. He can explain what he does. You can tell him we created the Out-Crowd for him as well.”
“Wasn’t I great on Tuesday?”
“You were incredible, but don’t let it go to your head. As you know, quoting Heidi Klum aged 3, ‘In fashion, one day you’re in and the next day you’re out.’”
“Are we a fashion band?”
“That’s why you and Mike wore bow ties. That was so cute.”
“Okay, Tim. I gotta go talk with John. Thanks for being my brother again.”
“I guess I had forgotten but I’m back now.”
“Yeah, and fuck Scott.”
“Language, Stu, language.”
It isn’t long before Dad comes home. Susan calls me down. Max comes with me, but this time he sits down at my dad’s side. Dad absent-mindedly scratches behind his ears. Max lays down, the two-faced traitor.
“Dad, Mr Antonio told me to talk to you.”
“Did you even know he’s one of the top trial lawyers in Miami.”
“I didn’t even know he was a lawyer until he talked to me today.”
“You thought he was just one of your friends’ dads?”
“Pretty much, but he does get a lot of respect wherever he goes.”
“What did he say.”
“He’s going to be our lawyer. He’ll set up a meeting with the police investigators in Jace’s death.”
“I know I have to talk to them. I shot that boy.”
“You saved my life.”
“Well, you don’t shoot someone without speaking to the police.”
“He wants to be there as my, our lawyer, so I don’t say anything that will screw up the investigation.”
“Well, we can’t afford him. He charges hundreds of dollars an hour.”
“No, he’s the band’s manager. He works for the band. I just made him our permanent manager.”
“Well, make sure we won’t end up with a bill we can’t pay.”
“We’re witnesses. I was almost a victim. He says they just need our statements to close the case. The police won’t even charge Jeff with murder but I don’t care. He’ll still go to jail.”
“Well, I’ll call him to make arrangements to see the police.”
Max is lying at Dad’s feet who keeps scratching him behind his ears. Hearing that I am done with my dad, he sits up and gives his authoritative bark, “Woof.”
Dad goes into the kitchen, asking Susan, “Do we have dog bones in the house?”
“No, why would we have dog bones?”
“Well, we now have a dog.”
“Give him some crackers. I’ll get some tomorrow.”
My dad comes back with his scotch and water. Max follows him, chewing the crackers. As soon as my dad sits down, Max barks, “Woof.”
“What does he want now?” Dad asks me.
“He probably needs to go out.” I don’t say to score weed.
“Well, that’s your job,” he tells me.
Susan smiles and said, “Looks like he’s your dog now, dear.”
I add, “Max just knows who’s in charge.”
“Good dog,” he says and pets him on his head.
I take him over to Robby’s. Soon he’s rolling on his back, fully satisfied. I relate the whole episode to Robby and Mary, who are in stitches. Jace is lying on the floor, playing with Max’s ears. Max keeps shaking his head.
“So what’s our plan for Shakespeare tomorrow, fair Juliet?”
“I’m amazed you know so much about Romeo and Juliet. I can’t believe you ever studied it.”
“No, douche bag, I told you. I saw the movie.”
“Mr. Clark is totally under your spell.”
“That’s not all he’s under now.”
“He had to sign my class transfer slip, so I met him after final bell.”
“I told him you weren’t gay, Robby.”
“That makes him even more of a pervert then.”
“What did you do Robby?” Mary asks.
“I’ll get an A in English this reporting period.”
“I see ruin coming, especially for Mr. Clark,” I worry.
“You’re just jealous because you’re not his little pet anymore.”
“If you want me to help you with your classes and want me not to care if you blow our teacher, you’ll have to stop being so competitive with me. Have you forgotten that it’s us against them?”
“Okay, I was only having fun with you. There was no transfer slip required. So, what’s the assignment for tomorrow.”
“We’ve been doing ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream.’
He jumps up and runs out of the room, returning with a large case. He opens it to reveal a large collection of wigs, plus he has a makeup case.
“What are you planning now,” I ask.
“Mr. Clark has already agreed that only boys can play the parts. Wigs and makeup will get the boys looking good in their roles.”
“You’re going to turn all the boys in the class into girls?”
“Let the girls be the chorus.”
“How do you know this play? There’s no movie.”
“I read the comic book.”
While he gathers all his weapons of male defilement, I review our homework. Biology is all lab work that we can do in class. I tell Mary to read him the Spanish grammar that he has no clue about. He’s barely listening but it’s better than nothing. I lay on his bed and do the Algebra worksheets, copying my work to his. We’re ready for tomorrow’s classes. Mary is so pleased. I leave and go right to bed. Max starts out on my bed. I’m hoping for more wet dreams to send him into his corner. I freeze on the image of waking up in the middle of the dream with Max in my arms and me in other places. Yuck.