The next day, I paid Mrs. Haines the thirty dollar monthly dues, feeling cheated out of my savings, but glad that I had beaten my dad at his game. I had trouble getting going during morning workout. I wasn’t tired but my muscles just didn’t respond as quickly as they normally did. Scott left me struggling to keep up with him. He knew something was up. I confessed I’d been out drinking beer and eating pizza with Robby the night before. The look of disdain he gave me, let me know not to even mention the pot. By the time I got to classes, the lack of responsiveness had left my muscles and settled in my brain. Junior English was studying Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ by reading the roles out loud. When Shylock’s soliloquy about being a Jew was read, the teacher caught me looking at my hands and pretending to prick myself. I was unaware how strange it looked.
“The quality of mercy will be strained, Castle, if you don’t come down to earth.” He mocked.
The rest of the class boisterously enjoyed his humor.
At Nutrition, I wasn’t hungry, another odd symptom, so I went looking for Robby. I saw Michael in the hall, who gave me directions to Jace’s house, half a block from school. As I walked up the street, I heard Led Zeppelin blasting from a garage. No doubt who I’d find there. The older guys and Dawn were sitting in a smoke-filled haze when I stuck my head in the garage.
“Com’n in, jock-head. We’re getting my dog stoned,” Jace invited me.
“The name’s Tim, stonehead.”
“It’s Mr. Stonedhead to you.”
Lying at his feet on its back was a large black lab. They were passing around a joint and exhaling in the dog’s face. Each time someone exhaled, the dog rolled around on its back, like he was satisfying an insatiable itch.
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“I’m Jace,” he answered.
“I know that. I mean the dog’s name.”
“Oh, he’s Max.”
“Come here, Max,” I ordered. The dog half-rose to its feet. Before it was fully up, he tried walking, falling all over himself. Everyone broke up and the dog did a passable imitation of Spot, the Our Gang dog, with its paw over its eyes. More laughs. Max slunk into the corner.
“So this is third period for you guys?”
“And fourth, lunch, fifth and sixth.
“You’ll flunk out.”
“They can’t flunk us out. It’s a law we gotta attend school ‘til we’re eighteen.”
“This ain’t attending”
“Whadda you, the truancy officer?
“Yeah. Mr Spencer made me and Max Deputy Dawgs.”
They howled, a bit too hilariously.
“Hey, Tim’s our new truancy officer, Mr. Dick.”
“I’ll show you Mr. Dick,” I responded.
“Watch it, there’s a lady here.”
“I’m all eyes,” Debbie piped in.
“Well, I hear he’s taken, Debbie, and not with some girl.”
“That’s over, guys. Doesn’t mean I’m pulling out Mr. Dick.”
“That’s a relief. So, you’re not gay no more?”
“I’m not so gay, like you guys said.”
“There’s hope for you yet, jockhead.”
“How about just Tim?”
“How about a hit off the joint, Just Tim?”
“Naw. I gotta get back. I’m just checking out the ditch pad.”
“Ya coming back?”
“Sure, if you guys lay off the gay crap.”
“Just don’t be so gay.”
I walked back to class, amazed at how close I’d come to skipping for the day. I still felt outside of myself. I slipped into Biology lab only a few minutes late. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was watching myself go through my day, rather than living it. Too much pot, I thought. At afternoon practice, I really put out the needed effort and once we were done, I felt my head was clear. I asked Scott if I could come to dinner at his house. We rode to Kendall together on our bikes. He was in a light mood. I appreciated the escape from wanting to hang around with Robby and the stoners. We even sat in his room doing homework, until Mrs. Watt reminded me that Scott wasn’t allowed to have anyone sleep over. I rode home and went right to bed, not even checking Robby’s house. I was asleep in an instant, telling myself I was done burning the candle at both ends. I dreamt about Shylock, except it was Coach demanding his pound of flesh, while Robby danced around in the background. The sight of Robby in a Speedo was unsettling. Although I woke up with a hard-on, I just needed to piss.
The next week flew by. On Saturday, I took my friends on our long bike ride. I enjoyed Mike’s company, even though he was only thirteen. He was an only child and seemed to like the attention without it seeming like he looked up to me too much.
Mike asked how things were working out between Scott and Lydia
“I thought you didn’t approve of what they did?” I asked him.
“Well, it seems wrong but you guys were all so happy together, it’s hard to believe it was bad for them. And with Lydia was still being punished, you and Scott weren’t your regular selves.”
“Sure, I really envied how you guys were so close and always happy. Then you seemed sad and Scott was angry. Did you guys fight?”
I couldn’t tell him I was carrying messages back and forth to help Scott and Lydia.
“So, you see why being in love isn’t that great?”
“That’s why they got punished, but how can you learn to love someone if you get punished for it?”
“Man, you’re the little love guru, aren’t you?”
He laughed. “No, I just wish I had a friend like Scott was to you. You were so happy all the time.
“You’re not happy? You’re a rich kid. Everybody likes you.”
“I get lonely sometimes.”
“Yeah, I do too – no brothers and sisters to give me crap.”
“Why don’t you decide to be best friends with someone? Girls all do that; you don’t have to do girl stuff to be friends.”
“I thought maybe I’d be closer to Stu. He’s a lot like Scott.”
“Don’t tell Scott that.”
“No, but I’m like you. We could fit together like you guys.”
Oh, god. What did I start?
“He’s an awful pest.”
“Sometimes I wish I got pestered some.”
“Okay. All you have to do is show an interest. Stu’s really a great kid and you’re a year older. Maybe you can calm him down.”
“Think he’ll come for a sleepover?” – Red Flag.
“Better to ask him to come for dinner. Then you can go to his house. Just let it grow. If you seem needy, he’ll feel weird.”
“Yeah, that’s true. Well, thanks.”
“I’ll tell Scott you want to be Stu’s friend. He’ll be amazed.”
After the ride, Scott came out. I told him about Mike’s hope to copy our relationship with Stu.
“Jesus, why do you encourage this?”
“Stu’s twelve now. If we talk to him about how he acts, it might be good for both of them.”
“You mean the part that he always wants to sleep with us?”
“Wasn’t that just when I was there?”
“He still insists on sleeping with me. Even when I kick him out, he always seems to be there in the morning.”
“Maybe that should stop.”
“Why do you think I don’t let you sneak in my window.”
“I thought you weren’t into it. You used to wrap yourself around me pretty tightly.”
“A Watt family habit, I guess.”
“I’m not complaining but I feel Stu has replaced me.”
“That’s why you’re pimping him out to other team members?”
“Anything to get you alone.”
“Well, we both need to talk about this with Stu.”
“Yeah, I told Mike he should start by having him over to dinner at first.”
“You plotted this all out?”
“I like Mike. He said he thinks he’s like me and Stu is like you. We’re models for young gay development.”
“Then we’re never sleeping together again.”
“You can’t help yourself. It’s a Watts family gene.”
Then Stu came up and we both jumped on him and totally messed him up. He complained but I knew he liked being the focus again.
So starts the bromance of Stu and Mike. After dinners at both houses, and with approval of both parents, the boys were hanging out constantly. When Mike got sick of Stu, he’d dress him down. Stu amazed us by actually listening to him. They seemed to egg each other on during the bike rides and soon they were swimming in the same lane together. They pushed each other in their workouts. Scott and I laughed at the mini-me’s, seeing stupid things we had done being repeated. Scott and I faced the problem of telling him he couldn’t have a sleepover until he stopped being so gay in bed.
“What’s gay about it? I thought gay was when you were lame.”
Sex Education 102. We needed Coach Earl to help us out, but we forged ahead without guidance.
“You can’t really understand your sexual feelings until you start going through puberty, so you have to believe us that there are things you don’t do until you’re ready.”
It wasn’t going well. We’d already jumped to sex.
Scott jumped in. “Forget that, just do what I say. If you stay at Mike’s house, don’t try to get in bed with him when you go to sleep. Stay in your own bed.”
“You always tell me that, but you’re happy when I sleep with you, at least you make happy sounds when I sneak in.”
I jumped back in. “It’s not about happy sounds. That’s for when they serve you ice cream for dessert.”
“So sleeping together is like ice cream.”
Scott couldn’t resist, “Except it’s like melted ice cream in your pants.”
Stu started to tune us out.
“But Mike’s room only has one bed.”
“You need to sleep in the guest bedroom. You’re a guest.”
“But that’s not a sleepover. I might as well go home.”
Scott got frustrated. “Can’t you listen to us? Mike will think you’re gay if you hug him in bed, and in not just the lame way.”
That got his attention.
“But, you guys…”
We both interrupted him. “Stop. We’re not talking about us. Do you want Mike to think you love him?”
“He’s my friend. My first real friend, except for you Tim, but you’re really old.”
We laughed. “You’ve been calling us gay for the longest time.”
“That’s cause you’re both so lame. Lame-o’s in love,” he mocked.
“Right. Do you want Mike to think that about you?”
“I don’t wanna have sex with him.”
“If you get all lovey-dovey he might think you do, and goodbye friendship.”
“Why are you telling me all this? He’s already my friend.”
“Can you just get it through your hard head that you have to stop being so loving until you know the other person loves you back.”
“How do you know that?”
“The sooner you learn that, the happier you’ll be as a teenager.”
That was the best we could do. Maybe you do need a credential to teach sex ed. Mike told me several times that Stu was cool and made him less lonely. Finally, sleepover night arrived. After a long South Dade bike ride, Stu went home with Mike. We had launched our gay bomb on the nicest kid on the team. Stu gave us the thumbs up and went in with Mike to his parent’s mansion by the bay. The worst that could happen would be Scott and me being outed to the entire team and parents. Scott would be a second time sex offender.
I called Scott the day after, but Stu hadn’t returned yet, a positive sign, unless the police were questioning him. Monday morning workout arrived and no one seemed perturbed. Stu and Mike were chatting away. I was pleased to see Mike shut him up when he kept going on. Mike seemed happy in his quiet way, while Stu was just his usual chatterbox. Later Mike came up to me and asked if we could talk. Here it comes. But he just wanted to say that he felt more mature now that there was someone he knew really liked him. Who wouldn’t stop being friends just because he was lonely and needed the friendship. Some accommodation must have been made, to the satisfaction of both parties. Scott and I badly wanted to quiz Stu, but we left it alone to work its way out. Scott said Stu still sneaked into bed with him almost every night. I remained jealous.
The weeks of fall flew by. I concentrated on my swimming. My dad asked how I planned on paying my swim dues, and his accusation that I was incurring an unpayable debt was deflated when I told him I had used my savings to pay. I secretly gloated at his discomfort. Robby came by on nights when I had the light on. One Saturday night, he was acting strangely, confessing on Monday that he had been ‘on acid.’ He had seemed strange, but not the hallucinogenic spaciness depicted in movies. He always acted strange anyway, with his Peter Pan act. I was just glad he hadn’t wanted me to do it. For his part, he was peeved at me for not taking him to Sorrento’s again. I told him I just didn’t have the money. He was bugged that I also refused to smoke pot with him. Once he jumped me and tried to force me. It was harder than I expected to shrug him off of me. He claimed it was all the bike riding he did, making him wiry. I finally gave in on the weekend and spent the whole day watching cartoons and staying high. Most of the gang came by. Eventually we went to Michael’s house, where both he and Robby played drums to Zeppelin records. They really cranked up the volume, so their drumming didn’t overwhelm the recorded sound. I was totally wasted by night, from the music and the drugs. I was somehow convinced to blow more money on pizza. We all ended up at Sorrento’s. It was a whole month’s team dues, but the pizza was great. I spent the whole next day with Scott, Stu and Mike on our bikes. Scott noticed how subdued I was, but I refused to admit it was caused by beer and pot. Stu looked really concerned and convinced Mike and me to stay for dinner. Even Mrs. Watt worried about how quiet I was. By the time I got home, I was so sick of everyone’s concern, that I went straight to Robby’s and spent the evening getting high again. I woke up on Monday morning, having slept through the alarm, missing morning workout. Knowing that I’d get it from Coach, I promised myself there’d be no more pot. I kept my vow for the rest of the week. Coach was definitely keeping an eye on me. I swam well and thought I had everything on track. On Friday, Scott got permission to spend the night. We took Lydia to the University, hanging out in the student lounge and thinking we were college students. Scott asked me to let him ride Lydia home, so they could be alone for a while. I played along, trusting he wouldn’t get into trouble. All evening I had been thinking how great it was our little gang was together again. I also was worked up about sleeping with Scott. It felt good to be horny. We left the University at ten. I sat up doing homework (on a Friday night!) until twelve. I knew he needed this time with Lydia but was getting edgy that he hadn’t shown up. I put out the lights, noticing there were still lights at Robby’s. I wasn’t going to be tempted. I lay in the dark, waiting for Scott. My horniness was gone, replaced by worry. It was three before I finally fell into a fitful sleep. I woke up with Scott sneaking in after dawn. He grinned sheepishly. I wanted to give him a parental lecture, but just kept quiet. He slid into bed, rolled away from me and went right to sleep. I couldn’t get back to sleep, and eventually got up. I rode to the Watt’s and got Stu to ride bikes. We picked up Mike and Dusty, ending up at Dusty’s Uncle Tom’s pond, where we could use the diving platform and trampoline. Stu jumped up on the trampoline and started his spazzed-out routine.
“Get off if you can’t do it right,” Dusty ordered him.
“Well, show me, then,” he challenged.
Dusty was really good, using his compact, muscular body to work the trampoline. Pretty soon he was high above us, getting maximum lift from the springs. There were no safety lines in those days. You could really get air. Once at the maximum height, he started doing somersaults and twists. We’d never seen him perform so well.
“Alright. You are really working it,” I encouraged him.
He did a series of double somersaults, and then bounced on his back, flipping left and right, until he was finished.
I jumped up, satisfied to get as much air as possible. Soon I was flying higher than Dusty, my size and weight allowing me to go beyond his limit. I felt released from the torture of the previous night. Just putting the word torture to Scott’s actions made me feel better. His insensitivity toward me was the definition of torture. Now I was weightless, flying into the tall pine trees. Robby would love this. Too bad I couldn’t bring him here. His perpetual pot smoking would make him unwelcome. I floated at the top of my lifts. The only trick I knew was to fall on my butt, rising high enough to return to my feet. I relished the escape from gravity. Stu was screaming at me that it was his turn. I just spaced out on him and Mike. I was so high, I could reach over and touch the overhanging tree branches. I started singing, “Paid a man fifty cents, to watch an elephant jump the fence, jumped so high, he touched the sky, didn’t come down ‘til the Fourth of July.”
Stu’s screams brought Coach Tom out of the house. He yelled at me to pay closer attention. Looking over, I saw him waving me down. I really was up high, I figured I could dismount as Dusty had done. I leaned back seeing my problems float away from me.
The next thing I remember was being on the ground with Coach Tom holding me flat. Stu was inches from my face, tears streaming down his cheeks. There was no sequence to these memories. Soon an ambulance had arrived. I was on my way to Mercy Hospital. My legs were trembling and kicking out of control. I must have been given a tranquilizer, as I felt no pain. I blacked out according to Stu. Later, he told me I had come down on the side of the trampoline, flat on my back. They were sure I was dying, or at least paralyzed. I was held at Emergency while they waited for my dad to approve treatment. I supposedly was calling for my mother. When Mrs. Watt rushed in, I stopped calling out. I remember none of this. I was x-rayed. When they saw I had no broken bones, I was put in a room for overnight observation.
The next morning, my back was spasming. I barely remembered why I was in the hospital. A nurse helped me out of bed and into the bathroom, so I could piss. I was so embarrassed, I couldn’t start a stream for several minutes. She must’ve been a nun, because when she looked over to see why I hadn’t started urinating, she almost dropped me. I think she thought I was just a boy. I almost passed out when I saw how red my piss was. She told me it was okay, that I had ruptured a kidney in the fall. Great.
Scott, Stu and their parents came to see me in the morning. Stu almost jumped into bed with me. He was so happy I hadn’t died.
“It’s all my fault, Tim. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, Stu. I was the one who wasn’t paying attention.’
“I was screaming at you to come down, so I could go. It’s my entire fault.”
I hugged him. He knew it was alright.
Scott was uncomfortable, but I didn’t expect him to act like Stu. The doctor came in and was explaining my muscle spasms and kidney contusion to the Watts He thought they were my family. He said I had to stay in the hospital for five days of observation. My dad walked into the discussion. The doctor had to repeat the diagnosis. I was too hurting to be more than mildly amused.
My hospital days dragged by slowly. The nurses were nice but acted pretty silly toward me. I had a succession of assistants in my walks to the bathroom. I was glad when I was well enough to make it on my own and could end the mutual embarrassment. My back really ached. I got very stiff from lack of movement. Stu and Mike came over every day, with games and some sort of gift. I appreciated it but wished Scott had come too. Robby even showed up, refusing to say how he learned I was there. We smoked a joint in the bathroom, getting silly about all the handles and railings old people need to poop. I got out on Friday, with a warning from the doctor to not overdo, specifically, no swim team. I went to see Coach and gave him the bad news, which he took quietly. I asked if there was anything I could do at home that would help for when I could return.
“Just get your head screwed on right, Castle.”
I thought it was pretty shitty of him. I hadn’t tried to have an accident.