SEARCH AND DESTROY
After getting out of the hospital, Friday night starts out to be pretty boring. I sit downstairs on the couch watching TV. It’s too uncomfortable, feeling I’m invading Dad and Susan’s space. I drag myself up to my room. I wish I could ride my bike to Lydia’s or Scott’s but know I won’t be able to bend over the handle bars. I call Lydia once I know she’s be back from practice. I now appreciate how hard it has been on her being stuck at home on restriction. It’s good talking with her. She has no idea she’s taking my boyfriend away from me. We’re friends who can discuss anything, except Scott. She has no plans, but hopes Scott will come by later.
“How come Scott didn’t come see me in the hospital?” I ask her. “Do you think he’s mad at me?”
“Why would he be mad at you?”
“Maybe because I left him at home when I went riding with Stu and injured myself.”
“He hasn’t said anything about it. We wanted to see you, but you got out pretty quick.”
“So, what are you guys doing tonight?”
“Shut up, Tim. You know.”
We talk about the team. It doesn’t seem like I’m missed very much. She tells me her girlfriends are freezing her out because of Scott. Her folks are getting over the hurt and mistrust from what happened. She’s ‘grounded,’ but they let her do more things. We reminisce about last Halloween, and plan what we’ll all wear to the party. I feel more included. I tell her about the hospital.
“The nuns had to hold me up when I went to the bathroom.”
“Nuns? While you were doing that?”
“Yeah. They got all embarrassed which made me embarrassed.”
“Right. Like you didn’t enjoy that.”
“It couldn’t be that bad for them, a different one took me every night.”
“They probably hated it so much, they had to rotate to keep from throwing up.”
“More likely to keep from breaking their vows.”
“Tim. You’re Catholic.”
“Maybe the nuns perverted me.”
“You’ve no respect.”
“But I get respect.”
I feel a lot better after hanging up. I even go sit in my window. I see the light on in Robby’s window. I figure what the hell. I walk over and get his mom to let me in – no window for the cripple. The whole gang’s there and lets out a yell when Robby lets me into his room. I’m walking funny which they say must be from too many enemas. Robby gives me his chair and insists on giving me a shotgun hit. He takes a lit joint and puts the cherry in his mouth. Then he leans so the unlit end is next to my lips. He exhales, blowing a steady stream of smoke into my inhaling lungs. It’s a massive, bong-like hit. He clamps his hands over my mouth and nose until I’m choking. It explodes once he lets loose. I’m in a haze of scattered thoughts and warm feelings while the pain in my back seems to disappear. I tell my nuns story, which makes Dave embarrassed. Robby notices his discomfort, which gives him an evil idea.
“Remember that holy water I got?” he asks me
“You mean last summer?”
“Holy water?” Dave stammers. “You went back into the church?”
Ricky gets up and finds the container of water.
“That’s it,” I affirm.
“Yeah, Dave. I went there at midnight, Friday the thirteenth. I’m now going to prove to you how evil I really am and that your soul has been lost to Satan.”
“Stop it, Robby. That’s not funny,” Dave looks agitated.
“Smell it. It has the smell of holy water, right?” as he hands the plastic bottle to Dave.
He smells it and nods.
“To prove I’m really evil, I’m going to splash water on all of you. It won’t affect you. When I splash it on myself, I’ll burn and go to Hell. Right, Dave?”
His eyes are so wide open you’d never know he’s stoned.
Robby splashes a few drops of holy water on all of us, which makes Jazz, jump, but there are no adverse effects. He turns to me, giving me the bottle.
“Now spray me with the whole bottle. I’m going to Hell. Satan save me,” he cries.
Just as he hands me the bottle, he winks at me and puts a large white pill into the bottle. It’s an Alka-Selzer. As the ‘plop plop fizz fizz oh what a relief it is’ starts to bubble the water, I splash him with the foaming mixture. He begins screaming and writhing, falling to the floor. He pulls his shirt off, as if to get the burning off of him. I continue to splash him until there’s no more. The others jump up, pulling me away to save him. Robby continues to scream, then began moaning, while the water bubbles away on his skin.
“Satan Satan, why have you forsaken me? My father in evil, I ask that you open the earth beneath me and pull me into Hell.”
The others begin to shrink away from him, pressing against the walls. Dave is on his knees, reciting ‘Hail Marys.’ I begin to giggle, then getting into the hilarity, I burst into hysterics, rolling around the floor with Robby. My back is oblivious to pain. Then Robby regains his composure, rising to his feet and standing over the praying Dave.
“Satan, thank you for your comfort and protection,” he intones. His arms raised, he towers over the cowering Dave. “Why is this Jesus worshiper defaming you, Satan? Does he not trust in evil? I know his heart is impure.”
Dave sinks into the carpet, trying to escape Robby’s malevolent stare. Robby grabs him, lifting him to his feet.
“Get thee out, Jesus. You don’t belong here. Get thee out of this impure heart.”
He hits his palm against Dave’s forehead, knocking him off his feet and against the wall. He grabs Dave by the shoulders and jerks him back to his feet.
“Do you accept Satan into your heart? Do you accept evil and impure thoughts and acts? Pray to Satan to protect you from the fires of Hell.”
Dave’s hysterical, drooling, and unable to remember the words to his Hail Mary prayer. Shaking and almost passing out, his head rolls back and forth.
I step up to Robby and break his grip on Dave.
“Move away, Satan,” I order. “Take your evil elsewhere.”
Robby is momentarily stunned. I push Dave toward the window, and shove him head-first into the backyard. Jazz jumps up and dives out the window also.
“Get away, unbelievers,” Robby yells after them. “You won’t escape Satan when you die.”
He turns back from the window. The two of us fall into spasms of laughter, hugging each other and falling to the floor. Finally getting a grip on ourselves, we look over at the others. Jace, John, and Dawn are cowering in the corner together, expecting us to attack them next. Michael is lying on the bed, his hands behind his head, with a big grin on his face. Robby leers at the group in the corner. When they shriek, the three of us can’t stop laughing. Finally they realize they have been tricked. Their anger and embarrassment takes a while to dissipate. The three of us run out of the house, in time to see Dave and Jazz stumble down the street, screaming at the top of their lungs. We can’t tell whether they’re going to Dave’s house or the Church. Smart money is on the Church. We go back to Robby’s room where he takes out several flashlights. Putting out the overhead light, he turns a flashlight on under his chin, making himself a ghost. He tells us to hurry so we can scare Dave and Jazz some more. We convince him that it’s enough. My back going into spasm from everything decides the argument. More pot helps, but I’ve overdone. The remaining group helps me home.
I spend the rest of the weekend in bed. I speak with Scott and Lydia about nothing much. I don’t tell them why I’ve relapsed. They just accept that I’m further laid up. Most of the time I have to lay on my stomach to relax my back muscles.
I want to talk about the Friday night drama I played a part in. I call Tina in New York. Her Catholic upbringing is too shocked over the blasphemy of the incident. I make my role more heroic, rescuing Dave and Jazz from the clutches of evil. It keeps Tina on my side, but I know I’m playing an active role in deceiving her. I’m frustrated trying to share my real feelings. We re growing apart by not growing together. Finally I fall asleep in mid-afternoon.
I awake to a knock on my door.
“Hi Tim. Are you awake?”
It’s Jace, from Robby’s gang. It’s his garage that’s the ditch hangout near school. He’s the first to come by my room, except for Robby’s Peter Pan appearances.
“Com’n in, man.” I try to get up. I’m too stiff. Jace sits down on the edge of my bed.
“How you feelin’? You went into a pretty bad convulsion last night.”
“It’s just a spasm. Dave was the one in convulsions.”
“Yeah, Robby was into it, huh? I was sure it was real.”
“I only knew ‘cause I saw him put an Alka-Selzer in the holy water.”
“Is that how he did it? I was convinced that he was on fire.”
“Any word about Dave and Jazz?”
“Oh, they’ll be okay. Dave’ll go to church a lot. Then once he needs to get stoned, he’ll be back. Dawn’ll tell Jazz ‘cause she’s his older sister. He’ll tell Dave.”
It ‘s good to have someone to talk with. Jace leans against the head of the bed, as we sit there talking.
“When did you realize it was all a trick?” I ask.
“When I saw Michael laughin’ at us. He’s been Robby’s best friend for years and knows what’s up.”
“Aren’t you mad at Robby?”
“I guess a little. It seems pretty funny now. Did you see Dave and Jazz runnin’ up the street?”
“Yeah, they were falling all over each other and screaming.”
“Wow; they were freaked.”
“You were too. I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw the three of you cowering in the corner. Your eyes were popping out. What did you think was going to happen?”
“The last thing I remember is Robby praying to Satan. I was sure the floor was gonna open up and swallow us straight to Hell.”
“Maybe we were too stoned.”
“Yeah, it makes anything possible.”
“Robby sure has an imagination.”
“He likes us to bow down to him, just like Satan.”
“Do you really believe in Satan?” I ask him.
“I just seen how Robby can call Him forth. That’s real.”
“So you believe Robby’s evil.”
“Why do you still hang out with him.”
“We’re all evil. He’s still my friend.”
I’m laying on my stomach. When he says he’s evil, I roll over to look him in the face. My back goes into spasm, and I wince. Jace moves over and starts to massage my back. I feel a lot better. After a minute or so, I’m completely relaxed.
“Thanks, man, you can’t be all evil.”
“Oh, I’m not bad. At least I don’t think so. Just…”, he doesn’t finish his thought.
“Why? No one thinks you’re bad, Jace.”
“My folks do. John’s the little angel. Anything he does is always my fault.”
“What about your older brother? Doesn’t he take your side?”
“They’re both my step-brothers. My step-mom don’t ever take my side.”
We sit quietly until I get up. We move to the window.
“Your back’s okay now?”
“Yeah. That massage makes it feel great. Thanks.”
“I can come over and do it every day”
“I’ll be better soon, but you can always come over. Last night I was way stoned and over-did it.”
“You mean I can just come over?”
“Sure. Hey, what’s up with you? We’re friends. You’re always welcome.”
He leans back against the window and closes his eyes. I feel I should give him a hug, but think better of it.
“Okay. Look, Tim. I got a big problem. My folks are going to put me in drug rehab.”
“You mean to see a counselor?”
“No. They want to lock me up at The Program in Fort Lauderdale.
“Are you screwing up or something?”
“Yeah, but no more’n anybody else. John gets away with it ‘cause he’s still in Jr High. What can I do? I can’t make it in those kinda places. I’m scared enough of things here. Look at last night.”
“That was a joke, Jace.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t know. Everyone’s so much smarter than me. It’s always that way.”
“You just don’t believe in yourself. Just stand up to your folks.”
“They got their minds made up. Anyway, they’ll be glad I’m gone.”
“You can’t be sure.”
He sits there with his eyes shut. He’s handsome, with a long smooth face, framed by shoulder length blond hair. He’s as tall as me, but slender and graceful. His face has a toughness that comes from rough features. His long fingers clasp his knee, pulled up underneath him, as we sit opposite each other in the window. He opens his eyes, steel-blue, which pierce me with the desperation in his face.
“Will you help me, Tim. They’re ‘sposed to take me away today. Can I just hang out until they’re gone?”
“Of course. Stay as long as you want.”
“It’s just a couple of days. Until they give up trying to send me away.”
He’s so grateful, a puppy dog grin on his face.
“Okay, but we’ve got to be cool. My dad can’t find out. I got into a lot of trouble about my swim team friend who stayed here this summer.”
“I’ll do whatever you want. You’re savin’ my life, man.”
I explain about the back stairs. How to get in and out without attracting attention. Jace becomes more animated and relaxed, exploring my room.
“No stereo, man. Don’t jockheads like music?”
“I just listen to the radio,” indicating a small am/fm model on my bureau.
He turns it on, instantly changing the station from my oldie’s favorites to his heavy metal one. He adjusts the knobs, turning the bass completely down, the treble completely up, and the volume to maximum. His hair is swinging round and round to Kiss’s ‘I wanna Rock n Roll all day and party every night.’
There are no complaints from the adult part of the house, but the noise had gotten Robby’s attention. He soon appears in my window.
“You’re partying without me.”
“Tim’s letting me move in,” Jace spills the beans. “So I won’t hafta go to The Program.”
“What?” he turns to me, “without asking me?”
“He just asked, so I said sure.”
“Well, you know what that means?” He takes out a joint.
We get stoned, listening to hard rock and feeling totally connected. Once the high wears off a bit, my back becomes uncomfortable. I get up to stretch. When I sit down, Jace starts giving me another back massage. Robby quickly sizes it up.
“Hey, he’s my boyfriend,” Robby announces.
Jace and I are both stunned. Jace stops the massage. We both spoke at once.
-“Sorry, Robby, I just wanna get his back to relax.”
-“Jace is not my boyfriend, Robby.”
“So, what’s this, and since he’s staying here, what do you think is going to happen?”
I didn’t expected jealousy.
“Nothing’s going to happen. He needs a safe place to hide out from being put in a drug program.”
”You could’ve stayed with me, Jace.”
“That’s the first place they’d of looked for me. And don’t tell ‘em, please, Robby.”
“No way. But it looks like you thought this out pretty well.”
“Give him a break, Robby. You act like he can’t make his own decisions. It’s what got him in dutch with his folks in the first place.”
“His folks don’t give a shit.”
“Well, you’re all Mr. Counselor today?”
“You never said you wanted to be boyfriends. All you guys just tell me not to be so gay.”
“That was a joke. Maybe I’m not gay. I just don’t want my friends to be.”
“You’re confused, Robby. Let’s just say we’re all friends. I’m pretty done with boyfriends. He’s the one who’s got a girlfriend now.”
Jace looks pretty sheepish. I realize he thought it all out before coming over, but it’s just until his problems are solved. I don’t mind having someone stay while I’m sick and out of school. It’s a perfect cover for Jace. Robby continues to glare at the two of us.
“Cool it, Robby. I think we need another joint.”
He takes one from behind his ear, another good reason to have long hair, I think. We calm down, passing the joint around.
“You need a TV,” Robby announces.
“It’s in the living room.”
“With your folks?
“I have an extra one, now that my sisters moved out. Let’s go get it.”
We walk to his house. The two of them carry a large set up to my room. Then they get several arm chairs. Robby is in decorator mode. I realize he’s moving the club house from his room to mine. I tell them to get an ashtray. Soon there’s a stereo and records set up. I draw the line at the drums.
By that night, the word is out. I have six stoners hanging out in my room. Jace passes out in an arm-chair and doesn’t remember me moving him to the bed. When I wake up, he’s lying there staring at me.
“How long you been awake,” I ask.
“Awhile. Did we do anything last night?”
“Got stoned, then you passed out.”
“No, I mean once we were in bed together?”
“No, man. Haven’t you ever slept with your brothers or friends? You think I’m a sex maniac?”
He lightens up, which makes me realize how afraid he is of being gay. My back is too sore for anything anyway. I go downstairs and get an extra-large breakfast we can share. Susan seems relieved I’m waiting on myself. Jace goes to Robby’s to get a joint. He says Robby is still in bed and will be over later. We get high and watch cartoons. I discover that being stoned is hard on my back. Lying in the same position too long stiffens it up. Jace is only too happy to massage out the stiffness. I like the attention. He tells the story about after his parents got divorced. He suddenly has two step-brothers when his dad remarries. His real mom is a drinker; everyone says he takes after her. He gives excellent massages, thanks to is large hands. We play records, as he strums the rhythm tracks on my back. He says he wants to be a musician and is learning guitar. He hates school, his family, and feels he’s a loser. Music is the only thing which really gets him excited. He’s never had a girlfriend but has gotten laid a couple of times, which I doubt. After massaging me, he lets me work out the kinks in his hands. They’re much larger than mine, with long fingers that are completely double-jointed. He shows me a finger exercise for guitar, rubbing the lip of a half-full glass of water, getting it to hum from the vibration. Then he varies the pitch of the hum. He can literally make the glass sing. He shows me how to do it, by keeping the circular motion of my finger at a constant speed and pressure. He laughs at my awkwardness. Playing the Led Zeppelin II album,
he beats the rhythm on his legs. We sing along to the lyrics. It’s a completely different style of music from the pop oldies Scott and I used to sing a Cappella. Soon I adjust to Robert Plant’s pacing and am able to match his high-pitched screams as well as the slower, lower lines of the ballads. Jace sings the backups, so we had to pay attention to each other. I have much better control over my voice than over the glass. Until my back starts twitching, we’re running around the room, playing air guitar and screaming out the lyrics. He gives me another back massage as we lay there panting. I didn’t dare tell him how goofy he looks with a big grin on his face, in comparison to his usual frown. With no school for at least a week, I realize I’m going to enjoy my unexpected vacation. Jace calls John. After swearing him to secrecy, he asks him to bring his guitar over. John says his parents are going bananas over Jace’s disappearance, but today are adjusting to his being gone. He says the police were notified that Jace is a runaway. Well, it isn’t my first time helping a fugitive from the law. By Sunday night, there are so many people in my room, it’s declared a party zone. Jace worries the cops might come to quiet it down and take him away. Robby, Mary, Jace and I escape to Robby’s room, watching the action from his backyard. Suddenly it gets unnaturally quiet. I see Dad chasing everyone out of my room. All I can do is laugh at the sight. I hurry home and get yelled at for letting things get out of control. I explain it’s a few friends who came to cheer me up that got out of hand. We both agree that people who smoke cigarettes are not good friends. I attempt to clean-up until he leaves. I go back to Robby’s and hang out until it’s time for Jace and me to go home. Getting stoned all day makes me as tired as does working out. Just before falling asleep, I see Jace looking at me.
“Go to sleep,” I tell him.
“Don’t worry. Why don’t you give me another back massage. That’s sure to put me to sleep.”
He moves over and his hands feel warm and strong. It’s the last thing I remember. When I wake up, he has his arm around me. He’s still wearing all his clothes. Step by step I think. I go back to sleep, not waking until ten, when Robby announces himself from the window. Jace is flustered about being all wrapped up with me. I calm him down, so he doesn’t jump out of bed like he has something to be ashamed of.
“Looks like I missed it,’ Robby jibes at us. Obviously he wants to push the jealousy case.
“If you call sleeping in ‘til ten missing something, why don’t you jump in with us?”
“No way, man.”
“See, you didn’t miss what you were hoping to do.”
In no time the regulars are at the back door, which I leave unlocked from then on. No one else is at home. Soon we’re all stoned. Ten is ditching hour at Gables High. Everyone stays until the regular release bell rang. John says the people from The Program came by the house, trying to find Jace. Dave says they were also at school, asking questions. It seems they have special police powers to do as they please. I tell Jace to call his folks and get them to call the dogs off. He isn’t ready to confront them. The music is loud and Robby keeps the joints going around. A couple of guys show up I hadn’t seen before. Robby goes off and comes back with fifty bucks.
“The price of Colombian Gold just went up,” he announces.
Everyone groans, but we know we have the perfect connection in Robby, regardless of the price. It only bothers me slightly that strangers know to come to my house to score drugs.
The scene repeats itself all week. My vacation is into its final weekend. The doctor approves my return to school on Monday. I almost welcome it, being a little sick of the constant party. Jace is more comfortable staying with me. I see his self-confidence increase to the point that he actually calls his parents. He promises to stop drugs (right), if they don’t put him in The Program. He tells them he’s grown up by being on his own. Another successful family reunion based completely on lies. He agrees to go home that evening. I agree to spend more dues money on pizza and beer at Sorrento’s to celebrate. Dawn, Mary, Iggy, Dave, Jazz, John, Jace, Robby, and I crowd into the biggest booth. It costs me thirty bucks, but we’re united in our victory over The Program and parents in general. At the end, Jace tries to say what he feels about everyone. We shout him down and get up to leave. He hugs me, as well as the girls, John, and Robby. The only part of the speech we understand is how much he misses his dog, Max, the stoned black lab.
With the party over, I wake up on Sunday and want to go on a bike ride. I call Scott and Stu and suggest they ride to Lydia’s, where I‘ll meet them. We can plead with her parents to let her go with us in a group. I get there first. Through the window, I tell her our plan. She’s skeptical but says we all should go to the front door and make our case.
Scott and Stu show up with Mike in tow he’s been at the Watt’s all weekend. We go to the front and rang the bell. Lydia’s mom comes to the door. We make our strongest case, saying that we all miss Lydia and want her to ride with us to Coach Earl’s. We ask if she can go with us. When Lydia’s mom sees Scott, I think it’s over, but he puts on his most respectful, parent-pleasing expression. She softens and discusses it with Lydia and her husband. Lydia bounces out the door. She’s out of the doghouse. We all bike to Coach Earl’s; he has restocked his soda supply, so it’s a perfect break. He looks at me quizzically. We have one of his ‘little’ talks. I hadn’t started swimming again, so he asks about my medical progress.
“I wanted to bike today to test how my back is. Seems good.”
“What really happened at Coach Tom’s. You know he had to take out the trampoline after your accident.”
“That’s not right. I caused the accident by not paying attention.”
“But that’s not like you. You always have pinpoint focus. What’s going on?”
“Just personal stuff, Coach.”
“About you and Scott?”
I look up at him and see the kindness in his eyes. I want to unburden myself, but fear it would make things worse.
“We’ve worked out our problems, Coach. “
“You mean you accept that Scott’s got a girlfriend now?”
“I have a girlfriend, too. It’s just that I can’t see her as often. Scott is with Lydia all the time. I’m not jealous, I just miss our closeness.”
“Well, he’s a jerk for not seeing that you’re hurting.”
“I don’t blame him. He only got a girlfriend ‘cause he saw how great mine is.”
“So he was jealous?”
“No. I don’t think so. It’s just natural to connect. Lydia has been a girlfriend for both of us, just not in love. Once they ‘did it,’ everything changed.”
“You’re not supposed to tell me that,” he laughs.
“You’re the only adult we can really talk to about our feelings. We tried to give Stu some advice. All we could think was that you would be so much better to do it.”
“Stu’s not interested in girls yet. Are you talking about him and Mike?”
“You always know what’s up. We’re glad Stu has a real friend, besides us, but he has some weird habits that he had to see would get in the way of friendship.”
“Why is this sex ed?”
Why do I always open my big mouth?
“Because I stayed with the Watts so much I know he does things which are sweet but might freak out someone else.”
“You’re saying he’s a sweet kid, but it might seem gay?”
“Coach, you do this so much better than we do.”
“Well, did he take your advice?”
“We don’t know, but they seem like best friends now, so we don’t want to know any more.”
“Well, I can tell they’re fine and I wouldn’t worry.”
“So, all these personal crises over? Ready to really be back in the pool?”
Stu and Mike run up, asking for more sodas, which Coach goes to get. They’re all energy, ready to burst. These bike rides are their happiest times every week. I see how Coach views them.. Only a repressed, anti-sex homophobe can think that they’re doing anything wrong. It is all good between them. Just let them grow up and get girlfriends to test their friendship. I decide to stop thinking of Scott as my boyfriend but as my best friend. Also, I have other fish to fry.