I woke up to the first sliver of sunlight seeping through Mark’s blinds. It created just enough light for me to watch Mark sleep. He was on his back with a blanket tangled around his torso, and all points south. He had one arm flung over his head, giving me a direct shot of his 100% hairless armpit. At least I knew he wasn’t that far ahead of me in puberty.
A little bit later, Mark woke up, his eyes lazily fluttering, until I came into focus. He half smiled, and asked “you been up long?”
“Not too long. What time is it?”
Mark reached for his phone on the nightstand, hit a button, and stated “10:00.”
“Wow. I thought it was earlier. It stays dark in here.”
“Yeah. Window faces west.”
“Ah yeah…makes sense.”
“Everything ok Daniel? You seem kind of…I don’t know.”
“Yeah. I’ve just been…thinking a lot.”
“Well. I want to tell you why I disappeared last week. And why I…avoided you. It’s umm…not easy, and I don’t know why.”
“You don’t have to tell me. I mean we’re cool now, aren’t we?”
“Of course we are, but I really do want to tell you.”
“Just…tell me when it’s easier…I don’t know. It’s ok Daniel. It doesn’t change nothing if I know or not.”
“Fuck it. I’m just going to say it. Ok. Do you remember the last time I slept over?”
“Umm yeah. It was only like a couple weeks ago.”
“Yeah, well right after you dropped me off. My dad…my dad…phew. This is so hard.”
Sensing the change in my demeanor, Mark grasped the seriousness of the situation. He whispered “Danny. What is it? Are you ok? You’re scaring me.”
“Mark. My dad kicked my ass. He’s been kicking my ass most of my life. I’m so fucking sick of it. I can’t take it anymore.” I tried to continue my emotional rant, but I ran into a wall of tears. I blubbered incoherent words, until I gave up and hung my head.
Mark reached over to me and buried my crying head into his chest. He didn’t speak. He simply held me, stroking my hair. He occasionally sniffled, I assumed fighting back tears of his own. Then I felt some tears fall to my naked back, causing me to cry even more. He was crying for me and I didn’t know how to deal with it.
I eventually cried myself out in his comforting embrace. It felt very good to unburden myself of this secret to another dear friend. Mark’s reaction was perfect as well. His support and empathy only made me love him that much more. I dried my eyes and looked up, meeting Mark in his eyes. We shared a knowing moment of true love and everlasting friendship. A bond strengthened by undiluted truth and honesty.
“Yeah. Thanks. I’m fine. I don’t want to waste all day thinking about this shit ok? I’ve done enough of that lately. Let’s have some fun!”
“Alright. Like what?”
“I don’t know. Let’s make pancakes?”
“I don’t know how.”
“Really? It’s easy. I’ll teach you…loser.”
“You want to back that up?”
“Shit yeah. Do I have to kick your ass before I teach you how to make pancakes?”
“Ha. Why don’t I just make you into a pancake and we’ll call it even?”
“Or…how about you show me how tough you are, after we eat?”
We ran upstairs to the kitchen where Mark spotted a note from his mom saying she was out shopping, but will be back in a few hours.
Mark popped open the pantry and announced there was no pancake mix.
“Perfect. That mix is shit anyway. Mark, you gather some supplies, while I go drag Adam out of bed. I will need milk, flour, an egg, butter, sugar, salt, vinegar, baking powder, baking soda, and…that’s it for now.”
“You don’t expect me to remember all that, do you?”
“No. Just remember what you can. I’ll be right back.”
I climbed upstairs and peaked into Adam’s room. He was sprawled out on his stomach on his bed. I walked up to the edge and sat down. I rubbed his shoulder through his t-shirt and called his name quietly.
“Wake up Adam. I’m making pancakes.”
He rolled over and put his knuckles in his eyes. “What? Mark? You’re cooking?”
“No goofball. It’s me, Danny. I’m cooking. Do you like pancakes?”
“Oh. Hey Danny. Yeah, I love pancakes.”
“Cool. Get up. I might need your help.”
He didn’t show any interest in moving, so I grabbed his ankles and swung him into a sitting position.
“Don’t make me carry you again. I almost didn’t make it upstairs last night.”
That got a giggle out of him, and a red tint to his cheeks. It also got him moving. I don’t think he liked the idea of me carrying him downstairs.
“You’re such a dork Danny.”
I started to mix together all the dry ingredients while I let the milk and vinegar sour. Poor mans buttermilk.
“What kind of pancakes do you guys like? Plain? Fruit? Chocolate chip?”
They replied in unison “chocolate chip.”
“How did you learn to do this?” Mark quizzed.
“I’m home alone a lot, and it’s fun. I don’t know. I like it.”
I stirred the egg and melted butter into the buttermilk and poured it into the dry ingredients and chocolate chips. I gently mixed them together, until the dry mix was just barely wet. It’s so easy to over mix pancake batter. Then all you get is flat, tough pancakes.
I started to pour them onto the griddle three at a time, and before long I had tall, fluffy, golden brown pancakes. I collected up a pile of six and set a plate in front of each of them.
“Holy fucking shit Danny! These are better than IHOP” Mark proclaimed.
“Mmm. These are the best ever!” was Adam’s contribution.
“Do you guys want more? I’ve got a lot of batter here.”
They both nodded yeses, while jamming fork-loads of folded cakes into their mouths. After they overstuffed themselves, I brought a plate over to the table and ate some myself.
“I cooked, so you guys have clean-up.”
Mark looked like he was about to protest, but Adam shot up and said “after I pee.” He made a mad dash to the bathroom, clutching at the front if his flannel pants.
“So, is he coming along with us later?”
“I’m sure he’ll beg my mom and me to bring him along.”
“Does he have any friends he could invite? It’d make it better for all of us.”
“Yeah. Good idea. He hangs out with the kid down the street some.”
Adam came out of the bathroom and walked over to the sink, to start doing the dishes.
“Hey Adam? Do you want to call a friend and come out with Mark and I later?”
“Where you going?”
“The mall or something. Like out to eat and a movie.”
“That’d be awesome!”
“Well find somebody, ok?”
“Yeah. For sure.”
After the dishes were all cleaned up, Mark and I went back down to his room and collapsed onto his bed. He put on some music, and we just vegged out, being lazy.
All of a sudden, Mark leapt through the air, like some kind of wild cat, and landed on my stomach. He pinned my arms above my head and said “I believe you asked me to kick your ass after we ate.”
“No fair. I wasn’t ready” I complained, trying to free my wrists from his grip.
“That all you got?”
“Hell no. I’m not even trying.”
Needing a new tactic, I tried to buck him off of me, but was again, unsuccessful. I was able to, however, lift my right leg up, and bring it around, and hook the front of his shoulder. I levered him back, until there was a big enough gap to slide out from underneath him. I charged him and brought his body slamming into the mattress, face down. I climbed onto his back and pinned his shoulders with my hands. It was his turn to struggle for a way free.
Through much laughter and trash talk, we wrestled around for a good ten minute bout. We finished in a tangle of sweat and heaving chests, in agreement that we were evenly matched.
“I need a shower” Mark announced.
“Your my guest. You go first.”
“Nah. Go ahead. I don’t mind.”
Mark got up and stripped off his shirt and pulled off his track pants. Then he left the room, without bringing along a change of clothes.
As I was laying there, I had a genius, yet diabolical idea pop into my head. I got up and went to his sock and underwear drawer, and looked through his selection of underwear. I found a pair of very loose looking boxers with no button on the fly, and set them on top of his stack. My hope was that he would put those on, and wear them to bed tonight. After getting shot down the night before, I wanted to create an advantage for myself for tonight. I was developing an unnatural curiosity about his anatomy.
He returned after a while, wrapped in a towel. He made his way to his dresser, and grabbed the boxers I put on top, and slid them on without hesitation. I had a private celebration, as I got myself up, and walked toward the bathroom, to take a shower.
I returned to Mark’s room in only a towel, the same way he had, and dug out a shirt and some pants from my backpack on the floor.
“Shit. I forgot to pack another pair of underwear. Can I borrow a pair from you?”
“Yeah man. Help yourself.”
I went over to his dresser and found another pair of loose boxers, similar to the pair I had staged for him. I figured if I was going to give myself an advantage, why not make it easier for him too, if he was planning another adventure.
A little later, Mark’s mom came downstairs, and asked “hey Mark. Could you come out here for a minute?”
“Sure mom. What’s up?”
“Your brother said he and Jason are coming with you later. Is this true, or is he scheming again?”
“Haha. Yeah, it’s true. No scheme. We told him to bring a friend.”
“Hmm. This is unusually nice of you Mark. What’s going on here?”
“Ask Danny. It was his idea.”
Mark’s mom redirected her attention toward me, giving me a ‘please explain’ look.
“Yeah. I just figured he’d have more fun if he had a friend with too.”
“Mom. You know he’d beg both of us to come with.”
“True. True. I need you boys to understand that if he and a friend go with you guys, you will keep them with you. No ditching them. They are your responsibility.”
We both agreed, and I could tell Mark’s mom was warming up to the idea of an evening free of kids. She went back upstairs to figure out the details with Jason’s mother. An hour later, we were in the car en route to the mall complex.
As we pulled up, we were instructed “same entrance at 9:00PM sharp. No exceptions.” She handed Mark some money and said “that is for dinner. Be safe and have fun. Call me if you have any problems.”
Adam and Jason were out of the car like a shot. Mark and I looked at each other and I could tell we were both thinking the same thing. What did we just get ourselves into? Mark’s mom squealed off as quickly as the boys. Not giving us a chance to change our minds.
Instinctually, we ran to catch up with the little balls of energy.
“You can’t just run off like that. If I lose you, mom will kill me. We’ve got plenty of time, ok. What do you guys want to do first?”
“Fine. We will walk there. Not run.”
The idea of walking didn’t go over too good, but they did slow down to a trot. At least we could still see them. We spent about an hour at the arcade, until they announced they were hungry. We left the mall and went to a Buffalo Wild Wings at the edge of the lot. We devoured a huge platter of boneless chicken wings of various flavor, and sucked down about a gallon each, of pop. Mark and I managed to stay clean, but our young tagalongs looked like a couple of messy toddlers, with sauce smeared across their cheeks and shirts.
With dinner done, we voted against going to a movie, and instead walked over to the Best Buy, and Guitar Center. By the time we were done with those places, it was time to head back to our meeting spot, and wait to get picked up.
On our walk back, Adam stepped up along side me, and said “I got you something at Guitar Center, for your birthday.”
He held up a packet of guitar picks with skulls painter on them, and handed them to me.
“Wow Adam! Thanks!”
“Your welcome. Thanks for bringing Jason and me with too.”
“Yeah dude. Anytime.”
Adam skipped ahead to walk with his buddy, and Mark came over, after eavesdropping on our conversation.
“Damn dude. I told you, Adam is in love with you. He worships you.”
“Seriously. He’s never liked any of my friends before. Ever.”
“Dude. You know what it is?”
“It’s easy. I treat him nice, so he treats me nice back. He’s used to your friends just treating him like a little kid. I don’t do that. I treat him with respect. Just like anybody else. I include him. You know what I mean?”
“Makes sense and yeah I’ve seen it. It’s funny though, because he’s my little bro, so I’ve always treated him like that. Like a little kid.”
“But he’s not. He’s smarter and older than you give him credit for.”
“He used his own money to buy you that. I…forgot it was your birthday. I didn’t get you anything…yet.”
“Dude. That was the week I was being a dork. You took me back as a friend, after I was a dick. That’s the best present you could have got me.”
“Did Kayla get you anything?”
“Yeah. She got me a skull candleholder and threw me a party.”
“A party? Why wasn’t I invited?”
“Haha. It was just me and her, so it wasn’t really like a party.”
“You called it a party, what did you do?”
“We had a campfire behind my house. She brought a bunch of food and…beer.”
“Beer? Holy shit! Did you guys get drunk?”
“Damn! That would have been way fun. Why didn’t you guys invite me?”
“I…think she wanted…just me and her there.”
“No way! Did you guys…you know…”
“A little yeah.”
“Yeah? Like what?”
“I don’t know…just like kissing and stuff…and” I made the international sign for jerking off.
Mark responded unenthusiastically, simply saying “oh. She did that?”
I picked up on his vibe, and offered a simple “yeah”, instead of getting all excited about it. His reaction was a long ways away from the boy who was telling me about his quest for a friend with benefits. Or the boy who was telling me I needed to get some action from Kayla. Something was bugging him. That was obvious. I didn’t have the courage to ask him. Was he jealous? Of me? Of Kayla? Did he secretly like Kayla?
All I know is the rest of the walk back was devoid of any conversation. Something was definitely bugging Mark, and I was pretty sure it was something I said.