The car ride home was deceiving. For all the energy, at full stadium volume, that the youngsters were using, to recount the events of the evening to Mark and Adam’s mother, Mark was noticeably, to me, remaining quiet. He was sitting in front, where the rest of us were in back, and it looked like he was maybe texting, on his phone. His eyes were averted to his lap, and I thought I could see his shoulders moving some.
When we got back to his house, my assumption was confirmed. Mark unloaded from his seat and silently walked into the house, never taking his eyes off his phone. He walked right into the family room, disconnected his Xbox 360, and walked downstairs with it.
“Danny. Danny. Danny. Come upstairs. I want you to play Nirvana for Jason” called Adam, while tugging on my sleeve.
“Hold it Adam. Don’t be rude. I’m sure Daniel and your brother might plans already. You could try to ask.”
“Danny? Could you please?”
I looked back and fourth between Adam and his mother. “Ahh. Sure. Why not. For a little while. I don’t really know what Mark’s doing anyway.”
Mark’s mom gave me a quizzical look before walking away. She may have just realized how mute he was in the car, and my comment may have hit home too.
I went up and played guitar for a while, but my head just wasn’t in it.
When I hesitantly tiptoed down to the basement, I saw Mark sitting at the couch, controller in hand, chatting happily with his friends through his little headset. I silently strode past, undetected. I went into his room, and just sat at the foot of his bed. I sat there and thought about every conversation we had the last two days, trying to figure out what triggered his silence. It all pointed back to our last conversation. The one about the party Kayla threw for me. Something in that conversation set him off, and whatever it was, he didn’t seem to want to talk about it. I basically sat there and thought myself into a mess. I had a storm of emotions brewing in my head. I wanted nothing more than to get out of there, but at 10:30, I really had no options. I decided to just go to bed. I saw no point in going into the room he was in, only to be ignored. I also can’t stand watching someone playing fucking video games. I laid my hurt and angry head down on the pillow, waiting for sleep yo consume me. It didn’t come easy. I tossed and turned, and my head just wouldn’t shut down.
Suddenly, something clicked in my brain. Uncle Aaron’s sleeping exercises. What the Hell, nothing else was working. I focused my breathing and did my body scan exercise. Before long, I was absolutely in a warm and fuzzy, comfortable place. Not much later, I was out like a light. Thanks again uncle Aaron!
I woke up I don’t know how much later, to the feeling of the bed moving, to accommodate the presence of another person. I remained awake, with my eyes closed, thinking ‘he wouldn’t dare, would he?’ Sure as shit, after about fifteen minutes, I felt warm fingers creeping around the opening of my boxer shorts.
THE FUCKING NERVE OF SOME PEOPLE! I slowly rolled onto my side, away from him. I’ll let him decide if I’m awake or not. Let him stew in it. Not tonight baby. Treat me like shit, and then violate my privates in my sleep. Like I said, the nerve of some people.
I woke up pretty early the next morning, as was my plan. I slid out of bed and gathered my things, like a ninja, and headed upstairs, to the main level, without waking Mark. His mom was in the kitchen, watching some news program and sipping coffee.
“Someone’s up early. Can I fix you something to eat?”
“Oh…huh…good morning. No thanks. I…umm…have stuff to do today. That’s why I’m up so early. My ride will be here soon.”
“Oh. I see. Did you wake Mark?”
“Nah. He should sleep.”
Getting up, she said “nonsense, he should see you off. I’ll go wake him.”
I interrupted. “Please. No. It’s ok. I’ll see him tomorrow at school anyway.”
“Well, if you insist. He will probably sleep until 2:00, staying up so late with them video games. Can’t I fix you something to eat?”
“No, but thanks. I don’t know if my ride knows how to find this place and my directions weren’t the best. So I’m meeting at the Starbucks down the road. I suppose I should get there before they do.”
“Can I give you a ride?”
“Nah. It’s only two blocks. I can walk. Thank you for letting me stay, and the food too.”
“Anytime dear. Take care.”
I felt bad about lying to her, but I didn’t really have a ride lined up yet. I did walk to the Starbucks. I bought a muffin, and sat at a table, to figure out a plan to get home. It was 9:30 and I didn’t know who I should bug to pick me up. I decided to try my sister first. She had to work at 11:00, so she couldn’t do it. I tried my uncle next and had better luck. Only if I agreed to hang out with him for a while, and help him with some grocery shopping. I had no problem with that, so I sat and waited for him to come and get me.
He didn’t ask me what I was doing alone, on a Sunday, ten miles from home. He just came and we hung out. It was a good time, and he had me home by 2:00.
It kind of bothered me that Mark didn’t try to get ahold of me all day either. I hoped he’d call or text, to see what was up.
After dinner, I went up to read some more Rent Boy and check out the other two blogs I had been following. AJ posted another day in his life, and at the end, he put up another video for a boy band he likes. I took it as a sign that I should ask him about Apollo 3. I wrote at least ten different comments, but settled with:
I like your blog a lot. Do you know the band Apollo 3? I think you’d like them.
You don’t need to post this comment or whatever.
I sent off the message, figuring I’d never hear back from him. He was a big time celebrity blogger, and I was no one. Just a stupid comment about a little band from Germany. I read some more chapters about the amazing love between James and Squeegy, wishing so desperately to find a love like that for myself.
The next morning I reluctantly got out of bed and prepared for another day of school. I met up with Kayla at the bus stop and we started to talk, like we’ve done so many times before.
“Hey. How was your shopping weekend?”
“Oh hey. Yeah. It was alright it was fun.”
I was surprised by her lack of enthusiasm. It didn’t sound like she had as much fun as I expected.
“I bet it was nice to see your cousin.”
“Yeah. It was nice to see her.”
We didn’t say much, most of the way to school, until she finally asked, “did you stay at Mark’s both nights?”
“How was that?”
I guess I was a conversation stopper too. Maybe it was a winter thing, or Monday, or school. Whatever it was, hopefully it would clear up soon.
Things were weird the entire day of school. Kayla and I barely talked in class, and Mark no-showed us during lunch. I don’t know if he was at school or not, but he definitely wasn’t in the lunch room. The bus ride home was oddly uncomfortable too. It felt like Kayla was holding back something. Like she had something to say, but couldn’t do it. It was starting to worry me some. I’m not gonna lie. My over active brain was starting to churn again. Add to that, the fact that I’d be going to my first official bantam hockey practice tonight, I really didn’t need drama with Kayla.
It made me nervous that my hockey team was already two weeks of practices, and two scrimmages into the season, and I hadn’t skated since the tryouts over a month ago. They would all be in better shape than me. They’d have lines set up. They would have worked on power plays and breakouts. And they would have questions about me. I’d have to prove myself. That I belonged on this team.
We said our goodbyes, and I headed home without Kayla. Which has become pretty rare these days. I ran upstairs, grabbed my laptop, and laid down on my bed. I loaded AJ’s blog, and saw that he didn’t put my comment up. I was a little disappointed, even though I told him he didn’t have to. I know, kind of petty and stupid of me. I checked a few other sites, including my hockey team site, to confirm I had a practice tonight. The last stop I made, was my email. Thinking maybe, Mark or Kayla had sent me an email. What I saw, was a surprising email from AJ. He said he did know Apollo 3, and that he loved them. He also said he thought Henry was hot. He thanked me for reading his blog, and writing him. He told me to write him back anytime.
Wow! I was floored. He was really nice to me. He took the time to write me back and that was awesome. I quickly hit the reply button and wrote:
“Thank you for writing me back. You didn’t have to do that. I bet you are super busy with all the people that write on your blog and writing them back. Thank you for taking the time to write me. Oh yeah Henry is super hot!”
I sent it off before I realized how stupid and pathetic I must look. I just thanked somebody for thanking me. Ughh…I’m sure that was the last time I’d be hearing from him.
I shut my computer and laid down on my bed with my eyes closed. My lack of sleep from the long weekend had finally caught up with me. I was out almost immediately.
The next thing I remembered was my sister coming in and saying “wake up squirt. I’m driving you to hockey in a half hour. Get up now if you want to eat first.”
I looked around the way you do when you are stunned and not sure where you are. It was pitch black outside my window. I must have slept a lot longer than I planned to. I got myself out of bed and went downstairs to eat something light. A little later I was sitting in the car with my sister, on my way to the arena.
We pulled into the rough, crushed rock parking lot, and parked beside the ancient building. Unlike the new, state-of-the-art arena where the tryouts were held, our home rink was built about a hundred years ago, and not much has been changed since. Generations of hockey players have grown to call this place ‘the barn’. If you drove past it, that’s what you’d think it is. An old, tired out barn. Neglected brown paint covered the well seasoned walls and domed roof. A small sign hanging over the entrance in hand painter green, reads ‘St. Croix Valley Arena’.
I stepped through the door for the first time in half a year, and the smell of old wood, mixed with the faint stench of sweat, triggered my memory muscle into hyperdrive. I swear if I never stepped foot in this building for fifty years, and I was brought back blindfolded. I would immediately know where I was.
I stepped into the locker room and did a quick, nervous scan. Some familiar faces, and a few smiles and nods, but no Mark. I took an open spot and started to get dressed. About five minutes later, Mark walked through the door, and unexpectedly, sat right beside me. There was plenty of loud conversation throughout the room, but none coming from our tense little corner.
Finally, Mark broke the ice with “what happened to you the other morning?”
“Excuse me?” I asked back in utter disbelief.
“I woke up and you were gone. Why?”
“Are you serious? You didn’t say one word to me after we left the mall. What the Hell was I supposed to do? You sure didn’t want me around anymore.”
Even more mystifying to me was Mark’s reaction. He kind of twisted up his face, trying to decide if he’d done anything wrong, or if what I said was even true.
After watching him struggle for a little bit, I added “look dude. Time and place. If you want to talk about it. Not here. Not now.”
I angrily got up from the bench and went out to the lobby, waiting for the Zamboni to get done, so I could get on the ice.
Most of the practice was divided. Our defense group worked on one end of the ice with a coach, and the forwards were at the other end. This insured that I wouldn’t have any more interaction with Mark. With 20 minutes left in the practice, we split into 2 groups for a light contact scrimmage.
Mark and I were on opposite sides, which was fine with me. Inevitably, we faced off a few shifts, and I did my best to avoid being near him on the ice.
At one point, the puck was deep in our zone, and I was in front of my net to block passes, or tie up any opponents who wanted to position themselves in front for a pass. Mark skated through the crease and chopped me on the laces of my skate. The same foot that had been in that cast for a fucking month. He skated into the corner to receive a pass, and I saw red. Blood red! I charged into the corner and blasted him with a hard check, right under his chin. He flew and crashed hard into the boards with his back. I could hear the pain in his exhale as he collapsed to the ice. I was pissed and he knew what foot he hit on me. I wanted him to get up, so I could hit him again.
“BEEEEP!” went the whistle. Followed by “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?” bellowing from the coach, as he sped toward us, along with the rest of my teammates, who were closing in to get a better look.
“He chopped my foot, over there” I pointed. “The broken one.”
Mark stood up and just stared at the coach, with his head down. The coach looked back and forth between the two of us.
“Teammates gentlemen. I will not tolerate this. If there’s a problem, figure it out somewhere else. I don’t have room for bullshit on my team. If you can’t handle it. Get off this ice and get off my team.”
He blew his whistle again, and said “change em’ up. Next lines.”
I went back to my bench, hoping I wouldn’t get another shift before the end of practice. I regretted doing what I did, yet I didn’t. It was all so confusing. At that moment, I seriously thought about quitting. I didn’t need this bullshit. Hockey hasn’t been any fun at all this year.
Uncomfortable isn’t a strong enough word to describe how sitting next to Mark in the locker room after hockey felt. All the other eyes watching us, didn’t help either. It looked like we were in a race to see who could get undressed and out of there faster. I won, and was gone without a word.
Kari was waiting outside in the car, and I had never been happier to leave ‘the barn.’ I got home and took a quick shower and quarantined myself to my room. After some homework, I checked my email again. This time I didn’t expect anything from Mark, but I was hoping Kayla might have written. She didn’t, but AJ did.
He told me he was happy I wrote him back again, and that I seemed really nice. He told me he does online chat with some of the friends he made from his blog. He invited me to chat, if I wanted to.
I wrote him back to tell him I’d never done that before, and I don’t have a clue how. I thanked him for the offer, but told him I don’t have chat on my computer.
I did my nightly Rent Boy reading, and for the first time James and Squeegy got sexy. It was so tender and so loving, but it got me excited none the less. I felt compelled to do something about that, so I did. I cleaned up and went to bed with a clear head. I slept like a baby.