chiaroscuro: (k-är-skr, -skyr) 1. pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color; 2. the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a pictorial work of art; 3. the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities (as of mood or character); 4. the interplay of light and shadow on or as if on a surface
A boy joins the OHL, and there witnesses the unraveling of his two roommates' relationship.
rated R for bad words, adult situations, and slasheroo
I've been very liberal with my license. I'm assuming that when he joins the OHL that he also goes to a very spifferific all boys school where he completes his education while playing hockey. :)
Writing experiment. Stole the plot from the "Lost and Delirious," and also stole some badly paraphrased dialogue: "Was this what having fun...", "Teaching, you...", "Are you going to his...", "I think you're real brave...", "I'm not like that.", "How long have you been.." Anyways, sorta like in "Finding Forrester," I started with somebody else's story and then changed it.//
Trees, houses, cars whipped by. If I squinted they would blur, blur into oblivion, blur into nothing. A kaleidoscope of colors, and memories really. Nothing to me was something to someone; everything had a story.
Maybe it wasn't one that I wanted, but it was mine. Or perhaps, I did want it at one point in my life. I was in a cab, flying down some random road in Mississauga. I was joining the OHL; I was going to be an Ice Dog.
I should be happy right?
And I think part of me was. Even excited, but I hid it behind a somber face. I wasn't quite sure which person I wanted to be. I could be anyone; nobody knew me here. I could be the cool kid, the bully, the jerk, the nerd--I could be anything but me.
Of course, I fucked that up.
Mr. Fetters, or rather, John, just call me John, Mike, was an interesting guy. Nice, but kind of weird. He gave off this vibe where he wanted to be your friend, but you immediately knew that you wouldn't end up being one. And not because he really didn't want to be your friend and was just giving you that counselor bullshit, but because he wanted to be your friend too badly. It was like a put off or something. Kind of a sad guy. Just sitting around in his office, brushing non-existent pieces of dust off his rich mahogany desk and waiting for someone to stop on by. Someone for him to help.
I later learned that he taught English too, but for my first day I knew him only as the welcome wagon. He gave me the basic rules and low down of how hockey wasn't to affect my high school education and how the Ice Dog's first priority was to make sure that I completed that education. The usual bullshit everyone knew didn't really apply to us (us meaning the athletes) but for some reason I got the feeling that John actually believed what he was saying.
Like I said, weird kind of guy.
He told me that I could stop by any time I wanted if I ever needed to talk to him and he emphasized the "talk" so I immediately hated him because I could tell he had read my file (although really, I don't know why I was so surprised that he had) and was under the impression that I needed saving.
John led me out of his office and grabbed a random kid by the back of his t-shirt.
"Paul, this is your new roommate. Show him around."
Okay, maybe not so random. He patted me on the shoulder like he was my dad or something, and Paul smirked. He wished me luck and I think I turned into a tomato.
For all my bravado, I'm quite shy and the only time I'm outgoing, per se, is on the ice. Which was why the only thing I was looking forward to in Mississauga besides hockey was choosing my new persona to hide behind.
I wouldn't be Squeaks from Tibbens. I could be Mike. Or Michael. I could be--
Paul grabbed one of my suitcases.
I pulled my backpack on and grabbed my other suitcase. I followed him to the end of the hallway. We trekked up the stairs while he gave me the real low down.
"We have the room on the top floor. It's just you, me, and Kyle. He's center; I play defense. We've got our own sink and stuff, but you have to go downstairs for the bathroom and showers. We have the best room. No one goes up there. We can get away with anything. Not just us--everyone. Go to classes, keep your nose clean, and no one really cares what we do in our off time as long as we keep winning. Although, if you're good, you won't have much off-time. You'll just be practicing."
Jesus Christ. How many floors did this building have? My feet were pounding heavily on the stairs and we keep turning and turning. I stared at me feet. My sneakers had this grass stain on the toe and I watched how it moved with my toes. Summer shoes. I liked to wear them in the middle of winter in my room. Try and remember what the sun was like.
Don't worry. I'm not stupid enough or sentimental enough to wear my snow boots during the summer.
My head hit the soft folds of Paul's shirt. Apparently he had stopped.
He smiled. "And if you're great, all you'll be doing is practicing." He opened the door and threw my suitcase on a vacant bed. "This is it." He pointed around the room. "That's mine. That's Kyle's." I nodded and gently let my suitcase hit the bedspread. "What's your name?"
"Michael Benneford. The third. People call me Squeaks though."
He furrowed his brow. "Squeaks, eh? Why do they do that?"
I shrugged. Real cool, Mike. "My dad's called me that ever since I was a kid."
"Yeah, uh, well, that doesn't sound real… So, you can unpack and meet the rest of the team downstairs." He knocked on the doorframe and then left.
I unpacked slowly. I didn't have much with me other than clothes. I stared around the room. My side seemed so empty; theirs was so much more personalized. I wondered how long they had been here. I wondered if I would ever feel at home here.
Paul's image was burned into my memory. The way his pants hung off of him, the slightly disheveled shirt, loose tie--his clothes seemed to fit him. When we walked down the hall, other people smiled or waved, and moved out of his way. I stared down at my own pants, tailored precisely, freshly pressed shirt, and tie.
Paul was cool.
And I was his roommate. This could be something.
Paul hadn't told me where he and the other teammates were. I wandered into some room--I wasn't quite sure what it was. There were some coaches and tables and some old paintings. I'd never been away from home before, and though Mississauga was small, it wasn't as small as my town, and the school here was really nice. Like super nice. Like they had extra rooms here that weren't your bedroom or kitchen nice.
How did I get here? I was good. But I wasn't that good.
I stood behind a couch and looked outside. There were a bunch of tables and people outside. I saw someone who looked like Paul. He was laughing and joking around. He looked so care free.
A head popped up in front of me. Instinctively, I squeaked.
"Who are you?"
"Michael Benneford. The third. People call me Squeaks." Was my voice a fucking record?
"That's a stupid nickname. I'm Kyle Hart." He stared at me. I don't know what he was looking for, though. "I think we're roommates."
I smiled. "Oh yeah. Paul told me." I shook his hand, a bit too earnestly, I might add. I chewed on my lip and let go.
I could tell he knew that I knew I was uncool. He cocked his head to the side. "Want to go crash the luncheon?" He grabbed the arm of my jacket before I replied and led me outside. He didn't introduce me to anybody. He shoved a soda into my hand, and then stuck two more into my jacket pockets. He grinned at me and then grabbed a few more sodas. He walked up behind Paul and slipped one into his pocket as well. Paul smiled and mussed up Kyle's hair.
A yell went up and all the guys seemed to run to other side of the lawn. There was a lot of whooping and yelling there after, and Paul ambled over towards me, rolling his eyes. "Girls. You'll start to miss them too. Kyle and I go running in the mornings. Sometime we run into girls from the school just over the hill. You can come with us if you want."
I piled some macaroni salad onto a plate. "Yeah, that sounds cool."
Paul laughed and put his hand over mine. "Don't eat that." I raised an eyebrow. "This isn't for us. We just come out here and raid the place for sodas."
"To the pool!" somebody yelled out.
"To the pool!" Paul echoed.
They all seemed to run at once, and I was swept up in it. Teenage boys running across the lawn and in the hallways of an enormous building. Our feet echoed along the linoleum, interrupted by a chant or a cheer I didn't know. A body behind me pressed me forward, pushing the companion in front of me forward, and soon I was yelling along with them. I didn't know the words, but it didn’t seem to matter. It was wild and animalistic and suddenly I wasn't a boy; I was coming of age and jumping into a pool with all my clothes on. My blood was pounding, churning through my body, and I had never felt better in my life.
Was this what having fun was like?
A whistle blew and I saw John standing by the door with another man. "Anyone caught in the pool during non-pool hours will be suspended from the hockey team for two weeks."
The mob was alive again. Bodies scrambling out of the pool and running out into the hallway. Paul grabbed my arm and we sprinted up the stairs, two at a time. I nearly slipped, but I was laughing.
I was laughing.
The bell rang and a guy bumped me from behind. I was staring at my schedule, hoping it would somehow, inexplicably, show me the way to my next class.
It didn't, but my teacher didn't seem to mind when I showed up five minutes late.
On my way to my next class I had better luck, having had run into Kyle. We sat near the back. Kyle opened his book to some random page while I furiously took notes. Teacher. Paper. Board. Teacher. Paper. Board.
"Mr. Martin. Mr. Martin."
The teacher's voice disrupted my pattern. I glanced up from my notebook to see Paul across the room, sitting backwards in his chair. I guessed he had been talking to the boy behind him instead of paying attention.
"What do we do next, Mr. Martin?"
"Why don't you come up here and finish the problem?"
The Paul I had been privy to the last few days disappeared. Suddenly, he was awkward and unsure of himself. He took the marker from the teacher, but didn't do anything with it. He just stared at the board, rubbing his elbow and looking at the problem, hoping, like with my schedule, that the solution would magically appear.
"Is there a problem. Mr. Martin? Don't you know how to do it? It's fairly simple."
"I, uh." He shook his head. "I don't get it."
"What don't you get?"
"The sine of x. Where does it go?"
A few people laughed, and Paul turned a shade redder as the teacher rolled her eyes. "Maybe if you had been paying attention to the lesson instead of going over hockey plays, little x's and o's with your friend over there--"
Kyle stood up. "We play zone defense. We leave the x's and o's to the football team."
"Very well, Mr. Hart. Now if you will please take your seat, we--"
But Kyle didn't. He walked to the front of the room and took the marker from Paul, crossing out sines and replacing them with cosines.
"What are you doing, Mr. Hart?"
"Teaching, you fucking bitch. What you should have been doing." He placed his hand on Paul's shoulder, pointing out where the sine went, and where the pi was plugged in.
The teacher spluttered for a second before regaining composure. "I will not have that language in my classroom--"
He glared at her, angry almost that she had interrupted his teaching. "Blow me."
"Out!" She pointed at the door. "Go see Fetters, now," she grounded out.
Kyle shrugged his shoulders, capping the pen, before leaving.
It was amazing.
I hadn't even thought he was paying attention. And yet he was. He saw Paul struggling and, and, he had changed. Apathetic to angry, and suddenly so aloof again. Everyone was whispering about Kyle's antics. The teacher was trying to get control of the classroom. Paul had returned to his seat, unnoticed.
It was fucking ingenious.
I was doing my math homework in bed. So was Paul, on the floor, cross-legged and leaning against his bed. Kyle was lying on Paul's bed, throwing a ball against the wall, repeating his conversation with Fetters in between the smacks.
"I told John that it wasn't my fault. Children, especially adolescent teenagers, are prone to aggravation when their self-esteem, their self image is endangered."
"Hockey is not x's and o's," Kyle deadpanned. He caught the ball with one hand and rolled over onto his side while Paul laughed. He leaned over the mattress' edge, sliding his arm down over Paul's shoulder. He tapped the math book. "No, work outside to inside." Paul nodded, but Kyle didn't move his arm.
Paul tried to brush him off. "How am I supposed to do anything with your gangly arms in the way?"
Kyle fell with an oomph off the bed, toppling on Paul. Paul screamed out in mock pain, before laughing. The two wrestled around on the ground, and I looked up periodically from my homework because of their grunts to survey the damage.
I smiled to myself. They were quite the characters. By the time I finished my homework they were collapsed on one another, panting for breath. They stayed like that for a while and I began to wonder, but then Kyle turned his head.
"Mike, you think Fetters' gay?"
Paul smacked him upside the head. "Homophobe."
The two began to wrestle again, Kyle saying, "It was just a question," in between gasps.
I shook my head and crawled under my covers.
Only to be pulled out, squeaking, moments later. We wrestled until we were all short of breath.
I didn't have to wonder for much longer.
The next morning I woke up in an empty room. For a moment I was disoriented. The pale green walls made me think of my grandmother's house, but the springs beneath my back reminded me I wasn't.
I stepped carefully across the floor, avoiding the small bits of sunlight that flecked and colored the carpet. An old game I used to play as a kid.
I made it to the open window and noted the worn roofing tiles and how the trellis made the perfect ladder. The ivy had even stopped growing in a perfect line down one part of the lattice work.
It didn't faze me when I saw Paul and Kyle outside by the trees.
The sun had just risen and soon the entire floor would be covered in sunlight, leaving me only the small patch against the wall and beside the window. I stared at my feet, trying to compact them into a small twelve by twelve square. I imagined two smaller feet on top of them--shadows of a memory I was beginning to forget.
I didn't dare call them ghosts.
Just shadows. Things that could be washed away if I stepped neatly to the right and into the sun.
And I did.
When I looked up from my feet and my shadows-not-ghosts I saw Paul and Kyle kissing by the trees.
I spent a week avoiding my shadows-not-ghosts by watching Paul and Kyle. I watched them steal sodas and slip them into each other's jacket pockets--their hands staying inside the cloth pockets two seconds too long. I watched them walk down the hallways with their arms wrapped around each other's shoulders. I watched them wrestle and fool around during practice. Everyone just thought they were goofing off. They didn't see anything beyond friendly touches.
They didn't see what I saw.
True to their word, Paul and Kyle took me running when I began missing girls.
I didn’t really. I mean, what was to miss?
Girls had never liked me before, so by default, I began to ignore them and dedicate myself even more to hockey.
So I wasn't missing them, but Paul and Kyle said it would be good for me anyway. Kyle made a snide comment about me losing my baby fat and Paul whapped him over the head. They wrestled for a while and then convinced me to go running with them.
I regretted it after the first two miles.
"Hey, you're doing good," Paul told me. "Maybe we should slow down, Kyle."
"Slow down? We're already doing seven minute miles. If we slow down anymore I'll turn into my grandma. Besides, Mike likes it, right."
"Yeah." Deep breath. "I'm." Gasp. "Good."
Paul glanced over at me. "Coach says you should be able to talk evenly while running."
I was ready to pound the both of them.
Perhaps Paul sensed my frustration. "Kyle, you go on ahead. We'll meet up with you back at the school." Kyle shrugged and then took off down the path. "We can walk for a while if you want."
We slowed down to a light jog.
"So how long have you known Kyle?"
"I met him here. He's like my best friend ever."
"Best friend ever?" I smirked.
He looked at me for a second before tackling me to the ground.
"Are you a five year old girl?" I squealed while he punched me in my stomach. I rolled away from his blows and sprinted down the path.
I stopped abruptly and squeaked when I ran into a group of three girls. Paul ran up behind me, but didn't stop, tackling me to the ground.
"Paul? Paul Martin?" one girl asked.
He rolled off of me and stood up, grinning. "Yeah?"
I stood up and brushed the dirt off my legs, shorts, shirt, arms, and face to my chagrin.
"I'm Sara," she smiled sweetly. "Are you Bryan's younger brother?" Paul nodded. "Are you going to his birthday party this weekend?"
He shrugged. "I don't know."
"I am. Maybe we could see each other there." She was blonde and green eyed. She was fucking gorgeous.
Paul shrugged again. "I don't know if I'm even going."
Was he a fucking idiot? Obviously this girl, this gorgeous girl, wanted to go to his brother's party with him.
"We have to get back to school, ladies." Paul grabbed me and started pushing me down the path.
"Maybe I'll see you there," she called.
"Maybe!" he yelled back.
"Dude, that was stupid," I let him know as we ran back to school.
"That girl wanted to go out with you."
He laughed. "So?"
"So she was hot."
He slapped me on the back. "Yeah, and then we'll dance and she'll tell all her friends that we're dating and then she'll come around a lot and I'll hang out with her and she'll cramp my style and I'll have no fun." He increased his speed and I matched his pace. "Girls are way too clingy. And what if she doesn't like hockey? How much would that suck?"
This time I laughed. When we made it back to the front of the school I asked him if he was going to his brother's party.
"I don't know. Why?"
"Because that girl was really hot."
He punched me in the arm and grinned. "I told you that you would start missing girls."
First game of the year, first road trip of the year, had arrived, and Kyle, Paul, and I were all holed up in our room trying to do all of our homework before the bus trip the next day. We were an assembly line of homework: Kyle handled the math, I tackled English, and Paul bounded back and forth between the library and his history book looking up important dates.
Later as we sat on our beds and discussed the upcoming game, Paul and Kyle verbally planned the penned letters to their parents--the idiotic assignment of the week.
"Dad," Kyle began. "You fucked my mom and then took off when she was only seventeen. She did a fairly decent job raising me, but sometimes I think that she married my step dad just so that she wouldn't have to work anymore. And I think that's kind of fucked up. No, I think that's really fucked up.
"But I don't think it was your fault. Because you were only a kid too, and she didn't have to get married. It was her choice." He looked over at us. "I don't know his name. So I can't really send him a letter. But I think that's what I would write if I could. What about you, Paulie?"
"Uh. Dear dad…we have our first game tomorrow. And I think we're going to be really good this year. At practices, our lines really gel together and--"
"No, braniac," Kyle interrupted. "I know that's what you're gonna write in the actual letter. But what would you really say?"
"Dear dad. Fuck you." Kyle motioned with his hands for Paul to continue. "I, I hate it when you talk to me like I'm not even there. Like I only exist if I score goals or strip some guy of the puck. I hated being your trophy when I was a kid. Just like mom hated it. Which is why she divorced you, I think. And then you had to marry that blonde bimbo who's not that much older than me. I hate that you make me call her mom.
"I hate that you treat her like mom too. I mean, she's not so…" He took a deep breath. "I hate that you love her more than me. I hate that--I hate you. Sometimes I wish that you would just, like die or something, and then I could live with mom. My real one that is. Your son, Paul."
Kyle moved from his bed over to Paul's. Paul scooted over and they clasped hands. "What about you, Mike?"
"I don't have to write a letter."
"John said so."
"Fine." He rolled his eyes. "You don't have to write a letter. But what would you say?"
"Nothing. I don't talk to my dad."
"And I don't talk to mine." My bedspread became extremely interesting. Kyle sighed. "Fine, what would you say to your mom?"
"I, I-" Stuttered. Stumbled. Fell. Shadows not ghosts, I convinced myself, right?
I told him why I didn't talk to my mom.
"Oh." His head was on Paul's chest. I imagined a heart beat in my own ear. "Maybe you can write one anyway. Like we did."
And because maybe he was right and because they had shared their letters with me and because I felt like I owed something to them, I read them my mental letter.
"Remember sun dancing, Mom? Leaping from room to room--you'd take sun, I'd take shadow and our feet had to avoid the other at all costs. It was easier for me because the sun doesn't shine as long during the winter as it does during the summer. And because we only played when there was a snow day during the school year, I always had the advantage. First one around the house, and through the kitchen--not the shortcut through the den--wins. Only one time you were stuck in the living room corner. Trapped, really.
"So I let you stand on my feet and we waltzed to the kitchen where you jumped off of them and ran. You ran through the sun-lit room and I was stuck on the other side. You tagged the staircase banister and won, and then two hours later Dad came home and we played hockey in the back yard.
"Anyway, that was really sneaky, Mom. Leaving me. Abandoning me like that. I don't think that win should count." I shrugged. "Love, Mike."
"I like your mom."
"I like your mom too."
"I like her too."
Teenagers trying to make it into the NHL shouldn't write imaginary letters to their parents in the middle of the night.
"I bet she didn't call you Squeaks," Kyle said. I shook my head. He drew in a deep breath. "Brave. I think you're real brave, Mike. That's your new name. Mike B. 'B' for brave."
"Goodnight, Mike B." Paul said, flipping off the lights.
I was playing hockey in the OHL. I was at a new preppy school. I was friends with two really cool guys. I was brave.
I was friends with two guys sharing the same bed.
I was brave.
We won our first road game. And our second. And our home opener.
Paul sent home his letter about scoring a goal and stripping a guy of a puck, and how our lines were really gelling together.
Kyle's mom said that she'd send the letter to his real dad if he wanted. He did, so he sent her his letter.
I wrote two letters: one to my mom, the one I had verbally penned the night before our road trip with Paul and Kyle, and another to my father. I didn't send either; I tucked them in my hockey sock drawer. I put them right next to my lucky socks--the ones I never washed.
Someone would have to be really crazy to try and read either.
Maybe they thought I couldn't hear them.
Maybe they thought I didn't care.
Maybe they didn’t care.
Maybe it was kind of okay.
It was like the way they held hands when they thought no one was looking. Or the way they shot each other secret smiles and glances.
It was normal.
And after a while I didn't care either. The sounds they made blended in with all the other normal sounds of the room. I got used to it. Sort of like the constant drip of the faucet in our sink and the soft rumble of the pipes in the walls.
I peeked once.
Underneath the cool moonlight their smooth bodies looked beautiful. They looked like they were in love.
I burrowed myself back under my covers and penned another letter to my mom.
The next morning, when I rolled out of bed, Kyle and Paul were entwined together in Paul's bed. I glanced over at them as I walked towards the door and my heavy footsteps woke them up.
Kyle rubbed the side of his face. "He, uh, gets nightmares."
I nodded as I grabbed my towel off the hook by the door. I could hear them laughing softly as I made my ways down the stairs to the showers.
I lost myself in the monotony of school. I went to classes, did my homework, got decent grades, and played hockey. I hung out with Peter and Kyle a lot. We ate meals together, went running, and stole sodas from the staff lounge.
Sometimes I envied their closeness. Whenever they had a problem, the other was always there for them. They were my friends and there for me too, but obviously, things were different.
On the whole, though, I didn't mind. I liked watching them and their relationship. Everything was so easy for them. They did well on the ice, were decent in school, and had this, this like wonderful thing between the two of them. They were so sure of themselves. A confidence that their peers recognized and made them popular amongst them, but they were also so confident around each other. And maybe that's why they worked so well with each other. They were honest with what they wanted and how they felt. Like that night, they worked beautifully together.
I loved watching them.
We sneaked off campus the night before to see some horror movie and had gotten back pretty late. I hit the sack after we climbed through the window, but I know those two stayed up later than me.
So we were still asleep when Harry and his two buddies burst through our door with water guns. Harry Stanling was a cool guy that helped me with my French homework. Although, I think he only did it because I was friends with Paul and Kyle.
"Hey, you dirty bast--" He stopped when he saw Paul and Kyle together in Paul's bed. A chorus of "eww"s went up behind Harry. Paul and Kyle both had atrocious bed head and looked extremely groggy and out of it. "What the hell is going on?" Harry yelled out.
Kyle, through half-lidded eyes, held up his hand. "It's not what you think."
"What is it then?" And I thought I squeaked.
"He has nightmares." I could tell those three weren't believing that lie.
"That is so disgusting. Paul, what's--I mean, that's just wrong."
That seemed to wake Paul up. He sat up. "It's not what you think, Harry." He looked over at me, panic creeping into his voice. "Mike, tell them it's not what they think."
"It's not what you think," I said.
"What is it then?"
I got out of bed and, like a robot, started ushering the three, well, more like pushing the three out of the room, all the while repeating, "It's not what you think." I shut the door, and locked it. I turned around to watch the two.
I think a word I might have used to describe them the day before would have been "mature." They seemed so much more than their parents--their relationship so much stronger.
There was no such maturity now.
Kyle fell back in bed and tried to pull Paul down with him. Paul shrugged him off. "What's your problem?"
"My problem? Harry Stanling is my problem."
"Nah, it's no big deal, Paulie."
"It is a problem, Kyle! Get out, get out of my bed!" he shrieked.
"Dude, it's not a problem," Kyle stressed. He tried to calm Paul down by rubbing his shoulder.
Paul hit him and nearly pushed him out of bed. "Get out and it is! Harry knows my family. What if he tells my brother? What if he tells my dad?"
"He won't. And even if he did, big deal. So your family knows about us. That's cool."
"No, it's not!" He yelled, and this time, he did push Kyle out of his bed. "You're ruining my fucking life! Maybe you don't care that you don't know your father or that your father doesn't love you, but I do. My family's important to me."
"I thought I was important to you."
"Look, I need to think."
Kyle rubbed his arm, nervous. "I love you, Paulie."
Paul chucked his clothes at him. "Just get out. I need to think."
I walked with Paul to breakfast. He had been pretty upset, but had calmed down and a certain amount of lucidity seemed to be floating around him.
I could already hear the whisperings as we walked, but Paul didn't seem to notice. He was too busy thinking, intent on finding his target. When we saw Harry, alone by the wall, we approached him slowly.
"Harry, I need to talk to you about this morning."
"Look, we're friends. We know each other's families." He paused. "And you know I'm not like that."
I had to hold back a squeak. I hadn't been expecting him to say that.
Paul continued. "Kyle just crawled into my bed naked. He's, like, weird like that. And you know I'm not like that, right?"
Harry couldn't actually be believing this idiotic bullshit, right?
But he was.
He smiled widely. "Yeah, I knew you weren't like that." He scratched the back of his head. "You know, you can like report Kyle--get him suspended so he doesn't pull that weird shit on you."
Paul shook his head. "Oh, no. I mean, Kyle's a nice guy aside from the whole weird bed thing. Plus, he's a great center. We need him on the team."
Harry nodded. He seemed to be taking this all in and digesting it. He broke out in a grin and shook his head. "You're too nice, Paul."
Paul shrugged. "So you'll tell your friends about what really happened up there? And you won't tell Bryan or my dad?"
"Of course not. And the guys will be relieved to know that you're not…you know." A couple of guys called Harry's name. "Later, Paul. Mike." He acknowledged my presence with a nod. "Don't worry, I'll tell the guys the truth, Paul."
Paul had completely baffled me, and I was still confused after we picked up our breakfasts from the line in the cafeteria. I saw Kyle over in our usual spot and headed over, but Paul broke away from me and sat with some other friends. I sat in one of the chairs Kyle had been saving, but he didn't notice me.
He just kept staring at Paul. I swear to God, I thought he was going to sink into the floor. He looked so much like he wanted to, and when Kyle sets his mind to something and really wants it--well, he once scored two goals on what the coach called sheer will.
I stared at Paul too. I imagined I could see his lips moving to form, "I'm not like that." I couldn't really because someone was blocking my view. But then that person turned around, and everyone sitting with Paul turned around and looked over at me. At Kyle.
I didn't bother reading any of their faces. Instead I tried to look at Paul.
He was eating pancakes.
I didn’t like Paul so much right then.
Paul stopped eating with us. And during practice he didn't hang out with us.
And he started dating that girl named Sara.
I didn't tell Kyle though. I think he was sort of in denial at first. He thought that after a day or so that Paul would apologize and they'd be okay again. Then, when Paul didn't, he was understandably hurt. I wasn't quite sure what mood or phase he was in now.
I knew what mood/phase I was in though. I was in the "I hate that punk named Paul and if he tries to be my friend I'm going to pummel him" phase. Really, though, I had been in that phase for a while.
One afternoon though he caught me off guard. I had scored the game winning goal the game before and Coach had pulled me aside only fifteen minutes earlier to tell me how proud of me he was and how I was a great asset to the team, so I was pretty high on life. And Paul kind of leapt out from behind a tree and grabbed me, so I squeaked and forgot about how I swore I would pummel him.
We sat down by some trees and I could see our window from here, so I think it was the same place I first saw the two of them kiss. That reminded me of the pummeling, but he looked like he really wanted to talk to me, so I figured I could let him talk before I let him have it.
"Look, I know you're kind of mad at me, Mike."
"Why would I be mad at you? You didn’t do anything to me."
"Yeah, I know that--"
"Do you? Because I don't think you should be talking to me. I think you should be talking to Kyle."
He started crying so I had a few misgivings about whether or not I should really hit him.
"I know. I know." He was holding his head in his hands. "But I--I really love Kyle. And I can't…and Harry will tell my brother if I--" He looked up, his eyes extra wide. "I need my family. I'm not like Kyle. He's so blasé about--I need them, Mike."
He sounded desperate. But I wasn't sure why he was telling me all this.
"Because I--I'm dating Sara. But I still love Kyle and it's going to be hard for him so I need you to be there for him. Because I can't be."
I told him I would and then while we were standing and he was about to hug me I punched him in the gut. Coach walked by and yelled at me, and stopped me before I could do anything foolish.
Then he told me I was on his shit list and how disappointed he was in me.
I didn’t like Paul much right then either.
Later that night Kyle tried to talk to him while Paul was getting ready. He had borrowed a car from one of his friends and was going out with Sara.
"Why are you wearing that shirt?"
"Because I want to look nice."
"I told you. I'm going to the movies with a friend."
"A friend," Kyle repeated, crossing his arms across his chest.
"Maybe I can come?"
"It's kind of a…you don't know these people, Ky. It'd be awkward for you." He made for the exit.
"Fine!" Kyle yelled after him.
I'd choose surly for a mood.
I made Kyle help me with my math homework even though I knew how to do it. I made him do his too. He hadn't been doing it lately.
When we went to bed, Paul still hadn't come back. When I woke up four hours later Kyle's bed was empty too. I groaned and rolled out of bed, pulling some sweats on. Kyle had taken to running--a lot--since the, I don't want to say break up since it was more of a brush off.
I had promised Paul I would look out for Kyle and I had sort of promised myself too, so I pulled on my running shoes and grabbed a flashlight to go out looking for Kyle.
I ran down our usual trail but didn't find him. It was cold, so after half an hour I decided to head back to school. If I found out the next morning that Kyle had fallen asleep in the snow and had frozen to death, I would blame Paul and tell the school how I had stayed outside for hours searching for him.
I wasn't about to run back down the trail again. Instead I figured I could cut across the parking lot at Sara's school, and take the smooth main road back to my school. In fifteen minutes I'd be home and in bed.
I was only half-surprised when I saw Paul fucking Sara in the back seat of his borrowed car.
I was less surprised to see Kyle sprinting down the main road back to school.
Kyle and I were both still up when Paul came back to the room. We were both pretending to be asleep too.
Okay, so I was pretending to be asleep. Kyle was just waiting for Paul to sit down so he could talk to him.
"You're back late," he said softly. I hoped the effort wasn't for me. I wanted to hear this.
Paul stripped and crawled into bed.
"Who was the girl?"
He swallowed. "Sara."
"How long have you been dating her?" I was surprised at how even Kyle's voice was.
"I'm not." Paul's, on the other hand, sounded broken and tired.
"How long have you been fucking her?"
Paul had the decency not to answer. He turned on his side, facing away from Kyle and his questions.
I watched Kyle slip out of his own bed and into Paul's and I willed him to stop, to get out. Because Kyle was the only one in this room that thought he still had a chance with Paul.
Kyle was murmuring things I couldn't hear and placing light kisses on Paul's neck and shoulder, and I wanted to scream at him to stop because Paul wasn't, which was so stupid and selfish of him. He was just lying there and he let Kyle roll him over. He let Kyle kiss his mouth and press kisses to his chest. He just let him straddle him and suck on his neck, and it wasn't fucking fair.
I didn't know whether to sigh in relief or cry when Paul finally pushed Kyle away.
Kyle did though.
Paul kept repeating, "I'm sorry," over and over. If he said, "I'm not like that," I would have walked over there and punched him despite the warning I had received from Coach that if I was caught fighting again, I'd be benched for at least one game.
I'm not sure how long I listened to Kyle cry for before I fell asleep.
"I did it with Jules last night."
A chorus of cheers went up in the locker room. Most of us were already dressed and stretching. A group of guys sitting next to Kyle and I were talking about their various escapades.
Steve was making up stupid shit about some ugly girl he had gone to a movie with. I felt kind of bad for him.
"So Erin won't go down on you?"
I concentrated on touching my toes.
"No, not for the last week or so. She doesn't even know how to do it right, so I'm thinking about dumping her."
Scott couldn't get head if he paid for it. I concentrated on the toes on my other foot.
"All of those high school girls are like that," John scoffed. "You have to teach them or they'll do it all wrong--all sloppy, their tongues flailing around, the--"
"Not all girls." Oh, fuck no. Please tell me that wasn't-- "My girlfriend, Sara, she's amazing. She does this thing with her--" Paul voice was pounding in my head it was so loud. It seemed to slow down and echo, rattling around obnoxiously, and so wrongly, in my head.
I didn't want to glance over at Kyle and see how he was taking it.
Paul kept on and on about Sara until Coach walked in and told us to hit the ice for warm ups. I'd never seen Kyle skate so hard before. I was afraid he'd wear himself out before the game.
I was wrong though.
Kyle got into a fight two minutes in, another one seconds after he made it out of the box, and was ejected before the period was half over.
Brooding. Or maybe depression?
Kyle's latest mood.
I walked him to classes which he didn’t participate in and stayed with him throughout the day. It was like, he just stopped caring and his apathy had spread concern down the grapevine--all the way to Fetters. John pulled him into his office, but Kyle emerged only minutes later, so I doubt they had a very long conversation, if any.
Fetters didn't try to talk to him again. Nobody did. I don't know, it was like everybody abandoned him, forgot about him, or brushed him off. So it was up to me to help him.
I recalled my first moments with Fetters and how annoyed I had been when he assumed I needed saving, but brushed them aside.
We walked downstairs and checked our mailboxes. I watched Kyle check his, find nothing inside, and then walk off. I turned my key and found a letter from my younger sister. Kyle was probably all right for a few minutes on his own, so I ripped the envelope open.
"Mike." Harry's voice interrupted my reading. I looked up to see Harry and the same two guys who had been toting water guns weeks earlier.
"Harry." I let my voice stay monotone. I thought it sounded cooler like that--more dangerous, like in the movies.
"You shouldn't hang around Kyle so much, Mike."
"Because he's weird. I mean, you know what he pulled on Paul. And now people are thinking--"
"I don't really care what other people are thinking."
"They're thinking that you're weird too. Paul says you're not, but with the company that you keep--"
I slammed my mailbox shut and wrenched my key out of the lock. "Why the fuck should I care what other people think?" I glared at them and they parted like the Red Sea, enabling me to make a smooth exit and go find Kyle before he did something stupid.
I was in John's office a week later.
He wanted to know what I thought about Kyle's outburst.
We had been reading something stupid and old in class and nobody had really been paying attention to it, so when John had asked us to explain its meaning we all came up with some pretty lame and half-assed ideas.
Except for Kyle.
He went on for a minute about it being about love and I was really proud of him. Proud of me too. He sounded like normal again.
And then he started yelling and screaming at Paul. Well, not at Paul directly. He was screaming about how one character, in the play we were reading, was really stupid for giving up on love. But everyone knew he was yelling at Paul, so it was kind of uncomfortable.
It got worse when Kyle stood on his desk and started screaming lines from the text.
I mean, the stuff was pretty boring and stupid in your literature book. But when an actual guy is screaming his guts out about how the world is a dull rock and he would rather die than live without his lady's love, it gets kind of scary.
I told John that Kyle was just really really into Chaucer.
John reminded me that we weren't reading Chaucer. Then he asked me about my mom.
I told him to fuck off and then left the room.
Kyle was demoted to the fourth line and wasn’t doing too well in school. It kind of freaked me out. But he was my friend and I had promised Paul. I suppose I had promised myself too.
Sometimes I wished that he would just cry. Crying meant he was hurting inside and I could understand that. I couldn't understand how he could act like this.
And crying…crying meant that maybe he finally realized that he and Paul were over.
So when I went upstairs to my room and found him crying at his desk, I was relieved.
"Kyle?" I broached softly.
"It's not fair," he said between sobs.
I sighed and moved across the room, towards his desk. "I know it's hard. And I know you're hurting. But Kyle…" I trailed off as he hunched over and continued to cry.
His desk was covered in papers and as he flexed his hands he crumpled and wrinkled them. I stroked the back of his head as I leaned forward to see what they were.
I recognized my handwriting.
They were my letters.
My fucking letters.
All the letters that I had written and hidden inside my sock drawer. I glanced to my side of the room to find my dresser raided. "My fucking letters!"
He looked up, still crying. "It's not fair. It's not fucking fair, Mike. I lose Paul. You lose--"
"Shut up! Shut up!" He had gone through my things. He had read my letters. The letters that I had written and been accumulating for the past year. He had read them. He had read my thoughts. And he had stolen them. From me, and from my mom. "Why--mine." I tried to string a sentence together to try and understand why he had done it.
"There's so much pain, Mike. It hurts so much. I love him. Why did he have to go away?"
I felt sick to my stomach and had to sit down on Kyle's bed. I was so fucking dizzy. He had stolen my thoughts. "My fucking letters!" I screamed again. But he wasn't paying attention. He just kept rambling on and on about Paul, and I was so fucking tired of it. How many friends had I lost because of him? How many times did I have to listen to people whisper and laugh at me because of him? Why did I have to take care of him? Nobody took care of me.
I was sick to death of Kyle and his relationship with Paul.
"What the fuck are you talking about?" I screamed, finally getting his attention.
"Paul," he said so matter of factly. "And that girl. I think--"
"No," I stopped him. "His girlfriend, Kyle. She's his girlfriend. Paul's with her and he's never going to be with you, so get over it."
I stood up. "It's over, Kyle."
"It's not," he yelled back. And I think it would have sounded real scary and 'Fatal Attraction' like if he hadn't sounded so broken. "He loves me and I love him--"
"He doesn't want you." We were in the middle of a screaming match. Each thinking the other could be convinced if only they screamed a little louder. "He wants a girl. He's not gay. He's not like you."
Kyle laughed almost bitterly. "Gay? You think I'm gay?"
I furrowed my brow. "Yeah."
"I'm not gay."
"But you're a guy. And you like Paul," I countered.
"Because we're fucking in love," he screamed at me. "I'm not gay. Paul's in love with me and I'm in love with him and it just works like that."
"He's fucking Sara. He loves her."
I was on the floor a moment later, wrestling with Kyle. He gained the upper hand easily, and was straddling me, his large hands around my neck. He was choking me and he didn't seem to care. His eyes were wild and I'd never been afraid of Kyle until that very moment. He'd done some scary shit, but I'd always been afraid that he would hurt himself--not me or someone else.
He stopped though.
I gasped and wheezed and rolled over onto my side, clawing the floor and thanking my lucky stars.
"Don't ever say that to me again, Squeaks."
His voice was low and his breath hot in my ear. It wasn't by any means threatening or angry. He sounded tired and sad, and if anything scared. But I knew he had chosen his words deliberately. So even if his voice betrayed a different emotion, his words made their intentions known.
I heard his feet pad across the floor and then the door click, closing.
The air had been sucked out of the room and I felt nothing as I made my way to my knees and over to his desk to retrieve my letters.
I stared at the papers, rubbing one between my thumb and forefinger. Kyle was right; it wasn't fair. It was so un-fucking-fair.
I thought momentarily about throwing them away or burning them, but in the end I just shoved them back into my lucky sock drawer.
The next morning I saw Kyle sitting in his usual spot. I saw Paul sitting in his now usual spot on the other side of the cafeteria.
I gripped my tray tighter when I saw Kyle staring at me. I knew he was sorry for the previous day. I knew that he was really scared by what he had done too. I knew that he needed me to sit next to him. I knew he needed a friend.
But I didn't care.
I sat down at another table with Eric and Lawson from the team and ate my waffles. We talked about the Sens and the Leafs, and how Eric was hot for some chick.
I glanced over at Paul and Kyle only once.
I thought the two of them were great. I thought they were so perfect for each other.
I, apparently, didn't know shit.
Weeks later Kyle jumped on my bed, waking me up. He had conveniently forgotten about the strangling incident and I chose not to remind him.
He was smiling though, so that threw me off. He held an envelope up to my face. "Read it for me."
I rubbed my eyes and ran my hand through my hair before opening the envelope. I glanced at the signature. "It's from your dad."
He nodded. "My mom sent him my letter. He finally wrote back. Read it to me." He was beaming.
"Dear Kyle," I looked up and smiled; he smiled back. "Please don't write to me. I have my own family…" I trailed off and looked at Kyle. "Do you want me to keep reading?"
He shook his head. I sighed and leaned back in bed, not knowing what to say to him.
He laid his head on my chest and we stayed like that until Paul walked in and I had to go to History.
Paul approached me later.
He was sniffling and sat down next to me while I was completing the required reading in John's class.
Emerson had my attention--not Paul and whatever he was quibbling over.
Sometimes it shocked me to look back and see what good friends we once were and where we were now. And whenever I looked back at those moments, I would sigh and let Paul pour his heart out to me because of them.
"Are you and Kyle going out now?"
Jesus Christ. When had I ever thought these guys were mature? "No."
"Oh." He paused and stared at his lap. "I still love him, you know," he whispered.
"Why are you telling me this, Paul?" I asked, annoyed. "Did you and Sara break up or something?"
"No, I--" he shook his head, stopping himself.
"You can't have it both ways, Paul. It's…" I searched my mind. "It's not fair to Kyle."
"Then grow up." I grabbed my books and left him sitting there to mull things over.
Grow up that is. And that really surprised me. He stopped dating Sara. He didn't stop dating her for Kyle. He stopped dating her for himself.
He moved out of the room too. We didn't get a new roommate though. No one wanted to move into the room with us.
While I was happy that Paul seemed to be making an effort to move on, I was worried that Kyle might get the wrong idea, especially the few days after Paul had broken up with Sara and still hadn't moved out.
Those worries dissipated when I saw Paul talking to Kyle.
I was reminded of my very first math class when I found them huddled on the ground by the foot of Paul's bed. Kyle held his knees to his chest, and Paul had an arm around his shoulders as he whispered things to Kyle.
I remembered the way Kyle had spoken up in class. I was so awed. They were so in love and I was so fucking awed. I never believed in that whole high school love thing, yet there it was, right in front of me. To dispute that would have been to dispute gravity.
And now, now they were just broken.
That day in math, I was sort of overwhelmed by it. I remembered smiling. It was one of those slap-your-knees-unbelievable kind of moments. It made me happy to see the two of them together. Love--it was just so beautiful, just so amazing to witness.
Against all these odds, they were together. It was the kind of magic I needed to see. Kyle's parents were messed up, Paul's parents were messed up, and my parents…well, it was really nice seeing two people so alive and in love with one another.
It no longer overwhelmed me though. It kind of hurt to watch the two of them together too. Things had changed, yet were so terribly the same. They may not have been together, but…
But you know, that doesn't really matter. If you ask Kyle today if that "but" matters, he might hem haw around the answer and tell you that it means something and helps, but I don't think it really does. I think it just makes it hurt more.
So when I saw them I wanted to… I'm not sure. I'm not sure as to whether I wanted to lock the door and keep them like that forever or if I wanted Paul to hurry up and move his things downstairs.
Because as much as I wanted to go back in time when things were simple and I was amazed by the two of them, we couldn't. It didn't seem fair to drag out a moment that couldn't possibly last.
So I didn't do anything.
I left the room and wrote another letter to my mom.
We didn't go far into the playoffs, losing in the first round. Kyle never really recovered after slumping because of his problems with Paul. His effort improved, but his point total didn't.
I was to receive some kind of trophy or plaque for being the most improved player on the team. We were having a ceremony and everything. Everybody's parents were showing up.
It was a big deal so Kyle and I ironed our shirts and busted out the pants that were tailored properly.
Kyle's step dad and mom couldn't make it so he was going to hang out with me and my dad. Paul's dad and step mom could, and according to Paul, wouldn't miss it for the world. Especially since he was receiving the MVP honors.
The banquet began, but my dad still hadn't shown. I was sitting with Paul and the Martins--Kyle had run off somewhere.
"I'm sure he's just stuck in traffic."
"Yeah, traffic's really bad around here."
"Especially around this hour."
"Well, not this hour."
"But we're kind of getting close to that time when traffic is bad, so…"
I muted out their very bad attempts at making me feel better. I received my award and thanked my teammates, my coach, John (because it made him smile and in the recent weeks, I had sort of taken to being his friend and stopping by his office to talk about my mom), my lucky socks, and my mom.
I raised the trophy over my head and faked a grin, and everybody cheered for me.
Paul went on and on about his dad in his speech. Everyone knew it was bullshit, but it made his dad tear up. I thought that was kind of cool. You know, in that fucked up way when your father doesn't show up at the end of the season banquet and you win an award and purposely don't thank him.
After the awards you were supposed to hang out with your parents, but since mine and Kyle's were both awol, we stuffed sodas in our pockets and headed out on the trail we ran on. We sat down in a grassy spot under some trees.
I didn't let myself cry in front of my teammates at the banquet. I didn't let myself cry in front of the Martins. So I certainly wasn't letting myself cry in front of Kyle. It didn't matter that we were all alone and that Kyle had cried in front of me before.
I wasn't going to cry.
"That was a really shitty thing your dad did."
"Same with your parents."
He shrugged and opened a soda. "Yeah, but they told me they weren't coming."
"He could be stuck in traffic."
We gulped our sodas down.
"You're real brave, Mike."
I crushed the empty soda can in my hand. I fought back the tears burning behind my eyes. I didn't feel so brave. Brave people didn't feel like crying when their fathers got "stuck in traffic." Brave people didn't cry in John Fetters' office. Brave people didn't cry when their mothers--
I cracked open another soda. "I think you're real brave too, Kyle."
He ended up crying on my shoulder. We drank two more sodas, broke my trophy against the tree, and cursed at our fathers several times before heading back to the dorms.
Finals came and went, and the sun turned the once dead and snow-covered grass to vibrant greens, and then dusty yellow and brown. I was the last person to leave our wing of the school.
The cabbie placed my bags in his trunk, and I rode in the back as he took me to the airport. Months before I'd been in the same position--watching the trees and houses whip by.
I recognized them all. The weather was different, and had changed them a bit--weathered paint here, trees had sprouted there--but things were basically the same.
I had called them memories--someone else's stories waiting to be told. I knew some of them now, and had created some of my own during the school year. We flew by McDuff's house and the tree we had run into, or rather crashed into, with Alex's car.
A school year, a hockey season, had passed. And on the surface everything seemed to be the same.
But really, I knew more about Mississauga than I had before. I knew more about the OHL. I knew more about hockey. I knew more about friends and roommates. I knew more about relationships. I knew more about love.
I knew more about me.
I was Michael B. I was brave.
I had just completed my first year as an Ice Dog. And for now, that was enough. Because not everything can be learned, not everything can be fixed, not everything can be healed in one hockey season.
But there's always next season.