The first day back at school after summer vac was basically about orientation. Paul, Freddie, Jo and I shared a lotta the same classes, which was cool. And Greg had transferred from his previous school to ours. But it wasn't until the next day that we started swim training. It was just so damn wicked to be with the guys again and hitting the pool, and having the coach yell at us 'cause we weren't up to scratch. That wasn't a real prob, though -- the teams from the other schools would be suffering the same fate, and we had a couple of months to reach our peak before the next comp.
Paul and I were eating our lunch during recess when Lindy approached us. "You guys seen Greg anywhere?"
"Nope. Thought he was with you."
"Maybe he's still finding his way around. Mind if I join you?" she asked as she sat beside us and investigated the contents of her lunch box. "By the way, the girls wanna know if you're gonna keep the show going in the showers -- y'know, the peep hole."
"Don't you wanna know as well?"
"Maybe," she grinned as she took a bite of her apple.
"Are you saying that Greg has spoiled you? That you don't need to gawk at me anymore?"
"No, that's not what I'm saying. Anyway, Greg's a lot different to you -- he's not an exhibitionist."
"Have you told him about my 'shows'?"
"Are you kidding? He'd freak!"
"I don't think so. We've had some long talks. He thinks I'm crazy, but he also thinks I'm cool."
"Maybe you can talk him into giving us a show, too."
"Yeah, right. Greg? He's not in the swim team. Besides, I honestly don't think he knows how awesome he is."
"I've gotta go," Paul announced as he stood. "See you guys later." Within seconds, he'd disappeared into the crowd of students.
"What's eating him?" Lindy wanted to know.
"Dunno exactly. He seemed pissed, though."
"Is he jealous of Greg?"
"Probably. Hey, what can I do? I've got some totally wicked friends, and I talk about them. Is that a crime?"
"Do you ever talk about Paul?"
Just then, we heard some kinda commotion in the school quad, and went to investigate. A group of students was standing in a circle around a couple of guys fighting. One of them was Paul. I shouldered my way through the crowd, grabbed Paul and held him. Lindy locked the other guy in some martial arts thingy to prevent him from moving. "What the fuck is this all about?" I demanded.
"That asshole bumped me."
"It was an accident," the other dude protested. "The little shit went off the fucking deep end for no reason."
Before we knew it, a teacher had arrived on the scene and marched the two adversaries off to the headmaster's office. I found out later that Paul was given a choice -- either to be suspended for three days or accept punishment from his folks. He chose to be grounded for a week.
After swim training, Paul and I were the last two guys to shower. "What's bugging you, man?"
"You and all your shit about leashes."
"You said that you didn't have to put a leash on Kyle 'cause he'd always come back when you whistled."
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"You! When I whistle, you chew my ear about Greg or Kyle or Jimothy or Josh or who-fucking-ever. It's like I don't even exist! I love you, dammit! Don't you understand that?"
What was I to do? He was bawling his eyes out under the shower. Should I have held him and comforted him? What would I say? That I loved him, too? I did, but not exclusively. "Let's talk about it later. I'll come around to your house after dinner."
"Does that mean you can't have visitors?"
"I'll check with mom and phone you."
Over dinner, Greg remarked on the incident at school and, naturally, mom wanted to know every damn detail. "It's not like Paul to get involved in a fight, Daniel."
"He made a mess of me once."
"And you never told me why."
"Nothing's changed," I grinned.
Later, it was my turn to do the dishes, and mom took advantage of Greg's and Andy's absence to quiz me. "I'm sure you know what's wrong with Paul -- you're his best friend."
"That's the prob, mom. He thinks he owns me."
"And if you wipe that plate for much longer, you'll wear it out."
"Sorry, mom. I guess I'm worried about Paul."
"Well, Daniel, you remind me so much of your father. He was very popular, too, and he often put peoples' noses out of joint for that very reason."
"So how did he solve the prob?"
"He didn't. It wasn't his problem to solve."
"Were you jealous of his friends?"
"Yes, I was at first. It seemed to me at the time that he was constantly surrounded by people, and I felt shut out."
"Did you tell him?"
"Yes, I did, and not very diplomatically, either. I told him that if he wasn't interested in me, he could damnwell find somebody else."
"Well, I'm here, so he must've changed his mind."
"No, I changed mine."
"I came to the conclusion that I was in love with your father because of who and what he was, and that included his being popular. I had to accept the fact that he was the kind of person who could make friends easily, and was almost always surrounded by them. But then something dawned on me."
I stacked another plate in the cupboard, then began to dry the next. "Like?"
"Well, I realized that I was at the top of a pretty impressive heap. I mean, consider the alternative. If your father had had very few friends, what would that have said about me?"
"But Paul isn't at the top -- he's equal."
"Equal is good. But is he aware of it?"
"I guess not."
"Then tell him. Some people need to be told -- they need to have their self esteem boosted or reinforced from time to time because they're a little more sensitive or fragile than others. It's not a defect, it's just part of being human."
"But what if he wants to be more than equal?"
"Then, in this case, he's asking too much. You can only give him what you're prepared to give, and no more. To give more would be a lie. People aren't like cakes, Daniel. They can't be cut up into slices and handed around. And no single person can lay claim to the whole cake. Do you understand?"
"I think so -- I sure hope Paul does."
Paul answered the door, then led me to his room. "I guess I should thank you for pulling me off that dude today. And I'm sorry about losing my rag this afternoon."
"It's OK, man. Nobody's perfect."
"Not even Greg or Jimothy?"
"You couldn't resist that one last jibe, could you. No, they're not perfect. Have I ever said that they were?"
"You make out like they are."
"'Cause I admire them? 'Cause I talk about them? Hey, I talk about you, too, man. Listen up, I had a long chat with mom tonight."
"You told her what I said in the showers?"
"Chill. No, I didn't tell her that." Anyway, I went on to tell Paul about mom and how it was with my dad before they were married. "So, does all that make sense to you?"
"I guess it does."
"So tell me what you're thinking, 'cause I'm not sure that I really understand it myself."
"I think what your mom's saying is that if I had you all to myself, then you wouldn't be the same person anymore -- and that what I'd end up with is not what I wanted in the first place."
He bowed his head, and his hair flopped over his forehead. "To be the best bud of the most awesome dude I know."
"Lemme tell you something, Paul." I put my finger under his chin and raised his eyes to mine. "I've always thought you ruled something awesome. We're about as close as any two guys can get. We're like bros."
"But you don't love me."
"Not like you want me to, not exclusively. Can you handle that?"
"I guess I have no choice."
"Hey, let's forget all this fucking shit. We're teens, man. Life us supposed to be fun! Hey, lemme blow you before I go home."
"And that's supposed to make everything OK?"
"What the fuck's wrong with you, bro? You got PMT or something? Listen, why don't you just gimme a big hug?" Well, he did. He threw his arms around my shoulders and nestled his face in the crook of my neck. "Hey, Paul," I said softly, "it's OK if you love me. It's a fucking big compliment, 'cause there's a lotta guys who think you rule -- except maybe the guy you decked today at school."
"Yeah, I guess that was a pretty dumb thing to do."
"You gonna apologize?"
"K, dude," I said as I ran my fingers through his soft, jet black hair, "here's the plan. You think about all the stuff my mom said, and about the shit we've talked about, and I'll be here again tomorrow to give you the best fucking blow job you've ever had. You can look forward to it. Now gimme a kiss."
It was a long, lingering kiss, but a gentle one. Neither of us got a boner, so I guessed that the affection we were expressing was the most important thing. "Thanks," he smiled as our lips peeled apart. "I really needed that."
"It's cool, bro. Now make sure you save up your juice for tomorrow night. I wanna be drowning in that stuff."
When I'd arrived home, mom, Greg and Andy were enjoying a nightcap under the stars around the barbecue area. Naturally, mom wanted to know how Paul was doing. "He's chilling OK. I'm gonna see him again tomorrow night."
Andy poured some cola into an ice-filled glass and offered it to me. "Nancy told me what happened. Y'know, I haven't known you very long, Daniel, but I've seen the kind of influence you have on people -- including Greg. I'm not surprised that people want to attach themselves to you."
"Hey, I'm nothing special," I said in an attempt to diffuse the focus.
"According to them you are, and I think I know why." The focus was now on Andy, as if he were gonna make some kinda major statement, but I knew that I was soon gonna be glowing redder than any damn beet. "It's your naturalness. It's infectious. You present yourself as you are with no apologies. Most people are afraid to do that. They're inhibited. They create personas to disguise the real them. But not Daniel. What you see is what you get," he laughed. "And that's what attracts people."
"Heck! That ain't so special. Anybody can be themselves. Doesn't take a genius to figure that."
"It's not as easy as you think, Daniel, but you're setting an example -- and the best way to teach others is by example. Example is far more powerful than words could ever be."
I rattled the ice cubes around in the bottom of the glass to provide an excuse for me to study something other than the faces surrounding me. "Jeez, Andy, you make it all sound so damn important. Hell, I'm just being me."
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Diary Part 116