The school holidays were OK, I guess. I did well in the junior boxing tournament, dated Carol a few times, hung out with a couple of the guys, the usual shit. But, most of all, it was an excuse for my mom to give me a bunch of chores to do around the house. Even though I was a teen, I'd been dubbed the honorary man of the house, and had to take on responsibilities that would normally have been my father's. But he wasn't around. He'd split long ago. And mom's boyfriend wasn't exactly a big help either. It was still up to me to help with shopping, repairs and other household jobs.
On the weekend before end of vacation, I was out clubbing with my girlfriend when some fuckwit tried to make out with her while I was getting drinks. I immediately saw red and flattened the dude -- but not before he got in a lucky punch.
"Don't you know how to settle disputes without your fists?" my mom asked.
"Fists are faster and more permanent."
She just shook her head and babbled on about how my temper was gonna get me into big trouble one day. Hell, I'd already been in big trouble plenty of times. I could handle myself OK.
"Oh, yes, you handled yourself just fine when you landed in hospital after those thugs beat you up."
"Chill, mom. OK? You don't understand guys, that's all."
"Oh, no? I married one, remember? And I've got a son who's one!"
"That's not the same thing, mom. A guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do."
Being back at school wasn't all that bad. Some of the teachers sucked big time, but it was cool to see the guys again. Naturally, they remarked on my black eye. "Some lamo tried to hit on my chick. That's all."
"And what happened to him?"
"He won't try it again."
The team was back into serious swim training 'cause the winter champs were coming up soon against a bunch of schools, but I still managed to find time to hit the bag every morning. Kyle was waiting for me when I arrived at the gym.
"Your eye's still looking pretty swollen, Mark. Was it worth it?"
"Fuck, Kyle, you're lucky it wasn't you! I totally fucking lost it. And that guy will think again."
"Looks like he got a punch in."
"Yeah, his last fucking punch before I trashed his brains."
"You've got a short fucking fuse, huh?"
"Nope. Just don't mess with me. Simple."
"So how come you didn't beat me up when you had the chance that time?"
"'Cause you're a fucking wuss, Kyle, and I didn't wanna make you cry."
"Yeah, fucking right! Take this!" The little asshole jabbed me right in the breadbox. I think he hit me harder than he'd meant to, so I took it as a joke.
"That was a lucky punch, man, but you won't be so lucky in the pool this arvie. I'm gonna drown you."
Over dinner that night, mom was giving me the third degree about shit that was going down at school. "And this Kyle boy. You've mentioned him quite often lately."
"He's OK, I guess."
"Sounds more than OK to me, son. He spars with you every morning in the gym. What's he like?"
"Not much of a boxer, but he's learning. He's got courage, though. The little shit never knows when to give up."
"You obviously respect him, and it's the first time I've ever heard you talk about another boy without being unnecessarily derisive or just plain critical."
"He's not a best bud or anything like that, if that's what you're thinking, mom. He's just a guy I spar with, that's all."
"Well, he sounds like a nice boy. If you'd like to invite him around sometime, he'd be very welcome."
Later, in my room, I shadow boxed in front of the mirror. I was pretty happy with my technique and figured I could go a long way in the sport, especially when I'd gotten to senior grade. I was proud of my bod, too. Carol was always running her hands over my muscles, oohing and aahing as though I was some kinda boy god. "Maybe she's right," I said to myself as I checked my reflection. "Maybe she's right."
There were many times at the pool or in the showers when guys would notice me, but not say anything. I guess we all eyed each other's bods -- not in a sexual way, but I suppose in a competitive way, sizing up each other like cock birds before a fight. If you happened to have a better bod than most, you automatically got respect. It was the kinda admiration that made you feel like strutting your stuff, and parading your bod at every opportunity. And why not? I didn't work my fucking butt off keeping fit just to hide my bod in some Eskimo fur.
With Kyle, though, it wasn't quite the same. In the gym, he would look at me differently to the way the other guys did. It wasn't just outa respect or admiration, but outa some kinda weird reverence, as though I was his hero or something. Did he think I was some kinda boy god, too? In any case, it felt good to have him around. He bolstered my ego like no other dude ever had.
I couldn't wait for the next morning's sparring session. I was feeling pretty tense and aggro so, once Kyle and I were in the ring, I gave the dude a pretty rough time -- not too rough, though. He was my only sparring partner outside of the team, so I didn't wanna scare him off.
"Just as well as I was wearing headgear, Mark," he laughed as he removed his gloves and gumguard. "You would've knocked my fucking block off. As it is I've got a graze on my ribs from your glove laces."
I didn't bother answering him as we headed for the showers. I was pretty sweaty after the workout, so it was wicked to feel the hot water running down my body as I soaped myself.
"Don't get pissed at me, Mark, but there's something I wanna know."
"How come you look like you're in a shitty mood all the time?"
"Just a few hassles I'm trying to sort out, dude."
"Anything you wanna talk about?"
"Nope. Anyway, it's personal stuff. It's no biggie. I didn't even realize I always looked in a fucked up mood until you said so. Guess you're trying to figure out why I beat you up this morning."
"Yeah, right! Who beat who?"
"Hey, in a real match, I'd flatten you in a fucking flash. Don't push it, dude."
"See what I mean? You're getting aggro again."
"I'm not, man," I protested. "That's just being me. Stop trying to see something that's not there."
"How's the eye?"
"It's cool. Bruise has almost gone."
I wasn't in the mood to chat after that, but I made sure I moved my body around in such a way as to give Kyle a good look. If he got a thrill outa gawking at me, that was cool with me. In a way, his attention eased the shit that was going on in my brain.
The next morning, I flattened the poor dude. I saw his hands go down for a second and I hooked him. He landed flat on his ass. "That'll teach you to keep your hands up next time, Kyle." Part of me felt sorry for him, but boxing was about putting your opponent out of action, not about offering him flowers every time he hit the canvas. Besides, I'd never had a really close bud before, and this was foreign territory for me. I didn't know how to be affectionate or whatever with a guy. Girls were different. You acted macho and did all the hunky guy stuff and they just tagged along. It was a whole bunch easier than trying to be friends with a guy.
"Have you asked that nice Kyle boy to visit yet?"
"No, mom, not yet. I'm kinda working up to it. I don't want it to sound wrong."
"What on earth could be wrong with asking a friend to visit? I don't understand you at all, Mark."
"It's a guy thing."
"No, it's not a guy thing. It's a Mark thing. You're afraid that he might say no, and you couldn't handle that. Well, you can't play it safe all your life, Mark. You have to reach out sometimes -- take a chance. The boy likes you -- trust me. Women know about these things."
From time to time over the weekend I tried to figure how I should ask Kyle to visit. What if he said no? What if he was too busy? What if I sounded like I wanted something? Fuck it. It was all too fucking hard. I was better off without any real friends.
Monday morning rolled around and Kyle and I were at it once again in the ring. This time, though, I went a bit easier on him, then we hit the showers.
"Is Carol your steady?"
"We go out, that's all. My last steady gave me too much grief. I just play the field now, and go out with who ever I wanna."
"Is she the one you got beaten up for?"
"Yep. But half of it was 'cause I wanted to beat up on that guy, anyway. The asshole was needling me all night."
"Why are you so fucking aggro all the time?"
"I'm not really. I just want the guys to think I am so that they leave me alone."
"Why fucking why? Enough with the fucking third degree already! Fuck!"
"Hey, cool it. OK?"
"Fuck -- sorry."
"See what I mean?"
I glared at the spiky-haired bastard but, at the same time, I knew he was right. I shouldn't have exploded like that. He was just being friendly, which was something I had to get used to.
"Hey, Mark," he said after he'd turned off the taps and began to towel himself, "your eye's looking a stack better. Maybe I need to convince you to grow your hair a bit longer."
"I like it shaved."
"Makes you look mean, but I know that you're not really mean. Sure, you get aggro sometimes, but..."
"Hey, Kyle, you wanna come around to my house after swim training this arvie?"
"Oh! I'll probably be going surfing with Steve and the guys."
I knew it! I fucking knew it! He said no just like I figured he would! "K, it's no biggie," I lied, then towelled my head to hide my disappointment. I should never have asked. Damn!
"But I can come around afterwards if that's OK."
"Don't worry about it, man. You're busy. That's cool."
"I'd like to, honest."
I took the towel away from my face and studied his sweet smile and hazel eyes. "You would? Cool. But only if you wanna." There was no way that I was gonna let the fucker know how excited I was -- and the fact that I was excited had taken me completely by surprise. This was totally weird! What the hell was going on here?
"Mark? What are you doing?"
"Just tidying up the house, mom."
"What on earth for? And why the rush?"
"Kyle's gonna visit."
"Well, that's lovely, darling, but he's not the Queen of England."
"I wouldn't be going to all this trouble if he was."
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