Because of the heavy swim training schedule, not to mention studying for exams, Kyle's and my sparring sessions in the mornings had gone by the way. Sometimes I'd hit the bag during recess, but not often. And during the week, I'd do weights at the gym.
"You're looking pretty damn buff."
"Effort equals reward."
I never quite knew how to react to Kyle's observations of my bod. It wasn't just that he noticed, it was more of an admiration thingy. OK, so I enjoyed being admired but, at the same time, it made me feel awkward. It was when I was alone, and checking myself in the mirror, that I was able to feel comfortable about my progress. It was personal achievement that I was able to measure, but not necessarily something that I wanted to show off to others. To me, too much attention from other dudes was an intrusion into my personal space.
Kyle was learning about my moods, though. When he began to question me about things I didn't wanna talk about, I'd glare at him and he'd clam up. He was becoming more curious about my mom's boyfriend, and what kinda effect the asshole was having on me. Well, the dude was taking over at home, and that pissed me off big time. It was also something I didn't wanna discuss with Kyle, and he knew it.
"I spoke to Ross about your being late for swim prac the other morning. I told him that you had a lotta shit to do before you leave home, and that you're hardly ever late for anything."
"I can handle my own affairs, Kyle."
"Yeah, right. You guys were getting so fucking aggro, I thought there was gonna be a major fisty."
"So it's like you're a walking fucking mystery! You don't explain things -- none of the guys know what's going on."
"It's none of their fucking business, anyway."
Sure, Kyle was nosey, and always meddling, but his motive was cool. He genuinely wanted to be my friend. Ironically, that was the problem -- I wasn't used to that kinda thing, and I didn't know how to handle his concern. Most times, my automatic reaction was to brush him off -- to be abrasive and aloof. How the fuck he handled my aggro moods, I'd never know. But I was kinda glad he did, even though I was reticent to show any appreciation. That would be a sign of weakness.
Apart from my moods, the pressure of schoolwork and swimming wasn't helping matters, either. For some days, I spent the whole of recess catching up on assignments, so I didn't get to see a lot of Kyle. I was a pretty good student, but there was no substitute for hard work, a fact that I'd already proven with boxing and swimming. Besides, I figured good grades would be my ticket to a better life, and a life away from my mom's asshole boyfriend.
One morning, a dude named Darren was helping the junior team. Darren had left school the previous year to go to college, but he was still popular with the team, and Kyle was full of praise for the guy. They'd gone on those hiking/camping trips together. Anyway, Darren was giving the juniors hell, making sure they didn't think that swim prac was gonna be some piece of cake. "This is all about winning, guys, so get your lazy asses in that pool and show me what you can do!"
After swim prac, I was waiting for the other guys to finish showering when Kyle hassled me. "Hey, I don't wanna be late for class, Mark, so get movin'."
"It's cool, Kyle. You go ahead and shower."
"Hey, c'mon, if anyone tries to rape you, I'll help."
"Who? Them or me?"
It was pointless arguing with my bud. The convo would only have gotten around to my being shy or whatever and I wasn't gonna get involved in that shit, so I followed him into the showers. I felt as though every pair of eyes was glued to my bod, and I wanted outa that place. But I was trapped. At least I had the comfort of Kyle's presence at the shower next to mine.
"Hey, don't worry about all the other guys getting boners. They're not for you. They're for me," he laughed, then stared at my semi. "You don't crack a boner as easily as some of the guys do. They seem to sprout as soon as they take off their briefs or Speedos."
"Can you talk about something else?"
"You're pretty well hung, though."
There were times when Kyle's persistence made me crack, even though I didn't wanna. And, 'cause I didn't wanna, I'd laugh all the more. He had the devil in him, for sure. He was the only guy who could check out my cock without risking losing his teeth. For some reason, his interest was more of a compliment than anything else, and his attention wasn't intrusive. Weird.
"Hey, did you hear the weather forecast? The wind's gonna change to north east tomorrow, and that means surf! Cool, huh?"
"Cool for you. I hope you're not too tired for the Halloween party."
"What are you coming as?"
"Wait and see."
I was at Carol's place when I asked her to add the finishing touches to my crow costume. Well, it wasn't a hired one -- just a black, sleeveless vest that I'd grown out of a while back, and that was skin tight, and a pair of tight, black jeans. Carol added a bit of black makeup to my face. She and Steph had gone ballistic, both looking like something outa Frankenstein. Carol's hair had been died like five different colors!
When we arrived at the party, everybody was totally outasight. Kyle was trying to be anonymous, leaping about the place in a black cape and ghost mask, but nothing could hide that trademark, spiky black hair. He eyed my skin-tight vest a few times, and I thought he was gonna make a comment about my muscles, but he was pretty subdued and discreet with Steph around. The one to take the cake, though, was Steve who came as the hulk. He was covered in green body paint, and wore a torn t and torn shorts. He was more of a mini hulk, though -- built, but not that built. He made everybody crack, 'cause they'd never seen the hulk with long, blonde hair before.
The party was a total rave, but was spoiled by the rest of the weekend. My mom's boyfriend had gotten up to his usual asshole tricks. How I wished he'd just fucking disappear.
I was so pissed off on the Monday, that I couldn't hide my dark mood from Kyle. Not that I really made an effort to. When I was feeling that way, nothing could lift me outa my depression. To make matters worse, I was late for swim prac.
I knew that Kyle was itching to know why I was so pissed, especially since I'd been raving on Saturday night at the Halloween party. He was obviously curious about my sudden change of mood, but I hardly said a word all day -- and he had the good sense to let me be.
That night, I felt kinda guilty about the way I'd treated my bud. After all, it wasn't his fault that my mom had a dickhead boyfriend. So I picked up the phone and punched in Kyle's number.
"Hey, Kyle, it's me."
"You feeling better now?"
"Kinda. Anyway, I just thought I'd call and see how you're doing."
We didn't talk for long, and the convo wasn't about anything in particular. I just wanted him to know that I was sorry for being in a shitty mood all day, even though I didn't exactly apologize. But I figured he knew me well enough to realize that a phone call was my way of telling him that I appreciated having him around, even if I didn't show it sometimes.
One of the great things about being on the swim team was that it allowed me to focus wholly on my performance, to the exclusion of the shit that had happened at home. It was an escape. By Tuesday I was powering through the water something fierce, and enjoying it big time.
The next day, Kyle and I were selected to compete against each other in the butterfly -- one on one. When we reached the wall, I practically shoved my finger up his nose in anger. "Don't … don't you ever fucking do that again!" I snarled.
"Kick outa beat while we're racing."
"Don't fuck with me, Kyle. I don't need you to fuck with me. I'll beat you fair and fucking square in a race, but don't treat me like a fucking cunt and let me win, or I'll fucking cream you."
I hauled myself outa the pool and left Kyle standing there like a fucking dork while Ross gave him a piece of his mind. "If I was Mark, I would've fucking smacked you -- one time."
"So? You wanna try, huh?" Kyle had become defensive. He knew that he'd done wrong, and was trying to bluff his way outa being found guilty.
"Don't push it, Kyle. I can have you off the team."
"Yep, but that would be a chickenshit move just 'cause you're too scared to smack me."
"You know and I know that I'm not scared. But you also know that I wanna be the swim captain next year. Are you trying to fuck that up for me?"
Kyle had painted himself into a corner. "Enough, already. Mark's been feeling down lately and I thought I was doing him a favor."
"Yeah, well you have. You've fucked up the confidence he's been trying to build up all season."
I could see that Kyle was devestated, but I was still mad as hell at him. We spoke again at recess.
"Sorry," he said softly, with a hangdog look in his hazel eyes. "You weren't supposed to see that missed kick."
"Yeah, and the whole fucking team, too! How the fuck was I supposed to feel, huh?"
"Hey, I was just trying…"
"I know what you were trying, Kyle," I said, softening my attitude. "Stop. We're friends, but shit like that doesn't help anyone. And I'm sorry for this morning. I've got few friends as it is without driving you away."
"Me? Away?" The cheeky sparkle had returned to his eyes. "No way! I like your bod too much."
Well, that was one sure way to put a smile on my face. "You're totally fucking crazy. Cool. But way damn crazy."
"It's worth it just to see you smile. You've got the most wicked fucking smile, Mark."
Kyle had often remarked on my smile. But whenever I tried to simulate it in the mirror at home, I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Maybe it had to be spontaneous. He said my eyes sparkled. But I couldn't get the damn things to sparkle in front of the mirror. It would have been cool to be Kyle for a day to see myself as he did. He obviously recognized things about me that I couldn't -- or didn't wanna. And it seemed that no amount of discouragement from me could lessen his… love for me? He had to love me. What other reason could there be for his persistence? He was a bit like Carol in that regard. She'd also put up with my moods, but stick around in spite of them. So what was it about me that they saw, and that I couldn't? How were they able to penetrate my defences while nobody else could? X-ray vision? Did they change clothes in telephone booths? And why was it that after I'd been mad at Kyle for whatever, I'd get the guilts? That wasn't me! That's wasn't Mark! I wasn't the type to apologize to any fucker. Yeah, right. Wasn't.
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