Tick!

Thursday: 2:55 PM

“Alright, there. Now we have each others numbers. Feel free to text me any questions you have about the school, or classes, or whatever. But moving on to the gyms. One is used for P.E. class and the other is used for sports like volleyball and basketball. Oh, but I’m gonna stop by the locker rooms real quick and check in with my coach—make sure he knows that I’m late only because I’m showing you around,” Patrick told Chris before he dipped into his coach’s office.

“Oh, well if you’re late you don’t have to—” Chris spoke up but Patrick had already started talking to his coach. Chris looked in at Patrick for a second before he was distracted by by a thumping bass muffling the sound of laughter. As Chris stared down the hallway at the source, Patrick emerged from the office.

“Oh, did you want to see the locker rooms, too? Sure thing. Do you play any sports? Mr. Dunley told me you’re a junior. I’m a senior, by the way. I’m sure Mr. Dunley would love for you to try out for track. You’d probably win sectionals by next year. You seem like you’re probably pretty quick, being so skinny and all. Which, ya know, isn’t a bad thing. Everybody’s different. Fast is good—is all I meant.” Chris wasn’t offended, though. He was just happy that Patrick felt comfortable talking to him.

“Well, here we are. These idiots are my teammates. We’re all on the basketball team. We’re 5-0 so far. I think we’ve got a good chance at states this year. Me and Mike are captains. We’re the two highest scorers in the county. Although I should be ahead by a lot more. Sorry, I don’t mean to drone on. I just get really into this stuff. Here, I’ll introduce you to everybody.” Patrick told Chris before addressing the rest of the room.

“Yo, who picked this music? Was it Tommy again? Man, this is trash. I’m gone for one day and this team stoops to Lil Pump?” The whole room smiled at Patrick, except for Tommy, who did his best not to look embarrassed. Patrick gave Tommy a playful grin, then started pointing out different team members.

“Chris, this is Joey. That’s Dan, Ryan, Jake, Brendan but we all call him Dubs. Uh, Jimmy, Ryan but we all call him Ryno so we don’t get the two Ryan’s confused. Yeah, and uh, anybody seen Mike?” Patrick looked around the room and only saw suffocated grins. Then he knew exactly where Mike was. Mike was always trying to make the room laugh, no matter the cost. Patrick felt a hand grab at his pants, then the subzero slugs slither across his ass cheeks. He jumped to his tiptoes and removed the ice cubes from his pants as quickly as he could. He started to smile, trying to play along with Mike’s practical joke, just like everyone else in the room was, until he saw that Chris had been the butt of the joke as well. Patrick’s smile died as he looked at Chris’ eyes.

Chris reached into his pants to remove the ice, just like Patrick had done. Except instead of dropping the ice to the floor, Chris flung the ice into Mike’s face. Mike recoiled at first, but then slowly wiped the ice from his brow. Patrick waited for Mike’s eyelids to reveal his eyes, feeling in his gut that somebody was about to get hurt. When Mike’s eyes were unveiled, they seemed eager to embrace a foe.

Mike grabbed Chris by the waist and flung him into the closest lockers. Chris’ head whipped backward, sounding off a metallic clunk! as it met the cold locker. Chris ignored the stinging at the back of his head and drove his knee into Mike’s groin. Mike smiled at the pain, high on the resilience of his enemy. He cocked back a fist and threw it into Chris’ ribs, just before Patrick had finally found the right timing to squeeze between the two dueling bodies. He shoved Mike away.

“Whoa! Sorry, Pat. Does Jenna know you and the new kid are gay for each other? Hey, I’m—I’m sorry—that was too much. My bad, truly. Chris was it? I’m sorry, most faggots I know are into that sort of thing.” Mike never shifted his gaze from Chris. He bobbed his head, trying to urge Chris to return his stare. Chris finally did, greeting Mike with his own smirk. Mike’s smile curled tighter at its corners.

“Guess you’re pretty popular in the gay circle then, huh?” Mike’s fist balled, ready for another chance at the feisty new kid, but Patrick had already grabbed Chris by the shoulder and pushed him out of the locker room.

“Oh, man. That’s not good. Hopefully Coach doesn’t hear anything about this. We’ll be running sprints for the next month. Mike isn’t the best guy to have as your enemy, you know.” Patrick tried to create conversation, feeling a little like he’d led Chris into the lion’s den.

“How can you be friends with that fucking prick? And I didn’t do anything to him. He’s the one with a fucking problem. I can’t choose whether he decides to put ice down my pants or not.” Chris paused, sighed, then quietly muttered, “Let’s just get on with the tour.” Chris wished he could say more to Patrick. To Chris, Patrick seemed like someone who might listen to him; to just sit there with open ears, devoid of the venomous fangs of judgement everyone else seemed to have dripping over their tongues. Chris shook the thought from his head, feeling the pulsating pain rippling over the back of his scalp. Why would he care? Chris asked himself the question just as Patrick spoke up again and interrupted his train of self-deprecating thoughts.

“I’m sorry. Sure thing. Moving on to the cafeterias.”

Thursday: 7:45 PM

Patrick flung his backpack into the corner when he walked into his house. He was exhausted from his basketball practice and needed to eat. He was trying to bulk up before he finished high school and he was counting his calories. 3,600 calories a day for a 180 pound man, is what he read online. Of course Patrick was only 170 pounds, but when it came to sports, he considered himself an overachiever. He turned the corner and found his grandfather sitting in his chair watching an old rerun of a Yankees/Sox game.

“Aren’t the Celtics playing tonight?” Patrick asked his grandfather, who kept his eyes fixed to the baseball game.

“Patrick, would you sit down, please,” his grandfather ignored the question. “You know when your father passed your grandpa was there for you, right? And I always will be, but I need you to be honest with me.” Patrick’s grandfather paused to look at Patrick’s eyes. They were a blueish grey; they pierced and never let Patrick hide. At school, all eyes fell on his as he walked from class to class, and he was forced to stare back and smile like he wanted them to look. He played the part he was assigned. Often to perfection.

“Yeah, of course I know. Why? What’s wrong?” Patrick leaned against the couch, crossing his arms.

“Who’s Chris Lowrie? I don’t recognize his name from any of your sports teams. You’ve never mentioned him before. The school called about him today and said that you were in a fight! Your coach told me all about Mike’s black eye. Said some new kid came charging into the locker rooms looking to fight. Sounded like he got what he deserved. But you can’t be getting into fights if you want any college to ask you to play basketball for them,” Patrick’s grandfather said, shaking his head slowly, back and forth.

“Oh, no, Grandpa. I think Coach’s story was a little off. Mr. Dunley asked me to show the new kid around the school—give him a tour—for his first day. Mike, you know Mike, started a fight with Chris when I was showing him the gyms and locker rooms. I just broke up the fight.” Patrick raised his eyebrows, hoping to reveal his innocence.

“Well don’t be messing around with this Chris if all he’s gonna be is trouble. God gave us free will, Patrick. He placed a palmful of trust in all of us. Make no mistake, son, He will punish those who misuse His gift.”

Patrick was raised Catholic by his grandfather, although he couldn’t quite remember ever attending church with his mom or dad. He knew his grandfather was right, though; there would be consequences should he continue getting caught in the middle of trouble. He nodded and accepted his grandfather’s warning. Being nice to the new kid wasn’t worth risking his scholarship.

Patrick moved from his seat in the living room towards the kitchen where he saw a plate covered in tinfoil. His grandfather always prepared meals on his own schedule, so that he could be sure he was free whenever the Sox were on TV. Patrick removed the tin foil and set his plate in the microwave. While the microwave began to hum, he turned to watch the game from the kitchen.

He stared at the TV but all he could think about was his father. It’d been nine years since Patrick found him hanging pale faced in the garage. He remembered feeling an odd melancholy at the funeral. Even at eight years old Patrick knew his father only thought about his mother’s accident. Patrick was only seven when she was T-boned by a Mack truck. He remembered how hard his father fought to put in a four-way stop at that intersection. Patrick just hoped his parents were together again. After his father’s suicide started to become apart of him, not just an incidental tragedy, but inseparable from his conscious, Patrick just wanted to do better than his father. At everything. He wanted to break his father’s scoring record at his high school. He wanted to find a wife that lived past 32. He wanted a life free of loss and full of success. However that needed to be earned, Patrick was willing. Still, he hoped his parents were in love, eternally united in some inexplicable paradise. He could still remember what his grandfather had said to him the first day he moved in.

“Patrick, it’s a terrible thing—what your father has done to you—and I’m sorry that this is how you have to grow up. I’m old, you know, and I won’t be able to give you what you deserve in a mom and a dad. Now, you know your grandpa will try his best for you, Patrick, but there’s something you need to understand about all of this,” he paused and slowly bent himself down to Patrick’s height.

“What you saw your father do, well, it breaks my heart, son. What he did was a terrible, terrible sin. He took his own life, Patrick. God is very sad for your father. He’s sad, just like you and me, that your father ever felt like he deserved to abandon you. You don’t deserve any of this, Patrick. But things will be better for you soon. I just want to tell you that I love you and I’m happy you’re here. Now, why don’t you go check out your new room, huh?”

Patrick’s memory of this moment had become grainy and washed out. The colors were dead and neutral, his own childish face obscure and bygone. The voice of his grandfather was the only detail that remained intact. He cherished the more lively and stern voice his grandfather once had. That voice gave Patrick direction, reason, a path, when he needed it most. Sometimes he needed that voice, just any voice other than his own to help shepherd his actions. Recently, he felt an absence of that guiding hand. His grandfather was growing older and weary. It seemed like the only voice he heard now was his own, empty and wavering.

The beeep! of the microwave took Patrick outside of his head. He snatched up his plate and took it to the living room to watch the game with his grandfather. “Hey, aren’t the Celtics on right now?” Patrick asked again.

“Oh, alright,” his grandfather mumbled before he grabbed the remote and switched over to the basketball game.

Thursday: 9:55 PM

Patrick stared at the ceiling in his room, thinking about his game the next day. They were playing the Adams School Mariners. He knew they’d be a tough team to beat, but he never really thought of losing. Just different ways to win. As he stared, the ceiling lit up blue. He rolled over and grabbed his phone. He squinted at a text message from Chris.

Chris:

Hi Patrick. What a first day, huh!? No, but seriously, I’m sorry I punched ur dick of a friend in his fucking face. That wasn’t cool. I’d like to make it up to you. Coffee on me tomorrow after school?

Patrick debated Chris’ offer. He knew his grandfather was right about getting into trouble, but Patrick strained to see the correlation between coffee with Chris and trouble. There was none, he concluded. Mike caused the trouble, Chris just defended himself. Besides, he didn’t want to hurt Chris’ feelings by saying no.

Chris sat up in his own bed, anxious for a response. He didn’t want to spend the whole weekend locked away in his room alone. He felt like another year of that might just kill him.

Patrick:

Hi Chris. Haha, just maybe don’t pick a fight with a guy that’s got at least 50 lbs on you next time. Maybe scratch the idea of a “next time” altogether. I’ve got a basketball game tomorrow after school, actually. I’m free saturday tho if ur around?

Patrick turned his phone over and fell asleep.

Chris felt his phone vibrate. The metronome inside his chest began to feel like seismic waves, causing his hands to tremble as they clutched the phone. He closed his eyes as he brought the phone towards his face. He flashed them open, quick, and jumped straight to the question mark at the end of the message. Then, he read the whole message through, carefully, and exhaled. He didn’t want to seem too eager. He waited until twelve minutes past 1 AM before finally typing back “sounds good”.

Friday: 6:50 PM

Patrick laced up his shoes in the locker room, amidst his pre-game prayer. It was the same every time, but superstition made Patrick repeat it before every game. Mike approached him in the locker room and interrupted his internal monologue.

“Hey, Pat. So, uh, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry about yesterday and that whole thing with the new kid. I’m an asshole—you know me. I just don’t want this to impact the game. I know we both just want what’s best for the team. We’re cool, right?” Patrick looked up at Mike’s bruised cheek. He felt sorry for Mike.

Once, in eighth grade, Mike made a dumb joke about Patrick’s father. They were at lunch, their whole team always sat together since middle school, and they were all discussing the recent passing of Robin Williams. Mike was fishing for laughs like he always did, and considered Patrick to be a good sport.

“Hey Pat, do you think your Dad and Robin Williams shared the same therapist? Jesus, somebody ought to fire that guy.” Patrick stopped eating and stared at Mike, his face ignited with anger and embarrassment. He couldn’t respond then, but later that day he told Mike they weren’t really friends. They never were. Patrick thought Mike didn’t care if they were friends or not, but he wanted Mike to know that they weren’t. But when Patrick looked at Mike’s eyes, he saw that they were slowly filling up with tears. Patrick was confused, but he then realized that Mike just couldn’t help himself. He would never have any real friends. Just people who stuck around him to laugh at whoever he would torture next. From that day on, Patrick pitied him.

“Yeah, it’s cool. We’re good—as long as we win.” Patrick grinned up at Mike who returned a nod. Then they both reached out to perform their rehearsed handshake. As they finished, their coach entered the room and rallied everyone up for the game.

Friday: 8:50 PM

BRAAH! The buzzer made Patrick turn his head up to the scoreboard for the first time since half time. Mariners: 53 Guest: 67. A smile came to Patrick’s face almost involuntarily as he ran over to the team statistician. “Hey, Brian. How’d I do tonight?” All Patrick could focus on during the game was beating the other team. He could see it in his enemies’ eyes when he was winning; he never needed to look at the scoreboard to know. He played every game like his dad had always told him to—expect that there’ll never be a tomorrow.

“Well, let’s see here. In the first half you scored fifteen points, but you really heated up in the second half…”

“Yeah, yeah, skip to the end. How many points?” Patrick shot his icy eyes up to Brian.

“Thirty-six. Thirty-six points in total.” Patrick grinned at Brian, gave him a hearty pat on the shoulder, and pushed through the gym doors.

* * *

Chris was still clapping with the rest of the crowd in the stands even after the game ended. Although it was an away game, he figured it was worth the drive if it meant getting out of his house for the night. It was the last weekend before his dad shipped off for his second tour in Afghanistan with the Marines. When his dad was home, Chris always felt like he was doing something wrong, something that angered his dad. Chris’ dad was tall and wide. He stood up straight and kept his hair short. When his dad came home from his last tour, about a year ago, he discovered Chris’ weed. It was legal in Maine, although you had to be twenty-one to purchase it. Chris remembered what his dad had told him.

“I go off to risk my life, in the fucking desert, so that you can sit on your ass and get high? Jesus Christ, Chris. Is this who you want to be? Some loser stoner with no friends, no girlfriend—when are you gonna grow up? You’re sixteen years old. I had a job and I had better grades than you at sixteen. Jesus Christ, Chris.” He waved the discovered glass bowl at Chris while he talked. Then, when he finished, he hurled the ornate pipe at the wall above Chris’ head. The glass rained down into Chris’ hair and onto his bed sheets. His shoulders remained tensed and his eyes shut, embracing for impact, until he heard the slam of his door.  

He yearned to feel like anything other than the victim of his dad’s judgments. He was glad to be free of him after this weekend. He squeezed his shoulder and felt the most recent bruise. He did this from time to time to remind himself of his resilience. To mentally spit in the face of his father. Fuck him, Chris thought as he stood up in the bleachers.

He could see Patrick’s blue sky eyes from across the court. He watched as Patrick patted the skinny statistician on the shoulder and jogged out of the gym. Chris pushed past the family on his right, slipped through the obstructive crowd, and jumped off the bleachers.

He made his way out of the gym and again found Patrick’s eyes, they looked luminescent to Chris. Almost radioactive. His breath felt shallow in their presence and his body tightened. He saw how Patrick’s eyes seemed fixed. Chris turned his head and tracked the trajectory of Patrick’s gaze. Then he saw her and thought, that must be the Jenna Mike had mentioned. Her glossy, long hair shined under the fluorescent lights, her smile just as bright. Chris blinked, reached for the keys in his pocket, and walked as fast as he could away from rejection.

* * *

Patrick spotted Jenna talking with her friends. Her long, brunette hair always stood out to him. Jenna’s friend nodded in Patrick’s direction and Jenna turned, landing her hazel eyes right on his cordial smile. She rushed over to him, leaving her friends behind, and hugged him.

“Hey! Great game! You looked really good tonight.” She lowered her voice but kept her smile, “I think there may have been a scout at the game. He had this hat on and kept glancing down at, like, this clipboard or something. I can’t say for sure, but he looked like he was trying to be real conspicuous, or whatever.” Patrick understood what she meant.

“Thanks. Hey, you never know. I figure somebody has to be noticing me. I’m averaging over thirty points a game. But I gotta head to the locker room. I’ll text you when I get on the bus.” He leaned and gave her a soft, swift kiss before turning his back.

Friday: 9:15 PM

Jenna:

Sooo Kate just told me that Mike’s parents r gone this weekend and he’s throwing a huuuuge party tonight. What r the chances ur Grandpa lets u go out?

Patrick:

Uh, Idk. We could get into a looot of trouble if it got busted. I’m not sure it’s the best idea. Would you just wanna hang, just us, tonight?

Jenna:

Yeah, but nobody is gonna bust Mike’s party. His Dad’s like the D.A. or somethin. Every1 is gonna go, Pat. A little fun won’t kill you 😉

Patrick:

…when?

Friday: 10:00 PM

Patrick walked down the dark street toward the towering house at the end of the cul de sac. You couldn’t miss its flickering, multi-colored lights leaking out of the windows. If I were a cop, I’d spot this place a mile away, Patrick thought. He sighed to himself and scanned the entrance of the house, looking for Jenna. Two members of his basketball team stood outside the door of the house.

“Tommy. Dan. Mike make you guys the bouncers this evening?” Patrick said with a quick tilt of his head upward. The two boys smiled at Patrick, told him to fuck off, and let him inside.

Patrick cautiously opened the door and was greeted by the hollering of his classmates. There were even some kids he didn’t know, but they all called out to him, like they had been waiting for him. With their drinks above their heads, they seemed to all instinctively toast to his arrival. Patrick smiled just like he always did and everyone smiled back.

Mike noticed the uproar. He knew immediately who’d arrived and he smiled to himself. He peeked his head out from the kitchen and saw Patrick. Patrick wasn’t necessarily the life of the party, he was more like the pillar. As long as he was there, the party would keep going strong. Mike shuffled his way to Patrick and guided him past the pong table, out the sliding glass door in the kitchen, through the vape clouds and marijuana puffs, to the fire pit where Jenna sat toasting a marshmallow.

She gasped. “Patrick! Look, look, it’s perfect! And I made it just for you,” she pressed the marshmallow onto the graham cracker and handed Patrick the treat. He took it, knowing he needed the calories, and grinned at both her and its sweetness. His eyes thought independently of his smile, though, and they looked hard into hers. He watched the fiery waves that were caught inside the iris and studied her passion. She smiled and blinked at him slowly. He wrapped his arm around her and brought her to his body. She made Patrick feel safe and comfortable. Sitting with her by the fire, he couldn’t imagine feeling any warmer.

Jenna put her cup in front of her face and leaned back, spilling a little of the red liquid across her cheek. Patrick wiped it off, battling Jenna’s wild giggling.

“We doing alright?” Patrick widened his eyes and produced a toothless grin.

“I am so good. Like,” she laughed harder, “this is the best, Pat. The best night. We should do this more! Here, I’ll go get us two more drinks.” Jenna got up quickly and raced to the sliding glass door. Patrick cringed, hoping she’d have the sense to not run right through it. She did, of course, but still, Patrick began to worry.

“Hey, Patrick,” a voice called him back to the fire. Chris sat down across the pit. He wore all black, aside from the skin showing through the rips in his jeans.

“Oh hey, Chris. What, uh, what are you doing here?”

“I know, right? Well I guess Mike felt bad about the fight so he invited me out of pity. Who knows. I didn’t have anything better to do. Figured this was the best place for me to ‘make friends’ anyways.” Chris ran his hand through his tousled black hair, flipping it one way and then another.

“Oh cool. Cool. Uh, hey man I don’t mean to ditch you or anything but I kind of need to go find Jenna real quick. I’ll see you in a bit,” Patrick said, standing and backing away. He found Jenna in the kitchen with her friend, Kate, sipping the same red liquid out of crystal whiskey glasses.

“Come hither, my love. I command thee to drink with thy queen! Here! And we shall toast to Mike and his lovely, fancy glasses!” Jenna sat rigid on the marble countertop, gesturing dramatically, performing her best British accent. Patrick couldn’t help but laugh and took the glass she offered and sipped it gently.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be waving Mike’s parents’ fancy glasses around. Here, I’ll get you a cup and I’ll put these away,” Patrick reached for her glass but she held it away from him and whispered into his ear.

“It’s fine, Pat. Really, Mike told me to tak — Mike says it’s,” she hid the glass behind her back and leaned into him, “it is fine, Pat.”

“Hey, do you want to go upstairs for a bit?” Patrick asked, hoping to get her farther away from the deposits of alcohol lining the countertop.

“Oooo, why would you want to do that Pat-trick?” She giggled into his ear, but hopped off the counter and took his hand, leading them upstairs.

Friday: 11:30 PM

Chris inhaled, staring at the wavy embers at the end of his spliff. Then he exhaled and passed it back to its owner. He craned his head back and stared at the stars. There were only a few out, but this gave Chris comfort. He felt like he could relate to their loneliness. They were dead and gone, but they were still shining. It seemed like some form of defiance to Chris. While he envied the stars, he wondered where Patrick had gone to. He had hoped for a moment alone with him. Even if Patrick was dating Jenna, and was happy, Chris wanted a friend. Someone he could be honest with without worrying they’ll label him as “other.” His thoughts were interrupted by a moment of deja vu, as he felt a familiar hand grab him from behind.

Chris was quick this time, though, and writhed free of the hand. “Hey, sorry to spook ya. I just wanted to see if you wanted to share a drink real quick. I’m opening up my Dad’s Johnnie Walker Blue Label and ya know, I just thought it’d be a nice peace offering. Whaddya say? One drink?” Chris’ eyes stayed wide but he nodded and followed Mike inside anyways.

* * *

“Do you love me?” Jenna asked, swiping away her hair from her eyes.

“I love you more than anything in the world,” Patrick replied.

“More than basketball?”

“More than basketball,” Patrick confirmed. The response was immediate and rote.

She sat up on the perfect, ornate comforter and gave a little bounce on the large bed. Patrick stood in front of her with an uneasy feeling. He didn’t know what it felt like to be drunk and he’d never seen Jenna drunk either. He felt like some shot clock had begun counting down, looming omniscient in the room, urging him to score, to win, to tear down his opponents.

“How come we’ve never had sex then?” Jenna said.

“What?”

“If we love each other, how come we’ve never, ya know, made love?”

Patrick was unprepared for this uninhibited version of Jenna. “I just—um, I just never wanted it to ruin what we have. What if it isn’t what we want it to be?”

“Well we’ll never know, Pat, unless we like, actually try it. Here, come sit on the bed with me,” Patrick moved to the bed, feeling again like the clock was ticking against him.

“Jenna, I’m glad we’re talking about this, but I think we should continue this conversation tomorrow. When you’re feeling a little more—yourself.”

“This is me, Patrick. This is what I want. With you.” Jenna looked like she might cry. Patrick leaned and hugged her close to him, feeling anxious to find a scoreboard to look at; to find confirmation whether he was about to lose or win. But he didn’t even know the game he was playing. Jenna wasn’t an opponent, she was his partner, his teammate. Patrick’s heart pounded against Jenna’s smooth shoulder and he hoped she couldn’t tell how inept he felt. He brought her face close to his and saw no message in her eyes. No indication that he might succeed, or fail, he could only see the pain he was causing her.

* * *

Downstairs, Chris sipped the expensive whiskey in tiny swigs. The whiskey tasted like some sort of science chemical and Chris strained to not let himself grimace with each gulp. Mike sat across the dining table from Chris, downing his glass and pouring himself another. As they stared at each other,  Mike suddenly smiled and his eyes became O’s. He put up one finger and left Chris alone for an entire two minutes. When he came back, he brought a small case with him. He shut the double sliding doors that enclosed the dining room before he sat down. The two were alone.

“This is my dad’s, but he’s shown me how it works and everything. Pearl handle, stainless steel, .38 caliber revolver. Man! This is one sexy bitch I’ve got here, Chris. Don’t you think?” Chris looked at Mike like he was staring into the eyes of a grizzly bear. He couldn’t panic, or move, there would be no use in it. A boy with his bare hands can’t battle a grizzly.

“For fuck’s sake, Chris, it isn’t loaded! Jesus, who do you think I am? I just wanted to give you the full tour of my humble abode. I couldn’t forget about this little cutie,” Mike bent his head down to the gun and gave it a gentle kiss.

“Oh! Fuck! I know, we should play this game I saw. Yeah, have you ever seen The Deer Hunter?” Mike pounded the table and stood with his hand out to Chris.

“No, what the fuck, Mike? Put the gun away, man,” Chris warned, but he sat still, waiting for the bear to swipe at his chest and flay the skin. Mike stopped and glared at Chris, aware of the might in his paw.

“You don’t get to talk now! You see my fucking eye? You did this! Because you thought you could. Now I have to show you what happens to the little bitch that thinks he can fight back. Now where,” Mike paused, “was I? Ah, in Deer Hunter, Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken are captured and they’re forced to play this game. So what I do is I put just one bullet in this revolver’s chamber and then I—” Mike spun the revolver’s chamber with delight. Chris kept his eyes on him, despite their watering.

* * *

Upstairs, Jenna squeezed out of Patrick’s hands. She felt rejected by Patrick. In her eyes, Patrick was always in control. She never felt like that. She always felt like she was about to burst at the seams. She knew Patrick could be with anyone he wanted. He was tall, and fit, and kind. All her friends told her that they were the perfect couple. He told her he loved her, that she was beautiful. She wondered, then, why he’d always shrugged off any talk of sex. Was he lying to her?

“I love you, Jenna. You’re gorgeous and funny, and you let me be myself around you. I don’t want to be with anyone else, but why is it so important that we rush into sex?”

“We’ve been together for over a year. Kate and her boyfriend had sex and they’ve been together a month. I’m not rushing.” Jenna couldn’t control her tears anymore. They flowed silently off her face and onto her jeans. Patrick wanted to hold her, but he knew it wasn’t what she wanted.

“Hey, Jenna, it’s okay. I’m glad you’re telling me this, okay? You’re right, I just didn’t know you were this ready. It’s complicated. It’s hard for me to explain.” Patrick felt like he was running out of consoling sentences. The scoreboard in his mind was blurry and the numbers looked foreign. He sucked in his breath, bewildered by all of his uncertainty.

“It’s not that I don’t want to, Jenna. It’s just that everything I seem to love ends up ruined. And if we take things further…what we have won’t last. College is only a couple months away. I just wanted to have fun this last year together. I thought we could just be happy until then.” Patrick stared down at his hands. His eyes fixed on his tensed tendons.

“What are you saying?”

“Well, I mean you know we didn’t apply to any of the same schools. I didn’t want to say any of this now. I just wanted us to be happy as long as we could be. I’m sorry that I can’t give enough to you, Jenna. You deserve someone better.” Patrick winced as he spit out the words. He suddenly saw the scoreboard and felt it reflected what he deserved. However, the shot clock hadn’t run out, it ticked down steadily, mockingly.

“I just, just—” Jenna got up from the bed and ran to the bathroom. Patrick heard the guttural, seizing sounds of vomiting and pushed through the closed door to hold back her hair.

* * *

“Look, it’s a one in six chance that the bullet lands on you. You’ll be fine. Don’t be such a pussy, Chris. Here, I’ll go first,” Mike thrusted the gun towards Chris, showing him how to cock the hammer back, before placing the barrel at his temple. Mike closed his eyes and then flashed them wide. He made three quick, exaggerated breaths and pulled the trigger: tick!

“WOOOO! Fuck ME that gets the adrenaline pumping! Alright, fag, your turn,” Mike stood up and walked around the table to Chris, slamming the revolver in Chris’ palm.

“Fucking. Do it,” Mike whispered before he walked back around the table to his seat for the show. Chris moved the gun to his head in one quick motion, just as Mike had done. He thought how much he’d love to die in this moment. How nice it would be if he could just have a heart attack before having to decide whether he pulled the trigger or not. A one in five chance of losing. Chris figured his best option was to pull the trigger and play along. If he got lucky, the game would end, and Mike might leave him alone.

Chris cocked the hammer in silence, then paused. “Play the FUCKING game, pussy!” Mike yelled at him. Chris winced, but felt his head suddenly clear. He saw his dad sitting where Mike was just a second before. His dad with his perfect posture, his clenched jaw, and his disapproving eyes. It seemed like he wanted Chris there. Like he thought it was better Chris die now than live a wasted, loser life. Chris blinked the tears in his eyes away and knew that he couldn’t go home the victim. Loaded bullet or not, he wouldn’t let Mike bully him anymore.

Chris threw his arm out at Mike. He pulled the trigger and sent Mike’s head back and then down to the table. Chris saw blood flow out of the right side of Mike’s head. He stood up from his seat and threw the gun away from him. He immediately regretted his decision, but he knew he couldn’t go back. Still, he couldn’t help but feel relief when Mike’s head flopped onto the table limp. But as Chris stared, he saw Mike move. First his head twitched, then his arm reached for the right side of his head. Chris’ shot at the grizzly didn’t kill it, it only made it angrier.

“You fucking shot me!? You shot me right through my fucking ear!” Mike lifted his head up off the table and revealed his missing ear lobe. Chris backpedaled in horror. He grabbed the doors and slid them halfway open just as Mike lunged across the table at Chris, and snatched his collar in his right hand. With his left, he grabbed Chris by the arm and lifted him onto the table. He slammed Chris onto his back.

Chris saw Mike peer over him, rabid. Mike grabbed Chris by both of his ears and slammed his head into the table three times, fast, while screaming incoherences. Chris smelled Mike’s isopropyl breath as the face above him morphed into his dad’s once more, sporting a heinous grin, then slowly went out of focus like a dimmer switch.

* * *

Patrick looked up from Jenna’s convulsing and dropped her ponytailed hair. “Was that just a—Jenna, stay here. I’ll be right back.” Patrick shouldered the bathroom door open and flew down the stairs. He ran through the kitchen and saw Mike on top of Chris, who laid on the dining table bloody and stagnant. Patrick stopped and saw Mike’s face engaged in the ecstasy of his assault. Patrick froze in the presence of something so evil and watched as fist after fist flipped Chris’ head one way and then the other.

“Mike!” That was all he could utter in the end, but Mike wouldn’t relent. Patrick rushed at the table and tackled Mike off of Chris. Patrick pinned Mike to the ground, who looked up at Patrick, confused, like he didn’t know who Patrick was and never did. Mike didn’t protest, though. His malice withered under the pressure of Patrick’s commanding hands.

“Oh God,” Patrick mumbled as he fought his shaking fingers to dial 911. He leaned into Chris and felt for his pulse. He thought he felt something, but his hands were shaking too much and Chris’ blood made his fingers too slick for him to be certain.

He heard the ambulance arrive and rushed to show them to the body. He watched as they hoisted the numb boy onto their stretcher and carried him away. There were no more voices, though, the only thing Patrick could hear was the BRAAH! of the clock, loud and infinite.

Saturday: 7:30 AM

Patrick couldn’t sleep. All he could see when he closed his eyes was Chris’ crimson hair or Mike’s perverted smile. He tried to call Jenna, but she wasn’t awake yet. He texted Chris, but he knew he wouldn’t get any response. He threw on some clothes and quietly snuck out the front door. He walked two miles to Main Street, alone in the foggy, chilled morning. He stopped outside of the coffee shop and looked through the glass door before he walked in. He didn’t see anyone except for the cashier. He walked through the door, which greeted him with a ding!, and ordered the first thing he spotted on the big menu behind the cashier’s head. While he waited for his name to be called, he kept his eyes fixed to the door.

He finally heard his name, walked to its source, and grabbed the cardboard sleeved cup with his name on it. He heard the ding! of the door again and twitched his head that way, despite knowing he wouldn’t see who he was waiting for. Patrick watched an old woman hunch her way to the counter and place her order.

Patrick took a sip from the cup. He’d never tried coffee before and he winced at its bitterness. He drank it anyway and when he finished it, he ordered another. While he sat, he didn’t think of shot clocks or Jenna. He thought of Chris’ hemorrhaging brain and his father’s pale, blank face. He wondered if maybe his father had been smart for taking “the easy way out”. Maybe that’s actually winning, he pondered. He understood his father’s choice, despite the pain it’d transferred to his own life. It seemed logical to escape a life filled with numbing loss and the chronic ache of persistence. With Chris, though, Patrick couldn’t rationalize what had happened. It was unjust, cruel, the symptom of a violently chaotic universe. Just like his mother’s death. He couldn’t help but visualize Chris’ grey brain, bloated, and swollen, cramped within the confines of Chris’ skull. The image made him nauseous. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it and then understood that all he wanted was to not die. He wanted to live, and live well, knowing that death often doesn’t wait until tomorrow, no matter how hard he might pray it will.

He then felt purpose bursting out of his capillaries. He felt the need to be perpetual, simply because others couldn’t. His body refused to cooperate. So move! Patrick yelled in his head. He shut his eyes as tight as he could, until it hurt, until he felt tears resting on his eyelids. You can live. For Chris, for Dad, for Mom, just fucking get up and do it! Patrick pleaded with himself, but he sat frozen and watched the door. He soon learned to hate the ding! of the bell, but he couldn’t move. And he didn’t move, until the cashier told him that they were closing, and he had to leave.

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