Falling Off a Log
I'd see him around school. He sure wasn't bashful like me and Scott. He just didn't seem to want any friends. He always seemed to be ignoring people as best he could, and when he couldn't ignore them he tended to be pretty rude and unfriendly. Arrogant, even. Unlike me, he had perfect teeth, but you rarely saw him smile. He wasn't exactly buddy-buddy with me or Scott except when we were practicing. He was a good looking kid, and a lot of the girls tried to get to know him, but the only one he ever seemed to talk to was Mandy Fleming. I sometimes saw him walking to or from school with her. I thought she was the cutest girl in our grade, but I'd never actually spoken to a girl before - on a personal level, anyhow. Now, at fourteen, my hormones were fighting my brain. I really needed to get past this shyness.
When we were wrapping up practice one Tuesday, Nick asked me if just him and me could practice on Wednesday.
"Here, I guess. All the stuff's here. Keith, we can practice when you're not here, can't we? Just me and Joe?"
Keith said, "No problem. Just let me know when so somebody can let you in."
Nick asked, "How about tomorrow after school?"
Keith went up to ask if somebody would be home. He came back down. "No problem. Brian'll be up by then."
"See you here, then," Nick said.
On the way home, Scott asked me why we were practicing without him, and I didn't have an answer. "I guess he just wants to work on some of the guitar stuff. You can come if you want, but we don't need a singer for that."
"It doesn't matter. Davey's been trying to help me with math, but I haven't spent much time with it."
The next day, I met Nick in front of school and we started walking to Keith's. Neither of us said a thing. I didn't know how to start a conversation and I got the feeling he didn't want to.
"So!," I said, finally. "You like Mandy?"
"She's okay. Why, do you?"
"She's really fine!"
He shrugged, "I guess. Want me to fix you up or something?"
I was surprised, "I thought you were going with her."
"Fat chance. She's my sister. Sorta. We live in the same house."
"My Mom left my father for her father. We been living together ever since."
"Yeah. Something like that. It sucks. My Mom's ok and Mandy's ok, but her father hates me with a passion. My real dad lives halfway across the country. He doesn't really have any money, so we hardly ever see each other. I haven't seen him in almost a year now."
I was surprised, "Why does he hate you?"
Nick scowled. "Long story."
We got to Keith's and Brian opened the door for us, greeting us like he hadn't seen us in years. He was really a nice guy!
We went downstairs and, while I was hooking up, Nick said "You're holdin' out on us, aren't you?"
"Nobody improves as fast as you! That first day you could hardly follow the beat. Then you start playing @@@@@ pretty good. Then you're note-perfect. Then you're improvising. I just think you're hidin' your good stuff. If I'm not good enough, tell me and I'll get lost."
"Not good enough? I think you're great!"
"Then show me what you can do, so I can do what I do. Does that make sense? I'm tired of holdin' back."
I was startled, "You been holdin' back?"
"Yeah. Keith, too. That first day we didn't want to do too much and scare you away. But Scott could really sing, and I guess you guys come as a set. But I've heard you make mistakes that sound better than most people can play to start with."
My ears must have been as red as the setting sun. They were playing the same game with us as we were with them.
"You remember that tape I played you the first day?"
"Think you can keep up?"
"That wasn't you!"
"Bet? First one's in F." I showed him the pattern, then we started. His stunned look turned into a real grin. This boy could play, too! We messed with that song for about an hour, getting louder and louder and way more adventurous. We were having a ball. We even started working on 'moves'. We'd always just stood there. Now we were jumping around and having a blast with it! I'd just done a jump and spin and saw Brian on the stairs. He was wide-eyed. I stopped, followed by Nick.
"Guys, that was wild! But the neighbors threatened to call the cops, so keep it down a little. I never heard that one before."
"Me and Scott wrote it."
"Are there words, too?" Brian asked.
"Oh, yeah. I'll bring you a tape tomorrow if you want."
"Cool. Just turn it down some. If I get another call you'll have to stop."
I looked at Nick, and his grin might just possibly have been bigger than my own.
He was excited, too. "That was TOO MUCH! You guys really wrote that? I wanna write stuff, too. I got so many ideas, but there's not much you can do on bass."
"I thought you had a guitar, too."
He frowned, "Sold it to buy the amp."
I said, "You can take this one home if you want to fool around. I got another one."
"I'd love it! But I'll take the other one. I wouldn't want to take your good guitar"
I smiled, "The other one IS the good one!"
He looked skeptical, "Better than this? This one sounds great! What else ya got?"
"It's a PRS Custom. I haven't used it much, really."
His eyes went wide, "You got a PRS? And you're using this hunka crap? I don't get it!"
We started to talk. I explained that Scott and I had felt the same as them at first, I mean, what if they stunk. So I hadn't played very well. Nothing you could do about Scott's voice, but I hadn't come out with many of my tricks. Nick said how he and Keith were doing that, too. For the same reasons.
I also explained that I got the new guitar as a gift, that I wasn't really used to it anyhow. That my Dad bought me this old one, which wasn't really old, and how that meant something to me. And how I did really like how it sounded.
I liked talking to him. He reminded me of Scott, in a way. And me, probably. People who don't talk very much, and suddenly have a lot to say, can't get their mouths to keep up with their thought processes. It starts to sound like blathering until you hear yourself and slow down. He went on and on about how things were before his Mom dumped his Dad, about how he and his Dad used to do everything together. About how much he envied Keith and his closeness with his father. About how Keith was his only friend until me and Scott came along. I thought about that, and how lucky Scott and I really were. Our parents loved us, were involved with us, and would try to stop the world in its tracks to protect us.
Nick felt left out of it all.
"Wanta eat at my house?" I asked.
"Um, thanks. But I better not."
I wanted him to come over. "Come on! I can show you my new guitar. And other stuff."
"OK, I guess."
"Let's go. We can walk, it's not far. Take the guitar."
It took us about twenty minutes to walk over to my house. We took turns carrying the guitar, but didn't say much. I told him my Mom wasn't much of a cook, but we could have all the soda we wanted. I told him how my Dad spent half his life in the garage trying to invent stuff, how I wished we could have pets, but Jen was allergic. I did all of what little talking there was. We got there just after dark. My Dad was in the garage, so we went there first.
"Dad. You remember Nick? Our bass player?"
He smiled at Nick. "Yeah. Of course I remember you. Welcome. Supper should be ready - your mother was just here looking for you."
We went into the kitchen and Mom remembered him, too. She invited him to stay and eat, just like I knew she would. We washed up and sat down to a meatloaf. Not a bad one by my mother's standards, but you could probably get better at any corner diner.
While Nick had been in the bathroom I warned my Mom not to ask too many questions, since I didn't think he had a very good home life.
She was great. She kept the small talk to school and music, and every time my Dad looked like he was going to ask Nick something, she butted in and changed the subject. By the time we were done eating, Nick seemed pretty comfortable. He seemed to enjoy our little family-type inside jokes, laughing along with the rest of us.
After dinner, we went up to my room.
"Kinda small in here," Nick said, as he looked around.
"It's not, really. Just a lot of stuff. Me and Scott hang out here all the time. Who needs a lotta space?"
I showed him my new guitar, and it was like he'd just met God or something. He wouldn't even touch it! He said "Oh, man" so many times it I lost count. When I finally got him to pick it up, it was like he was picking up a newborn baby. He was truly in awe. "Who got it for ya?"
"Um, a friend of my father's." I should have told him I saved up or something, but I guess I wasn't old enough to save up that much, anyhow..
"Oh, man ... I ..."
I said, "I'll bring it tomorrow. Both my amps are at Keith's. It doesn't sound like much unplugged." Then I remembered the earphones and hooked him up.
He started to strum some stuff and grin. He started talking loud again like the first day I met him. I lifted up one side of the earphones and told him he didn't have to shout, I could hear just fine.
He stopped after a little while, took the phones off and gave the guitar back to me.
"You are so lucky, man."
"Lucky? I got a nice guitar. But I'm so shy I don't know if anybody will ever hear me play. Do you know how crippling that is? I never even talked to a girl. I don't have any friends. Except Scott. Now you guys. How am I lucky?"
"Are you kidding? First, you got a family, one that cares. Next, you got Scott. I see you guys sometimes in the morning. You act like you hadn't seen each other for ten years. Every day! Always smiling and holding each other. That's worth something! You got your music, and you're GOOD! People at school like you for all the stuff you and Scott do - the falling down and everything. And it is funny stuff.
"Look at ME! I can play good, too, and I like that, and Keith's my friend, but we're not like you and Scott. After that everything sucks. I don't have a family life. My stepfather hates my guts. Nobody, nobody is ever happy to just see me. I used to laugh all the time when I was a kid, when my father was around. We got along. We had fun. I could relax. When yo-yo came into the picture, he was alright at first, but then he started to get real mean. It's like I'm just living there, now. When he's not around it's ok, I mean, Mom treats me good and Mandy's a friend. When he's there, though, it's like I'm a dirt bag. He hates me, hates who I am, hates what I am. I don't mean he hits me or anything. He just hates me. I'm not good enough. I can't be who I am around him. I can't stand it! It eats me up, man. I go around so mad at him I can't make any friends. You want to know why I'm jealous? I just told you!"
I had become fascinated with his mouth when he talked. I didn't look in his eyes or anything. Just at that mouth. With the perfect teeth. The lips. How he wet them with his tongue every few seconds. I wasn't sure what it was, but I couldn't look away.
He started to sniffle. I felt terrible. "Nick?"
I moved next to him and put my arm around his shoulder. "I like you. For who you are. I wanna be your friend. I'll always be glad to see ya, and Scott will, too. And I know Keith likes you. How many friends you need, anyhow? Before Scott, I didn't have any friends at all. And for years it's just been me and him. Now we got you and Keith. And if anybody ever hears the band they're gonna love us! But we don't even have to like them. Just the music."
He stretched his arm around my waist. Almost a hug, but not quite.
"I wanna see you happy."
We worked around into a full hug. Nick was crying on my shoulder.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"You'll end up hating me. Like everyone else."
"No way! Why ya say that?"
He pulled away, "I gotta go, okay?"
"C'mon. Stay. It's early," I pleaded.
"I really gotta go." He stood up and wiped his face on his shirt sleeves.
"I'll walk you part way," I offered.
"You don't have to."
"I want to."
We went downstairs and he thanked my mother for dinner. I told her I'd be back in a few minutes, then I grabbed the guitar and we left.
It had gotten really cold out, and neither of us had jackets. I didn't know where he lived, so I just followed a little bit until I saw what direction he was going to go. I caught up with him and walked beside him. I told him to tell me when we were about halfway. He was silent. I took his hand. Just like I would have held Scott's. He didn't protest. His body heat felt pretty good in the cold air. We got to the corner of Pleasant Street. He said this was about halfway. There was a big pile of leaves raked up against a bank. I pulled him down into it and suddenly we were half buried in leaves. They still had some of the warmth of the day in them, and it felt good. We sat silently for a few minutes. He put his arm around me.
"This is nice. Thanks."
I was feeling real comfortable, like it was Scott with me. I leaned over and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. He jumped a little. "You kissed me!"
"So? You're my friend now. Like Scott. We do that all the time."
"I'm not mad. Just ...."
He looked into my eyes. Deep into my eyes. I was drawn into him. I looked at his mouth. That beautiful mouth. I was pulled towards it as if it was magnetized. Our lips touched. Our friendly embrace turned into a hug. The passion of the kiss intensified. I licked his lips a little with my tongue. He opened his mouth a little and my tongue went inside it. Feeling his tongue. I parted my lips and our tongues began to probe the insides of each other's mouths. I laid my hand on his chest.
I felt his finger tips brush the inside of my thigh. Gently. Ever so gently. As light as a breeze. I could actually hear my heartbeat inside my head. Pounding. My breathing had become difficult. I was almost gasping for air. His finger tips went farther up my leg and brushed across my balls.
He was trembling. Touching ever so lightly on the ribs of my corduroy pants. Then those fingers came back and started actually stroking my balls. Way down under them to my butt. Then back up.
Then he found my hard shaft and stroked the length of it with the tips of his fingers. Up to the tip. Then back down. Just a little more pressure now. Back and forth. Over and over again. I had no real thoughts. Our tongues were still probing like blind things in a cave. I exploded! Like I never had before. Right in my pants.
I had to back off from the kiss. I couldn't breathe. I was swallowing air more than inhaling it. Gulping it down. The chilly night had somehow become very warm. I had my head on Nick's shoulder, cheek to cheek with him.
"Jesus," I somehow managed to get out.
"Oh, God Joe. I'm sorry! I didn't mean to!," he was sobbing.
"S'okay. Can't breathe. Gimme a minute." That's all I had the strength to say.
We held on like that until my heart rate slowed some and I got back to breathing regularly. Nick's sobs had quieted, and the cold night air seemed to descend back on us.
"Jesus, Nick. That was ....."
"What. What was it, Joey?"
"Intense," was all I could think to say.
"Are you mad?"
I had to think. Scott and I had gotten kinda close to doing something like this a couple of times, and I always felt kind of ashamed. Now I didn't, although I wasn't particularly proud of the mess in my pants. But I felt no guilt. No shame.
"Not mad, Nick. I just never did anything like that before."
"Not even with Scott?"
"We got close a couple of times, but never like that. And we always stopped. We never, uh, touched each other there."
"Joey, I'm sorry. I just couldn't stop. I Wanted it so bad, to do it. You were kissing me. I got hot. I didn't think. You felt so good, like a friend. Now I blew it."
"Nick, I'm the one that blew it. Right in my pants. How the hell am I gonna get home?"
I looked at him and we both burst out laughing.
He looked hopeful, "We can still be friends?"
Nick turned and kissed me on the cheek. Quickly. Lightly. Just like Scott.
We got up and brushed the leaves off. I looked at Nick's face. He had a new expression. Like a little kid looking at a Christmas tree for the first time. I was really starting to feel the cold.
"I gotta go. This stuff's all stuck to me."
We turned our separate ways and started the walk home.
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