Aidan bangs on my door, yelling at me to “get up already, faggot.” This is usual. What isn’t usual, though, is the fact he keeps saying he needs to show me something. Against my better judgment, I get up and unlock the door. Aidan barges in and I shriek, throwing my hands up out of instinct. Aidan is pointing at me with a handgun.
“I’m not gonna shoot you, Parker. I’m not an asshole.” Aidan laughs and lowers the weapon. “Pretty sweet, though, huh?”
I ask where the hell he got the thing. He says he found it in Dad’s gun cabinet in the basement – the combination is on a notecard in his nightstand. Then, he hands it to me and calls me a wimp. The thing is heavier than I thought it’d be.
“Does your boyfriend know how weak you are?” he asks.
“Tom’s not my boyfriend.” My heart pounds and my body gets hot.
“Well, something’s going on between you two. Your face gets red every time I say his name.”
“Shut up, dickhead.”
Aidan gasps and says he’s revoking my gun-holding privileges because of my name-calling. But, he says, if I’m really good, and I take it back, I can go on a little hunt with him and his friends tonight. He tries his best to be fair with me when he’s put in charge. Like Redneck Parent of the Year. Dad’s out on business for the week.
I take back the name, just to keep my options open. I still think he’s a dickhead.
After lunch I ride my bike to Tom’s. Normally, I’d already be there after breakfast, but two-a-days just started so I have to wait before I head over. When I get there, his dad is still asking how practice went and which squad he took snaps with. Tom has a really good chance of playing JV.
“Maybe even varsity!” his dad says. His voice is hearty like his body.
Tom smiles and shakes his head. He says bye to his dad and I follow him back outside. The shock from the air-conditioned house to the sticky heat of the day worsens my sweat from the ride over. Tom opens the garage and grabs his bike. He’s sweating now, too. So we decide to go to the pool
There’s a trail through the woods that we take to get there. It’s much faster than anything else. After a bit of riding, the sound of rushing water gets louder and more violent. Then the ground to one side of the trail becomes very steep. Almost a ninety-degree angle. At the bottom of it, there’s a shore of stones and a creek.
“How about we just swim here instead?” Tom says.
Pool water is really just full of little kid pee, anyway, he says. Plus, if we swim here, then we won’t have to deal with the dozens of happy trails belonging to lounging middle-aged beer bellies. I’m quickly convinced.
We park our bikes at the top of the hill and shuffle our way down, each almost falling a few times. After taking off our shoes, socks, and shirts, we get into the water and start trudging along the current, being careful not to stab our feet on any of the sharp rocks underneath us. The water feels good splashing against my legs. It cools my entire body.
Tom’s body sinks lower, the water coming up to his pelvis now. “Wait till you get over here – it’s really hard to walk through.” But Tom doesn’t seem to have any problem with it. He’s strong. Muscular. I can see how he could play JV, or even varsity.
I get to where he was and, he’s right, the water is hard to walk through. I say that this must be how it’d feel to walk if both your legs were melting. He laughs and agrees. Then he starts yelling, “I’m melting! I’m melting!” and so do I. Both of us sink lower and lower as we continue downstream.
Tom points to a fallen tree trunk hanging just above the water. It looks mushy, probably from being pounded by the elements each year. He says we must get to it for safety. We must pull ourselves out of this acid and stop the melting before it’s too late. He starts moving faster.
I try to keep up, but it’s hard. The water pushes me around and the rocks underneath are getting bigger. My arms flail all over the place and my body keeps shifting back and forth, like I’m uncomfortably dancing at a rave.
Tom makes it to the branch and reaches. I take another step, pretty far behind him now, but only half my foot lands on the next rock. I try to gather myself, but water smacks hard against me, and then darkness.
I grab and claw at nothing. My legs smash on the rocks below me. I’m getting thrown all over the place. I don’t know which way I’m facing. I hear screaming. I think it’s me, but I can’t be sure. Everything is muffled. Every sound is dense.
I am going to die.
Then a hand snatches my forearm and yanks me up.
I’m lying on the stones, breathing heavily and coughing. Tom is kneeling over me, asking over and over if I’m okay. I say, “I am now.” It’s cheesy, but it’s all that came to mind. I can’t stop staring at him. He looks angelic with the sun behind him. Then, something gets into me. An urge tickles through my body and lips for some reason. Maybe because he just saved my life, or maybe because I’ve always kind of wanted this. I don’t know. But I start to lose control.
I sit up, pull him closer, and kiss him.
“Woah,” Tom says, pulling away.
I don’t know what to do. And I don’t think he does either, because we just sit and stare at each other for a couple seconds. I turn and look at the water. He follows my lead. I touch my lips, still feeling him against them. Then Tom stands up and starts picking up rocks.
“What are you doing?” I ask, worried he’s collecting them to throw in my face or something.
“Looking for rocks to skip,” he says. “Come on, join me.”
I get up and start looking for rocks too. I search hard, trying to have my intense study of the ground fill up the silence. Only the flattest will do. By the time I’m satisfied with my ammo, he’s already side-arming his rocks across the creek. I go up next to him and start throwing mine.
“I’m glad we’re friends, Parker.”
I don’t know why he says this. My mind races. I freeze.
I realize it’s been too long since I’ve said anything. Or skipped a rock. But my hands are shaking so much that I think throwing anything would be a bad idea. So I say the only thing I can think of: “Me too.”
I kind of wish I hadn’t, though.
It’s getting dark when I get home a few hours later. My house is loud and, for a moment, I almost think I have the wrong one. But then I go into the living room and find some of Aidan’s friends sipping sodas. I ask one of the Goons – that’s what Dad and I call them – where Aidan is.
Just as he’s about to answer, Aidan tramples down the stairs from his room, holding the handgun like a trophy. He jogs into the kitchen and the Goons swarm around him.
“You guys ready?” Aidan says and they all cheer. “Parker,” he calls over to me. “Get over here, fag. It’s time for the hunt.”
The Goons question him, but Aidan defends me. Really, he just knows that if he doesn’t include me then I could tell Dad. Turns out there’s actually some brain inside that hollow head of his.
If this were any other day, I would’ve turned them down. But my mind is still racing and I want to think of something else, so I join them.
We go into the backyard, ours is big and connects to the woods, and start looking for something Aidan can shoot. The sky is navy, growing closer to black, so we’re all silent, listening for movement.
“Over here!” one Goon whispers. The sound of grass crunching fills the night air as we all creep over quickly.
We come up on a raccoon, halfway in the woods and halfway in the backyard. He steps towards us. I don’t think he knows what’s happening. He looks helpless. So unaware.
Aidan points the gun at the raccoon’s face. He says, “Watch out, guys,” and we all back away.
The raccoon stares at us, moving his gaze from one Goon to the next until he gets to me. His mouth trembles for a second. He’s studying me.
Then Aidan fires three times. Everyone cheers.
When I get to Tom’s the next day, I’m surprised to find him already outside. He’s playing basketball with someone I’ve never met before. I slow my bike and watch for a moment. They’re joking and laughing while they shoot around. The new guy notices me, then so does Tom.
“Ah,” Tom says, stopping his dribble. “Brendan, this is Parker. Parker, Brendan.”
“Hey, man. Nice to meet you,” Brendan says. “You’re Aidan’s little brother, right?”
I say, “Yeah. Nice to meet you too,” but I have a really bad feeling about Brendan. I don’t like him at all.
Tom tells me that Brendan is a sophomore on JV. They’ve been hanging out ever since practice started in June. He’s mentioned Brendan a couple times here and there, but I hadn’t remembered until Tom reminded me. He says he’s so happy that we’ve finally met each other.
We all play basketball together until the sweat becomes unbearable. Tom suggests that we go up to the gas station and get something to drink, but Brendan looks at his phone and says they don’t have time. He says he should really get home and shower before they leave.
I ask what’s going on, and Brendan tells me they’re going to a movie with a couple girls.
“Of course,” Toms says, “you’re always welcomed to come along.”
Brendan smiles, smug as can be. Like someone who knows they’re a move ahead of you in a chess match.
Even though I’m not really sure if I want to go, I say I will anyway. I’m not sure why I did, I just felt like I had to.
Brendan nods and heads over to his car, parked in the street. He says he’ll pick us up in half an hour.
We get tickets to some horror movie. It’s PG-13, so I already know it isn’t going to be any good.
I feel strange while we wait in the lobby. For one thing, I’m clearly the only one that hasn’t showered. Things get even worse when the two girls – their dates – arrive. I have to be introduced and reintroduced at least five times. “Carter?” “No, it’s Parker.” And after the introductions, no one pays much attention to me.
In the theater, I sit on the end next to Tom. He leans in to whisper to Courtney and Brendan about how scary the movie is the whole time. He’s lying. I know he is – the movie sucks. I try saying something to him, but he just nods and then goes right back to the others. I don’t like it at all.
I shouldn’t have come, but it’s too late. I wait around all day just to see Tom and now here I am, with him, and I’m being ignored. This is probably just what Brendan wanted. I fell right into it.
The movie finally ends and Brendan takes me home. I go right up to my room and get into bed. I want to sleep and forget about today.
The Goons come over again later. I hear them yell back and forth to each other downstairs in the living room. They’re gearing up for another hunt. I want to join them. I want to shoot something. I want to release everything inside of me. I want to kill.
But all I do is stay laying in my room and feeling stupid. And it’s all thanks to Tom’s new, super-cool friend, Brendan.
For the last couple weeks, Tom has constantly had plans with Brendan. Sometimes they invite me too, but I mostly decline. I don’t want another movie date experience. I’m not just a tag-along.
But even when I’ve gotten some time with just Tom, all he talks about is Brendan. How he did something crazy at practice. Or how he said something hilarious last night. I have to hold my breath when Tom tells these stories. If I don’t, I might cut him off or say something mean. But sometimes I wish I would just say something mean. Sometimes I wish I could speak my mind, tell Brendan off right to his face. I almost did, once.
Brendan and Tom picked me up after practice and we all went to lunch. As in, I sat there and ate while they went on and on about people I didn’t know. After, Brendan dropped Tom off first and then took me to my house. We rolled into my driveway and I was about to get out, but before I did, I said, “How long do you think you and Tom will be friends?”
He laughed and said, “That’s a funny question. I don’t know. Hopefully a while.”
I don’t know what I expected him to say, but apparently that wasn’t it. I got all angry and my face got hot. I turned to him and said, “Do you even love Tom?”
I stared at him for a second. I wanted to scream and tell him that it wasn’t fair that Tom wanted to be with him more than me. Tell him I thought it was crazy that I wasn’t good enough anymore, but that he was. Tell him that I was sick of it, that I wanted him gone because I wanted my best friend.
He said, “Are you just messing with me?”
I didn’t know what else to do, so I just said, “Yes.”
Then I got out of the car and went inside, not telling him anything. And I never got another chance to actually lay into him because, after that, he started always dropping me off first.
I’ve given up on trying to hang out with them at all. I get too angry when I do. So over the last couple days I’ve just been sitting around at home and wondering why I’m not good enough for Tom anymore. Wondering why he doesn’t look at me the same way, the way he looks at Brendan. Wondering if I messed everything up. If I kissed him too soon.
There has to be something going on between Tom and Brendan. Something more than what they want me to know. I can feel it. And I want to end it.
By now, Dad is home. He asks me if anything is wrong, but I tell him no. I don’t think he’d understand. And if Aidan found out what was going on, I’d never hear the end of it. “My boyfriend, Tom.”
Dad goes out with his friends one night, so I’m stuck with Aidan again – my trailer park dad. Not a minute after Dad shuts the door, Aidan comes over to the couch and bonks me on the head. “Come on, faggot.”
I follow him up to his room. He goes under his bed and pulls out a shoebox and opens it up. Inside is the same handgun from weeks before.
“You still have it?”
“Yeah,” Aidan says. “Dad hasn’t even noticed. And the idiot neighbors think we’re just setting off fireworks. Looks like holding onto this puppy was a good idea.”
He takes it out of the shoebox and we head for the backdoor. We’re going on another hunt together.
We get outside and do what we did last time, minus the Goons. Soon, Aidan calls over to me. He’s found something.
It’s a squirrel. It goes from acorn to acorn, stopping to inspect each one. Aidan says it’s the perfect target. He aims the gun at it and tells me to back up.
I watch this scene unfold right in front of me and all this energy courses through my body. I’m anxious. I feel his finger putting pressure on the trigger. “Stop!” I say.
He lowers the gun and looks at me, annoyed as hell. Then I ask if I could shoot this time.
He smiles and hands me the gun. I point it at the squirrel and fire, hitting it every time. Aidan pats me on the back and says he didn’t think I had it in me.
I called Tom the night before and suggested that we all go down to the pool to end our summer right. I was sure to have Tom tell Brendan to bring his bike. We could drive all throughout fall and winter, but we can only ride bikes for so long. Tom agreed. So now we’re here, the three of us, riding bikes through the woods on the last day of summer vacation.
My whole body shakes as we get closer to the creek. My heart is pumping fast. I’m going to do it. I feel the gun in my waistband. And Brendan has no idea. He’s calling up to Tom about picking him up tomorrow for school. Little does he know. I almost laugh out loud.
I see the ninety-degree hill and now’s my chance. I pedal faster, gaining on him.
I’m going to ram his back tire and he’s going to crash and fall down the hill towards the creek like he’s being sucked in by a black hole. Then, I’ll stop, get off my bike, slowly walk up to his cut up body, and shoot him in the face, like a god damn helpless animal.
Then all my muscles tense up and I can’t pedal anymore. I fall way behind until I can’t see them anymore. They don’t notice. I get off my bike and throw it to the ground.
I go down to the creek and sit on the stone shore and start crying. I think I know why. I was about to shoot Brendan. I was about to shoot someone, helpless and hurt. The same way Aidan shot the raccoon… The same way I shot the squirrel. They didn’t deserve to die. And neither does Brendan.
I bring the gun to my temple.
I deserve to die. I’m crazy. I’m not helpless, I’m hopeless.
I close my eyes and pull the trigger.
Out of ammo. I’m dizzy. I drop the gun, freaked out by the actions of my own body, and shove my face into my arms.
“Parker!” I hear Tom and Brendan calling for me from above.
I yell back, telling them I’m down here. I hear their tires against the dirt, getting closer and closer. I know they’ll see the gun. I know I’ll have to explain everything. And, this time, I think I can.
Doug Patrick is a student at Skidmore College. His fiction has also appeared on Drunk Monkeys and in Gravel Literary Journal.