My unpublished manuscript ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ chronicles Andrew Brown’s struggle to reconnect with his best friend Pete Goodman as a lurid secret Andrew has never told threatens to break them apart for good.
As I mentioned in “A Reintroduction: The Prologue,” I intend to post edited chapters every few weeks. Here’s a sample from Chapter 10. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.
On the couch and all alone again, I scroll to Ant’s number. She put it in my phone after dinner the other night.
I should tell her, I think, not about Pete and Ms. Benevo, but about me and her, Ms. Benevo. She’d understand. She always understood even when I didn’t. Maybe. Maybe she won’t.
I feel my eyelids getting heavy. They flutter down, down, down like an angel on high descending. And I’m seeing through fewer and fewer crevices, fading into the shadows that surround me in my life, in my dreams – the ones that offer me no reprieve from the present.
Then, I’m not on the couch. I’m somewhere else I can’t see. It’s darker than a cave without a torch, a church maybe. Yes, it’s a church. And it seems familiar.
St. Peter’s, that’s where, and someone’s running for the bathroom. Without the sensation of my limbs moving, I’m following him. And I’m there and he’s rubbing his flushed face with running water, water as red as wine. He’s covered in it.
Under the incandescent lights that are uncomfortably bright, like we’re on a stage with the spotlights turned up, I see that the beads streaming down his face are glass. And although it’s blank, I recognize his face from somewhere.
He’s mounting the sink now and throwing his belt over the labyrinth of exposed pipes. What is he doing? I think, but I know what he’s doing with the strap fastened around his neck and when he jumps it snaps taut – the same sound my uncle’s did before he belted me.
Wheezing, gasping, and flailing, he squirms and kicks and tries to reach the sink behind him, but his legs aren’t long enough – only a few inches away, a chasm that could’ve been miles. The fear of the unknown bulges from his eyes. After one final heave, his arms fall slack and his feet dangle like a mobile from a crib.
His imperceptible face, lifeless and limp, is coming into view now. And those eyes with their sickly pallor, those eyes looking back at me are mine.
I’m back where I was in the beginning. In St. Peter’s. Alive. Except something’s on the floor. No, someone. Can’t be, I think, not him. It is, though; it’s Pete.
I lunge forward, I want to run to him, but I can’t move; something’s holding me in place, a force greater than myself, Pete, or anyone else, and I’m screaming inaudibly for help I know no one will hear, help I know will never make it in time. Tommy’s beside him; his hand, a hand that should’ve been mine, is covering Pete’s, but neither of their hands can catch all the slippery life that’s flowing freely from him. Just like the catcher in the rye can’t save all the kids going over the cliff.
Blood covers the once luminous marble floor in a coagulated canvas. They’re all covered in it. Yet, no one cares; tourists and locals keep moving past unfazed.
Pete tries to say something, but the only sound I hear is the tears splashing against his face that’s innocently aloof like a small child who’s just finished a Popsicle. With his blue lips and cherry stained face, he looks ready for a nap. He is.
Tommy’s still gripping Pete’s hand, white and without a pulse. It doesn’t matter; he’s gone. And as Becky closes his eyes for him, Lilly takes him from Tommy and cradles him as if he’s her own child, rocking him back and forth in her arms.
Drenched in his blood, her white skirt stained like a virgin’s sheets, she whispers something to him. And it’s in my ear.
“You always could make a scene.”
I wake up, breathless and still. Tommy’s soundly asleep in the other bed. Pete’s nowhere to be seen. Sweated sheets cling to me.
I shudder. All that blood; I was so helpless. And those pale eyes with as much life in them as boiled onions coming into view, they were mine.
An eerie feeling – a guilt, a debt – wracks me. I get up and shake fitfully. The more I think about it, though, the more sense it starts to make. Not the dream, but me and Pete and Ms. Benevo.
I was jealous in the beginning, last summer, the summer going into senior year. He missed an absolute banger I threw at my parents’ place – the one where Melissa and Jenny started making out in the hot tub and then Bruiser started making out with them and might’ve taken them both to bed and Marie threw up on the deck and John Walter Burns, fucking WASP, jumped off the balcony and broke his arm.
Pete said he fell asleep, but he never missed one of my parties. Something was up, and it had been since junior prom; that’s when he started acting weird. We didn’t go to the beach club that summer. We didn’t go to Randall’s Island for any shows. Just some beers on the playground once and a couple bong rips in his pool.
Def hooking up w someone, Lilly had texted me after I solicited her advice – not like u2 r exclusive jkjk lol.
ROTFL!!! I responded although I wasn’t rolling on the floor laughing; I was devastated. My best friend was seeing someone, was ditching me for someone, and he didn’t think it important enough, I was important enough, to tell me?
This past fall, we finally had it out in my living room. He at the bottom and me at the top of these grand stairs that go up to the second floor bedrooms – each with their own bathroom – and a game room my mother had installed for Pop one Christmas, a room he’s still never seen.
I was apoplectic. He had bailed last minute on Richie Dunlap’s back-to-school blowout and he was supposed to pick me up, so I had to drive all the way to Lilly’s on the water in Bayshore and tag along with her because you can’t show up solo.
“I shot you a text. You didn’t get it? I–”
“No, clearly not, or else we wouldn’t–”
“I got tied up, Brown, what do you want me to say? I’m really sorry.”
“Tied up? You got tied up?”
He nodded as if the Gospel of Peter was good enough, and we should leave it at that. I couldn’t, though; I never could. Once I got all worked up, it was a slow burn to put out. And I was just about to ignite.
“Screw that, fucking liar! You blew me off!”
“Now, you don’t have to–”
But I cut him off again; I wasn’t done yet. “The girls went off the minute we got there, and you know what I did? I talked to Becky Gillespie almost the whole night – Becky Gillespie!”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, Brown, that’s pretty bad – I get it. I messed up, I know.”
“Tell me what the hell is going on, Pete! Who is she?” I sounded like a jilted lover. He picked up on it too; a small smirk appeared on his face.
“I can’t, Brown, I really can’t.”
“You can’t? You can’t! What is she, in the CIA or something? Or is it Lindsay Lohan?”
He shakes his head playfully.
“No? Too easy, right? Hmmmm” – I fake ponder, tapping my chin – “okay, okay I think I’ve got it: Batman! That’s it, isn’t it? You’re bedding Batman? Or actually Batgirl, unless you’re into that thing.”
He rubs his face in his hands, but he’s full-on grinning now and I know I’ve got him. He’ll spill the beans soon, and I can finally see who the guy no one ties down has let tie him down.
“She’s older, that’s it. And married? No, not married, but definitely older.”
“You swear? Swear you won’t tell anyone.”
“I swear, Pete. Come on, it’s not like I’m going to know her.”
“She’s a teacher, Brown.”
My stomach lurched. A teacher? “You’re shitting me.” I felt like I was falling down a cliff, hitting every rock on the way to the bottom. Of all the adults who could fuck him, it had to be a teacher.
“Yeah, it’s kind’a bad. That’s why I didn’t tell you. If anyone ever found out, it would be…”
Next thing, I thought, he’s going to tell me she teaches art at Balaam. No chance.
“You actually know her, she’s our–”
“You’re fucking Ms. Benevo?”
“Yeah, wait what? What? How’d you…Brown, you’re scaring me. I figured you’d be going nuts, you know, she’s a teacher! A teacher! And you’re like–”
And his lips kept moving, but I just stared at him, through him, thinking about the teacher I hadn’t thought about in almost a year, had forced myself not to because it had to be me, not her.
“She’s not like these other girls with their BS; she’s more…experienced. I feel like she really gets me, you know?”
Only a fag would complain about fooling around with his hot teacher, right? The things she did to me, though, the things I let her do to me. I couldn’t tell him; I couldn’t tell anyone. Ever.
“Brown?” Pete whistles yoo hoo. “Earth to Brown, come in.” I come back down to reality. “You okay?”
“Yeah, wow, I’m, uh, yeah, Pete, I’m fine. That’s just a, jus a – wow – just a great pull, that’s all,” I stuttered, wiping my suddenly clammy palms on my jeans. But I was as far away from fine as my parents’ marriage was. I went to the bathroom and threw up everywhere. My world was turning sideways.
I looked in the mirror that spanned the entire wall, the questions swirling around my head that I would never ask – It had to be her? With him? She chose him? Over me? – before I walked out and the ones came that I would – Are they actually dating? Or just screwing? – but he didn’t know, was just “going with it,” he said. Then, Tommy came over, and we smoked a lot of hash and slipped into comas by the pool. And that was the last we talked about it like humans.
Copyright (C) 2017 Andrew Chapin