Lancelot and the Big Bang
by Rick Beck
It was late Saturday afternoon when the door slammed. Bang looked at the corner of his screen to see that it was 5:39.
"How'd the game go?"
"It was a scrimmage and see if I ask you to go again. Thanks, Bang. Thanks for nothing. I'm sorry I asked."
"Don't mention it. Did you win?"
"Ended in a tie," Lance said, pulling off his shirt and wiping his underarms.
"How ungratifying. No victor. No victory. You must have been left unfulfilled."
"Why didn't you come?" Lance demanded as he stood behind Bang's chair. "I asked you nice. When did I ever ask you for anything?"
"Oh, I don't know. Soap, towels, pick up after you. Listen to your tales of woe."
"I mean ask for anything important?"
"Lance, I know it's difficult for you to fathom, but I have these pesky little exams I'm studying for. I could have taken time to go appease my roommate or I could do what I came here to do. I chose the latter. Actually, if you want me to be brutally honest, I forgot. You didn't remind me. I only remembered, after hearing the door slam."
"Whatever," Lance said, aggravated by the unsatisfactory response. "You could have told me you weren't coming."
"And have two little scenes as opposed to this one gigantic one. I didn't remember. You didn't remind me. It wasn't on the top of my list of things to do."
"It meant something to me. To ask someone to do something for me and they just don't even think you're worth a couple of their fucking precious hours. At least I know where we stand. I thought we were getting to be friends. You wouldn't forget if it meant anything to you. You never forget anything else."
The chair turned and Bang looked up at the red face of the angry boy.
"I thought that was what you thought. I'll give you a piece of advice. I know you won't take it and you won't understand it but I'm going to give it to you anyway. Never ask a nerd to go out of his way to spend time with jocks.
"I have no desire to revisit the torment of my youth. I have no desire to be reminded of where I fit on the food chain as dictated by jocks like you. Some freak accident of fate has us living together and I can deal with that without too much difficulty. I can even make an effort to have some understanding of who you are as an individual. What I can't do is in any way give support or credence to the jockdom to which you belong.
"I can't be around your jock friends. I can't even do that for you with all your personality and charm. I thought I could go, but once I started thinking about my past I knew going would betray who I've become in spite of what you types tried to make me. That's why I didn't go. It had nothing to do with you. It's the natural order of things. Nothing personal. Jocks and nerds are like oil and water, and now you know the terrible truth. I forgot because I didn't want to remember."
"I'll remember. Don't think I won't. I understand perfectly. We're from different worlds, you and I, and those two worlds can never meet. Thanks for the lesson in Humanities 101. I did try. I thought maybe we could prove that nerds and jocks can get along if we make the effort. But you're right, we can't. We never will. From now on you stay in your world and I'll stay in mine. I'll put a notice on the board at Allegheny Hall that I'm looking for someone to room with ASAP."
"Clean towels are in the drawer," Bang said unemotionally.
"Yeah!" Lance bristled.
An uneasy peace lived in the room for the next few days. Neither student acknowledged the other boy's presence. Bang went about his reading and computer use and Lance came and went, with little conversation passing between them. On Tuesday the package arrived and Lance came to the room with it tucked under his arm right away. He hoped not to run into Bang in the middle of the day, but he did.
"Here's the socks and underwear we agreed on," Lance said, tossing one cellophane package toward the computer and then another.
Bang knocked the socks down in mid-flight and they slid under his desk and the underwear went over his head, and after bouncing off the wall, they ended up behind his computer. He had an acidic comment at the ready, but he bit his tongue instead and leaned forward to retrieve the errant package.
"They're boxers. They're 30 waist. I told you… never mind."
"Sorry, too small for me. Let's see... Lan, she calls me Lan, thinks it sounds more manly. 'I've sent the usual. Having had my experience with losing weight, I'm sending you 30 waist because you are bound to gain back part of the weight you must have lost. They must be working you hard. Don't forget to study now and then. You need to keep your grades up so you'll be able to get the job you want.'
"Amen!" Bang said without thinking. "She seems to know you pretty well."
Lance glared up over the top of the letter at Bang. "No comments from the peanut gallery, if you please. That explains the underwear size."
"I didn't say anything. She said it."
"Where was I? Oh yeah, I put in some of my fudge nut brownies. Knock yourself out, Mom," he said softly. "Oh man, you got to taste these, Bang."
Forgetting the hostilities for the time being he dug into the bottom of the box and took out a package, ripping through three levels of aluminum foil and some wax paper, while Bang opened the boxer shorts, pulling out a light lime green pair.
"These are incredible," Lance said devouring one large piece and making loud noises as he ate it. "Take one. You'll never go back. I promise you."
"Oh shut up and take a damn brownie. You can put it in your fucking shoe when I'm not looking, like I do with your crappy candy."
"Mom?" Bang said, letting the bait lie for a change. "Aunt Brenda is your mother? I've heard of this in West Virginia, I believe."
Even though there were some places Bang was too wise to go, when it came to curiosity he was all ears, most of the time wanting more.
Lance chewed on one of the brownies, closed his eyes, and got a blissful look on his face. He consumed two before he offered Bang a second Brownie, which he quickly took before biting into it.
"They are quite good. Mom? What's up with that? I'm detecting a little family intrigue."
"It's a long story and not one you're ever going to hear. I'm being nice here. Don't push it, Bang. Don't push me."
Lance's words were curt and they were said in an ominous tone. Bang turned back to the computer, licking his fingers and smacking his lips in Lance fashion. Bang had rarely gotten homemade goodies. He would ask for more, except the ground was already shaky enough. He knew it was his doing and no other's. He wished he could make up for his disagreeableness but he wasn't certain how to accomplish it. So, he stood, pushing his shorts and underwear to the floor the way Lance did it, and stepping out of them. He put on the green boxer shorts, snapping the waist band to bring attention to his compromise.
"Would you bust my hand if I reached for another piece?" Bang asked, trying to smooth over the hard feelings.
Lance held out the box for Bang to take another large square.
"They complement your 'unusual' eyes," Lance observed.
"You're hopeless," Lance said.
Bang bent to retrieve the socks from under his desk, holding up the new brownie to keep it safe. When he stood the fly of his boxers opened and Willie sprang free of restraint as Bang held the brownie in his mouth to open the socks.
"See what you mean about boxers," Lance quipped, licking each of his fingers. "You're a real mess."
Putting down the socks and biting the brownie, Bang tucked Willie back into the boxer shorts. When he went to take a pair of socks from the bag, the boxers slid down off his waist. His hips were just large enough to keep them from falling onto the floor. Lance shook his head as he noticed Bang's plight.
"It's not fair you know," Lance said mournfully.
"It's not? You mean you want the brownie back?"
"No, it isn't fair you're such a stud. Jocks are supposed to be the studs. Nerds… well nerds are supposed to be whatever it is they are. They aren't supposed to be studs. Why should you have all that equipment hanging there going to waste."
"I'll leave you to be the best judge of that," Bang answered. "It's not a matter of waste, it's a matter of dormancy. It'll come in handy later."
"It's another of nature's little jokes," Lance lamented.
"Size is highly overrated," Bang answered. "In reality, the normal male penis can accomplish everything a larger version can."
"Yes, that's probably true, unless you have the misfortune of courting a girl who likes her men large and we aren't talking football player large here."
"It's all academic. You play the hand you're dealt. Jocks are only studs because they spend all their time telling each other that's what they are. Nerds rarely do."
"Yeah, but it still isn't fair," Lance said, reaching for another brownie. "They're great, aren't they? Sometimes they come all crumbled up, doesn't matter a bit. I save the aluminum and lick it once I've eaten them all."
"I suppose if one must lick something that's as good as anything," Bang said.
"Wise ass. I know one other thing I can lick with no trouble at all," Lance said, sounding hostile again.
"Sorry, just washed my mouth and I can't do a thing with it," Bang apologized, knowing he was making bad matters worse.
"You must wash it a lot," Lance said, wrapping the brownies up tightly before carefully placing them back in the box and stashing it under his bed. "If you don't mouth off before tomorrow, you'll get more. If you do, you get zip, no matter how much you beg."
"I'm sorry, Lance. I've got a wise mouth and I deserve the silent treatment. I understand and I'll do better. It's me, it isn't you. I know that."
"Not going to happen. No, you can apologize all you want, but one wise ass remark and you don't get any more brownies."
"I don't care about the brownies. I care that I act like a jerk."
"Yeah, well, you am what you am," Lance compromised.
"They have courses in US History, World History, several histories of Asian countries, Egyptian, Roman, Greek. I think you'd do best going with US. You'll probably recognize a lot of the material. We always know more than we think we know, you know."
"I don't have time for that," Lance said, lying back on his bed.
"Look, don't cut off your nose to spite your face. Take the course. Drop if you can't handle it. If you're still here, I'll help you as best I can. You need the certificate. If you don't start on it now you'll never start. You can be pissed off at me and still do what needs to be done. I'm good at that, and I'll feel comfortable helping you study."
"You're doing it again," Lance growled.
"Doing what? I'm sorry. Whatever I'm doing, I'm sorry. I'm trying to make up for some of the things I said to you, is all. I was having a bad day, okay?"
"You're being nice, is what. I know what you think of me. Quit pretending you care about my future when you don't. You hate jocks and I'm a jock."
"Don't you understand I'm doing it for me, Lance? How's it going to look in ten years when I'm on the cover of Time, and Newsweek, and they're writing this amazing story of how talented, worldly, and cutting edge I am. Then, in the last paragraph they put a footnote, "But in spite of Mr. Phillips' superior intellect and all around appeal, his roommate at University of Maryland was unable to make the grade, and when last heard of was riding the rails of some rural state. 'How's it going to look, I ask you?' So you see, I've got to help you."
"So you're saying if I'm a failure it'll reflect badly on you? It's a tempting idea, I must say, but you aren't as smart as you think you are. I'll take the classes, but I'll take them for my reasons, not to pad your resume'."
"That's cool, Lance. However you want to do it is fine with me."
"Like you said, US history sounds like it would be best."
"I got a big mouth and I plan to keep it curbed. I'm not as smart as I think I am, and conversely, you are a lot smarter than you give yourself credit for."
"Go ahead. Fill my head with flattery, you ain't getting no more brownies today."
"You keep your brownies. They're very good, but I can see how much you like them. What about training?"
"Yeah, right! You bitched and complained about those socks and underwear not coming and when they do you just leave them sitting there. I can always steal my towels from the locker room. It's not like I won't return them once they're dirty. The soap's free. If I were smart I'd shower over there anyway."
Bang jumped up in a flash, ripping open one of the cellophane packages. He turned his back, pushed his briefs to the floor and kicked them off before stepping into a pair of powder blue boxers that he knew were way big for his twenty-eight waist. He would make the effort. There wasn't that much of the school year left and he didn't want to spend it arguing with Lance.
"There. Does that make you happy?" Bang said, turning to model the boxers which had settled four inches below his navel barely able to hang on his hips.
"Blue is your color," Lance said smiling. "And I ain't going to laugh at your tallywhacker, Bang. We're big boys and only juveniles do that. I'm not quite as gross as those guys that made fun of you, and I didn't do it."
"I know. They're way big," he said, holding out the waistband and looking in before letting it come to rest on his red bunny tracks.
"I guess you're trying to convince me to give you more brownies? You should grow into them by next term if I keep the brownies coming."
"No thank you. I have no desire to get any bigger than I am," Bang said firmly. "Thin is in, but boxers make my nuts itch. Everything just floats around in here."
"You're no bigger'n a minute. You can hardly hold up thirty shorts and you're six foot forever. You need to let go some, Bang."
"Yeah, some like my mother. She's three hundred pounds. No thank you. I'm never going there."
"That why they divorced?" Lance asked.
"Aunt Brenda is your mother?"
Bang went back to his computer and Lance fell asleep once the impasse was reached.
It was Thursday when the door swung open with a clatter, colliding loudly with the wall and echoing down the hall. It was late for Lance to be coming in from practice. Bang's nose was stuck in his book and he wasn't about to unstick it to look at the obvious attempt at attention. He could see the shadow out of the corner of his eye, but he wasn't going to comment, even though there was something odd about the way it didn't move.
Finally, he looked.
"What in the world happened to you?" Bang said.
"I need some help," Lance said, despondent.
"What happened?" Bang asked, leaping from the bed and rushing to grab the gym bag and books from his roommate. He was on crutches.
"Thanks," Lance said, moving awkwardly into the room.
"How'd you get here?"
"One of the guys dropped me off out front. I told him I could handle it from there. I'm still learning to steer these things. It's not as easy as it looks."
"How'd you get down the stairs with all this crap? Why didn't you leave it? I'd have gone and gotten it for you."
"Sorry if I fucked up again. It really wasn't a problem. I wondered what Bang would do if he were in my place, but I threw my books and the gym bag down the stairs anyway. Then I hopped down the stairs holding on to the railing. I did have a little trouble getting that damn door open. I didn't want to bother you, but I always find a way."
"You're so dense. I don't mind helping anyone who needs help. Why do you make it so difficult? It's not as hard as you make it."
"That's easy for you to say. I don't want to need help. I can do it on my own. I've always done it on my own. Just leave me alone now that you've helped."
"Yeah, well, we all need help. Some of us just need more than others is all. Give me those things," Bang ordered, "They're too tall for you, you know. The fulcrum's all wrong."
"Yeah, well, they're too short for you. Big fucking deal. I'll manage."
"But I don't need them. Lean on me and give me those things."
"I'll help you over to the bed and then I'll adjust these stilts so they'll be comfortable."
"They're just fine. I like 'em like that. Leave them the fuck alone. Leave me alone. I didn't ask you for any help."
"Yes, you did."
"I did. What was I thinking?"
"You were thinking you needed help."
"You're worried about fucking comfort and my life is over. I don't want to be comfortable. I don't want your help. Leave me the fuck alone, will you," Lance said, standing unaided in the middle of the room swaying precariously. "Can you slow this room down a little?"
"You're drunk. Who got you drunk?"
"The guys. They wouldn't give me any pain meds at the clinic. Said I had to go over to the hospital or wait for the doctor to come tomorrow. No problemo. One of the seniors got me a bottle of Southern Comfort."
"They got you drunk and left you at the top of the stairs with crutches that don't fit you. Who are these guys? Jocks!"
"They're my friends. Leave them out of this. Nothing wrong with being drunk. You ought to try it."
Bang moved up under Lance's arm and had him almost to the bed before he noticed he was being helped.
"What the fuck you doing? Leave me alone, I said."
"I'm helping you to the bed before you fall down."
"I already fell down. I don't care if I fall down. Leave me the fuck alone. I don't want to lie down," Lance complained as Bang eased him into his bunk.
"Hold this damn room still. This is no time to be fucking around, Bang. Cut it out. Oh, my fucking head."
"It's not the room."
"Oh! It's not? What is it?"
"You are a fucking genius, aren't you? Figure that out all by yourself, now did you? I could'a told you that."
Bang stood looking down at his helpless roommate. His eyes fluttered before shutting. They snapped back open again, like he was afraid to let go of what little control he had left. Both of his hands held the bed as he tried to keep it from swirling around. His legs moved up and down like he was pedaling a tiny bicycle and Bang wasn't sure what to do for him.
"Let me take your shoes off. Is it broken?"
"No, don't take your shoes off or no, it isn't broken?"
"Sprain. Four to six weeks. Spring practice will be over. I'm off the first team. I couldn't keep up before and now this. I'm fucked. My scholarship is toast. My life is over."
"Certainly there is some arrangement to assist a player if he's injured while preparing to play for the school. You got hurt playing for them," Bang said, finishing the adjustment on the crutches. "You can try these out tomorrow. I don't think you should do any more driving tonight."
Bang untied his one shoe and slipped it off. The other shoe was barely on his foot. There was a wrap under the right sock that extended up around his ankle. He noticed the bed shaking. He looked up. Lance was crying and twisting the blanket in his fists.
"Did I hurt you?" Bang said, thinking he had. "I'm sorry."
"You? Hurt me? Get real, asshole. You couldn't hurt me on your best day. My life is over. Can't you see that?"
"No! I see that you're drunk. And you smell like those socks. You'll be fine in the morning. You don't drink much, do you?"
"I'm in training," Lance yelled loud enough for them to hear at Allegheny Hall. "I can't drink."
"You're telling me. Close your eyes and try to get some sleep."
Bang went back to the computer and left Lance on the bed. He had closed his eyes and was resting quietly. It was a few hours later when Bang got up and Lance was staring out of the bed at him.
"Thirsty. I didn't want to bother you while you were working. What were you working on?"
"Physics. It's a bear."
"I bet. My mouth is like cotton."
Bang filled a glass with water and brought it back to the bed. Lance leaned up on one elbow and drank it dry before handing it back. He then started to laugh and quickly fell back and held his head between both of his hands.
"Remind me never to laugh again," he implored.
"What's so funny?" Bang asked.
"Oh! I almost forgot. Your tallywhacker got away from you again. That's some serious meat you got there, Bang. What were those boys laughing at, anyway?"
Bang looked down and tucked himself away. It reminded him why he didn't like boxers.
"They were jocks. Maybe you can tell me why tormenting someone is funny to you types."
"I'm not laughing. Do you have some aspirin in case I do laugh? My head's killing me."
"Yeah, but it won't help and it might upset your stomach. You best get some sleep and it'll be better sometime tomorrow if you're lucky."
"Sometime tomorrow? Don't tell me that. I'm awake now. Man, I smell something fierce. How'd I get down here?"
"On your own. You came staggering in a few hours ago. I don't know how you made it this far. I fixed your crutches for you."
"I don't suppose I could talk you into helping me to the showers? I went straight from the field to the clinic and they brought me my clothes while we were waiting for the X-rays."
"Sure, I'm done. I had a paper due in the morning. What about that wrapper you have on your ankle?"
"I can rewrap it. That's no problem. What I can't do is stand up on my own and wash this smell off me. Did I throw up? I feel like shit."
"I'll help you with the standing up part. I don't do washing," Bang said firmly. "If you threw up you did it some place else. Good move, too."
"Thanks," Lance said, sounding morose.
"Thanks for what? I haven't done anything. I might drop you before this is all over with."
"Yeah, you have. You put up with my shit. I'm sorry I've been such a dick. I'm not used to being around someone smart."
"Yeah, well, sometimes I think too much. I'm working on it. We might both be more considerate, and I know better, so I'm more responsible than you are. I'm supposed to be intelligent."
"Thanks, anyway. Now that we're finished bullshitting each other, help me up so I can get out of these stinking clothes."
"Always adding the proper touch to every conversation," Bang lamented.
"I really need a shower before I pass out again. It's not just me I'm thinking about, you know. By the morning I'll reek. The smell will wake you up and you'll be bitchy all day. If I shower tonight we can avoid all that."
"How considerate. You do have a point, even if showering with you seems as though it can only lead to trouble."
"It's my ankle that's hurt. I can still defend myself if you get any funny ideas."
"I'll do my best to restrain myself. You know how fond of you I've become."
"Just keep your hands where I can see them at all times," Lance said, seriously slurring his words.
"In your condition I don't think my hands are the worry."
"Talk so I can understand what we're talking about."
"Maybe we should quit while we're ahead. Lean on the bed so you don't fall down while I'm undressing you."
Lance stood on one leg holding onto the end of the top bunk bed while watching Bang undress him. He remained silent until Bang pulled his shirt up over his head.
"Yes, I didn't want to be the first to mention it."
"When is the room going to stop moving?"
"That answer will come from the Gods. I avoid drunkenness and have little experience with the consequences."
"I feel like I've been chewing on cotton balls."
"I've never thought of cotton in those terms. It's true. You can learn things from almost any quarter."
"I can hear you, Bang, but I'll be damned if I can understand a damn thing you're saying. I wish you'd cut it out. I'm fucked up enough without having to figure out what in the hell you're talking about."
"I think you'll feel better after you've slept it off. I probably shouldn't have given you water. I recall someone saying it can prolong the symptoms."
"You aren't going to undress?" Lance asked, swaying with the room he stood in.
"I'm only wearing underwear. Somehow taking them off to escort you to the showers might look suspicious if someone would come upon us."
"Yeah, but I'm not wearing underwear and would come upon the same someone as you. How will that look, me leaning on you with my tallywhacker swinging in the breeze. Misery likes company, Bang. You ought to leave your underwear here so I don't look funny."
"Hardly a breeze and you'd require somewhat more of a presentation for it to do much swinging, Lance."
"Just because I don't have a lot of overflow doesn't make me any less a man than you, Bang," Lance rambled.
"I think that has something to do with the trouble with jocks," Bang said.
"What's the trouble with jocks?"
"Your mind is intimately connected to the size of your genitalia. In your warped sensibility you think a large penis is somehow connected to how manly you are. In reality the size of your penis doesn't mean diddly-squat."
"How come only guys that got size say that?" Lance observed.
"Put your arm over my shoulder and get the door."
"Someone's at the door? I don't have any clothes on," Lance said with alarm.
"Lance, you're trying my patience. I don't want to spend the rest of the night getting you washed. Bend your leg at the knee and keep the ankle behind you so we don't bump it on anything."
Bang held Lance around the waist as they moved down the hall. Lance shoved the door to the bathroom open wide so it didn't close before the bad ankle was inside. He leaned against the cool tile as Bang adjusted the water to the proper temperature. Once it was satisfactory, he shoved down his underwear and hung it on the hook provided for towels, which reminded him, he hadn't brought two or even one.
"I'll let the water run on you while I'm getting towels," Bang said. "Stay under the water and it will keep you warm."
"I'm dizzy," Lance said.
"We've already covered that."
"Yeah, but I mean I'm dizzy enough to fall down. Don't let go of me. You got me here. You got to stay with me."
"You don't want me to get towels?"
"No, don't let go of me. That floor looks hard."
"Okay, let's get this over with. Can you wash yourself?"
"I'm not a baby, Bang."
"No, you're much heavier than a baby."
It took more effort to arrange Lance under the flowing water than it took to get him to the water. Lance waved and wagged as he seemed less in control of himself. Once his head was directly under the spraying warm water, Bang held him in place as he'd seen done in the movies, only in the movies they favored ice cold water. Bang wasn't going there.
"You've got your arms around me," Lance observed as he sagged back against Bang.
"My arms are about all there is between you and the floor."
"Can't you stand up?"
"I am standing u… aren't I? Quit confusing me."
"Barely. You're leaning back on me and I can't hold your deadweight."
"Oh. I'm not standing up?"
"I think I'm done," Lance mumbled.
"Lance, pick up the soap. You haven't even started."
"Oh no, I'm not as dumb as you think. I know about bending over to pickup the soap. No way, not with you tailgating me."
"Lance, the soap is in the soap dish. I'm that close behind you because you talked me into helping you in this endeavor. The key word is help. You aren't helping. You aren't even standing up."
"I am too. I'm just not sure which way is up with you so close to my posterior and you with no clothes on."
"And don't confuse me with your jock buddies, who may relish the idea of attending to someone foolish enough to pick up the soap in close proximity to them and their over-active hormones."
"That's not funny."
Lance reached for the bar of soap and started to apply it to his chest, no longer sure about which point he was being scolded for this time.
"Your arms are in the way. You want I should wash them?"
"Do what you want, but hurry up. I'm just wet enough to be freezing."
"Bitch, bitch, bitch," Lance said, as the soap squirted out of his fingers, bouncing off the wall and sliding to the back of the showers. "Woops."
"Lean against the wall. I'll get it," Bang said. He came back with the soap and lathered Lance from head to toe. Lance leaned with both arms over his head and one leg held up behind him, like some weird member of the stork family.
"I'm wet," Lance said, as they left the showers.
"Yeah, you are, and clean. I'm always amazed at how observant you are."
"We'll be in the room in a minute. I'll dry you off and get you in bed."
Lance didn't have much more to say once they got back to the room. Bang dried him off and guided him into his bunk. He got one of his books to read so he could fall asleep.
"You okay?" Bang asked before settling down for the evening.
"I can't go to sleep."
"The room still moving?"
"Not as much. I might get sick if I close my eyes."
"Close your eyes and go to sleep. We'll deal with getting sick if you get sick."
When Lance woke the following morning Bang was already at his computer.
"Where's my underwear?" Lance asked.
"I'd guess your underwear drawer."
"That's not what I mean. I had underwear on when I went to bed. Where'd they go?"
"Oh, maybe that girl you had in there with you took them as some perverted proof of conquest."
"Girl? What girl?"
"Well, if you can't keep track how can I?"
"There weren't no girl. I'd remember a girl. All I remember is you playing with my ass."
"Yeah, I can believe that. You were drunk. I helped you shower. As much as it pains me to admit it, I washed your… ass."
"Ouch! Oh, my fucking ankle. Now I remember. Why didn't you just drown me? My scholarship is toast. I'm fucked. Oh man, my head hurts," Lance said, holding his face with both hands.
Lance slowly swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stared at the wall for some time. He finally stood on his one good leg and put a crutch under each arm before journeying to get a clean pair of underwear. Half way there he jettisoned the crutches and hopped the rest of the way. Once back he put on the underwear and lay back on his bunk with his legs hanging out.
"I'll get the hang of those crutches when I'm feeling better. But right now I don't want to risk breaking my good leg trying to drag around the bad one."
"That might be a good idea. We can get your assignments off the computer and that way you won't fall behind in your studies. I can give you a hand if you want. Pick up any books you need."
"You'd do that? It might be my only hope of staying in school."
"I'd do that. It's what I've been trying to get you to do since you moved down here."
"Help the stupid jock?"
"You can feel sorry for yourself if you want, but hitting the books is the only chance you have now, Lance."
"Don't remind me. I've never been the brightest bulb in the bunch."
"No one is. All you've got to do is apply yourself and take the time to do your assigned reading."
The following week saw a mellowing of the differences between Bang and Lance. Both boys went out of their way to tone down the hostilities. They found they weren't all that different once they eliminated sports from the equation. This left Lance a little less likely to complain about Bang's inability to empathize with the amount of time he had devoted to soccer. Much to his surprise, Lance found himself doing more studying than at any time in his life.
The improvement in their relationship also allowed the boys to work together when Bang took it upon himself to assist Lance. The pain kept Lance off his crutches and away from his classes. After notifying all of his professors, Bang set it up to get his assignments each day.
Nothing was going to make Lance an ace student, but he did keep up in all his classes that weren't related to the athletic department. At first Lance asked questions and played along with Bang's desire to help him.
What could it hurt? Bang had gone out of his way to make sure he stayed in school. This tack would lead Lance to feeling more comfortable with Bang, which eventually gave him more confidence in his ability to learn.
By the following Thursday Bang was bringing in food specifically for Lance. Since they had different tastes in food, it was the one area Lance still felt comfortable complaining about. When Bang had the time to stop on his way to the room, he replaced the tuna, chicken salad, and cheese sandwiches that were his mainstay with hamburgers, fries, and big thick milkshakes. He was even tempted by Lance's fries, reaching for one from time to time. He eventually took to eating a burger before taking Lance his. This way Lance didn't realize how much of an impact he was having on Bang's routine.
On Friday the doctor told Lance to stay off the leg as much as possible for another week and return to see him the following Friday. Bang escorted Lance to make sure he made it okay. It was during the wait at the doctor's office that the boys began to talk about their personal lives.
For the first time Bang learned that Lance grew up without his mother as well. Although Bang had his mother, she was never around. Lance's mother died when he was too young to remember her. Their experiences with their fathers was also quite similar, although it wouldn't become apparent until later. The biggest difference was that Bang had been raised by institutions, whereas Lance had been raised by relatives.
"Can we stop at Mac's on the way back? I require my shot of fat for the day or I might faint."
"And I bought sardines last night. I even bought extra because I just knew you'd want a helping or two."
"Sardines?" Lance said, clipping right along with the crutches he was becoming accustomed to. "You can eat them?"
"They're a great source of that healthy fish oil."
"I can't imagine oil from a sardine doing anyone any good," Lance said, increasing his speed so he could get to MacDonald's all the faster.
Bang did order a chicken sandwich when Lance insisted on paying him back for some of the time and money he had spent during the week on his account. It was after the boys had settled back in for an evening of studying that their plans were loudly interrupted. At first it was the banging on the door that got their attention and when it swung open they found they had an unexpected guest.
"Bang! Why the hell don't you get a phone?"
"No one calls me. It would be a waste of your money," Bang said dispassionately.
"I'd call to let you know your favorite old man is in town. I was routed through D.C. and couldn't be that close without taking my boy to dinner."
"This is Lance, Dad. This is my father, Lance," Bang said, sliding off the top bunk to hug his father without conviction.
"You leave the door unlocked? Why the hell are you still down in this dungeon? I told you to get an apartment. Your old man can afford to get his boy a nice apartment. It isn't natural living underground. No sunlight. No windows. No air. What the hell died down here? You're usually so clean."
"I like it, Dad. It suits my personality. There's plenty of air. Lance happens to have a foot odor problem."
"I do not!" Lance objected. "They sweat."
"Yeah, well, get some clothes on. I'll take you and your friend to dinner."
"He's my roommate, Dad."
"That's nice. What happened to that chubby boy you had down here with you? Darwin, Kerwin, what was his name?"
"He get smart and find a real room? You two were pretty chummy as I recall."
"He dropped out of school. They put Lance in with me last month. He burnt his dorm down. There isn't any available housing. This was the best they could do."
"I did not," Lance objected. "It burned on its own."
"Doesn't look much like any of the other boys you've roomed with. Those your crutches, son? Have an accident, did we?"
"Yes, sir, on both counts," Lance answered. "I sprained it playing soccer."
"Oh, soccer. Good game, that. I've been in Europe. Quite popular there. Too tedious for American taste. Americans can't follow a sport that employs tactics over brute force."
"He's a jock, Dad. Use smaller words," Bang announced. "He sprained his ankle kicking his balls."
"Yes, well, I'm sure someone had to do it."
"Don't look so surprised. He's human."
"You're living with a jock? That's a first. As I recall you never got along with the athletic types."
"Yeah, not as bad as I thought it would be. We actually get along pretty well. He's fine. My father doesn't approve of organized sport. He says it isn't sport any more. He thinks they've turned everything into a business or some kind of a money making machine."
"Capitalism at work," Lance said.
"Greed! Originally sport was meant to build character and to teach teamwork. Lessons you can apply to life. Now, it's about the individual star and how much revenue he can generate. The team gives all to the star and the star takes everything and is always looking for a better deal. That's not sport."
"He's a jock, Dad. You aren't going to convert him. Give it up. We've been together almost two months and I've made no headway."
"Well, anyway, let's go out to that College Inn we found last time I was here. They had the best T-bone I think I've ever had. How about you Lance, a big fat old steak appeal to you at all?"
"Sure. I love steak. Don't get it too often."
"You going to fuss as usual because we don't go to some vegetarian establishment?"
"Nah, I had chicken last time, barbecued. It was great. I love their beefsteak fries."
"Well, we agree then, College Park Inn it is."
Mr. Phillips called a cab from the first phone booth and they met it on Route 1 at the entrance to the campus a few blocks away. They left Lance at the corner of the heating plant, directing the cab to him.
Even Bang found some enjoyment in leaving the confines of the university and his mundane schedule. The blazing lights and activity a few blocks from the boys' building was startling. Route 1 was lined with businesses and commerce operating all day and most of the night.
Mr. Phillips was a silent observer to this untidy companionship that had him chuckling at the boys' banter. He had his own difficulty with the jock mentality, but Lance was a likeable chap who seemed to soften some of Bang's hard edge. There was no illusion. Mr. Phillips wasn't much as fathers go. His efforts were for the most part in the form of financial support. The lavish gifts he could easily afford were meant to make up for his constant absence from his son's life.
He did stop whenever he was in DC on business. He knew it wasn't enough. With his fast paced life that required his full attention, there wasn't time to make sure that Bang's life was wonderful. He'd never tried to make it look like he did. Mr. Phillips was a believer in living the life you had and not dreaming about an ideal life that was rarely attainable.
The meal went well and they all sat with drinks while waiting for the agreed upon apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream. Bang was glad to be with his father. The visits came seldom and were always too short. At first there was private school and then the house had been sold. After that it was on to prep school and then the university. Once or twice a year, since he was nine, mostly unannounced, his father would be at his door. There would be dinner, plans, and happy conversation about their non-existent past before the sudden and unexpected departure. Bang's father always had a better place to be.
In his younger years this routine tore a hole in Bang's heart. He had no mother and his father was too busy for him, but he had all the advantages any boy could ask for. His father made sure his bank account was moderately filled and that all his books, courses, and accommodations were paid for. There was also the credit card should he find something he absolutely had to have, but he never did.
Bang didn't need much. He'd never had much of a life. At times he was tempted to run up some major bills to force his father to come and scold him for being wasteful. Even that idea lost its appeal as he grew up. Bang, too, accepted the life he had. He no long longed to have a mother, father, cat, and dog living together in a modest mansion. He wanted to finish his education so he could start a life of his own.
"Bang!" his father said in a voice that announced the giving had begun. "I want you to take care of my car while I'm in Manila. I don't want it sitting in a garage or at a lot. Do me this favor and I'll take care of all the expenses for you. You can get off campus and live a little."
"Dad, we talked about this. I don't need a car. It will only be a distraction. I'm fine without a car. I'm here to study."
"A car!" Lance blurted, leaning forward, knowing a car was all-important on campus. "A car would be nice, Bang. Think of the time we could save for studying if we drove to Macs."
"Macs? My son eats at McDonald's? Let me mark down the date."
"I get the chicken or fish. I do like fries. Don't get the wrong idea. He'd starve if I didn't keep him supplied with Big Macs."
"Let me get this straight. You go to McDonald's to get Lance what he likes?"
"He gets my assignments for me. He helps me with my classes."
"This is Bang Phillips?"
"This isn't like you. My stony solitudinarian son is doing something because it's what someone else likes?"
"You make it sound like I don't have any feelings. He needed help."
"McDonald's? There is help and then there's help. You've changed."
"I merely humor him. He'd cry if he didn't get to go to Macs… McDonald's."
"I would not. He brings an extra thing of fries back for himself. Once he's done with them he eats the rest of mine cold," Lance said, as though he were revealing some dark secret. "Once I found a wadded up hamburger wrapped in the bottom of the bag. He never eats a burger in front of me," Lance said to Mr. Phillips in an intimate voice.
"My son, eating at McDonald's. I never thought I'd see the day. You must have a real influence on my boy. No one else ever has."
"The more I see of this boy, the better I like him. He's more… more…."
"Studly," Lance offered with a smile.
"Never thought I'd see the day. Living with an athlete! Eating at McDonald's! Son, you must be something. Bang isn't prone to compromise his chosen lifestyle for anyone."
"You mentioned a car, Dad."
"Oh, yes, it's in the lot by that place where you live. I talked to Dr. Fisher this morning. There should be a decal for it in your box by now. If you get a ticket before you affix the decal, just put it in an envelope and send it to Fisher. He can arrange a very nice apartment off campus. Having nice digs would improve your social life. Use the card for the furniture. I'd have jumped at a chance like that when I was in school. Lance, maybe you can reason with him. You have quite an influence on my son."
"You mentioned a car, Dad?"
"I'm afraid it isn't new, Bang. You know me, always coming and going. Saw no point in keeping a new car. It would be old before I broke it in. It's nice. Small. Solid transportation for a student. I think I bought it with you in mind. It just isn't a car I feel comfortable letting sit for any length of time. Lance, you make sure he maintains it. He has a card. I have a petrol card somewhere. I'll send that along for backup. Wouldn't do to have you run out of petrol."
"I'm fine, Dad. I don't want anything. I really don't need a car."
"He's been studying real hard, Mr. Phillips. He doesn't know what he's saying. I'll make sure he keeps the car good as new. I'm good with mechanical stuff."
"You'll be doing me a big favor because I can't leave the car for two years. I may as well junk it. It would be worthless if it sat for two years. You'll understand once you see it. It's mechanically sound but it needs to be driven."
"Two years? You're going to Asia for two years?" Bang complained.
"If they send me to India it will be longer. It's an important project. I can't discuss the details, but it's big. I'll try to get back from time to time, but it would only be for a day if I do. I can write it off on my expense account if I do business in Washington."
"Sure, Dad. How long before you leave for Asia?"
"Oh, we'll spend the weekend together. Maybe run over to the shore. I haven't been to Ocean City in some time. I know how you like seafood. It's best over there."
"Ocean City?" Lance said, loving the sound of a trip to the shore.
"When do you fly to Asia?" Bang persisted.
"Sunday morning from BWI. I'll catch a cab to the airport. You don't need to worry."
"It's Friday night, Dad. You just got here."
"You know I'm always on the move. Knowing you have Lance with you eases my mind. He seems level headed. I'm glad you've met someone nice."
"Dad, he's my roommate. We aren't dating. He'll be very level headed if he can get his hands on a car."
"Bang!" Lance objected. "You know I don't care about your car."
"My father's car."
"I've never asked you for anything."
"No. Get my books. Get my assignments. Get my hamburger. Bang, I need help with this."
"Almost nothing. You said you didn't mind. I thought you didn't mind. I'd never have let you help me if I knew you weren't sincere."
"Shut up, Lance," Bang snapped. "You're helpless."
"Bang, don't take it out on him. Snap at me, but don't take it out on, Lance."
"When do I get time? When is it my turn to get your attention?"
"I'm sorry, Bang," Mr. Phillips said. "I'm here now."
"Yeah, right, take what you can get, Bang. You're lucky you get a few hours," Bang said to himself. "Just have this new fellow keep you company in your car and apartment. He's a nice boy," Bang mumbled to his napkin.
"Yeah, you'll be fine once I'm gone," Mr. Phillips interrupted before he learned more than he was comfortable knowing. "I've arranged for whatever you need. I was going to add money to your bank account, but you haven't used half of what I put in at the start of the school year. Why don't you use that money to get a nice place? Tell him he needs a better place to attract girls, Lance. He's so hardheaded about it. The boy won't listen to me. I'm glad he has you."
"You mean like Mom?" Bang snapped.
"Watch your mouth," Mr. Phillips snapped. "Your mother's sick. I couldn't deal with her."
"Or me?" Bang said, knowing his father's vulnerabilities.
"Bang, you need a nicer place. I can make sure you have one. I can make sure you get the best education possible. I can't undo what's been done. I want to do all I can for you. I can't make you like me. I can't be someone else. We're stuck with each other. Let's make the best of it."
"I know, Dad. It's hard. I keep…. I know, Dad. Sorry. I have a big mouth."
"Well, you boys find a nice place and I'll take care of it. You can have your own bedrooms. Looks better to the neighbors if men have their own bedrooms."
"You do as you like. I'm just thinking out loud. Looks are important is all I'm saying."
"Can I be your roommate?" Lance asked. "I promise to be good. I'll use powder on my feet. There's a building off Route 1 where the jocks live. It's awesome."
"You think I'd get a place off campus and still put up with you? That ankle is the best part of you, Lance. It finally shut you up about soccer, soccer, soccer!"
Lance wasn't sure how to take the remark. Mr. Phillips was a bit surprised by the prickly words. He was aware Bang used his share of them down through the years. This brought the table to its first lasting lull. The laughs and the jocular mood had passed them by. Smalltalk was safest as it became time for everyone to retire to neutral corners.
There was coffee once the pie plates were cleared. Bang knew the routine and he went along with it for as long as he could. He knew his father was doing the best he could to be there for him whenever he could, but it wasn't enough. Bang was an orphan. All his life the other kids went home to their families each holiday. Bang never knew his and stayed at school. He hadn't had Christmas since he was eight and his birthday was always a card and a check with another apology, sorry I can't make it this year, Kiddo. It wasn't enough and he no longer tried to make it easy on his father, which made it harder on him and anyone in reach.
"Lance seems like a fine boy. Don't let him run you off, Lance. He'll calm down once I'm gone."
"I'd starve without him, Mr. Phillips," Lance said demurely.
"You might listen to him, Bang. I think he's giving you the right advice. I can see he's good for you. You aren't nearly as uptight as you once were."
"You mean he'd agree with you that I should do what you want me to do," Bang blurted out, tossing his napkin down and looking away from the table and the glare of his father. "Sorry! Maybe I can fly there?"
"Yeah, I think we could arrange that. During the summer or perhaps over the holidays next year."
"We'll see how I'm doing at school. I usually take classes in the summer. There are always papers due after the holidays."
"Whenever you say, Bang. You can bring Lance. Expose him to the exotic allure of the East."
"Yeah, I like Annapolis," Lance joked.
"I mean if you want, Bang. He'd be company if I had to work."
"Yeah, Mr. Phillips, Bang and I are like peas in a pod. We agree on almost everything. He always takes my advice."
"Right! You're a jock. We don't agree on anything. We tolerate each other because it's better than a fistfight. For me anyway. I don't know why you tolerate me. I'd have punched me in the mouth by now if I were you and I'm totally nonviolent."
"I get a friend out of it. I get someone I trust out of it. I get a view of life I've never had before. I like that you've helped me see a larger world," Lance retorted as sweetly as possible. Bang looked up to glare at Lance, but his mood softened as he considered his words. "You'll need to come up with your own reason. That's all I got for you."
"Yes, well, it's been a long day for me. Let me flag down the waiter and get a cab," Mr. Phillips said, ignoring the boys.
Being the recipient of a healthy tip, the waiter was more than happy to arrange for a cab. In no time they were back in front of the university.
"I'll come by in the morning and we'll make plans for the day. Here are the keys to the car. Tag number is on that little tag. There are eight spaces assigned to the heating plant. It's the lot closest to your room. You can't miss it."
"See you, Dad. Have a good trip," Bang said as his father stood up to give him a hug.
These were the most difficult moments for Bang. He wanted to grab on and never let go. He wanted to tell his father he loved him. He wanted to be more of a man than he was, but his father was back in the cab once the quick hug was done. Bang's father was always wishing he could give his son more, but their lives were in different orbits and the best he could do was provide for him.
"Thanks, Mr. Phillips. Nice meeting you."
Taking the keys from his father, Bang moved away from the cab before Lance got his crutches adjusted under his arms. The cab sat for a minute after the door was closed.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]