Lancelot and the Big Bang

by Rick Beck

Chapter 4

The Car

Bang didn't look back and it was Lance who had to catch up this time. He'd become accustomed to the crutches and took pride in outdistancing Bang when they went out together. Bang would yell for him to slow down, which made Lance smile. Competitive spirit still flowed in his veins. Now though, Lance had closed the gap and then eased off the pace to evaluate the situation.

He was still put off by Bang's reverting to his old, sour self. He was sure it would pass, but thought an apology would be nice. On the other hand, he was very curious about the car, and the prospect of an off campus apartment. What Bang had said about only tolerating each other hurt. He felt they were developing a real friendship but now he wasn't sure he knew what they were doing. It was a discomforting thought.

Lance was glad for his relationship with Bang. It had helped him to consider a life after sports. If he hadn't moved in with Bang he'd probably have left school, the future he'd thought he had in soccer evaporating in one bad step. Certainly there was an aspect of tolerance in their relationship, but not because they were trapped in a room together. He tried to accept Bang on his own terms, but found it was no easy task. Until that evening, he'd have said Bang was doing the same, sometimes even going out of his way to accommodate Lance.

It was refreshing to be with someone who thought differently than he did, and a relief not to carry the pressures of the team around with him. "The team" had been everything for most of his life and Bang was a welcome replacement. He'd decided he could learn and stay in school with Bang's help. He'd come to depend on Bang, and tonight his trust had been shaken. He wanted Bang's friendship, and needed it, too.

"Bang, wait up will you? I'm going to fall on my face I go any faster," Lance lied, lagging behind.

Bang stopped dead in his tracks. He didn't look back and he said nothing.

"What's your problem? Quit acting like an asshole."

"My father is my problem."

"Your father? If only I had a father like that. He puts money in the bank for you!"

"Money doesn't make up for his absence."

"He brought you a car."

"I don't need a car. I do fine without a car."

"He takes you to dinner, wants to get you an apartment off campus. Your father is a very nice man and you're a dick."

"He's a very nice man if you want stuff. He's a very nice man if he isn't your father. He's not very nice if you need to spend some time with him, and I fall for it every time. Just when I think we're connecting, he has to go and expects me to understand."

"Stuff isn't all that bad. It's better than no father and no stuff. I see an up-side here, Bang. See these crutches? They fit in a car just swell. A car can get us from here to there. It's perfect if you ask me."

"Is it? You're so predictable. Your eyes lit up when he mentioned the car. You think I'm going to lend it to you? Drive you around so you can yell at the babes walking on the quad? Get real."

"No, but I thought we might go someplace off-campus for a few hours once in a while. Bang, I don't want your stuff. I'm happy for you. Your father is a cool dude. You aren't very grateful. You simply want what you ain't got and think that entitles you to be all pissy about it. I like the guy who gets my hamburgers a lot better. He acts like he likes me."

"Yeah, cool dude buying his son off. Easing a guilty conscience. He comes and takes me out a couple of times and thinks that makes up for all the time I spent alone in those schools he sent me to. I'm just the kid he had and still feels responsibility for, but not so much that he includes me in his goddamn life. My mother's a fat drunk and my father's an indifferent workaholic. I really got stuck with a pair.

"People shouldn't be allowed to have kids until they promise to love and care for them, and if they break that promise, the kid should get to pick the appropriate punishment for the pain they've been forced to endure. They got it all wrong when they put parents in charge. Parents are a disaster."

"I never had a rose garden either. I wish my father had cared enough to give me something. You don't know how lucky you are."

"Do tell," Bang said.

"I grew up. You grew up, Bang. It's your life now. It is what it is. Who are you punishing? He's gone. You going to spend the next year pissed off?"

This wasn't a conversation Lance wanted to have. He hadn't ever had a mother and he wondered if a fat drunk would do. His father had always blamed him for his mother's death, and because of that, they'd never been close. She'd developed a blood infection when he was born and died a few weeks later. He knew why his father felt the way he did and sometimes he even blamed himself .

It was a burden he'd never been able to shed. He tried to accept things as they were without questioning why. His father didn't come by anymore, and there was nothing to make up for his absence. Everyone told Lance he was better off without him, but that left him with nothing. He'd be happy with what Bang had with his father, but he understood how it made him feel; he felt the same way.

Bang questioned everything and accepted nothing. It was a thing Lance liked about him, except at times like this, when he hated him for it. Lance remembered his own father's cruelty; the times he had shown up, there was always a scene. He'd been left with his father's sister, and his uncle had talked openly about a useless man who "refused to raise his own issue." Visits were marked with arguments, fist fights, and invitations never to darken their door again. Lance's father was a bad penny he could depend on to turn up sooner or later and further embarrass his son.

The conversation ceased, both boys turning to things on their mind. Lance matched Bang's pace as they eased across the street and into the parking lot. Bang looked at the tiny white tag that had been affixed to the key ring. There were only three cars, and two could easily be mistaken for wrecks, which left the third. It was red. Bang checked the tag number against the one on the key ring. He laughed an ironic laugh before handing the keys with the tag number to Lance, who assumed he was to check and verify.

"Fuck!" Lance said in an exhale. "I love your father. Can I have him if you don't want him?"

"I used to have one of these when I was real little. My parents were still together in that big house over in Hyattsville. I'll show it to you sometime. This was my favorite toy. I can't believe he remembered that."

"Damn!" Lance said. "He gave you a fucking Vette? I love your old man."

"Yep! The price for unconditional love has evidently gone up. It used to be a watch he couldn't adjust or a new computer to help me in school. Stuff you can give to a ten year old."

"That's why he didn't drive us to the restaurant! I wondered about that. No room," Lance said, easing his crutches all the way around the car, admiring its lines. There were two things boys in Nebraska knew something about, sports and cars. He'd also had a toy Corvette when he was a boy. He knew the name came from a World War II class fighting ship. This one was far more impressive than the one he had owned at seven. "Tell you what, because we are friends, if you really don't want it, or it's just too difficult for you to accept, give this puppy to me. I'll enjoy the hell out of it for you."

Lance giggled and touched the car like it was a dream come true. He hopped on his good leg and held both crutches straight up in the air.

"It's a fucking Corvette, Roomy. A fucking Corvette."

"Do you ever speak without curse words? Your mouth is right out of the toilet, you know."

"Sorry, mom," Lance said, with what he hoped was an irresistible smile on his face. "Can we go for a ride?"

"You just want me for my car. I've seen through you from the beginning, jock boy. This nice guy act doesn't fool me for a minute."

"Don't start with me, nerd boy. I'm not having any sympathy for a guy who owns a damn Corvette. A ride, please."

"Oh!" Bang said.

"Let's go for a ride," Lance said again, touching the car with reverence.

"Go look for our new apartment perhaps?"

"I thought you wanted to get away from me?" Lance said, standing at the passenger door. "You said 'our'."

"Did I? Slip of the lip."

"Why'd you treat him like that? I don't understand you, Bang. Just about the time I think I've got you pegged, you go off on me again. You can be so nice and you can be such a prick."

"I never let him know what's really on my mind. He hasn't earned that. He would expect me to detest you, you know. It was rather confusing for him seeing us together. I did like that part of it."

"I don't know. I think he liked me. I do grow on you if you give me a chance. I think he'd want us to go for a ride."

"He likes me, too, but not enough to include me in anything important. Okay, it's getting late. We'll drive up to the mailboxes and I'll get the decal for this thing before I get a ticket. That's it. Maybe we'll go out tomorrow," Bang thought out loud. "We'll see."

"What about Ocean City? What about your old man?"

"Nah, he won't be back. He saves the gift until the end. That's what the key deal was about. That was good-bye. He's on his way back to his life. Probably staying over at Fisher's tonight. They went to Yale together. They know each other. I don't know him but Fisher keeps him posted about me."

"Bummer, that's cold. What year do you think it is?"

"As you may have noticed, there isn't much to report. The one I had as a kid was an '82'. I'd imagine that's what it is. He's got a good memory except when it comes to his son."

"Shines like new," Lance said, feeling the finish. "Damn nice car."

"Hand me the crutches and get in. We'll put 'em behind the seat."

Bang unlocked the door and held it while Lance hopped over and dropped his butt into the bucket-seat. He swung his legs in and Bang slid the crutches in the space behind them. On the dashboard was a pair of expensive leather driving gloves. He smoothed one onto each hand. He liked the feel of them against his skin. He denied himself fine things because he didn't want to become addicted to possessing stuff. Being seduced by money and greed wasn't what he wanted his life to be about. He appreciated his austere life. It didn't distract him from what he needed to do.

The Corvette and all that went with it represented temptation. He didn't need a sports car or fancy gloves, but a car would give him mobility. He wanted to be more mobile. He wanted to run away from his life most of the time. He wasn't sure why. He hadn't left Hyattsville in years, but he felt that he might, except he had no place to go. He didn't know any other place. School was safe for him.

School would end in a few weeks and there was the summer to consider. He normally stayed on campus to take courses he might not have time for during the regular school year. He didn't strain his brain; he always took something more of interest than of value to his professional ambition. He was always studying, and taking time off from it hadn't entered his mind. It was all he knew. Perhaps the car had come at the right time.

Easing the car onto the main street he drove up the hill to the Student Union. He parked in the temporary spaces provided in the front of the building and went up the steps to fetch the decal from his box. It took him about two minutes. He affixed the decal as instructed before slipping back in behind the wheel.

"If I could walk, I'd check my mailbox. I haven't since I sprained my ankle. I might not even go to school here anymore."

"They aren't going to yank your scholarship with a month left in the school year. You got hurt playing for the school."

"I got hurt at practice. I haven't been near the team since."

"They haven't been near you. Shouldn't someone be curious if you're still alive or not? Check to see if they can help you keep up with your studies?"

"Don't start with me," Lance snapped. "They don't want to be reminded how fragile their athletic careers can be. I don't blame them. I could have gone up."

"I guess. You want me to go back? I can see if there's anything there for you. It's no problem. I don't mind, Lance."

"Nah, I'm not expecting anything. I don't get another care package until the end of the month. You've got a car. We can come up any time we want now, old buddy. Let's hit the road."

"Yeah," Bang said, liking the sound of it. "Let's hit the road."

Bang turned the key and the engine purred to life.

"Let's, as in, let 'us'?"

"I don't have time to dump you out." Bang smiled. "Proper weight distribution is an important part of performance," he explained.

"Yeah, that's me, proper weight distribution. I'm thinking of studying to be a doorstop. I could do that."

"Shut up."

It was a fine car. Easing it into gear, he pulled a quick U-turn and moved slowly back down the hill.

"How can you do that?" Lance complained vehemently, holding on to the dash and the window frame.

"What did I do now?" he queried with sadness in his voice. "I'm trying here, Lance. Give me a break, will you? You had meat twice today. I figured you'd be appeased for once."

"You drive like an old lady. It's a Corvette, Bang. You can't drive a Corvette this slow. You're hurting it," Lance now objecting vehemently.

Bang seemed determined to prove he could drive as slowly as he wanted.

"Bang!"

"It's a car. That's all it is. It's four wheels. Transportation! You want it to be about an image, but it's about a car. It's about getting from point A to point B. You jocks all think life is a competition. Faster! Better! Stronger!"

"Oh, God, why me? You can't drive it this slow. You can't. Nerds have no sense of style."

Bang was careful not to go any faster than he was going at the time Lance launched his protest. He did have his standards and while he would drive the high performance car, it would never be about more than transportation. He wouldn't allow himself to become seduced by stuff.

The ride didn't stimulate any more conversation. Lance felt abused. Riding in the dream car wasn't anything like he thought it might be. Of course, if he'd been driving, the trip from point A to point B would be over in a flash. Why didn't Bang understand the importance of speed and image?

Many students couldn't get on-campus parking. One word from his father and he parked next to his building. Bang turned back into the parking lot where they'd found the car. He was satisfied with the gift. It would give him more time for something other than getting from here to there. He stood beside the car once he got out. Lance stayed in the passenger seat, feeling robbed. There had been so much promise, but it ended badly.

"You coming? I'll help you down the stairs," Bang offered.

"I can get down the stairs by myself. I'm not a crip, you know."

"No, you aren't," Bang agreed, feeling the hollowness of his victory. "Lock it, when you come in."

Bang walked away shaking his head, jingling the Corvette keys up in front of his eyes.

Once in the room, Bang considered that there would be no visit from his father this summer. It was the reason he stayed at school each summer. If he was at school his father knew where to find him. There was no one else who'd come or care. Now he had a Corvette, a gas card, and an entire summer to do anything he wanted. Bang was left with nowhere to go and no reason to stay.


Later, both boys were reading in bed.

Bang was still dealing with his father's sudden appearance and departure. It was like he hadn't been there. The news that he would be gone until after his graduation was painful. There would be no tickets to Asia. There'd be no time for his father to get home, even for a day. Bang knew better than to hang on his father's promises, but it took time for him to sort through promises previously made against those kept. Only then could he let go of his hope for more.

As a boy he sat patiently in his dorm room after all the other boys left school for home. He would stare out his window at the driveway below, waiting for a visit that never came. Each holiday and every summer he repeated his vigil. Then, he'd be called from one of his classrooms one day. There would be his father. He would be passing through on the way from here to there and just had to see his boy. Once Bang saw the underground room at the university, he knew he'd no longer be able to wait by the window. He was getting too old for such folly. The underground room was the answer.

Lance had recovered sufficiently from his ankle sprain to be thinking of making an appearance at spring practice, even with it winding down. He hadn't worked out in weeks. It would take him all summer to get back in shape. In the fall there'd be a new crop of all-American soccer players from middle-America. He'd need to be in good enough shape to play himself back onto the team. The odds were growing longer and there was no indication that anyone on the team cared.

Soccer had been Lance's life since junior high school. For years he'd carried a soccer ball with him everywhere he went. He hadn't touched the ball he rolled under his bed since the day after the sprain. Even thinking about it made him doubt his desire. Did he still have it? Could he still cut it? Would he be swept aside by bigger, stronger, and faster boys? What would become of him if he were to be swept aside?

"You okay? You're pretty quiet tonight," Bang said, after finishing with his father. "You're pissed at me. I don't know why I'm like that."

"You're rich, aren't you?"

"Me?" Bang laughed and he kept on laughing. "No, I don't have a dime. You see all my worldly possessions before you."

"You've got a Corvette. Your old man sends you to private schools all expenses paid. You got a free ride. Money in the bank."

"No, Lance, you have a free ride. I have a father with a guilty conscience. It's his way of keeping me at a distance. I don't have a father."

"Your old man is cool. He treats you nice. Hell, he treated me nice."

"I didn't say he wasn't nice. He's a very nice man. He just doesn't want me in his life."

"He gave you a sports car. He gives you everything. You've got it made."

"Yeah, you're right. I have it easy. You're the only one who has it tough. I keep forgetting."

"Have you ever done it, Bang?"

"Done what?"

"Done the do."

"Do what?"

"Do you always do that?"

"Do what?"

"Answer a question with a question. Have you ever gotten laid?"

"Have I ever copulated with a woman? No, I've never known a woman in the biblical sense."

"You're a dick."

"I suppose you, being a high school sports hero star type, got laid all the time? You aren't really a man until you do that, are you? The do, I mean."

"I had a girlfriend. We dated in eleventh and twelfth grade."

"Soccer didn't demand celibacy?"

"Sure. I could date without wanting to do it all the time."

"The do? Did you? Do it?"

"Screw! God, you're difficult. Why do I think I can talk to you? Every time I want to talk, you do this."

"Do what? We talk all the time. I told you the story about the girl who asked me to the party. That was my last date. Hell, that was my first date and she wasn't even there. I figured you'd get the point."

"You told me that to prove how cruel jocks are. I didn't know if that's all there was."

"And girls. The jocks employed an ally. Look at me. Does it look like I have girls flocking to spend time with me?"

"So you hate both jocks and girls?"

"I'm not that narrow minded. Let's see, have I had girl friends? Certainly, but they are friends not objects I pursue. Seeking out emotional entanglements at this time in my life would be distracting. I'm here to get an education."

"Your father said something about that chubby kid that lived here. What was that about?"

"It's about ancient history."

"So you two weren't? You know? Since you don't like girls, I mean. I got the impression your father thought you were."

"You got a lot of impressions from my father. He met Kenneth once at the beginning of the school year. He visits once or twice a year. Kenneth was here the last time. You were here this time. I'd known him about a week. Was Kenneth a nice guy? Yes, he was. He was bright and we got along. Were we sleeping together? Nope. Emotional entanglements would distract from my studies. Kenneth was my roommate. He got bored and left school. I got you."

"Oh, I guess we don't get along. I keep thinking we do. It seems better to me."

"You sound disappointed. Hoping for a little action, are we?"

"I was curious about you. You have a way of making me feel like an asshole, you know. I keep thinking if I try to…. Just forget it. I'm a slow learner."

"What happened to her?" Bang asked, looking down at Lance over the edge of his bed. "I've told you mine. You've never told me yours."

"You don't really want to know. You just want to make fun of me. She's back home. She's a country girl. We don't have a hold on each other. Never did. We liked dancing. It's easier if you take a date to a dance."

"She's waiting for her man, no doubt. How absolutely wonderful."

"You don't listen. You think you know everything. I might not even go back."

"Why wouldn't you go back?"

"Never mind."

"No, really, I want to know," Bang said, once more looking over the side of the bed at his roommate. "I thought jocks always returned to the scene of their former glory."

"You aren't as smart as you think. I don't know what I might do."

"Yeah, you're probably right. I'm all ears. Enlighten me."

"You got a wise mouth, Bang. You really get on my nerves sometimes. Why can't you just talk to me without making me feel like I'm stupid?"

"I'm trying, Lance. We simply don't speak the same language," Bang said, lying back in his bed, realizing he'd inadvertently angered Lance again. "Why won't you go back home? What about Aunt B?"

"Bang!"

"It sounds ideal. Why not go back is all I'm asking. That's coming from someone with no back to go to, mind you."

"I don't know why. I might get a job some place. There's no jobs back home. There are farms. I like farming but a lot of good that does me."

"How quaint. You're a farm boy. You come by your physique through honest toil. I'm impressed. What does your garden grow, Lancelot?"

"Bang!" Lance yelled, before deciding his roommate couldn't help himself. "Granddaddy's getting old. The last few years he's been raising cattle, pigs, chickens, he still plants winter wheat, a field of soy beans. That's an easy cash crop, corn of course. While I was living with him, we'd plant fifty or sixty acres of corn, but without help he plants enough for feed and raises livestock these days."

"Granddaddy?"

"My father wouldn't have anything to do with the farm or Granddaddy."

"…Or you?"

"Granddaddy took me every summer. Hell, I couldn't wait for school to end. I'd go out on weekends when I was ten or eleven, but once school was done, I lived with my grandparents."

"Your father?"

"He moved off, married my mother. Worked in Lincoln after high school. That's where I was born. …Lincoln, Nebraska."

Lance spoke like he could picture being back home. Bang found himself listening closely to his roommate's story. He pictured Nebraska, the farm, and the cattle. There was something stimulating about it. Perhaps it was the way Lance spoke of it. Bang had no home. He was only able to talk about things from a past that no longer existed.

"You make it sound like a wonderful place," Bang mused.

"Don't start with me. I'm not in the mood," Lance snapped, expecting a remark that would put him in a sour mood.

"I always wondered what it would be like to grow things. My mother had flowers in the backyard, when I was young. I remember sitting and watching her take care of those flowers."

"Our country was built on the backs of the farmer."

"Yes, I suppose. So why not go back to Nebraska if you like it so much?"

"I don't know. I don't know what I'll do. If I don't pass my classes I better not go back. Everyone had such high hopes for me. I'd hate to disappoint them. I got a feeling I'm going to, though. This isn't high school. My people aren't here to come to my games to root for me. Encouraging me. Telling me how great I am. How can I go back there? What do I say, when they shake their heads and talk about how I used to be somebody?"

"Well, no games to go out to, or I'd go watch you play. No crying over spilt milk. I can make sure you pass your classes. You can't help you were hurt."

"I suppose not. Why are you being nice to me? This is about the time you start making fun of me."

"It isn't good sport picking on the lame kid."

"Bang!"

"I'm always in a funky mood after a visit from dear old dad. You'll just have to cut me some slack."

"Cut you slack? You're starting to sound like a jock. I am having an influence on you."

"Don't even go there. You're lucky I'm compassionate."

"You? Compassionate? Like a rattler, maybe."

"I allow you to live in my room, don't I?"

"Our room."

"I put up with your jock habits, don't I?"

"He seemed like a nice guy to me," Lance thought out loud.

"I don't want to discuss my father any longer."

"What is it that bugs you about him visiting? Him coming to see you? Or him not taking you with him, when he goes?"

"His leaving me in the first place. For a long time I imagined one time he'd come for me. I mean really come for me. Take me back to his life with him. I'd have a room of my own. Smells would come from the kitchen and I could go see what was cooking. Maybe there'd be other kids to play with. I'd be a big brother to someone."

"Like me maybe? I always wanted a brother."

"Hardly. I'd ride with him in his car. Kid stuff, you know."

"I don't know. I'd make a good brother."

"I know he's got another family. He's slipped up with names a few times. I'm not part of that life and never will be. He is a nice guy. That only makes it worse. If he's such a nice guy why am I all alone? I didn't ask to be born."

"So you aren't making fun of me just to be bitchy?"

"Me? Make fun of the lame kid? Lancelot, do you know how perfect your life is? I mean maybe you were raised by Aunt B, but you did get raised. I was raised by custodians and divorced teachers my old man paid off to give up their vacations to watch his kid. He paid people to stay with me so he could have a life without me in it."

"That's cold."

"You're handsome, have a body to die for, and you've got a life you can go back to or not."

"Thanks," Lance said. "When you put it that way, I guess I have been lucky. No one?"

"I got me. I tend to insult people so they don't get the idea we can get close."

"Bang, you can't live in your own world forever."

"Everyone I've ever cared about or loved has left me. It's a no brainer. Don't get close to anyone and they can't leave you."

"I can't leave you. I need you. You don't have to help me if you don't want to."

" I help you because you need help. It has nothing to do with warm fuzzy feelings flowing between us."

"Thanks anyway. I know I'm not very bright, but you've helped. I'm too sensitive because soccer is everything to me. Well, it was. That's why I don't know where I go from here. Am I handsome?"

"Shut up. You tricked me into saying that. I didn't mean any of it. You're just another jock. It does make you that much more of a challenge. If you pass that means I did something good. It makes all this worthwhile."

"You've got school. You've got something you're good at. There's no limit to how far you can go. You'll make the big bucks one day."

"I don't care. At first it was what I did while I waited to go home. I thought if I really excelled he'd take me back. The longer I waited the further away home got. I was just thinking about all the visits, all the promises, and nothing to show for it. When I'm really in a foul mood, I walk down to my old house."

"You got a Corvette to show for it."

"That's why we argue. You see a car as something of value. I think of family, belonging, and having a home as valuable. A car is to get you from here to there."

"You may be crazy, you know. A Corvette is not a car."

"Possibly, but that doesn't change what I value. A Corvette is only a car."

"Meaning there's something wrong with me?"

"You think a game is more important than your studies. You value putting a ball in a goal. You want to be admired and praised, yelled at and threatened. You bond with screaming lunatic coaches and boys with overactive hormones and grand illusions of themselves."

"I'm an athlete. It's what we do."

"You're a jock and you don't do anything. I'm trying to help you learn to study. It's a daunting task."

"You know, you are so damn confusing. Just when I think I might like you, you become this total dick. You have this superior air about you. It makes me want to punch your lights out. I know I need your help, but I don't trust you. You have a way of making me feel more stupid than I already feel."

"Do you want to pass, Lancelot?"

"Yes! Yes! Yes!"

"What options do you have? If I don't help, who will?"

"I'll help myself,"

"How's that been working?"

"Shut up. Just shut up."

"We've been getting along… mostly," Bang said, leaning over the edge of his bed to look at Lance. "You know I got a big mouth. Ignore it."

"Like you ignore my soccer ambition? I want to pass. I don't want to spend that much time with someone who cuts me down. You did it in front of your father. I feel stupid enough without your help."

"Whatever I said, I'm sorry. I don't mean half of what I say. Being friendly with someone is new to me."

"We're roommates," Lance said, using Bang's logic. "I don't know which half you mean."

"I don't like myself much when I say those things. I'm afraid to make friends."

"How can you not have friends? I can't be around someone this much without trying to be friends. How can you not be friends with your roommate?"

"I've never had friends. My parents didn't even like me. It never occurred to me anyone else might," Bang said thoughtfully as he lay back in his bed.

"I like you, Bang. I like that you're smart. I like that you want to help me. I don't like your mouth," Lance said. "Your mouth makes me want to belt you," he blurted.

"I know. It's a defense mechanism."

"Speak a de English. You're doing it again."

"Defense mechanism – 'Any of a variety of mental devices, usually unconscious, that an individual employs to protect the ego from damage, anxiety, conflict, loss of self-esteem.' It has nothing to do with you, Lance."

"That confirms it. You swallowed a fucking dictionary."

"You're a threat to me. I'm tempted to be friends with you. …I don't know how. My mouth keeps getting in the way."

"I'm not that different from you," Lance said softly, knowing far more about Bang than Bang knew about him.

"You've been sniffing your socks again."

"We're like oil and water, aren't we, Bang?"

"Tell me about it," Bang said. "It doesn't mean I won't try for nicer. I'm working on it as we speak. I'll do better."

"Of course, we can't lose sight of the fact I'm a mere soccer player and you're a genius."

"No, we shouldn't forget that," Bang agreed. "Gives us some perspective on who is doing something meaningful while one of us considers playing to be what's important."

"You're a real piece of work, Phillips. Can't we simply agree we are separate but equal?"

"No, I don't think so. Not as long as you think you can make a career out of kicking your balls."

"I might be finished. I might not be back next year."

"You sprained your ankle, not your brain. Let's not get overly dramatic."

"Yeah, I guess you're right."

"If I gave you the keys to the car and the credit cards, where would you go, Harris?"

"God! Where would I go? I'd just drive. Let the wind blow in my hair, you know. Take the top off and just get next to it. I've never been on my own."

"Come on, you can't just drive. Everyone must have a destination in life. You can go anyplace in the contiguous United States, Canada, or Mexico. Where do you go?"

Lance thought for a minute. At first he couldn't come up with a destination. He didn't know anywhere to go. He'd just go for the going, but one place popped into his brain.

"They just planted a couple of weeks back. Usually there is a dry spell before the spring rains. Right about now the plants will be peeking out of the ground. Maybe they're three or four inches high and the most vivid green. The cows have calved by now. I love it. Those seeds sprouting from the earth is a miracle.

"Watching the calves is a hoot. They're curious and want to explore their new world, but once they get a few yards from their mother, they race back, frightened by everything that moves. I'd go to Nebraska. Now, it's your turn. Where do you go?"

"Me? I'd just drive. I don't have a home to go back to. There for a second I felt like I might like to go home with you."

"Yeah, I guess it is home. I always felt like you. I never had a home of my own. I lived with people who had a home. They tried to make it mine, but I only saw what I didn't have. They're all nice people. Nice to me. It's not like I wasn't loved and treated like I was someone special.

"They all loaded into the car to come to all my games," Lance said with excitement in his voice. "It was home, but it wasn't, if you know what I mean. My mama was dead and my father didn't want anything to do with me."

"Why wouldn't your father want anything to do with you?"

"Why does your father only come to see you a couple of times a year?"

"Yeah! Strangely enough, I do understand how you felt, Harris."

"See, we're more alike than you realize. Neither of us had a rose garden."

"You're a poet and don't know it, Lancelot. I never knew you had such a way with words."

"Who me? You are crazy. I stole that from a song, I think. Never promised you a rose garden."

"Yeah, you did. The Northwest. I'd go to Seattle to see the Space Needle. There's a restaurant on the top of that thing. That's where I'd go. Seattle. I'd eat in the Space Needle."

"Cool!"

Peace settled once more in the dorm room as both boys became lost in thoughts of their own.

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