Oliver of the Adirondacks

by Dashiell Walraven

Chapter 26

Peter Gilbert's expulsion from school was the nearest thing to a scandal our town had seen, at least as long as I lived there. I don't think any of us expected Peter to get shipped off to military school, but considering his total flame-out, it's not terribly surprising.

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.

After our first scuffle where I managed to bust Peter in the nuts and sent him careening down a flight of stairs, Peter had been warned to steer well clear of me. For the most part he did. However, broken teeth and collar-bone notwithstanding, Peter also suffered the ignominy of judgement from his two cohorts. They took him to task, several times in my presence, for losing the fight, provoking and prodding him to arrange a rematch. When Peter refused, they accused him of being a pussy, or worse, some kind of fag.

I had only the faintest idea of what a "fag" was, but to my mind, it conjured up pictures of foppish, silly, mincing little men, dressed in tacky women's clothing, flitting about and screaming "Whoopsie!" all over the place. In my school, it represented the direst insult a person could render to a male. It was an epithet that could not go unchallenged, lest it be considered truth.

Late one Wednesday, after P.E., Peter apparently reached his limit and cornered me in the shower. I was lathering my hair and some shampoo ran into my eyes; I did not see him enter the shower stall as I blinked and tried to rinse the stinging soap away. My heart froze when I heard his icy voice behind me, dripping with grim threats. I managed to get my eyes open in time to see him swing at me; I feinted backward, his fist only grazing my jaw.

My jump back, and the lack of a solid connection to my chin, caused Peter to lose balance. Peter's feet made comical slapping sounds as he struggled to keep his balance. Peter fell flat, slamming his face onto the hard tiled floor. The shouts of the other boys brought the teacher, who scrambled into the shower bay to see the sodden and bloodied Peter Gilbert on his hands and knees, his broken nose dripping a steady, crimson stream. Peter made strangled, gasping, sobbing sounds as he swore deadly oaths to me.

The teacher quickly ascertained the situation from the other boys. I just stood there naked, numb, shivering and wet, blinking the still stinging soap from my eyes; a dull ache settling into the back of my jaw. I watched the teacher hoist Peter up by one arm. He raised his head and gave me this crazy smile, his recently repaired front teeth now stained with red.

"Don't worry Oliver," he growled menacingly, "I'll get you back, don't you FUCKING worry about that!" He spat a gob of clotted blood, which landed on my chest and slid obscenely down my abdomen and leg, I watched it go.

"You'll do no such thing!" exclaimed the teacher, wrenching Peter up by his arm, causing him to howl in pain. The teacher hauled Peter out into the locker room and I stood there, unable to move, listening to the scene unfold. The teacher ordered Peter to get dressed, which Peter initially refused. The boys remaining with me, gathered at the doorway of the shower bay, I could hear Peter arguing with the teacher, his voice growing progressively shrill. Another teacher, hearing the din from outside the locker room, came in to help. This provoked Peter even more, he began yelling a stream of profanities and obscenities. There were a couple of loud bangs and then a scuffle.

"Holy Shit!", one of my classmates, peering around the door jamb, started blurting out a play-by-play, "Peter took a swing at Mr. Brown! Whoa, they just tackled him!" I tentatively joined the group of us, perhaps five or six, naked boys, clustering around the opening of the shower bay to watch the spectacle. Little sprays of blood where all over the lockers and benches, from Peter's struggles. The two teachers eventually pinioned Peter's arms behind him, and muscled him out the door. We heard Peter yelling at the top of his lungs, in a high, girlish pitch, as they went.

"LET GO OF ME YOU COCKSUCKERS!", Peter hollered as they took him down the hall. We peered around the corner of the entrance to the locker room, and watched them drag Peter, literally kicking and screaming, to the Principal's office. Many heads appeared around the classroom doors at the sound of Peter's protestations, and we suddenly realized we were standing in the hallway, naked and dripping. We scampered back inside to finish drying off and change back into our regular clothes; my heart a trip-hammer in my chest. I felt frantic and short of breath, and it took me a long time to calm down.

For a brief while, I was kind of legendary, sort of making me feel good. The fame quickly subsided though, which actually was okay. I didn't feel particularly heroic, and it seemed like an awful lot of work to keep up that kind of image. Garrett and my Dad told me they were proud of me, of course, but I didn't think I deserved any of the credit; it was Peter who really took himself out of the picture.

I was never lacking for friends before Peter began his campaign, but the ones who had faded into the woodwork when he was around, suddenly came back and I could see several of the younger boys looking at me with admiration in their eyes. For me, I was just glad it was over, so things could return to normal. I returned my thoughts back to my studies, hanging out with friends, and coming home to Garrett, who was still living at our home.

Never one to shy away from hard work, Garrett made his own rehabilitation into a personal mission, and let me help him out. I sat on his legs while he did sit-ups, spotted him as he lifted weights to strengthen his arms, and kept him company on walks. Down to using one crutch, Garret only used it when overly tired or sore. Overall, he looked one-hundred-times better than the day he first came to our house; no longer a wastrel, his color returned to a healthy glow. He would be going back home soon; even though he lived close by, I would miss him.

Probably a week later, after things settled down some, I joined Garrett on one of his twice daily walks around the grounds and along the lake road. The lake blossomed with the late spring. The spaces between the evergreens finally filled in with new leaves from the other trees, the roadside was dotted with clutches of daffodils and flowering weeds, making the air heavy-laden with fragrance. The buzzing of bees and chirping birds, filled the air. In a field near the woods, we stopped to watch a fawn gambol around its mother, before they spotted us and high-tailed it into the forest.

As we strode along the road, I looked over at Garrett, walking with hardly any noticeable limp. He had one of his crutches with him, but he used it now more as a walking stick, than for support. His breathing was even, unlabored, and his brown hair shone in a deep, oaken luster when it caught the sunlight. He must have realized I was watching him, because he turned to look at me and grinned in his signature lopsided way.

"What?" he asked, bemused.

"Nothing," I shrugged.

"No really," he stopped walking and turned toward me, "what are you looking at me like that for?" I just stared up and into his eyes for a moment, amazed at how he made me feel, just by looking at him.

"You're gonna think I'm screwy," I said softly, "and I'm really glad you're okay and all. It's just..."

"What buddy?" he laid a gentle hand on my neck and stroked my ear with his thumb.

"I was so scared when you had your accident, and I totally missed you when you were in the hospital." I felt my eyes dampen. "But, as bad as it was, it gave you and me a chance to be real buds," Garrett's eyes glittered a little too, "even better than before." He scrubbed my hair with his big paw and drew me into a bear-hug.

"Aw Oliver," he said, his voice a little choked up, "I don't think you're screwy at all, and I totally get it." Our arms wrapped around each other, and we swayed a little. Garrett kissed me on the top of my head.

"It's an experience I don't ever care to repeat," he said firmly, "but it has taught me so much. It's taught me about how precious life is, how easily it can be taken away from me, and just how much I am happy to have you as my adopted kid brother."

"Me too, Garrett" I mumbled into his chest.

"One of the things that sticks with me for sure about that day, Oliver," he spoke into my hair, "is this really vague memory of you and Neal, lying next to me; it was like we were all brothers, surrounding me with your love and warmth. That made me so feel so... I don't know, like I wasn't going to die, like everything was going to be okay. And it helped me work hard to get better, so I could come home." I smiled though my tears as I looked up at his face, beaming.

"We are brothers, aren't we?"

"Yes Oliver," he whispered, "now and for always."

"Thanks," I said, hugging him back as hard as I could, "brothers forever." We released each other, and kept walking in silence for a bit. I realized after a few minutes, we were walking hand-in-hand, and the only thing odd about that, was that I didn't feel odd at all. We walked a while longer, and Garrett spotted a downed log along the trail; he took the opportunity to rest. He patted the space between his legs, and I sat down.

"So, now," Garrett said, gently rubbing my neck with his strong hands, "I guess I'm worried about you."

"Why?" I asked.

"That bullshit with Peter Gilbert and all."

"Oh."

"Do you know why he did all that stuff?" he asked quietly. I shrugged my shoulders, not terribly excited to rehash the episode. I sighed deeply, and didn't answer him immediately. Garrett didn't say a word, patiently letting me assemble my thoughts.

"I don't know," I said finally, "I've tried to figure that out. It was like he turned on me all of a sudden, and I don't know why." Garrett continued to work my neck and shoulders with his hands, it felt amazingly good.

"I'm kinda thinking it's my fault," he said, with great sadness in his voice.

"What?" I jumped, turning around to look at him, he suddenly looked very alone and distant.

"Yeah, see, because..." he stuttered, "Me and Peter, we were... ah... friends, like when we were your age."

"Yeah," I said, "His father said that when he came over, remember?"

"Oh yes, right. And well..." Garrett continued, in a somewhat strained voice, "we used to do things, you know... like, playing with each other's dicks and stuff." A strange, quaking, queasy feeling started to form in my belly again.

"It's okay Gare," I said quietly, wanting his misery to end as much as mine.

"Yeah well," he continued anyway, "I don't know, he seemed to be all into jock stuff and chasing skirts, and it just was like, we drifted apart."

"Did you guys ever fight?" I have no idea why I asked that, but I wasn't sure what to say at that point.

"Just the once," Garrett said softly.

"About me?" I asked.

"Yeah," Garrett nodded, "a little while after I began working for your dad, and you and I started becoming pals. He cornered me one day and asked if I was fucking you." His voice strained on the last couple of words, making them sound harsh and vile. "He told me that if I was a good friend, I'd share you with him."

His words hit me like a lead boxing glove. All of a sudden, everything became clear. I leaned back into Garrett, he wrapped his arms around me once more; I laid my head back on his shoulder.

"I guess I wouldn't have minded," I said to him, "I wouldn't have wanted you guys to fight over me."

"I could never do that to you Oliver," he whispered in my ear, "besides, he was only ever in it for himself."

"Like, how?"

"I mean, like when Peter and me did anything, it would all be about him. If he squirted first, I'd be on my own after that. It was always about him getting off, the heck with anybody else."

"I see," I said, settling back into him.

"Besides, you're more than that to me, Oliver. Just like we talked about, you are the little brother I always wanted. I wasn't going to let Peter get his meat hooks into you so he could treat you like he did me." I felt he warmth of Garrett's chest seeping into my heart. I smiled as I rested in his gentle embrace. He shifted a little beneath me, and I could feel his hardness.

"You're the best big brother I could've ever wished for," I said to him, "I don't know what I'd do if you were gone." I felt him kiss the top of my head once more.

"I'm not going anywhere, Oliver," he said, "and you'd better not either."

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