by Will S
Wright and Chris had settled into a rhythm not just in their running, but in their lives. It was almost like one of them knew what the other was thinking—at least most of the time. Once in a while, their schedule got interrupted, and for one reason or another, they weren't able to run. On those days, things just didn't feel right. They were also spending more time with one another. It's not that they had all that much in common, but during these warm days of summer, each boy was happy—even energized—when learning something about the other: their interests (Chris's near addiction to foosball, for example, or Wright's passion for building things).
"Cool swing set," Chris said one day when they'd been in Wright's backyard.
"Thanks," Wright said. "My dad and I made it."
"No way!" Chris said. "You mean you got like a kit and put it together, right?"
Wright smiled at Chris's amazement. "Actually, my little sister was at a friend's one day and her friend had just gotten a new swing set. Well, when Gwen got home that was all she could talk about. I'd seen these cool combo sorts of things: playhouse, swings, slide all made out of wood, so I looked online for plans. I found this design, and Gwen and Zach loved it, so my dad and I built it. It took a while, but it was fun. It's cool building stuff.
"Oh, man," Chris muttered, "we could sure use you. See, my folks have this little cabin up in Michigan. It's really nice, but it could sure use some TLC."
"A cabin. That's awesome. Where in Michigan?"
"On a little lake. It's not big enough to waterski, but it's great. I like to fish, so when we're up there, I spent a lot of time out on the boat. And at night? Down by the water? It's awesome. It's like there're stars everywhere."
"Sweet," Wright said. "Sounds really cool."
One thing they did have in common was their excitement for movies. They loved sitting in a dark theater, sharing a bag of popcorn, feeling each other's heat and watching the latest action adventure film. It even went beyond that. Once in a while, Wright would be assigned babysitting duties for his two siblings, 10-year-old Zachary and 8-year-old Gwen. Often they'd take in a kid's movie. The latest was Pete's Dragon. Wright loved being big brother to his two siblings, but what made it even more fun was that Chris often invited himself along, and it was fun to see how often Chris and he ended up enjoying the film as much as the two younger ones.
Lately, they were sharing something else, too: their shared passion for running. What had started as a lark for Chris was rapidly becoming something akin to his love of football. Running—under the tutelage of Wright—had changed him. He felt different, and he had come to believe he would be a better football player because of it; hell, he might even become a better person. Always before things had come easily for Chris. That was not the case with running. Wright had convinced him without commitment, it would be nothing but something to take up a little time in his day. If he worked hard, Wright told him, he would understand that running is really a metaphor for life. The values you pour into your running become the values you bring to your life. When Chris first heard Wright talking about that he thought it was just a lot of words. If he were being honest, Chris would say the pep talks the football team got from their coach was just stuff that the coach thought a coach ought to say. After all, Chris would do just fine even without all the speeches. But running with Wright had changed all that. He had a better work ethic now; he was, you might say, a "convert." And he had Wright to thank for that.
They had even got to a party together. Some guys on Wright's track team had gotten together in mid-July, and Wright asked if it would be okay if he brought Chris. The response was immediate. "Chris? Chris Donnelly? How do you know him?"
"Well," Wright muttered self-consciously, "we've been running together some."
"Hell, yeah! If he wants to," was the response.
At the party, Chris basked in all the attention. Wright smiled. Only once did he feel the slightest twinge of jealously, but that was more than offset when Chris rambled on and on about what an awesome mentor Wright was. That party was a great success. The only moment where Chris's glow might have dimmed some was when he was trying to pick a hot dog up off the grill using just his fingers. It was sort of jammed in between some oversized brats. "Damn, that's hot."
"Yeah," one of Wright's teammates said, picking up one of the fat bratwursts with a pair of tongs. "But mine's bigger, and too hot to handle!" He gave Chris a leering look and a twisted grin.
"Geez," Wright breathed, giving a shake of his head.
Chris never missed a beat. "Well, I guess we all know who's spent a lot of time checkin' out wieners, right guys?"
Everyone howled with laughter, all except for the smart-mouth brat guy. But Chris wasn't done. He gave the kid a soft tap on the shoulder. "Hey, no hard feelings, right?" Again the crows hooted, and Chris gave the boy one of his coy looks. That was all the boy needed, and this time he laughed right along with the rest of them.
Chris was like that. Wright sometimes thought his dark-haired friend was destined for politics. If he turned on the charm, he could be elected every time. By a landslide! But after the party, Wright's self-doubts had begun to take over, and he found himself wondering if Chris liked the brat boy he'd been teasing because that was just the kind of teasing Wright got from Chris. It gave him pause.
Wright liked being around Chris. No, "like" wasn't exactly the right word; it was more than that, more than like, but the word that kept creeping into Wright's thoughts was a word he'd never be able to say out loud. The thought of that word slipping out of his mouth within Chris's hearing was terrifying. Maybe in his fantasies it would be okay. Maybe then he could whisper that word in Chris's ear, maybe he could say, "I love you"—which deep down he knew was absolutely true—but it was something he could never utter aloud. The very thought made his tremble. The irony in all this was that perhaps he might have taken a little more risk if he'd been able to glimpse inside Chris's head.
Increasingly, Chris wanted to be close to Wright. He liked those moments after he'd showered in Wright's bathroom. He wasn't an exhibitionist, but he loved the warm feeling he got when Wright gazed on his naked body. His only frustration was that Wright wasn't reciprocating. He'd always known the blond-headed boy was shy, but sometimes he worried that the things he had heard about Wright were not true. He was growing more and more frustrated. He wanted Wright to let his guard down; he wanted to know exactly what Wright was thinking about, and he was desperately trying to figure some way he could find out exactly what Wright was thinking. He felt like he had to know—one way or another.
Chris saw a possibility to do just that on a Wednesday in the middle of August. The weather was as hot as ever. As they began their run down Wheeler Drive, they approached a shop, and on the sidewalk a window-washer was busy cleaning the windows. The guy had opened the passenger-side door of his truck, and the truck's radio was turned up louder than it probably needed to be. It was just after 6:30 AM, and the news was on. The story happened to reach into Wright's consciousness: "...So if you happen to be out late Saturday night, or rather very early Sunday morning, look to the night sky, and you may be lucky enough to see the Perseid Meteor Shower. Science Reporter, Stewart Barton, has the story." Then another voice picked up the story: "The annual Perseid Meteor Shower will be even more spectacular than usual, astronomers tell us…"
By then Chris and Wright had passed by the worksite, and the words from the radio faded into a silence broken only by the sound of their running shoes on the concrete.
"You hear that thing on the news?" Wright asked Chris.
"The story about the meteor shower. It's supposed to be pretty impressive. Happens Saturday night. You ever seen a meteor?"
"Yeah," Chris said, "a couple of times up at our place in Michigan. You?"
"Sort'a," Wright offered. There're so many lights around here at night, they might be there, but you'd never see 'em, at least not very clear."
"Hey!" Chris practically shouted. "I just got this really awesome idea!" He glanced over at Wright as they turned onto Crabtree Lane. "What are you doing this weekend?"
Wright shrugged. "Nothing."
"Why don't we see if we can go up to my place in Michigan. If there're gonna be meteors, that's sure the place to see 'em!"
"That'd be so cool," he said.
They didn't talk about it again until after they'd showered.
"How long's it take to get there?" Wright asked.
"Couple hours, maybe a little longer," Chris answered. "It'll be cool. We could go up Saturday morning…no…wait. Friday afternoon. We can leave a little early and beat the traffic on the interstate. Then we'd have Saturday and Sunday." He gave the blond-headed boy a look. "You in?"
Wright's body was saying, "Hell, yes!" His head, on the other hand, was saying, "Be careful. Don't put yourself in a situation where something might happen, where your 'urges' might get you in trouble." Still, the chance to be with Chris for almost three solid days…well…how could he say no. "Yeah, I'm in…if my folks say it's okay."
"Awesome!" Chris said, and for an instant Wright thought his friend was actually going to hug him, but in the last moment he pulled back. Wright was relieved because surely, if they'd embraced, even casually, like a guy thing, his unruly body member would have responded, and that would have been more than awkward.
The "sell" to Wright's parents was easy. They were pleased that their normally shy and at times almost lonely son was going away with a friend—and not just any friend; he was going with Chris Donnelly.
"Anyone else going with you?" Wright's mom asked.
"No," Wright said, turning to Chris. "Right?"
"No, m'am," Chris answered. "Just Wright an' me."
"And, I don't think I need to say this, but I'm going to anyway," Wright's dad added. "No alcohol, no…illegal substances. In short, no funny business."
"No, sir," Chris said. "I know Wright," Chris said giving a quick smile and a glance in Wright's direction. "And I know he's not into that stuff; he wouldn't put up with anything like that."
"Well," Wright's mom said, "if your parents are okay with it…" She turned to her husband. "…then I don't see any problems."
Chris's parents were a little harder sell. "Look, son," his dad had said, "If you were wanting to go up there with some of your teammates, it'd be a simple, 'no,' and that'd be it. There'd be beer, and girls, and, who knows what. But Wright, now, he's a different story." He turned now to Wright. "Have I got that right, son?"
"Y-yes, sir," Wright stammered. "Chris knows I'm not into that alcohol, and…well…I don't think you need to worry, sir." He gave a little smile and added, "My parents pretty much said the same thing."
"All, the same," Chris's mom said, "I think I'll give your mother a call." She smiled at both boys. "Won't hurt to have everyone on the same page, will it?"
"No, Mrs. Donnelly," Wright agreed.
"And by the way, Wright, are you a good cook?"
Wright suddenly looked dumbstruck. "Cook?"
"Because if you aren't, you boys are going to be pretty hungry. Christopher has trouble boiling water."
In response, Chris came as close to whining as Wright had ever heard. "Mom, I can do more'n that."
"He's good with wien..hot dogs," Wright choked out, and immediately rushed to offer an explanation. "At the track team party, he was awesome at the grill." He gave Chris a look then felt his cheeks begin to warm.
Had the conversation stopped there, the Donnelly's might have wondered about Wright's red-faced awkwardness, but Chris's dad was on to another problem. "I'm just not sure about this. I don't think Leonard's ever fixed that door."
"Leonard's the guy that takes care of the camp for us," Chris explained. "Hey! I got it!" Chris exclaimed. "Dad! Wright's awesome with tools and woodworking an' stuff. He could fix it!" He turned to Wright. "Couldn't you!"
"Maybe," Wright began in his usual methodical, thoughtful way, "what's wrong with it?"
"Well," Chris's dad said, "The wind caught the door, blew it back, and seems like it pulled the screws out of the hinges and split the trim around the door."
"Is the trim like brick mold," Wright asked, "or just a plain piece of pine?"
Chris gave Wright a look, mouthing the word, "brick mold?" It was a wide-eyed look that said, what the heck are you talking about?
"Plain pine," Chris's dad said with a new-found respect for his son's friend.
"No problem, then. I can take up some tools and a few extra screws, just in case."
"Done!" Chris cried. He gave his folks a huge Chris Donnelly smile, but his folks had seen that smile for seventeen years, and the famous Chris Donnelly charm wasn't working on them. But they were drawn in by their son's quiet friend, Wright Steinbeck.
Finally, the Donnelly's gave their blessing.
Wright was around when Mrs. Donnelly called their home and his mom answered. It was a long conversation, some of which had to do with food. Then toward the end, Wright heard his mom say, "Thank you, Mrs. Donnelly…ah, Ginny. Wright is a wonderful boy, but he's shy, and I want you to know, I think Chris has been good for Wright, too."
Wow, Wright thought. And then he had a twinge of guilt. If his parents only knew what was going through his mind when he thought about Chris, or when he saw him step out of the shower in all his naked splendor, maybe they'd have second thoughts about the two boys being together so much. He swallowed hard, and a shiver cut through his body as he pictured his friend standing in his room, his body glistening with water. He swallowed even harder when he pictured him and his friend three days from now; he'd be alone with the object of his desire in the wilderness of Michigan.
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