“The Buddy” by Michael J. Lee
--page 7

        “No voices,” Robert said. “Not for a while.”
        “A man of character,” Clay said. “You continue to surprise me.”
        “What do you mean?” Scott said. Robert wasn’t sure what Clay meant either, but understood it was a compliment.
        Over the next few weeks, Clay picked them up from school every day at 2:30, and they would drive to the mall or hang around Scott’s house. Clay smoked Marlboros indoors, helped himself to the liquor cabinet, and generally made himself at home. At 4:00 each afternoon, Robert was asked to leave. Clay and Scott would pleasantly show him the door. “Why?” he asked several times. Clay would smile and wink at Robert, telling him how he didn’t want Robert’s mom to worry about her baby boy. “That isn’t it,” Robert would say. “My Mom doesn’t care. She’s cool with me hanging out here.”
        “Hey man,” Clay would say. “Scott’s my best buddy. Best buddies gotta have their time together.” Then he would mess Scott’s blond hair. Scott always seemed slightly uncomfortable at this time of day, but he would do his best to smile. Once he asked Clay if Robert could hang with them. Clay gave Scott a stern look, and Scott never broached the subject again.
        One Friday morning, near the end of the school year, Robert caught a fever, and was forced to stay at home for the entire weekend. He thrashed uselessly in his bed. When he closed his eyes, he saw Scott and Clay sitting in a magnificent garden together, and the smile on their faces suggested the whole world was theirs and everything was secondary to their enjoyment of one another. This curdled his stomach. He wondered why he was so determined to be friends with Scott. He considered that he could try and become Paul Spielman’s friend, but this just made him angrier. Paul Spielman did not have it, whatever it was. Robert flung the sheets off of himself. His mother brought him Gatorade in a plastic cup with a bendable straw. She sat by his bed and said that he was blessed to have a home and a family, especially a mother who cared for him. “Some mothers throw their kids out on the street,” she warned.
        “You want to throw me out on the street?” Robert said.
        “I wouldn’t, honey. I said ‘some mothers’.”
        “Let me ask you something. Do you have a best buddy?”
        “I did once, but she got hit by a car. Now I only have acquaintances.”
        “Is there any way to keep a buddy?”
        “Most of your efforts will just drive them away. Lose them now, or lose them later. This is a tough fact.”
        “But I don’t want to lose him.”
        “Then try a different approach. Take no prisoners. By the way, your father says he hopes you’re feeling better.”
        “Where is he?” Robert said.
        “I’m not really sure,” his mother said. “Out and about.”


        The following Monday, Robert started a rumor at the middle school. In Mr. Handler’s class, he whispered it to Paul Spielman, making him promise not to tell anyone. Paul promised, but Robert was absolutely counting on him breaking it. This is exactly what happened. By lunchtime, the entire school was debating whether Scott had been fellating Clay in the red truck on his way home from school. “It makes sense,” Robert heard a lanky basketball player say as they passed each other. “It makes sense because the truck is so high, nobody can see inside it.” Robert spent his lunch hour for the rest of the week near the tennis courts, alone. He spat loogies onto the gravel until his throat was dry. I am a man on the lam, he thought, but he didn’t believe it. God had not even granted him pubic hair yet. I am a real fucker, he thought, and this felt more appropriate. A fucker and a liar.

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