“The Buddy” by Michael J. Lee
--page 8

        By the next week, whenever Robert passed the grassy quad on his way to the tennis courts, all of Scott’s former friends were there, but Scott himself was not. A few days later, another rumor began circulating, although Robert was not the author. The word was that when the lunch-bell rang, Scott skated off school grounds as fast as he could, to a shady spot where the red truck would be waiting. His absence at lunchtime was troubling, and to make matters worse, Scott no longer waited at the bus stop for Clay. He was now taking a secret way home, and this worried Robert. All he wanted to do was drive a wedge between Scott and Clay.
        On Wednesday Robert found him. Scott was out on the football field alone, stumbling around like he’d been drinking. Robert approached him. Scott had his eyes glued to the long green grass, and he was popping his front tooth in and out in a show for no one.
        “Hey,” Robert said.
        “I guess you’ve heard the rumor,” Scott said, without looking at his friend. “If I could just figure out who did it. Nevermind. I don’t care. I don’t care who started it. But somebody told me they heard it from you.”
        “Clay’s weird,” Robert said. “He’s too old.”
        Scott shook his head and seemed to focus on something far away, as if Robert’s accusation was something Scott had already considered many times. Scott got in Robert’s face. “You don’t even know half of what Clay knows,” Scott yelled. “He knows everything. I wish these fuckers could understand what I’ve given to have a friend like that. They have no idea. Friends like that don’t come cheap.” Robert was going to remind Scott that he was his friend, but decided that this wouldn’t exactly endear him to Scott. He looked away.
        “I’m no pussy,” Scott said. “Clay’s no pussy either. You’ll see.” He indicated with his hands that he wished to be left alone.


        Robert’s father was watching television when he arrived home. On the screen, beautiful, strained looking people lip-synched to a song about making money. “Do you ever get the feeling that time is passing behind your back?” his father said, but Robert wasn’t sure who was his father was trying to address.
        Robert stayed home from school and feigned a chest cold. His mother, who had waited on him mercifully two weeks before, knew he was faking, and paid little attention to him. She spent most of her time on the computer. Once, she called out, “What would you do if I left your father?” but he did not respond.
        When he closed his eyes there was only Scott and Clay, fooling around together in the truck or on the trampoline. He tried to envision the blowjob, but this was quite beyond anything he had directly experienced, so the picture was always slightly blurred. In fact, what was bothering Robert wasn’t that the rumor probably was true, but that Scott was so happy in his little daydreams. He doted on Clay; Clay was his best buddy, and Robert knew that a best buddy is the only person that can make you truly happy.
        One night during his fake fever, Robert woke from a bad dream, dressed, and silently crept out of his house. He headed to the Shell station to buy cigarettes from Clay. He was excited about the prospects of smoking; who knew what doors it could open up? Clay was sitting behind bulletproof glass, under a yellow light that gave the little chamber a tropical look. He was reading a book entitled “Breast Cancer for Dummies” and seemed thoroughly engrossed. Robert knocked on the glass. Clay smiled and put down the book.
        “Robjob.” he said. “Hello, stranger.”
        Robert said hello. He asked to buy some cigarettes.
        “Nasty habit,” Clay said. He slid a pack and some matches through the night drawer. “On me.” He looked at Robert sympathetically. “Can’t sleep?” he said.

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