“The Buddy” by Michael J. Lee
--page 9

        “Lonely,” Robert said. This slipped out, but Robert did not regret saying it because it was the truth.
        “What are you doing in twenty minutes?” Clay said.
        “Nothing,” he said.
        “Here’s what you do. You run across the intersection, and hop the fence into Amoring Lake. Smoke yourself a couple of cigarettes and take a seat on the picnic benches. I’m off in twenty. We’ll watch the sunrise over the lake.”
        Robert gave him a timid thumbs up. He was over the fence and striking a match before he even considered whether or not it was a bad bet. Then he thought about it, and didn’t care what happened. He wasn’t afraid of Clay. Maybe he liked younger guys. Maybe he even liked them in the illegal way. Who cared? If Scott was ok, Robert would be ok. If Scott was happy, well then Robert might even turn out happy in the end. But he was miserable at that moment, and there on the bench he told himself that he did not care whether he lived or died. That he would prefer none above the other. The lake was black as the night sky.
        The cigarette made him dizzy, and he stamped it out with his shoe. He heard Clay struggle over the chain link fence, which rattled feebly in the silence.
They sat with their eyes to the lake. Clay wore tapered blue jeans and white sneakers.
        “How’s Scott?” Robert said.
        “Fine. He’s doing fine. He was moping around all last week. He’s real cute when he’s got something on his mind. My little buddy.”
        “He’s mine too.”
        “No,” Clay said. “No I would say he isn’t. Scott is your friend, although he might not think so right now. Not your buddy. There’s a difference.” Clay coughed violently into his hand and then spat in the grass. “A buddy is someone you take under your wing when they need help. Someone that can’t stand alone on their own two feet. A friend is different. Friendship is based on mutual respect. Scott respects you.”
        “You don’t respect him?”
        “It’s not that. I do. He’s a good kid. I saw his need for guidance, and I answered it. He used to skate by the gas station at all hours of the night, probably messed up on all sorts of drugs. It was definitely a cry for help. Have you seen the condition of their house? It’s like the place hasn’t been cleaned in years. And Dad? Dad leaves his dirty videotapes all over the place like he expects them not to notice. It’s no kinda place.”
        “Seemed ok to me. Seemed just fine to me.”
        “I’m sure it did. But let me tell you, they are better off now. I cook and I clean. And I listen to Scott when he’s got something troubling him. That little brother of his is a real pain in the ass, though. Very demanding. Stewart is not my buddy, I’ll tell you that.”
        A sliver of the red sun was visible as it slowly climbed a distant foothill. Robert decided that he would pose his question as delicately as possible. It occurred to him that no one knew where he was except for Clay, and this made him feel strange and exhilarated. He wondered if this is what people felt when they were in love. “Do you and Scott do things together?” he said.
        “Be more specific, Robjob.”
        “Husband and wife things.”
        “Like picnics? TV after dinner? I don’t understand.” Clay was smiling wide. Behind the teeth there looked to be a cavern of black, endless space.
        “You know what I mean.”
        Clay shook is head in disbelief.
        “Fucking,” Robert said. “Blowjobs.”
        “Ooooooh,” Clay said. “No, we’re strictly platonic. I’m not attracted to him. Sorry to get your hopes up. That really was a nasty rumor that got started.”
        “Kids come by the station when I’m working. They always did, I guess. But now they bring eggs, and throw them at the glass. My tires have been slashed on two separate occasions.”
        “Would you ever do those kind of things?” Robert said. “The husband and wife stuff.”

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