dontravis.com blog post #551
Image courtesy of freepik.com”
left behind my creepy side that showed up last week and wrote a new short story
about two guys you might recognize from your own boyhood. Let me know what you
RUSSELL AND LEO
I don’t even know how to describe our relationship. Russell Randall Rolliver and I had grown up together, living side by side as neighbors all our lives. We were inseparable through middle school, and then Triple R, as I sometimes called him, had started outgrowing me. We were the same age—eighteen—but he was shaped like a man and walked like a man and talked like a man—well, some of the time—but you know what I mean. In a manly baritone.
Me, Leonard Hardy Blessingame—Leo to Russell—was only beginning to broaden in the shoulders and talk in a breaking tenor… and notice girls, something Russell had started in the seventh grade. He’d already figured out what to do with them while I was still trying to understand who they were. Oh,
Like I say, Tripple R had long ago outgrown me, and as hard as that was, I’d learned to live with it. About the time I decided, okay, my buddy was gone for good, he’d show up in our backyard and want to toss frisbies or loll in the hammock or just talk. I’d come to treasure those moments like a islet in a broad, formless sea. And I know him well enough to understand he valued them, as well.
My folks had gone to my aunt’s house in a town about twenty miles down the road, and I was practicing on the piano—I was semi seriously considering trying to make my living with “the beast with eighty-eight ivory teeth—when a rap on the back door interrupted me. I looked up to see Triple in his standard summer outfit, shorts and thongs.
“Hey, bro, sounding pretty good on that thing,” he said when I got up to unlatch the screen for him.
“Slow going,” I said dryly. “Soda?”
“Unless you figure we can filch a couple of your old man’s beers.”
“Not a chance. Coke or Dr. Pepper.”
“Dr. Pecker, I think.”
I got his “Dr. Pecker” from the fridge, and a Coke for me. We settled on the couch beside the piano.”
“What’cha been up to?” he asked after a draw on the bottle.
“Same thing.” I waved a hand at the piano. “Practicing on the beast and playing a little tennis.”
“And squiring Mary Ann Sabatino, I hear.”
I shrugged. “Took her to the movies a couple of times, that’s all.”
“About time you showed some interest.”
“Not everybody becomes a cave man at fourteen, Russell.”
That brought a grin. “I did come out of the chute a little early. But it was worth it.”
“I glanced at him. “Was it? You’re going to be worn out before you get married.”
“Might not get married. Might be better to just play the field.”
“Until they all get married, and you’re playing the field with somebody else’s wife.”
He tapped me on the shoulder. “When did you get to be such a killjoy?”
I shrugged and grimaced. “According to you, I’ve always been one.”
We spent another hour on the sofa jawing like we were still best buddies. In fact, maybe we were.
I didn’t see Russell again until the following weekend when he showed up in my backyard. This time, I was outside grilling some burgers. Mom and Dad were going out to dinner with Triple’s parents, and I planned on stuffing myself with fat hamburger patties between buns loaded with pepper jack cheese, mayo, and as much lettuce, sweet onions, and pickles as I could get to stay between the slices. I wasn’t aware he was there until he clapped me on the shoulders from behind and ran his hands down my sides to my hips. I jumped, almost dumping a patty on the ground.
“You’re filling out, Leo. Got some definition there.”
I was wearing Russell’s standard uniform—cutoffs and sandals—so the warmth of his touch lingered, puzzling me somewhat. “Hey, man, give me some warning. I almost dumped your burger on the ground.”
“My burger? You didn’t even know I was coming over.”
“Course, I did. Knew you’d catch the aroma and come running.” Truth was, I had been planning on eating both the burgers myself. For some reason, I had to swallow hard before I could ask the next question. “Did you mean it?”
“Mean what? About you filling out. Yeah, you’re a late bloomer, but you’re gonna look good.”
“Aw, you’re just saying that to pay for your meal.”
“Naw, man. Serious.” He stepped forward and rested a hand on each of my shoulders. “They’re definitely broader.”
Then he did what I wanted him to do without knowing why I craved it so much. He put his hands under my arms and ran them down to my waist. I wondered if he felt the tremor that went through me.
“There’s a flare to the old rib cage that wasn’t there last year.”
Then I did something impulsive. I put my hands to his flanks and explored down to his waistband. “Not like yours.”
“Naw. Us Mediterranean types blossom early, but you’ll catch up.”
I noticed my hands still rested on his hips. He didn’t move away.
“Hey, man, my burger’s gonna burn.”
As if awakened from a dream, I grabbed the meat fork and pulled the patties off the flames. Confused, I made a big production out of loading up the burgers and buns before handing one plate to him.
We settled in the shade of the porch in lawn chairs and chowed down.
“Umm, good,” he said. “You can cook for me anytime.”
“Anytime you want.” I’d almost said “all the time.” What the hell was going on?
As we sat munching our sandwiches and jawing about school and people we knew, I discovered things about Russell. Russell was good looking all over, from his broad shoulders to his narrow waist. I liked the way his hips flared—not too much but just enough—and how the muscles bunched in his thighs. Would my pecs ever look like his? How did he develop a such a noticeable six pack? I noticed how his green eyes flashed when he cracked a joke and smoldered when he talked about his girl. How his voice became a growl when he got serious about something. And how frigging handsome he was.
I discovered things about myself, as well. I now knew why I wasn’t so keen about chasing after girls. They were fun to be around sometimes, but they weren’t… well, they weren’t Russell. That afternoon, I learned I wanted Russell. Wanted him like he wanted one of them. Wanted to do mysterious and exciting things with him… just Russell and Leo, with no one else between us.
The afternoon and the opportunity passed. Russell remained a good friend through our senior year, but we were never again as close as I felt on that summer afternoon in my backyard. While the opportunity—if, in fact, it was one—passed, the wanting never did. Even though my unexplored desire was never fulfilled, it did influence the course of the remainder of my life. Eventually, I found another Russell. Not his name, of course, but he helped me recapture those feelings. He’s a good guy, and I love him.
But I’ll never quit wondering what life would have been like if Russell and Leo had gotten together that summer long ago.
I was talking about this story with my buddy Mark Wildyr the other day, and he pointed out he’d published a more or less autobiographic story on his markwildyr.com website called “Jimmy” in October of 2019 that more or less mirrored this one. I suppose we’ve all had similar experiences of unrecognized longings coming suddenly into focus. Of an unwillingness to advantage situations at the possible risk of losing friendships or reputation or whatever. I know that I have, thus the story of Russell and Leo.
Feel free to share experiences.
Until next week.
Stay safe and stay strong.
Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say… so say it!
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