Authors: J. Roman
Before long, we were on the way to late-night bowling at Sky Lanes, which had a lovely view of the interstate from the parking lot. It was a dingy little place but, like I said before, they never carded, so it was a favorite hangout for people who went to Erwin. Jason and Dean chatted like they were best friends, and the mild flirtation as they talked about getting drunk together set my teeth on edge. I was in a terrible mood when Jason put the car in park and we climbed out onto the cold pavement.
He circled the car and tried to entwine our fingers. I jerked away. He frowned. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Not in the mood, J. Hold Dean’s hand since you two are so keen on slobbering all over one another.” I stuck my hands in my pocket and stalked toward the front entrance to the bowling alley.
“Hey!” Jason called after me. I didn’t turn. Sometimes his games got freaking old. I was not going to get my homework done, I’d be tired as hell tomorrow, and I couldn’t help but be worried about Jason despite the fact that he was getting on my nerves right now. I stopped before I opened the door and took a deep breath while Dean and Jason caught up. Dean gave me a weird look as he reached for the door handle and pulled it open. It wasn’t quite apologetic, but it was close.
“I’ll go get our shoes,” my cousin muttered before he slipped inside.
“What is all this about?” Jason asked as he came up to stand beside me. He looked bewildered. He wore that expression when he tipped me over the edge from upset to pissed, like he couldn’t figure out what he did wrong.
Doesn’t anyone ever adjust your moral compass like I do, J
? Being the “only” anything of someone was at once flattering and terrifying.
“You know what this is about. I know I’m being unnecessarily jealous, but you are…. I don’t know what you’re doing. I don’t feel you.” I can’t explain what I meant. Instead of beside me, he felt a million miles away, and that distance seemed to grow with his cockiness.
He sneered at me. “I’m relaxing. If you don’t like it, leave.” He’d fought against me over and over again, but never had he told me to leave. He’d always begged for the opposite, in fact. It was my trump card, the one I used to tell him that I was serious. I was dumbfounded.
“I… it’s… fine. Let’s just bowl.” I swallowed. Was this it? Was this the last night we would be together? Had his sleazy stepdad ruined the best thing that had ever happened to me? I wanted to kill him for what he’d done to Jason, for what he’d made him into. The rage settled into my gut and started to simmer. I opened the door and gestured him inside.
There weren’t many people bowling at midnight; a couple of Goth kids were halfway through a game a lane over from us, and half the drumline was at the far left side of the joint. They were easily recognizable with their matching print T-shirts. Then there was a pack of country boys who were, by the looks of them, comfortably lit and spilling pitchers on their Carhartts and raising hell. We weren’t the only ones unwinding.
The dirty brown carpet was worn in places and almost all the lights behind the lanes were out. It didn’t scream “family place,” though my mom had hosted more than one of my favorite birthdays here. She’d ordered us a pizza and we’d eaten it and toasted my birthday with a soda pop on multiple occasions. Life had seemed so much simpler and happier then.
“I’ll try not to flirt with him,” Jason said out of nowhere. The almost-apology wasn’t something I’d expected from him, but I’d take it.
I took the high road and cautioned myself for the millionth time to show patience. “Thank you. I just love you, okay? You promised it would be just me and you.”
Dean waved us over to lane nine, and we fell silent. “Size ten for you, cuz, and size nine for boy beautiful.” He handed us the rental shoes and pointed to the digital seat where we could punch in our names. “I didn’t know what order you wanted to go under. I’m going to go grab the beer since I’m biggest.” He may have been a year younger than me, but he was right. He did look like he was older. Plus he had a picture ID card from the community college, by virtue of him being enrolled in the Early College program, which usually talked when his looks didn’t.
I sat at the bench and undid my sneakers, tucking them under my seat so they wouldn’t get in the way of walking back and forth. Jason did the same, and by the time we got our shoes tied, our names entered into the players’ list, and our balls chosen, Dean was back with a pitcher and some cups. Without preamble, he poured each cup almost full before lifting the red plastic up to the light in a toast.
“To a night out,” he said, grinning.
“What he said,” Jason agreed, returning that smile. I raised my container but didn’t offer additional commentary. I sipped my drink and nearly gagged. Warm beer was not my favorite thing to drink, but it wasn’t as if we could go to the corner store and get some. Dean drank about half of his, and we both watched in semi-awe as Jason polished off the whole damn thing and refilled his glass again.
“Okay,” he said cheerfully. “Who’s up first?”
“That would be me,” Dean said, walking over and picking up his ball. My eyes went to Jason as he started chugging the second cup. The boom of the pins as Dean’s ball hit them echoed through the room, and his loud whoop of satisfaction clued me in that he had a strike even before I saw it. My eyes were glued to my boyfriend instead.
“Are you going to be all right?” I asked carefully, schooling my expression to one of indifference.
He shrugged. “Yeah, baby. No worries. I’m bulletproof. Especially when I’m drinking.” My stomach churned. That was really what I was afraid of.
It was my turn next, and I gutter-balled. Under normal circumstances, I wasn’t much of a bowler. Stressed out and mind half on Jason’s state, I was a terrible bowler. I turned back to the guys and watched as they nearly rolled on the floor laughing at my pitch.
“Yeah, yeah, I suck.” I couldn’t help but smile sheepishly. I may have been epic at wrestling, swimming, and football, but I supposed everyone had to be terrible at something.
“I’m so going to spank your ass!” Jason declared, sashaying up to the place our balls came out at and picking up his fifteen-pounder.
I winked, starting to relax a bit. “Promise?”
Dean howled at the suggestion and made a lewd remark that I was pretty sure was physically impossible. I took another long sip of my drink.
, I thought, staring at my boyfriend’s butt as he threw his ball down the lane for an eight-pin roll. I would protect him and do all that stuff I always wanted to do with him. It was a forever kind of thing, and I knew it. Maybe I was too young to think like that, but I didn’t give a damn.
A relaxed Jason was a beautiful thing, and he was right: the more he drank, the more he seemed to relax. As the games went on and the pitchers came one after the other until the world was spinning and we’d run out of money and games to play, he lost that cagey attitude he’d begun the night with and became the carefree guy I knew and loved.
“That’s game!” Dean declared as Jason rolled his final ball. We’d played three games total, and Dean had won the first two. Jason had won the last. Being the loser of this particular outing didn’t seem too bad in my mind, because the consolation prize of a very drunk Jason perched in my lap and running his hands over my chest in between rounds made losing very worth it.
We stumbled out the door and into the early morning cold. A frost had settled in the roughly three hours we’d been inside, but it wasn’t nearly as chilly as I had remembered it being before we’d started bowling. Jason’s affectionate nature really came out when he was lit, and he was all over me as we crossed the parking lot. I stumbled, falling against the hood of Dean’s car as Jason lip-locked me midstep. We both laughed at the silliness of the action, and I rolled him beneath me so I could kiss him properly.
“I gotta take a leak,” Dean said from behind me. I didn’t bother to see where he went, probably ducked behind a car or something. It didn’t much matter to me because when I held Jason like this, nothing else seemed to matter.
You’re so much trouble
. My drunken thought seemed a little out of place, but it wasn’t thought in a bad way; more like Jason was the kind of trouble every guy wants but so few ever get to actually have.
“Hmm, stop,” Jason said, pushing on my chest. I opened my eyes, and it took a second for my beer-muddled mind to understand what he said. I reared back in a clumsy arc and nearly fell on my ass for my trouble. Jason chuckled and sat up.
“Why’d you stop?” I asked as he hopped off the hood and grabbed my hand.
He just gave me a mischievous smile and tugged me back toward the bowling alley. Maybe he needed to take a leak too. I wasn’t sure why he was dragging me along with him, though. Instead of going to the entrance like I thought he was going to, he dragged me to the side of the building and around the back.
“Gotta touch you, Tommy boy,” Jason said, backing me against the wall.
“Here?” I asked incredulously. He had to be kidding me. It smelled damp and slightly moldy back here, and there was a garbage dumpster not ten feet from the section of wall he’d backed me up on.
“I’ve fucked in worse places,” Jason said. I watched in horrified fascination as he unbuttoned his pants and lowered his zipper. No. It couldn’t happen like this. We had waited because it was supposed to be special. It was supposed to be more than this. I grabbed his wrist, and he looked at me quizzically.
“Jason, save it for this weekend. Not here. Not drunk. Come on, man,” I said. I squeezed his hand before letting go and reaching to button up his pants.
“Either you do me now or I will find someone else to do it.” The threat chilled whatever lust had been rising in conjunction with Jason’s touching and alcohol. I waffled like I had when presented with his other ultimatum.
“You’d do that? To us? Over
?” The words forced themselves out of my mouth, my stomach roiling in protest.
His eyes were twin dead spheres as they met mine in the shadowed light of the alley. “I have to get it out, Tommy. The only cure is to wash it away with something else.”
“He didn’t touch you. He’s not going to touch you. I thought going out was going to wash it off?” Fear and anger swirled inside me in equal measure, both at Jason’s stepdad and at Jason for what he was doing to himself. It was like he was asking to be punished, and I couldn’t stand it.
“It wasn’t enough. I need… please, Tommy.” He put his hand on my pants button and started jerking it open again, the movements jerky and desperate. I shoved him back, and he stumbled. I cursed and reached to catch him, but it was too late. He landed on his ass with a thud. He looked up at me like I’d grown another head, his lower lip trembling.
. I knelt on the ground beside him and gathered him up in my arms as answering tears welled up in my own eyes.
“I’m sorry, baby. I’m so damn sorry. I didn’t mean to. Please, forgive me.” I wasn’t a violent person. In fact, I held my temper better than any guy I knew, and I hadn’t meant to shove him so hard. “It was an accident,” I added as he clung to me.
Am I any better than Jonathan
“It’s okay. I’m sorry too. My head. It’s so messed up. I can’t deal sometimes.” He sobbed into my chest, the alcohol taking away his inhibitions just like they were doing to mine. If he cried in front of me, he held it in until the last moment, and then, and only then, would he let it out in controlled bursts of sound. This was all-out and raw. I cried with him.
I don’t know how long we stayed there on the cold, dirty ground, crying together over everything and nothing. I wanted so badly to put him back together, to heal him and give him the insular life I had lived in the years up until my mother’s death.
I’m not strong enough. I’m not strong enough to do this.
But I would have to be. Jason wouldn’t let me bring anyone else into his hell where I’d walked and fought my way in. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized I’d never really had to face something so big by myself. Even when my mother died, Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie had been there to take me in and take care of me. My cousins had been there to make me laugh and pack my things. With Jason and his situation, I was really and truly alone.
on, baby,” I whispered against his forehead after the tears stopped and our breathing evened out. The cold, which had been easy to ignore the moment before, was now making the two of us shiver. “We left Dean waiting out there, and he’s liable to fall into a gutter or something. He was almost as drunk as you are.” I was still pretty lit myself.
“Yeah. I’m good now.” His eyes kept sliding shut like he really wanted to pass out. I shook him a bit.
“Come on, J. I mean it, get up.” I folded my knees under me in an attempt to get to my feet. Despite the fact that my legs were numb, I managed. I dragged Jason up and wrapped my arm around his waist so we could lean on one another as we stumbled from the alley and into the parking lot once more. By then I was stiff and cold and so ready to crawl under some blankets and sleep the last few precious hours I had left before I had to get up for my morning swim. Too late I had remembered the homework I’d put off.
Jason stopped walking, and I nearly fell over at the suddenness of it. “What the hell?” I asked, wondering and dreading what drama Jason was about to dish out next.
That wasn’t a nice thought at all
. I immediately regretted it. It wasn’t like Jason could help it. He had been really messed up mentally.
“Dean is getting arrested,” Jason said, staring over my shoulder. I whipped my head around, and shock went through my system. Dean was snarling something indiscernible as the two uniformed officers put cuffs on him while his chest rested against the hood of a patrol car. One of them hauled him backward while the other opened the back of the car.
“Oh God,” I whispered, unable to look away from what was happening. Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie were going to kill us. As my younger cousin, Dean was my responsibility.