The dog had stopped a few feet from us, but continued to bounce and bark, running back and forth, wagging its tail. His owner, an older lady, waddled across the lawn scolding Bo, who cheerfully ignored her until she got close enough to pop his butt with the newspaper in her hand.
"You stop it!" she said sternly. Bo dropped to his butt, his tail still wagging madly, his tongue hanging out. The lady turned her attention to us and apologized. "I'm so sorry, boys! He's not dangerous, but he can scare the living daylights out of a person. He's behind an electronic fence; he can't get to you."
She continued in this vein but my attention was on my ankle, which was throbbing dully.
"Parks? Help me up? I think I twisted my ankle."
Parker turned to me and, instead of taking my hand, squatted and pulled my pant leg back. Whistling he said, "Yep, you twisted it all right. Let's get you back home."
He braced his foot against my good side and pulled on my arm, levering me up onto one leg. He pulled my arm across his shoulders and started to guide me back to his house, all the while ignoring the apologizing lady.
I tried putting pressure on my ankle, but it was majorly uncomfortable, so I pulled my leg up a bit and tried to hop. Every hop made my ankle throb uncomfortably and it began to hurt more as we went. I asked him to stop and he obliged, holding me wile I balanced on my uninjured foot.
"Is it hurting?"
"Yeah," I said, wincing. "Every time I hop it shakes everything. Sends a jolt."
"Yeah, been there. Hop up on my back, I'll carry you the rest of the way."
"I'm not weak, Shane. And you're not that heavy. Come on," he said and turned his back to me and squatted down. I put a hand on his shoulder and hopped forward. He reached behind and put his hands behind my knees and counted to three. I moved forward as he lifted, and he bounced me a time or two to make sure he had a solid hold on me. Then he started walking for home.
"I feel so stupid," I said to him.
"We must look weird. Hey, screw your face up and wave at cars as they go by. They'll think I'm carrying my idiot brother on my back or something," he said, snickering. I chuckled and adjusted my grip around his chest.
"Here comes a car. Do it. Do it!" he said, laughing.
I screwed my face up and stuck my tongue out, lolling to one side and waved disjointedly at the car. The guy behind the wheel jerked like he'd been shocked and the car's nose wiggled in response to his hands jerking the wheel. Parker was laughing, his back vibrating against me as he carried me home.
He set me down on his stoop and helped me get inside.
"Uh oh, what happened?" his mother asked as she stood from her chair.
"Dog scared the crap out of us; he fell off the skateboard," Parker told her as he guided me to the couch and let me fall back gratefully.
"I'll get your dad and the kit," she said as she hurried from the room.
"The kit?" I asked. "First Aid?"
"Nah," he said with a little blush. "The Parker kit, for when I bang myself up on the skateboard or something."
I chuckled and then winced as pain lanced through the ankle again. It was aching consistently, now and I sighed with frustration. Parker sat next to me but before he could say anything his dad was in the room.
"Uh oh, I've seen this before," he said and knelt down to pull my pant leg up. "Yeah, you gave it a good twist." he looked up at me, "I need to check it out and see how bad it is, okay?"
"Uh, okay," I said, glancing nervously at Parker.
Parker smiled reassuringly, "My dad's a nurse. He's done this before."
I was about to nod when I yelped instead as his dad examined my ankle. I gritted my teeth as he tried to be gentle, but the throbbing was getting worse and seemed to take forever. Parker slipped his hand into mine and encouraged me to squeeze if it hurt. After a few squeezes he pushed a pillow at me and told me to mangle that instead of his fingers. I barked out a laugh and he smiled at me.
"Well, it's always hard to be certain, but I don't see anything screaming it's broken. Treatment is pretty easy, but you should probably get to an emergency room for an x-ray. We'd better call your mom," he said and stood up. "In the meantime, let's get your leg elevated and prop some pillows under it and get some ice on there to keep the swelling down."
After getting my home number he left me to Parker who dashed about, pulling me into a reclined position and propping my foot up and getting things comfortable behind me.
"Thanks," I said to him.
Without meeting my gaze he said, "Yeah, of course."
I twisted my lips and said, "You mad?"
He turned to look at me, startled. "Mad? No. I feel kinda guilty, though."
"It wasn't your fault. Bo the Hell Hound is responsible for scaring me into falling."
The corner of his mouth turned up in a smile. "Yeah. Pretty sure I wet myself about then."
We both laughed and then I winced and told him not to make me laugh anymore. His dad came back and bundled us into the car and my mom met us at the emergency room. We were there for a few hours and, thank goodness, the ankle wasn't broken. Once that was determined Mr. Reid told my mom they could still take care of me for the evening, likely influenced by how poorly she looked.
She asked me if that was okay. I know it was against her instincts to let me go with them, but the fact that she really did look like she wasn't feeling well at all and that I was completely at ease with the Reids made my decision easy.
Once we got back, Parker took over setting me up in a chair and getting me comfortable. I think his parents were kind of amused but I was a little embarrassed. Once he had me settled in he told his folks he'd be right back.
"Hey, you're leaving?" I asked.
"Just for a few minutes," he reassured me. "I left my board back there and I want to see if it's still there."
"Your...oh, crap!" I moaned. "I should have grabbed your board! I'm sorry!"
"Hey, hey," he said and took a step closer. "Chill. I'm just going to see if it's still there. Hopefully Bo didn't chew it into kindling."
With that he headed out and I was left with his folks. Mr. Reid brought me some pain medicine, probably Advil or something, and put an ice pack on my ankle.
"We've done this a few times with Parker," he said in an offhand tone. "He sure knew what to do when it happened to you." He looked up at me and winked, "Run home to Daddy."
I chuckled with him as he took a seat and Mrs. Reid leaned in the kitchen doorway.
"I'm making chicken cacciatore, Shane. Do you like that?" she asked.
"I don't know if I've had it," I replied honestly. "I like trying new things, though."
"Good answer," she said with a smile. "You need fuel to heal. It's one of Parker's favorites, too."
"I bet he likes eating a lot," I said with a grin. She tilted her head questioningly as I chuckled and said, "He likes some girl from his cooking class because she's good at it."
They both laughed and agreed that he would probably be tamed by a good cook. They spent some time talking to me about how Parker and I knew each other and I tried to dance around the fight, but it was almost as if they suspected or knew. I wondered if they thought something major would have had to happen for Parker to make a friend, considering his claim of not having any.
"I just don't know why Steve does things like this," Mrs. Reid said as she fully entered the room and sat on an ottoman. "Trying to get Parker involved is crossing the line, though. We have to do something."
"I just don't know what," her husband said, nodding in agreement.
"Steve is his brother?"
"Yes. Steve is nineteen now and they were never close. Even as a child...anyway, I'm glad you were there for Parks when he needed you," his mom said with a sad smile.
"I don't know why he doesn't have people surrounding him," I said honestly. "He's so cool."
"I always thought so," his dad said. "You guys seem pretty tight, though, huh?"
"Yeah. He's my best friend," I said sincerely.
"Well, he'll take good care of you, I'm sure," his dad said and patted my leg before standing up and stretching. His mother went back out into the kitchen and her husband followed her, both of them talking but I couldn't make out the words. It didn't sound like trouble, but they could have been talking about Steve and what to do. I leaned my head back and let my mind drift from one thought to another, randomly.
While I did so, one thought pushed itself forward: Bo and his sudden, loud and scary appearance. I relived falling and feeling that initial burst of pain from my ankle and turning my head in panic to see where that vicious dog was. Of course, I hadn't been able to see Bo: Parker had stood between me and the Hell Hound. I looked up at the popcorn ceiling and thought about what that said of him, that he would choose to stand between me and a dangerous animal. It was an amazing feeling, knowing he felt like that and was courageous enough to act on it. To think I'd once thought Parker the most average of average kids.
About fifteen minutes later he came back in with his board in hand. He waved it at me with a satisfied look and went to drop it in his room before coming back to sit with me.
"Glad you got your board back," I told him.
"Me too," he replied. "I was kind of surprised that Bo's mom had it."
He turned and looked at me. "Yeah. That lady? She talks to Bo like he's some overgrown baby." He screwed up his face and pitched his voice up high, "Bo, you listen to Mommy, now! Do what Mommy says, Bo!"
I giggled and he joined me. "She had your board, though?"
"Yeah," he replied. "She felt pretty bad Bo scared us and she picked it up after we'd left. She said she'd gotten Bo inside and saw it sitting out on the sidewalk. Bo was pretty cool, when he wasn't bearing down on us like Cerberus." He paused and the smiled widely. "You know, that would be a cool costume for him for Halloween! I should ask to walk him with that costume. We could dress up as skeletons or something and lead him around the neighborhood."
"Wait, you want to see that thing again?" I gasped.
"Sure. He's okay once you know him. I can go with you, you'll see."
I studied his face for a moment, thinking about how he was offering to go somewhere to ease my fear. There wasn't anything average about this kid.
"What? Why are you looking at me like that?"
The corner of my mouth curled up a bit and I glanced at the doorway to the kitchen to see if his parents were close. Seeing that they were not in sight I turned my attention back to him and put a sly look on my face.
"Why did you kiss me?"
He drew his brows down. "Why are you asking that now?"
"Because I was too chicken to before, honestly."
"And you're all kinds of brave now?" he asked with a snort.
He tilted his head and asked, "Why?"
"Simple. I know I mean something to you. That first night, I didn't. Not really. Today? New ballgame."
"Oh?" he asked and crossed his arms. "How did you come up with that?"
I looked at him steadily and he shifted a little but kept his silence. I smiled at him and he squirmed a little more.
"Okay!" he said, throwing his arms up. "You mean something to me!"
"I knew it," I said smugly.
"So what?" he growled.
I smiled at him and leaned back deeper into the couch and chuckled. "Parks, you're too smart not to know. I just want to know why you kissed me."
He crossed his arms again and said, "I've been asking myself that, too."
I chuckled at him and he gave me a little smile. Grudgingly he said, "I figured it'd mean something to you. I just...I liked the idea of being able to do that for you. I owed you."
I tilted my head and smiled. "You stood between me and a dog we both thought was going to bite. This isn't about owing anything. You never owed me, Parks."
His gaze wandered away and his voice drifted to a soft tone, "I just thought I'd do something nice for you. Something I wouldn't do for just any guy."
I let my smile break open, nearly splitting my face. "You're fucking amazing, Parker. Thanks for the kiss."
He looked back at me and his expression went from surprise to pleasure and then the sly look I was so fond of appeared. "It was like kissing a slice of bologna. You didn't even move your lips or anything! I'm so sorry for your boyfriend, Shane. You can't kiss for shit!"
I laughed at him. "I wasn't ready! If I'd had a little warning..."
He was already waving his hand at me and returning my laughter. "No way! If I'd warned you, you probably would have shoved your tongue down my throat. Screw that!"
We trailed off into chuckles and the thought crossed my mind about his parents and their questioning of me. I filled him in, just in case he hadn't said anything about Steve to them. As per usual, he wasn't ruffled in the least and just shrugged.
He spent the evening nursing me: helping me to the table, getting me a drink and ensuring my comfort. The meal was very good and I enthusiastically complimented his mother. Later he huddled under the blanket with me to watch a movie and I found his presence comforting. As the night wore on I began to yawn and he helped me to the bathroom so I could take care of my business. He rejoined me, already changed for bed, and we brushed before he helped me to his room.
I sat and only then did it occur to me that I'd have to sleep with my pants on since I wasn't sure the legs of my skinny jeans would fit over my heavily wrapped ankle. I shifted around while Parker ran out to the living room to grab a few pillows to prop my leg up with. When he returned he asked me what I was doing in bed and fully dressed.
After explaining my thought, he rolled his eyes and told me to move to the side of the bed. He ordered me to undo my pants, which I did dubiously, and then he pulled me up to stand.
"Don't get excited," he snorted as he worked my pants down my legs.
"Parker, it's going to hurt," I told him while this was happening. But, even with the pain this was causing in, even with the awkward position and my ankle throbbing dully, there was no denying the eroticism of someone else pulling my pants down.
He looked up and said, "I'll be careful. Trust me."
I nodded, of course, because I did trust him. I sat and he pulled the pants off my uninjured side and then he pulled the cuff of the other leg taut so that it didn't make contact with my ankle and slowly worked it past my painful, swollen joint. I had to admit, he was gentle as could be and I only felt a twinge or two before he'd gotten my pants off. He tossed them onto a chair and paused as he looked at me.
"Shit. You're going to have to lie on your back, I think."
I thought a moment and agreed with him. Glancing at the bed I was thinking it was going to be a tight fit and offered to sleep on the couch.
"No," he said with a shake of his head. "As long as you can be comfortable here, I'll feel better with you right here. Come on."
He moved me toward the wall side of his bed and arranged the pillow to prop my ankle up. Then he adjusted the blanket so I could use it. Satisfied he turned the light out and climbed into bed on his side, putting his knee on my thigh and his arm across my chest.
"This okay? You comfortable?" he asked.
"Um, feel a little trapped. Here, let me..." I pulled my arm from between us and slipped it behind him, drawing him down and toward me. He shifted, the side of his knee now resting on my own and his head resting on the front of my shoulder.
"This, um, better?" he asked.
"Yeah. More comfortable. You okay?"
"Yeah. I'm good." He coughed. "Just wake me if you have to pee or something."
We lay in silence for a few minutes, not talking like we had the night before. Lying in his embrace tonight felt a bit different. Not romantic, exactly, but certainly this meant something important. My hand, surprisingly, felt dry as my fingers moved slightly on his back. The warmth of his body slowly soaked through my shirt and underwear and I enjoyed the feeling of his leg lying across my own. His fingers twitched periodically on my ribs and his hand would shift once in a while, moving from my chest down to my stomach and back up. Not fast enough to be called stroking or petting, just random movements to shift himself to a more comfortable position. He adjusted a bit, burrowing closer to me, and he let out a sigh.
"Is this the job you were talking about?" I asked quietly.
"What job?" he mumbled.
"This morning, when you made me move. You said I could have the job. Is this that job?"
"Oh. I said that?" he asked. I didn't answer and he fell silent for a moment. His arm, one that must have been under him, pushed past my shoulder up by the pillow we both lay on and he shifted to do so. His hands clasped, with his arms now around me, and he pulled me tight against him.
"What the heck?" I groaned.
"Job's my best friend, Shane," he said in a voice I don't think I'd heard from him nor suspected he possessed. It was vulnerable. Pleading. Nervous. I started to roll toward him but my ankle flared and he tightened his grip, not allowing me to turn and look at him, and he wedged his head on my neck as insurance. "Pay sucks and I'm going to cuddle you without putting out. Is that okay?"
I ceased my effort to roll and instead pulled him toward me with the arm I had behind him. His grip adjusted, but still held me fast to him. I brought my free hand up and placed it over his and let out a sigh.
"Please?" he said, his voice a whisper.
"You're already my friend, Parker. Only one I have."
"Yeah, but...this is more important. I want us to be best friends. When we make other friends or when we date or whatever happens, we still come first. We still mean something. I don't want to be your friend because I'm the only one." He paused and squeezed me again, something I was growing to like.
"Parks," I said softly while stroking the skin of his back. "You're the best friend I ever had. Why would someone else change that?"
"But the only one, right? If you're like me, now that I can see there's someone worth knowing at school, don't you think there could be others? This could be just the start of knowing more people, right?"
"I don't know," I replied honestly. "Is that what you want?"
His body shifted and I felt his breath close to my ear, "I don't know. I don't want to try if it means this-" he both shook and squeezed me lightly "-could change. You're too cool for words, Shane."
Heat bloomed in my chest as emotions fired off in my heart. "Why can't I look you in the eye, Parker? Why won't you let me turn?"
"Because I'm being a sap," he said and then his voice dropped lower as he admitted, "and even worse, a pussy."
His grip loosened and his head moved back a bit, allowing me to turn my head toward him. Parker's 'guy-next-door' look was more real and more unique than I'd ever known. He was actually nervous and afraid that I'd reject him. I didn't trust myself to answer, to pick the right words to express how I felt. How his request made me ache for him. Instead I pulled him toward me and pushed his head down to my chest and I held him.
"Shane. I said I don't put out. This isn't what I meant."
"Shut up, Parker," I said and squeezed him. He cuddled me and sighed. We didn't speak anymore and I knew he was awake for a long while. It wasn't easy sleeping with the steady ache from my ankle, but being wrapped in my best friend's embrace made up for it. Eventually, I did sleep. And I slept well.
Sunday was quiet. After breakfast the Reids dropped me off at home with Parker electing to stay with me. My mom was looking a little better but she was still pushing fluids and said she'd spend most of the day in bed trying to finish fighting off whatever bug she had so she could go back to work the next day. However she did break one of my father's cardinal rules and gave me a cell phone, one of her old ones. She explained that she hadn't liked that I couldn't call her for help when I'd needed to.
And she told me not to tell my father, obviously.
Parker and I hung out in my room and, probably out of boredom, he started talking about my list again. "Okay so we got me, Clint, Zane, Ty, Curt and who else?"
"Seriously?" I asked, wanting to laugh but trying to frown at him.
"Totally. Who was the other one? I feel like one is missing."
I sighed and gave into his game, "Travis."
"Right! Okay, so Clint and Zane are dating and Travis is with Miss Nice Tits. Ty and Curtis are single, man. You should totally pick one and go for it."
"Setting aside the bad outcomes, what if one of them said yes? I'd have to spend time with them, right? Kind of runs counter to what we talked about last night, Parks," I told him from my reclined position on my bed.
He paced the room glancing at me periodically. "Well, I can't take up all your time, right? I'm not a total loser, I can entertain myself. Plus my point was more us being able to rely on each other, not be an exclusive...something."
"Well, you know," I said to him, my tone teasing. "You're on my list. You could just go on a date with me."
He snorted. "Right now, at least you have the possibility of Ty or Curtis putting out. You know I won't."
"I don't know," I said in a speculative tone. "I'm sure you never would have thought you'd kiss a guy before, either."
He turned and gave me a challenging look. "I'm never going to hear the end of that, am I?"
"Nope," I said, smiling smugly and bursting out laughing at his put upon look.
"Seriously, we should try to get you a date."
"What if Ty and Curtis are straight?" I asked. "Then you're the only available guy on my list."
He laughed at me as he said, "What is all this about going on a date with me? See, I knew it was a mistake to open up to you last night."
"Parks," I said, my voice injured. "I wouldn't ask you to put out. I'd be okay with just a blowjob."
"Shut up," he said with a roll of his eyes.
"Well, let's change the subject, then. Why is Steve the way he is?"
He scrunched up his face. "Okay, pull your pants down and let's get this over with."
I laughed and made to reach for my belt. "That's a yes on the blowjob?"
"It was a 'fuck you, Shane'," he replied. "I'm not blowing you. I'm not even sure I want to blow a girl."
I frowned. "Is it still called a blow job if you do it to a girl?"
"I guess. I mean, you can suck on a vag, right?"
I deadpanned, "I never really thought about it."
"Well, you should, Maybe if you saw the advantages of pussy you wouldn't be so interested in my dick."
"I never said I was interested in your dick!"
"It's implied," he said with a dismissive wave.
He dropped down on the bed and stretched out beside me with his arms behind his head, wiggling until we were touching from about the hip on down. I was contemplating sending the conversation back towards the subject of Steve, but Parker surprised me by doing it himself.
"I don't know why Steve is how he is. My parents never really knew, either. I remember he used to see a therapist and my parents were always concerned. There were a few things that happened in our neighborhood that no one could prove Steve did, but he was kind of the obvious suspect."
"Like when the Ferguson's cat went missing. It turned up, or what was left of it, a few weeks later. The Wright's dog got attacked, but he got away and ran through his doggie door. At first, from what I heard, they'd thought the dog had hurt himself in the house somehow but the vet said the cuts on his body were from a knife of some kind.
"Steve set the couch on fire once. He'd steal." Parker shook his head, "He always treated me like shit. Picking on me, beating on me. My parents said that, when he was young, he spent a lot of time with my grandparents, who looked after him. Money was bad so my dad took a travel nursing job for the better money and my mom was working two jobs." He turned his head, his hair brushing against the fabric of the pillow. "They never told me why money was so bad."
"Lots of people run into money problems," I said. "Sounds like they were really struggling, though."
His eyes studied me for a minute and then he said, not turning away, "My grandfather did something to him. No one is sure what. My mom...she said Steve changed, over time, from the time he spent there."
"That's fucked up," I said in a low voice.
"Yeah," he said thickly and turned his gaze back to the ceiling. "I know Steve lost out, but I did, too. My grandfather cheated me out of having a brother, having that close relationship." We remained silent for a time, neither willing to talk about Steve any further but the mood had shifted to the point that I wasn't sure either of us knew what to talk about. Instead, we stayed silent and shared each other's space.
I'd spent a lot of time alone, before Parker, just like I was doing then, lying on my bed, thinking about things. Now, I realized how much better it was to have a friend at my side while I mused.