The door swished and then thudded closed as Ryan slipped out of the washroom. Frowning at the retreating figure, Luke was left alone. Now it was over, he...it...Ry...
He turned from the the now-closed door, chewing his lower lip and troubled by his own shortcomings as he tried to decide what to do. It had been pretty rough on Ry—brutal hardly covered it—but there really hadn’t been anything either of them could have done about it…was there?
It could have been anyone…
Luke quickly gathered up his own things: his jacket from where he'd left it by the sink tops and his backpack from the floor. Then he hurried after Ryan, pushing out into a crowded hallway. Scanning both left and right through crowds of students, he could see no immediate sign of his friend.
He turned the most likely direction and hurried through the milling crowds, expecting to catch up with Ryan within moments—though he wasn’t at all sure what he was going to say when he did. However, while there was plenty of banter in the crowded corridor that focused on what had just gone down, there was no sign of the focus of it.
Pausing, Luke debated with himself whether he should just let it go. Ryan clearly hadn't wanted to talk just then—that was pretty obvious—but even with that in mind, he still did an about-face and went in the other direction to check for him, anyway.
Still not finding any trace of his friend that way, either, he cast his net wider and spent most of the remaining fifteen minutes of the lunch recess searching high and low for Ryan. He checked all the likely places they normally hung out: home room, the library, and even back in the cafeteria. Everywhere he went, he discovered the buzz of it all had got there before him. A number of kids, most looking for the inside track on Ryan, confronted him to find out more. Trying to disguise his discomfort, Luke brushed them off and kept searching, yet with every passing minute, his disquiet—and sense of guilt—multiplied.
A fine time to suddenly have a fucking conscience!
While he didn’t find Ryan, it didn’t take too long to run into Todd and Kieran. The rest were there, too—a group of them that were clumped together on the grass, including Ethan, Chris Anderson, Adam Miller and Zach. Even Matt Young—who’d been right in the thick of it back in the restroom—was in the huddle, and was grinning his head off. From a distance, it wasn't difficult to make out what had them all buzzing! Most had their jackets slung over their shoulders in the blazing lunchtime sun, and Adam Miller was holding forth.
“Holy shit!” Luke heard Miller chuckle as he drew closer. “The poor bastard’s never going to live that one down! I mean it was like a fucking fountain!”
"I gotta admit," Todd smirked. "I almost wet myself when he turned out to be that ticklish!"
“Nnnnngggg….. fuucckkk” Ethan took the piss and several burst out laughing. “Did you hear him? I mean I’ve seen my share, but that was impressive! And did you see that dick?”
“Impressive?” Miller snickered, meanly. “Really? His dick? I mean, does—”
“Come on guys, be nice.” Kieran's interruption had a subtle undercurrent of warning to it.
"Kier's right," Todd added. "What the hell, anyway. We're all different—mine's black for fucks sake!"
Kieran snickered sarcastically. "Shit! Really?"
“Well, I don’t care what anyone thinks,” Matt said. “Who cares the fuck about an inch when you can spew that much jizz! Hell—he almost doused me, and JJ's still wiping it off his jacket!”
Exactly—who the fuck cared? Luke was glad to see a couple of others return reluctant nods of agreement.
“Hey, Luke!” Todd noticed Luke was near and waved him over.
“So where is he?” Like the rest of them, Todd seemed buoyant, and glanced past Luke as if he actually expected Ryan to be ambling up, too. “We assumed he—“
“So were you there?” Ethan interrupted with a smirk. “It was fucking spectacular!”
Luke couldn’t even look at Ethan, Matt or Kier, and his eyes remained locked on Todd. His tone was tight. “I don't know where he is. Have you seen him—I’ve looked everywhere.”
“No idea.” Todd shrugged and shook his head. He appeared to be getting over any sense of guilt he might have been carrying. “Keeping his head down, probably. It’ll be class soon—I guess we’ll see him soon enough.”
Luke knew Todd was right, but he hurried off to keep looking. Either way, the last thing he wanted to do was hang around to hear any more of what that lot had to say about it all!
But where the hell was Ry?
He felt he had to find him, increasingly feeling the need to do something. Apologize. Explain. Console. Make a plan for revenge, even, if that was what it was going to take. Anything! But Ryan was nowhere in sight and, with nowhere else to look, Luke arrived a couple of minutes early for English, hoping to catch Ry before the lesson started. Most of the rest of them were already there by then, too, clustered in small groups and chatting animatedly. From the frequent grins and party atmosphere that prevailed, Luke held no allusions as to what they were still talking about—or why they'd turned up early.
Faces turned his way as he stepped through the door, but flicking his eyes around the room, Luke could see that Ryan’s wasn’t among them. From their eager expressions, it looked like they were all waiting for Ryan, too. Luke pushed through to his desk and began unpacking as, right behind him, Todd arrived. Todd seemed in even more of a cheerful mood than earlier.
"So, has he forgiven us yet?" Todd smirked as he swung his backpack onto his desk and began getting out some books.
Luke snarled inwardly at the cheap approach Todd seemed to be taking to the demeaning affair.
"I dunno, Todd." His tone was cutting, and Todd quickly looked up. "I haven't seen him since...but what do YOU think?"
Todd held up his hands defensively. "Come on, don't be like that—you know it wasn't my fault!"
"So where the hell is he, then?" Luke continued to scowl. It helped to be angry with someone else. “Nobody’s seen him. Do you think he’s left?"
Todd frowned. “Left? Left school, you mean? Who knows? He’s probably been laying low—I mean who can blame him?”
Luke looked at his watch. Class would be starting soon.
Todd checked his watch, too, and added, "He’s bound to be here in a minute."
Out of the corner of his eye, Luke saw Landon and Mitchell arrive. The bastards looked full of themselves. Immediately, there were whistles and the sounds of acclaim, and Landon raised his arms in an acknowledgement of approval.
Bastards! Wasn’t there anyone who felt bad for Ryan?
Landon strode straight over.
"Okay...where is he?" The scent of triumph marched out of his every pore.
Luke scowled. “Fuck off and crawl back into your hole!"
Landon’s eyes narrowed, but Mitchell joined him and brushed it off.
“What’s up with you, Summers?" Mitchell's tone sounded entirely reasonable. "Come on, we’ve all seen Hangs before. So, it was Ry up this time. So what? We all know he had it coming.”
Landon said nothing, but his face twisted into a nasty grin.
“So where is he?” Mitchell continued. “We thought he was with you?”
“Just leave it guys, okay.” Todd stepped into the exchange. “We don’t know. Give him a break alright.”
" Ahhhh...UHHHNN…NNNNNGGG…” Landon did a vulgar but rather accurate take of Ryan’s final outburst.
“You fucking bastard!” Antagonised, Luke launched forward, and would have swung at him had Todd not stepped in the way and backed him off.
“Hey guys…” If Landon was offended, he played it down, and raised his arms in a gesture of contrition. “I get you’re mad, and I’m sorry for Ry, but it’s not my fault! Everyone wanted it.”
“That’s crap and you know it!” Luke fixed Landon with an angry glare as others gathered around to watch the conflict.
“The hell it is! And anyway, I’m not the one who started it! You’d better ask Todd about that.”
Eyes turned to Todd, who looked uncomfortable.
“Come on, Todd...you know how it was!” Landon said. “You were the one that set the whole thing up in the first place. It wasn’t my fault that you bottled out!”
“What?” There were murmurs of surprise, and Luke growled at the half-truth.
“That’s a crock of shit, Scott, and you know it!” Todd rarely got angry, but he made an exception this time, and fixed Landon with a glare.
“Oh come on, get off your high horse. You didn't seem to have any problem staying around to watch!" Landon retorted. Then he turned on Luke. "And I seem to fucking remember you skulking around in there, too!"
Keeping it going, Mitchell squealed in a falsetto voice. "Oooohhh Scott…stop it! Go back to spanking me…..pleeeeaaaasse!”
The whole room heard it and the mean laughter spread.
Luke snapped. "You're a fucking bastard, Mitchell!"
“Excuse me, Mr. Summers?”
Luke gritted his teeth as Keynes, their English teacher, bore down on him.
“I will not abide foul language in my classroom! Now what’s this all about?”
Keynes shifted his attention. “Mitchell?”
“I have no idea, sir. Luke’s just in a bad mood it seems.”
Landon shrugged. “Honestly sir, it’s nothing. We were just wondering where Ryan was, that's all. He seemed a bit HUNG over today!”
"Hung over?" Keynes spluttered. "Drinking in school is strictly forbidden!"
There were more grins, though nobody risked laughter. Luke glowered as Keynes turned on him again.
“Mr. Summers—be so kind as to join me here, tomorrow lunchtime, for a little detention if you would. I will NOT suffer bad language in my class or my presence...for ANY reason! Is that CLEAR?”
Luke fumed as he took his seat, but there was no point in arguing. It all had some sick sense of injustice to it—try to do good, and you get punished.
Right in the middle of it all, Ryan appeared at the doorway.
Even though Keynes was there, a rowdy cheer burst forth when they all saw him. Many had been at Ryan's downfall themselves, and those who hadn’t had already been given the full story. There was whistling and the banging of desks in appreciation at the great show he'd provided for them.
"ENOUGH!" Keynes bellowed. "Enough of this, or you'll ALL be joining Summers tomorrow!"
Silence descended and Keynes turned on Ryan. "Alexis...you're late. Now sit, before you regret it!"
An undercurrent of hidden amusement resumed as they watched Ryan shuffle, flushed and head down, towards his desk. He was part-way there when Keynes barked again. "Alexis...come here!
Ryan froze and turned.
"Have you been drinking?"
Ryan looked up and he shook his head. "No, sir." The words were clear, though quiet. Of all the things he looked, drunk wasn't one of them, though Keynes continued to watch him suspiciously as Ryan turned again, continuing on to take his seat.
The lesson began.
It was slow and infinitely more tedious than anything Luke could ever remember. He spent most of the time as Keynes droned endlessly over his interpretations of 'The Tale of Two Cities', glancing frequently in Ryan's direction, who, every time Keynes' back was turned, continued to be a magnet for teasing.
It was inevitable really. Words were whispered, things flicked, lewd gestures made. Some of it was pretty mean. However, most of those who were taking the piss right now, actually had an honest respect for Ryan that would way outlast a Hang. Or at least Luke hoped it would.
Couldn't Ry see that?
Surely the best thing for Ryan—for everyone really—was for him to laugh it off and see it as a minor glitch. He’d been swung up into a Hang, but he’d not faired that much worse than most others. Sure, everyone was talking about it just now, and they all wanted their hour of teasing fun, but Luke doubted anyone wanted it to go on for too long…bar bastards like Landon and Mitchell, that was! Instead, they needed Ryan to stick up two fingers and slap a few heads. After that, hopefully the familiar infectious grin would spread, and that would be it. Everything would be okay once more.
Once again, Luke looked across to his friend, and he studied an expression that still looked...dead in the water.
Perhaps he was expecting too much of Ryan?
Okay, so it might take a couple of days to get back to normal. He could accept that, but something about Ryan’s demeanor still felt wrong. The Ry he knew would be spitting mad, or at least coldly angry and making sure Landon knew that he wouldn't make it out of the parking lot.
Instead, what he was seeing seemed like...none of that.
This Ry seemed lost; beaten and unable to do no more than keep his head down. Luke desperately wanted to whisper some encouragement, but the alphabet kept them apart.
At the end of a lesson that he could remember little of, and as soon as Keynes dismissed them, Ryan suddenly became energized. Grabbing his backpack, he darted for the door. Clearly he was trying to get away first, but Landon must have been anticipating it. Nearer to the exit, he got there first to stand in the doorway, leaning nonchalantly against the doorframe and blocking the escape.
Still trying to gather up his own books, Luke tried to decide if it was a good thing or not. At least now—as soon as Keynes had pissed off—there would be a confrontation, and Ryan would lash out. There would be a fight, but Luke had no doubt who would end up bleeding the most!
However, instead of hurling Landon to one side, or smashing his face in, Ryan appeared to freeze. He looked uncertain as, giving them a bleak look, Keynes strode by the pair. As soon as Keynes had left, others gathered around and Luke had to push to get through.
"What's the hurry, bud?" Landon crowed.
Seemingly unable the respond, Ryan's silence was broken by a mean teasing voice carrying heavily sexualized tones. "Nnnnnngggg....FUUUCK."
Ryan flinched, colored, and dropped his eyes.
Luke finally made it alongside him. "Enough! Just piss off, Landon."
"What?" Landon smirked as he held up his hands. "I was only trying to make sure he was okay."
Ryan remained woodenly silent as the first of the lively crowd began to push through them heading towards the next lesson. The room began to empty.
Mitchell left too, squealing, "Oooohhh - Scott - spank me again!" With him, a long line of smirking classmates passed through, until only a few were left. Abruptly, Ryan turned and left, too.
Not surprisingly, Landon hurried after him. It was clear to all of them that he didn't feel it should be over yet.
"LANDON!" Luke shouted loud enough to turn heads further up the corridor. Landon stopped trying to chase Ryan down and turned as Luke bore down on him. "Why can't you just fucking leave him alone?"
Landon sneered, shifting the issue. "Don't blame me if you got detention with Keynes! You deserved it. That was a crap thing you said about me earlier!"
"Just ignore him, Luke,” Todd grunted, standing in between them, trying to keep the peace. “He's just being a fucking idiot."
"Oh for fuck's sake guys—give me a break! Don't you think you're overreacting a bit?" Landon’s whine was plaintive. "So…we gave Ryan a Hang. So what?” He looked pointedly at Kieran, who was nearby. “Plenty of others have had the same...isn’t that right Kier? It's no big deal.”
Kieran's eyes narrowed, though his tone remained neutral. "You've got no idea what you're talking about, Scott."
“And the spanking and tickling?” Luke was furious. ‘What the fuck was that?”
“Oh, come on.” Landon burst out laughing. “You have to admit, that was hysterical. Don’t tell me you didn’t find it funny, too! Todd did!”
Luke ground his teeth. It would be a lie to say he didn’t. At the time, he was grinning like everyone else. Now he was ashamed of it. Landon took his silence as an admission.
"Exactly. So don’t come at me so high and mighty! If you didn’t like it, you and Todd should have said!"
Luke and Todd continued to glare. The corridor was empty other than the four of them, and perhaps Landon realized things were not going his way...and there was no Mitchell to hide behind.
"Come on guys. It wasn't just me. Kier was in on it, too!"
Kieran continued to be deceptively pleasant. "Yes, I went out to get the clippers. Giving Ry a shave was a little personal payback." He stopped and his eyes glinted. "But I have to be honest Scott…if you'd have pulled a stunt like smacking my ass in the way that you did with him, you'd be picking your teeth up off the floor right now.”
A nasty sneer came on Landon’s face, but Kieran wasn’t finished.
“And you know how it goes Scott. If you give, you get. You might want to get that into that thick skull of yours and begin thinking about what it’s going to be like when we all make it your turn to be taken for a ride!”
The sneer quickly fell from Landon’s face.
“Aww, come on guys—don’t be like that. For fuck’s sake, it wasn’t just me!” He raised his hands to placate them. “Ry is probably my best bud. I’ve known him a lot longer than all of you! Okay, maybe we got a bit carried away, but if you get pulled up, there's nothing you can do about it. I know Ry—he’ll laugh it off soon, and get over it quick enough. Everyone does. Tell you what, I’ll talk to him in the next class and put it right, I promise. It’ll all be fine by tomorrow. Trust me.”
Nobody—least of all Luke—was much taken in by the idea that Ryan and Landon were such 'best buds', but any hopes Landon might be harboring of making good with his promise came to nothing when Ryan didn’t actually appear for any more classes that afternoon.
There were not many places he could be other than at the medical room—and nobody could get in to check—though most suspected Ry was probably either hiding in some toilets or had scarpered.
Still wondering where the hell he was at the final bell, Luke hurried out to the parking lot once he'd got what he needed from his locker. They'd arranged to give Ryan a lift home that day, so assuming he was still here, then he'd show his face. And if he did, perhaps there would be time to talk before Luke's mum got there with the van.
Luke arrived at their normal pickup point feeling anxious. He was the only one there. It was a couple of minutes later that he saw Simon and Toby ambling along in the distance, deep in discussion. As they came close, the family minivan pulled up. His mum was typically cheery as Simon and Toby clambered into the back.
"Hi boys! Good day?" She didn't get much of an answer, but then became aware that they were one short. She peered through the open door to where Luke still waited on the sidewalk.
"I thought we were taking Ryan home today?"
"We are." Luke looked at his watch and studied the passing crowds for any sign of Ry's arrival. "I'm sure he'll be here in a bit. I'll just go check."
"Well tell him to get a move on!" Her voice followed him as he left his stuff and hurried back into the school. As fast as he could, he searched the lockers and the main spaces.
Nothing. And his last hope that he'd missed Ryan and that his friend would be waiting at the van on his return proved to be misplaced, too. By then, his mum was getting annoyed by the delay, and there was nothing left but to go. Luke hopped into the back and slammed the door.
"So...?" Simon kept his voice down under the sound of the engine.
Luke grimaced. "You were there?"
"Of course I wasn't!" Simon flicked his head. "But Toby told me he saw a bit of it. Marco was there, too."
Luke chewed his lip. "I don't really know how he is…probably not good. He disappeared before we could really talk. Maybe he left...?"
He tailed off, refusing to say any more. The family van was no place to have this talk. Still, he fretted to himself. What should he do now? Call Ryan on the phone? Go round? What would he say if he did? Maybe it was best just to leave it until the next day? Damn Landon!
"I don't get it." It was Toby this time.
"You don't get what!" Luke muttered.
"Why him? Why would they let them do all that? I thought he was a friend?"
Why did you stay? And why didn’t you stop it? It should have been you, not him.
"Shit! I don't know!" Luke exploded as it came to nest. "What's it got to do with you anyway? Just keep your damn nose out and mind your own bloody business!"
"LUKE! That's enough!” His mum's voice was immediate, her tone harsh. “I think you need to apologize!" She pulled over to the side of the road, parked up, and turned to glare at him. "And I mean right now, mister!"
Even Simon was scowling.
Luke flushed at the public reprimand, but he knew she was right. "Sorry, Toby. I apologize. It's been a really bad day."
Toby chewed his lip and nodded.
Despite it, Lucy didn't seem at all ready to continue their journey. "So, will somebody please tell me what's going on? What's wrong with Ryan? Is he ill?”
The other two looked to Luke for guidance, and he shook his head. "Something like that," he muttered, just loud enough for her to hear.
She wasn't getting anything more from him and eventually turned around again, but he could see her narrowed eyes through the rear view mirror as she pondered the three of them. They kept silent, and she shifted back into drive and pulled into the flowing traffic.
Maybe she was hoping for more once they'd got going, but she still didn’t get it, and the silence reigned uncomfortably until they dropped off Toby at his house. Even that only generated a simple ‘bye’ from Simon. Then it was back to an uneasy silence as they drove down the steep hill, across the main road and down into their own subdivision. Luke hardly noticed the journey as he continued to grapple with what he should do.
Once they were upstairs and away from prying ears, Simon marched into Luke's room and scowled at him once more.
“There was no need to have a go at Toby! It wasn’t his fault!” There was a clear emphasis on ‘his’ that made Luke flinch.
Why did you stay? And why didn’t you stop it? It should have been you, not him.
"I know...can you tell him I'm sorry again...I'm just worried for Ry. He's taken it pretty bad."
Simon settled onto the bed. "You say he disappeared?"
"He came for English...they were pretty rotten to him. After that, I don't know where he went."
"If only you'd been there...you'd have been able to do something." Simon frowned, sitting on the bed and chewing his lip. "From what the others are saying, some of the stuff they did was...awful..."
"I..." Luke studied the floor and flushed. "Well there wasn't really...fuck....I wasn't thinking—"
"What...?" Simon stared as Luke flushed. "Oh no...please don't tell me—"
"It wasn't my fault..."
"You were there?"
"Yes, but Todd and Kieran..." Luke shifted uncomfortably as Simon's face filled with shock.
"So you just let them do it?" Simon finally burst out. "To Ryan? Fucking hell! What—"
“I tried! I was stuck right at the back!” Luke growled, anger contending against his mounting guilt. “Before I could get forward, it….” He tailed off and the guilt reasserted itself. "You weren't there—and anyway, I don't have to explain anything to you!"
"For God's sake, what if it had been you...or...or me?"
Luke felt utterly miserable. "It almost was."
He told the full story about being cornered in the restroom, the threat of the wedgie, and the appearance of Ryan.
"Ry knew I still had the SmartKlamp on," he admitted at last. "I'd told him about it. I think he took on Todd to give me a chance to get away."
"So, after all that, you decided to wait around, just to watch him get jerked off?" Simon had listened in tight lipped silence, but now he was relentless.
Luke knew that his face gave it all away and he didn't try to deny it.
"It all got out of hand!" he muttered. God this was such a mess, and now he had the feeling there was something that was badly wrong with Ryan. "What would you do now?"
"Now?" Simon shook his head and burst into an angry retort. "What kind of STUPID FUCKING QUESTION is that? I'd get my sorry ass around there, like hours ago to sort it out! Fuck, Luke! What were you THINKING?!"
From someone who rarely swore, it was like a slap in the face. A slap Luke knew he deserved. He didn't dither any longer. He didn't even bother changing.
"Cover for me if I'm late for dinner, can you?" With that he hurried down to the garage, grabbed his bike, and struck out towards the Alexis place. Fifteen minutes later, he was standing on Ryan's front porch, still trying to decide what he would say. Nothing seemed right.
Finally, he rang the front doorbell. There was no answer so he rapped his knuckles on the expensive maplewood door. Nobody came. Leaving his bike propped against the garage, he walked around the side and tried the high, wooden security gate that led into the backyard. It was unlocked, so in trepidation, he pushed it open and poked his head in, carefully.
He saw Ryan immediately, sitting alone at a small table near the pool. Ry hadn't changed out of his school clothes either, and appeared to be doing nothing more than staring at nothing.
"Hey, Ry..." Luke waved from the gate, trying to sound upbeat. Ryan's emotionless eyes flicked towards him, though if he was surprised Luke was there, it was hard to tell.
“I knocked at the front,” Luke called, closing the gate behind him. He began crossing the space, becoming more cautious as he got closer. “I wasn’t sure you were here.”
As though waking up, Ryan made an attempt at a smile of greeting, though it was brief and went no further than his mouth.
"Oh…hi..." He cleared his throat. "Sorry...I didn't hear you."
Luke followed the path onto the patio. “We were worried about you…you kinda just disappeared…"
Ryan lowered his eyes. "I just wanted to come home. I...I couldn’t really stick Landon anymore.” He shrugged. “I walked a bit to get some fresh air, and then got a taxi.”
“You were lucky there was no roll call taken.” Luke made a stab at how long Ryan had been sitting there. He could see his backpack on the ground and wondered if he’d even been in the house yet. “Are you all right?”
“Why shouldn’t I be?” Something in Ryan’s eyes flared, as if daring Luke to say it.
To Luke, it sounded better than the broken deadness, but he hesitated in speaking out what he really thought. Instead he said, “Look, just forget Mitchell and fucking Landon."
Whether Ryan was listening or not, Luke couldn’t tell. He felt awkward just standing there, and his own miserable shame pounded him. To try to get both of them into a better mood he added, “Listen—do you wanna do something? What about a game of one on one? Or you could come round to our place for a bit?” Anything would be better than this.
Ryan shook his head. “I…I can’t today.” Meaningfully he touched his backpack that was still resting on the floor where he’d dropped it, as though it contained proof of his unavailability. “Stuff to do...and I need to go out....”
“I can get you a drink if you want. Do you want something?"
"I guess..." Luke felt incredibly uncomfortable, and he didn’t really need anything to drink, but what else was there to say?
What the fuck was he actually trying to do here anyway? It already felt like it had been a mistake to come, and it was pretty clear that Ryan didn't want him there, either.
Ryan stood slowly and took a set of keys from his pocket. Using them, he unlocked and opened the door that led through to their kitchen. Rather than follow him, Luke stayed outside feeling like an intruder. As soon as he could, he decided, he would leave. What then; he had no idea. Maybe Ryan’s mood would be better by the morning, surely, and they could start to forget about it all.
Feeling exposed just standing, Luke sat on the edge of a chair and watched the door to the kitchen as he waited. It seemed to be taking Ryan a long time to fetch the drink to the point where Luke guessed the guy had no plans to come out again, and was just waiting for him to piss off.
Could anyone really blame him?
Luke was right on the edge of calling through to make his excuses and say that he had to get back to their place for dinner, when there was a heavy crash of smashing glass. Already on edge, it made him jump. Quickly he stood and hurried to where the terrible sound of breaking had come from.
Inside, he found Ryan standing alongside their large central kitchen island. An empty glass stood on the uncluttered work surface next to an open bottle of Coke. A second glass lay shattered in front of the fridge at the far end of the kitchen. Its contents were splashed over the floor.
"I—" Ryan was staring at the shattered remains. His face was dark, and his voice was tense as he murmured, "Sorry...it slipped."
At almost any other time, Luke might have been amused, could have burst out laughing at the pure slapstick humor of it, as if they were actors in some comic farce—but not right then. Ryan was trembling and his face was twisted in a way that scared the shit out of Luke.
"Did you enjoy it?" Ryan’s tone was suddenly harsh.
"What? Ry—" Luke swallowed, grappling for words that weren’t there.
"I asked you a FUCKING QUESTION!" Ryan’s trembling had become actual shaking now. “Did you enjoy it? Did you laugh, too?" He ground out the words that were tight and full of bitterness. It was the first time he’d acknowledged the awful thing that had been done to him.
"Ry...it..." Luke stopped. There was nothing he could say that would be right. Nothing that would let him off the hook. Instead, his eyes flicked to the fragments of glass that littered the space in front of the huge, silver, double-door fridge. "I’ll help you to clean up."
As if that would make amends.
“Just leave it.”
“But it’s broken…”
“I said leave it.”
“It’s okay.” He had to do something—even just to buy time to find the right way of putting it right. “Let me just get a brush and I’ll—”
"LEAVE THE FUCKING GLASS!" Ryan bellowed his anger, and Luke froze in shock. Again, Ryan shouted at him, livid now. "WHY DID YOU JUST FUCKING LET THEM DO IT?"
Luke had never felt so miserable and guilty for as long as he could remember. "Oh God, Ry, I'm sorry.” He hung his head and felt useless. “It all happened so quickly. I didn't know what—"
He got no further as Ryan spun round, picked up the second glass and turned back on him. Luke flinched, anticipating the glass hurtling towards him. He lifted up his arm defensively, knowing he deserved it and wondering if it would hurt.
At the last moment Ryan spun again, and the glass hurtled to the same place the first one had fractured. Fragments exploded across the floor. He was overwhelmed with fury.
"FUCK YOU! GET OUT!”
“Ry—no! Please! Can’t we just—” Just what, Luke wondered helplessly. Like the glass, years of friendship had just shattered. But Ryan was already moving and pushed past him, heading for the stairs.
“Leave me alone." Ryan’s tone was dead now, devoid of feeling or emotion, his voice flat. "Get the fuck out of my house!"
Perhaps if he'd have known better, Luke might have said that letting out the anger had been a good thing. But just then, he felt like he was being ripped apart. Without even thinking about the consequences, he ran after Ryan, taking the stairs two at a time…to talk to him; beg for forgiveness; shout at him, even. Do anything that might help!
And then disaster struck.
Part way up the stairs, leaping them two at a time, he misjudged a step in his haste to catch up and try to reason with his friend, and snagged his toe on the edge of one of the wide steps. Stumbling, he fell heavily, full on and face down onto the stairs he'd been trying to climb.
Crashing right on to the edge of one of the carpeted steps, he felt something give under the impact. The SmartKlamp, still connected to his body, took the full force of the collision, and he cried out in alarm at a sudden shooting pain. Confused by it, he lay still, his heart racing, trying to make sense of what might have just happened.
Tentative, he moved—ever so slightly—and stopped quickly as he felt a sharp stabbing where there shouldn’t have been one. Trying again, he attempted to lift himself up, but the shooting pain returned. Worse that time, it forced a cry of pain from him.
Beaten, he lay frozen on the wide, tan carpeted stairs, and as his anxiety mounted, panicky thoughts tumbled through his head as he realized something was cutting into him. All he could do was imagine the worst, and for all he could tell, he might even have partially severed his dick.
He needed help.
“Ry…” He closed his eyes against the enormity of what he was feeling down there. This was bad. Really bad! He had to be bleeding, and that was only the start.
“RYAN!” He shouted this time, the tension in his voice high as he began to feel more desperate.
“WHAT?” Ryan was loud and spitting-mad still, but near. “What the hell’s wrong?”
Luke flinched, but looked up, relieved that his friend hadn’t already slammed his door and left him to bleed out on the stairs. “I think I’ve hurt myself."
“What the FUCK are you talking about?”
“I just fell on the stairs. I think I broke it.”
Ryan continued to glare, and Luke realized he wasn’t being clear enough. “The SmartKlamp. I fell on it. I think I snapped it or something. It hurts when I move. I think maybe I’ve cut myself.”
Ryan’s eyes narrowed as he got the import of what was scaring the shit out of Luke. His tone eased a touch. “Your SmartKlamp? Shit...that’s not good." He paused as he appeared to consider the options. "So what do you want to do?”
Luke stared at the carpet pile and fretted, and for a moment all that day's crises were pushed to one side as he tried to think. “I don’t know...I don’t even know what’s wrong.” All he could remember was the doctor’s strict instructions. ‘Don’t play with it. Don’t risk letting the SmartKlamp become unlocked! If you do that, it gets a LOT more complicated!’ But Tiberius had said nothing about the dangers of a dick being severed!
“Do you want me to call 911?”
"Maybe we should call my mum and dad first?" Luke knew he needed help, even if it meant them ringing 911.
Ryan nodded. "Okay...but…but what if it’s not as bad as you think."
“Christ...how bad is bad? It hurts when I move.”
“Well, you can’t stay here on the stairs.” Ryan sounded reasonable. “At some point you're going to need to move anyway. Have you tried putting your hand underneath and holding it still as you get up?”
Luke didn't like the idea of any movement, but he knew Ryan was right. Maybe it was better to try to do that himself in his own time, rather than be lifted off the stairway screaming by some ambulance crew.
Gingerly, he wedged one hand underneath, unzipped himself, and carefully reached in through his boxers to take hold of the damaged SmartKlamp. With the other hand, he pushed up in an attempt to kneel.
At once, as he began to come onto his knees, there was the familiar sharp stinging.
He stopped, and tried angling the plastic mechanism slightly differently. The pain stopped. Holding it there, he carefully raised himself onto his knees. From that position, the first thing he checked was the step, fully expecting to see blood staining the carpet. However, there didn’t seem to be any.
That had to be a good sign didn’t it? He let go of the breath he’d been holding. “Now what?” Not knowing what to do next, he glanced at Ryan.
“Can you stand?”
Luke tried, and found that, as long as he held the device still, he could. He raised his eyes at a loss at what to do next, and was relieved that Ryan seemed happy to take charge.
“Look, I can go ring your folks if you want and you can wait here, or…” Ryan paused as though considering the options again.
“Or you could at least first check to see what's happened.” Ryan shrugged. “Maybe it’s not as bad as you think?”
He stood back and waited.
Luke chewed his lip. It was a relief to discover that he could actually stand. Things could still be bad, but maybe they weren't as bad as he’d thought. Then again, if the SmartKlamp was damaged, surely it would be better to know what had gone wrong sooner rather than later? He came to a decision.
“Maybe I could check.”
“Okay...but not here though. Can you move?"
Luke stepped upwards and nodded. "I think so."
"Then you can use my room," Ryan said.
Luke nodded again. With a hand in his pants keeping the device in a position that seemed to present the least amount of pain, he took each step carefully. He made it up the remainder of the stairs, and then shuffled down the landing towards Ryan’s room.
Once they were both inside, Ryan closed the door behind them.
“Now what?" Luke asked. He felt totally out of his depth.
Ryan seemed taken aback, and at a loss too. He broke eye contact, and said, “You need to take off your pants and see if it’s okay.” Glancing to the other end of his room, he added, “Maybe you should use the bathroom.”
What could he say? Never in all the time he’d been in Ryan’s room, and in all the times they’d changed for the pool had he ever been asked to go to the bathroom to slip out of his clothing so he could don swim shorts.
Now that had changed. Now it seemed that, after today, Ryan was unlikely to trust him again...with anything.
Could he really blame him?
Without a word, Luke hobbled through into the bathroom, closed the door, and started to try to manipulate the button on his school pants.
Thirty seconds later, he opened the door.
“Well?” Ryan was still there, waiting.
Luke pulled a face. “Maybe you should just call my parents.”
“Look, I don’t know, okay.” Luke felt awkward and useless. He couldn’t even undo the button on his trousers without setting off the cutting pain. “I can’t get these off and keep the thing straight so it doesn’t hurt.”
Something of the old Ryan resurfaced and his eye’s glinted. “For God's sake, don't be a fucking idiot.” He walked over to the bed and sat down on it. Luke didn’t move, not sure what he was meant to do.
Ryan waited, frowning. “Well? Do you want my help of not? You need to come here.”
Luke shrugged. There weren't many other options; he followed Ryan to the bed. Ryan spent a few moments studying Luke's groin and the hand that snaked inside his pants.
"So, how do you want to do this?" Ryan murmured.
"I dunno. I don't want to let go."
"Okay...well—" Without further hesitation Ryan undid Luke's belt and popped the button. Carefully he drew down Luke's pants leaving Luke’s hand holding the SmartKlamp directly through his underwear. For Luke, it was a relief to see that there was no blood seeping through his well-worn grey boxers.
“Now what?” Luke asked.
"You're going to have to let go."
Luke knew what he meant. They had to look underneath to check for damage.
"I can't," he muttered. There was no way he was letting go.
"Maybe if I...?" Luke pulled back the elastic a little. Reaching inside, he slipped his other hand down to the SmartKlamp and held it while he shuffled his boxers down, and they joined the pants down at his knees.
"You really did land hard on it, didn't you!"
Ryan was right, the damage was obvious. The SmartKlamp had buckled and released its grip on Luke's foreskin. Worse, the tube had fractured, and where a piece had cracked off, the tube had split leaving a dangerously sharp edge. He could see now that it was that edge that had been painfully digging into his sensitive skin.
Holding the damaged device in a way that kept that splinter away from his skin, he sat on the bed again and tried to figure out what to do.
"It could be much worse," Ryan said. He stood and stepped back.
Luke bit his lip, but nodded. In fact, two things were good. The first was that there really was no blood, and the second was that he still had his dick attached! Ryan was right—it could have been a hell of a lot worse!
Ryan then voiced what Luke was also thinking. "You can't leave it like that, though. It will cut you."
Again, Luke knew his friend was right. Leaving it was just inviting problems. He looked up. “So what should we do?”
"We?" Ryan pulled a face and his tone tightened.
Luke shifted uncomfortably. Ryan was right—there was no 'we' anymore. He went back to studying the device, and tried to figure out if there was a way of padding it with something that would at least get him out of the door safely enough to get home.
“Why don't you just take it off?"
Luke’s head jerked up in surprise at the suggestion, and he frowned. “I can't do that!" Ryan couldn't be serious! It was out of the question. Hell, there just seemed a lot that could go wrong, more than already had if he interfered with the fucking thing!
"Why not?" Ryan shrugged. He clearly saw less of an issue, which was hardly fair, thought Luke, as it wasn't his dick in the grinder.
At least Ryan hadn't thrown him out of the house yet.
"I mean it was meant to be coming off tomorrow anyway, wasn't it?" continued Ryan, staring at him.
Luke nodded. "Actually today, but the doctor said he had no slots in his schedule."
"Well, that's okay then. So, it’s going to be safe to do it. Why don't you at least try?”
"Because I don't know how." Fucking stupid question!
"Well..." Ryan seemed distracted.
"I think I do—"
"How the hell would you know that?" It seemed unlikely.
Ryan shrugged, and looked at his fingers. "You told me what it was called."
"I...ummm…well I saw the video." He seemed awkward. "When you said it was called a SmartKlamp, I looked it up. There was a video that showed how it was put on...and how it got taken off...."
"Ry!" Luke was shocked. "What the hell did you do that for?"
"For God's sake,” Ryan retorted, flaring in anger. “You were being so fucking cagey about it. I was just trying to find out what you'd gone and done. You certainly wouldn't talk about it until the other day! Look, I don't care. Do what you like!"
"Okay…sorry. If you think it's possible, then okay, let's have a go." Luke knew he didn't have the right to challenge anything anymore. Everything was so fucked up. The thing was, he’d probably watched the same video. Perhaps Ryan was right: it might not be so complicated.
Then, when it was done, Ryan would throw him out, along with their friendship.
"What about this…” Ryan suggested, studying the mechanism again. “We take off this frame part—which is hanging loose now anyway—and then let’s see if the tube section can be eased off.”
“And if it can’t?”
Ryan shrugged again. “Well, then we'll have to find a way to protect your skin from the cracked edge…with cotton balls or something...just until you can get it looked at properly."
Luke considered the idea. Firstly, he could see Ryan was right—there should be no reason the frame couldn’t be safely removed. And if the inner tube was somehow stuck, then he could still leave that for the doctor tomorrow. He pulled a face knowing his mum would have him straight into the ER the minute she found out it was broken, anyway. That sealed it!
"Okay, let's try."
So Ryan went off to get some tools, while Luke sat and waited. A few minutes later, Ryan was back, and Luke looked with some trepidation at what he'd brought: a pair of efficient and evil-looking, red-handled, sharp-edged, cutting pliers. He pulled a face.
"You have to be kidding!"