“Stories are never finished; they’re only abandoned,” or so goes the old chestnut. This here is a story I wrote while working on my MFA in 2004. By my count, I wrote 5 drafts of this sucker before abandoning it. No one aside from a few trusted readers has ever read it.
Each of the boys had something to hide that night: Quentin had a crush; Trevor, a gun; Peter, a can of WD-40. Courtney, the only girl, had no clue.
The four of them had walked the weathered train tracks so often as children that by seventeen, clad in matching maroon and white letterman’s jackets, they needed no flashlights to navigate the path. These tracks, at least in the stories Trevor regaled them with, used to run the length of their town. They came out of the city of Lowell, past the Route 3 Cinema, where the residue of soda pop, Snow Caps, and exchanged bodily fluids on the floor rivaled the adhesiveness of superglue. The tracks ran down the length of Chelmsford Street, weaving behind the old comic book store that smelled perpetually of cat piss, and the baseball fields where they used to play Little League together. In the old days, in their grandparents’ time, or maybe even before that, the train ran through the center of town, through the snarl of the six major roadways that converged there. But that part of the tracks had been paved over now. The town meeting had begun to discuss turning the entire length of it into a bike path. The four teenagers were part of the last generation to see them whole, to know where all the connections lay. By the time their own children were running about town, putting the legends of their exploits to shame, the tracks might be gone altogether.
The tracks crossed through the center and then, behind the abandoned brick and mortar of an old ginger-ale factory, they plunged into the thinning woods that separated the backyards of affluent High Street and the more humble homesteads of Littleton Road. The four teenagers walked in single file, negotiating the uneven trail of wood and gravel and dirt. Vivid maple and oak leaves, painted the many colors of death, fluttered down from above them, and crunched underfoot.
Though his friends kept their strides confined to the path defined by the rusted rails, whose hue Mother Nature seemed to render more orange and brown every year, Trevor Landon was more comfortable walking the right rail like a tight-rope, one foot in front of the other, only extending his arms outward for balance when absolutely necessary, keeping them in his pockets the rest of the time.
Trevor was the star pitcher for the Lions, feared throughout the Merrimack Valley Conference for his fastball, courted by a half-dozen Division 1 schools not only for his prowess on the diamond but also for his expertise in history—he was the only jock in the advanced placement class. Trevor was six feet tall, possessed of a perpetual baby face and a complexion that had been spared, for the most part, of the rigors of acne, that scourge of teenage social life. His black hair was thinning already at seventeen, but the girls hardly noticed. He seemed always to be wearing a baseball cap anyway.
By contrast, Peter Nichols, who led the way, was short, pale, and not altogether attractive. Some called Peter pudgy, but never to his face. Peter’s blond hair grew wild, curled—a tangled jungle atop his head. His face, it seemed, had suffered through all of the pimples that had passed his best friend over. But Peter had a defense for all that. He was the catcher and behind the mask and the pads it did not matter what he looked like. It mattered that he made plays with his hulking arms, his quick feet, and his massive frame. It mattered that the opposing team had to get through him to score runs. When he went up to bat, he closed the deal by hitting that ball with such power that many girls assumed he would have no trouble hitting home runs in the backseat of a car as well.
Courtney Whitford, now Trevor’s girlfriend, had played little league with the boys until her budding breasts began to get in the way of her swing. She had settled for the role of cheerleader after that, had lettered in it each year, and was co-captain of the squad. Courtney was an excellent writer to boot, had earned high grades and frequent praise for her work in a one-semester journalism class, but had never submitted anything to the school newspaper. The production editor, a gangly sophomore with beady eyes and a certifiable beak for a nose, had an unhealthy crush on her. He was not the only one, but he was the only one in the position to print a picture of her each issue, regardless of its relationship to any story, just for the sake of beautifying the publication. Courtney was thin, blonde, always smiling, and possessed of more cleavage than any teenage girl—especially one with so much tomboy left in her—knew what to do with.
Quentin Werty brought up the rear. Quentin used to hit home runs when the coaches were throwing the pitches. That was back in little league. Now he was lucky if he batted .200. His fielding skills, though, were still without par and they had earned him a place on varsity year after year despite the dead spot he provided in the lineup. Quentin was slender and lithe, and he shaved his body each swim season, which was no small feat considering the ample amount of coarse brown hair that puberty had brought to bear on him. Quentin’s cheekbones were high, his eyebrows thin, his jaw sharply angled. He was too pretty a young man. He had never had a girlfriend, and that made many of his teammates nervous.
It was quite good fortune that they needed nothing to light their way. While the houses on High Street were shielded from them by a fair amount of forest, the backyards of Littleton Road were much closer. Those prying residents, if drawn to the tracks by noise or light, might be apt to call the police, to report suspicious behavior. Dogs barked from both sides of the tracks—purebreds yelped from the High Street side, running out of doghouses as lavish as their owners’ mansions; mutts growled their displeasure from the Littleton Road side, dogs once bought as puppies from newspaper ads or brought home from the pound, tied to porches or thick trees with only the most inexpensive of chains. The doctors and lawyers of High Street often raised a ruckus in the town meeting and in the pages of the Independent when they found their precious pooches, with names like Margaret or Cecily, giving birth to litters of mongrels sired by dogs from the other side of the tracks, dogs with names like Max and Butch. But people in town who were separate from the issue knew that even the most humble of chains was better than these experimental new invisible fences all the doctors and lawyers were wasting their money on now. How were Max and Butch supposed to resist when Margaret—her friends called her Maggie—pranced right into their yards and shook her tail right in their faces?
Trevor lost his footing and stumbled off the rail. He fell into Quentin, who steadied his friend with a firm grip that seemed out of place coming as it did from such effeminate hands. Trevor shook his shoulders and shook Quentin’s hands free, then stepped forward and wrapped his arm around Courtney’s waist.
“You all right, man?” Quentin asked him.
“I’m fine, Werty,” Trevor said, keeping his eyes on the ground.
In front of them, Peter stepped over the left rail and started into the woods along the dirt path their Reeboks had worn down over the last decade. Trevor and Courtney stepped over the rail together. Trevor could hear Quentin’s light, padding footsteps behind them. With his free hand he patted around his midsection for the gun, which he had stuffed into the front of his pants. Trevor felt the handle. The barrel was cold against his skin, its tip nearly touching the head of his penis. He was sure he had shoved it too far down his pants. But that was what they did in the movies, right?
Quentin hummed a Pearl Jam song behind him. In front, the sound of Peter’s footsteps were joined by the ambience of running and crashing water. Like that SAT question, where the guy comes home from college and discovers how much smaller his town has become, Trevor noted how much shorter the venture from track to waterfall seemed.
By the moonlight they found seats at the water’s edge, Trevor’s eyes fixed on what he could see of the smallish waterfall that had been a place of wonder for as long as he could remember. The otherwise calm stream found chaos here, stepped up its speed, split itself deftly around rounded boulders, crashed over the gentle falls with violent force, as if it had something to prove. At the bottom, amidst the foam, the water composed itself, and then went quietly on its way.
They sat in a circle. Peter produced a dime bag and rolling papers from his pockets and handed them across to Courtney. She went to work as the boys made small talk.
“I don’t know about you,” Quentin started. “But I’m glad it’s almost Thanksgiving. I’m sick of football. Guys wearing their jerseys every Friday like they’re kings of the world. We don’t do that? We don’t show off. We just go out and play our game.”
“Yeah,” Peter said. “Yeah, I guess.”
Courtney ran her tongue along the edge of the first joint and sealed it. She handed it to Trevor. “You may be anxious,” she said. “But I’m basically done after football season. There aren’t any cheerleaders for baseball.”
“Well, I don’t understand why you never tried out for softball,” Quentin said.
Trevor paused in his attempts to light the joint. “Leave her alone, Werty. She knows softball is just a joke. It’s a,” he stammered, “What does your Dad call it, Court?”
“A mockery,” she said, pinching pot into another rolling paper. Courtney tried on her father’s voice, “A pathetic attempt by the establishment to relegate girls to second class status by not allowing them to play the only true version of the game.”
“Your dad’s a feminazi,” Peter teased.
“I don’t understand why girls are allowed to play little league with us but nothing after that,” Quentin offered. “It’s always seemed ridiculous to me, too.”
“Thank you, Quentin,” Courtney said with a smile, handing him the next joint.
Trevor scowled across the circle at Peter, who nodded his head.
“So, I hear you can’t stay late, Court,” Peter said.
“Yeah. It sucks,” she said, finishing her last creation and offering it to Peter. “Dad wants me home studying for finals.”
“But,” Quentin coughed, in between tokes, “They’re two weeks away.”
“Yeah, well, my midterms weren’t so good and, um, most of my scholarship money is based on my getting good grades this year, so…”
Trevor handed her his joint, which he had barely touched, and watched her inhale deeply off of it. He looked across the way and saw that Peter was sticking to the plan. He held the joint in his fingers, sometimes brought it close to his mouth for show, but never actually smoked it. Courtney and Quentin, after just a few puffs each, their slender bodies overpowered, hadn’t noticed.
Quentin handed his joint to Trevor and produced a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips from his jacket. He tore open the green bag and a pop echoed throughout the forest around them. A few dogs began to bark, but it didn’t last long. Quentin chortling was far more extended.
“Way to go, jackass,” Peter said. “Now they’re barking.”
Oblivious, Quentin offered the bag up to Peter. Peter shook his head, then stuffed his hammy fist into the bag anyway. When Peter was done, Quentin passed the chips around the circle and they each took a small handful. They smoked and ate.
Courtney asked, “What time is it?”
Quentin pressed a button on the side of his watch and soft green light lit his downturned face. “It’s about quarter to eight,” he said.
“Gotta go then,” Courtney said, tossing what was left of her joint into the water. She stood and brushed herself off. “You coming over after?” she asked Trevor.
He looked up at her and nodded, held her hand for a second and squeezed. Trevor looked over his shoulder as Courtney disappeared out of the light of the moon and down the wooded path behind him. It was good that she would not see this, would not bear witness to their crime. Trevor returned his attention to the boys.
“We should play a game,” Quentin said, and then Trevor saw him wrap his lips tight around the joint, saw the flesh under his cheeks contract as he sucked hard at it.
“What kind of game?” Trevor asked. “Spin the bottle?” he teased.
“That’s sick,” Peter admonished. “The only girl we had is already gone.”
“No,” Quentin began, “I was thinking, like, truth or dare, or something.”
Peter grumbled, “You really are a fucking faggo…”
Trevor punched Peter hard in the thigh. Peter snarled at him. With eyes wide and a serious expression across his face, Trevor shook his head.
“What did you say?” Quentin asked.
“He said you’re a fucking drag, Werty,” Trevor explained. “Truth or dare is a girl’s game.”
“Oh,” Quentin said. He took another hit.
Quentin had always been a little too girly for his own good. Even back in kindergarten, in Mrs. Cliff’s class at Westlands, Quentin had gotten on better with the girls than with the boys. His favorite activities seemed to be the times when they made Care Bears out of construction-paper, or when they wrote poetry for Valentine’s Day. He was invited to girls’ birthday parties, girls like Courtney, more often than he was invited to parties for boys. Quentin didn’t actually play with My Little Pony or Rainbow Bright or Barbie, but he had no problem going on about how he and his mom had gone out shopping for such things. Later, towards the end of the elementary school, when other guys were running across the street after class to Bagni’s to buy Garbage Pail Kids stickers with their lunch money, Quentin was busy playing saxophone in the school band, hanging out with all the girls and their flutes and clarinets.
He had become a bit more masculine throughout the years and he was an excellent short stop, but there had always been and would always be whispers about Quentin Werty. Trevor and Peter stuck by him, after all this time, after all the private insinuations made throughout the halls of Chelmsford High, mostly because Courtney still loved the kid like a brother.
Trevor stared at Quentin, who had begun to giggle. He was totally stoned now. Trevor saw that Peter was staring, too. Quentin’s joint had burned out. Peter handed him his own.
The boys had second period gym together and that was where the final straw had been cast upon the back of their strained friendship. The class was the bane of their high school existence. They had lobbied for the ninth period slot—many of the gym teachers were also coaches for the school’s athletic teams and were thus sympathetic to the boys’ needs—but had been denied, at least during the fall semester. The staff saved ninth period for varsity football, allowed them to use it as warm-up time for the afternoon practices. Second period gym meant a mid-morning shower. You couldn’t go through the rest of the day sweaty and reeking, though some boys tried. You had to squeeze it in, too. There wasn’t a lot of time between the end of class and the bell signaling the start of the next one.
“Hey Landon, you and Courtney boning yet?” Peter had asked that Monday.
Trevor’s laugh echoed off the linoleum, pierced through the veil of steam and hot spray. He tossed a glance over his shoulder, saw Peter lathering up his hefty, pimpled buttocks, and laughed some more. “Yeah, I guess you could say that we’re boning.”
“Is it good?” Peter wondered. “You know, we’ve all known her since little league. I think Werty and I have a right to know, too. Right Werty?”
“Yeah, sure,” Quentin said. “I, uh, I’m very curious.”
“She’s great,” Trevor said. “I have no complaints.”
“That’s it?” Peter whined, “Werty’s got a hard-on over here. Me, too. Give us a little something more to…”
“Wait, Werty’s got a hard-on?” Trevor said, stepping across the shower to see for himself.
“I seen it with my own two eyes,” Peter said, and sure enough, when Trevor got there, Quentin Werty’s penis was fully erect, the foreskin drawn back, hulking veins pulsing along the length of it. It pointed up and to the right. Trevor looked down at his own, soft and thick against his leg. Quentin’s, he ventured to guess, was actually bigger. His, he reassured himself, was at least better looking.
“What’s so weird about that?” Quentin wondered.
The other boys chuckled. “Nothing,” they said in unison.
And there really was nothing wrong with it. In fact, that first erection had served to allay some of their fears about him. If he was responding like that to simple conversations about a girl then maybe he was not gay after all. Trevor and Peter thought once or twice about loosing their story into the rumor mill, thought of using it to try and clear their friend’s name, but they hesitated. They had no desire to be interrogated as to why they spent so much time concerned with Quentin’s penis in the first place.
There was no trouble with the first erection. It was the ones that followed that made them queasy, that were the impetus for long conversations after school
Quentin showered every day that week, for the most part, with his eyes closed. He was oblivious to Trevor and Peter’s stares. They stared at the hard-on each day, wondering what was going through his mind, what he was daydreaming about behind closed eyelids. They had not spoken of Courtney since Monday.
Trevor and Peter skipped fourth period on Friday, the morning of their trip down the tracks, and snuck down Hawthorne hall to check out Quentin’s locker.
Quentin’s locker was halfway down the hall on the left. When they got there, his locker mate, a swimmer named Paul, had just finished twisting the combination lock. Paul was thinner than Quentin, with an obnoxious spiked coiffure and square-rimmed glasses. He shaved his body hair year round. That Quentin shared his locker with Paul did nothing to quell the rumors about him.
“What do you want?” Paul asked as Trevor and Peter hunkered over him.
“We’ve got to pick up some books for Werty,” Peter said.
“I don’t understand your whole preoccupation with last names. You and your whole, like, social set. When did you stop calling him Quentin?”
Peter grabbed two handfuls of Paul’s shirt and pulled him close. “Listen, you fairy,” Peter spat as Trevor began to rifle through the locker.
“You gonna kiss me, Nichols?” Paul smirked in the face of danger. “Cause if you are, you are going to need to some Mentos or something.”
Peter shoved the kid aside and joined Trevor in the search. Trevor pulled a hardbound notebook from under the pile of texts on Quentin’s shelf. It was brown, with decorative gold borders on its front cover. Paul hovered over them to see what it was.
“I found something,” Trevor said, flipping through the opening pages.
“I know that handwriting,” Peter said, pointing to the careful cursive script, “That’s Werty’s. It looks just like the notes he lets me copy.”
Paul tried to reach his hand in, to pry it away from them. “You shouldn’t be looking at that. That’s his journal.”
“Figures Werty’d have a diary,” Peter said as he hunched over Trevor—he really did need a breath mint. “What’s it say?”
“What problems? He got a crush on Courtney or something?”
“He’s got a crush, but it isn’t on Courtney,” Trevor told him, slapping the book against Peter’s chest. “Sorry, man,” he said, walking a few steps away.
Trevor waited for the grunt, which came, and the sound of the book being slammed back into the locker, which came soon after the grunt. Then he heard Peter slam the locker shut.
Trevor turned to face him. Peter walked towards Trevor. Paul ran the other way. “Don’t make so much goddamned noise,” he admonished. “We’ll get caught.”
“The fucking faggot’s been taking peeks at my dick? I’m gonna kill that asshole,” Peter fumed.
They started down the hallway and took a left at the end of it, towards the lunchroom. On the way, Peter said, “We don’t got much time. We’ve got to do this before his butt-buddy has a chance to warn him.”
“Do what?” Trevor had wondered.
Peter stopped. “Tell Courtney to meet us at the tracks tonight. Have her bring some of that pot she just got off of whatshisname.”
“She’s got to study tonight.”
“Even better. She stops by for a couple minutes, puts him at ease, then takes off.” Peter smiled. “You need to get your dad’s gun.”
“Are you nuts? What do we need a—”
Peter cut him off, “You’ll find out tonight. That’s for damn sure.”
Trevor had followed Peter’s orders to the letter. He and Courtney had English together at the end of the day and he had slipped her a note while the teacher read from Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun with a somber, melodramatic intonation.
At the end of the school day, Trevor had driven his hand-me-down Volvo back to his home in the Farms. His father, knowing full well that theirs was the richest household on the street, kept a handgun in the top drawer of his nightstand, “just in case.” He was afraid of hoodlums. Hoodlums, for the most part, lived in other towns, not in Chelmsford.
Would Trevor be considered a hoodlum after tonight? He stared at Quentin, who sucked the last drag out of their final joint. Quentin pressed the final remnants into the dirt. He laughed as a wisp of smoke ascended from it. His eyes were glazing over, his eyelids hanging low. Quentin swayed forward and backward. His eyes closed. He fell backward. His head hit the hard ground with a thud and bounced back up just a little. Quentin began to snore.
Trevor looked over to Peter. “Now what?” he asked.
“Help me with his pants,” Peter said, getting on his knees and reaching under Quentin’s jacket and t-shirt to unbutton his jeans. Peter pulled the zipper down and tugged at the waistband. Trevor lent his hands to help. Quentin stirred and they slowed themselves. He grew still again and they finished pulling his pants down to his ankles. With a rough jerk, Peter tore down Quentin’s briefs.
“On his stomach?” Trevor wondered.
Peter nodded and the boys rolled their teammate onto his stomach, his pale buttocks glinting in the moonlight. Peter drew the can of WD-40 from his jacket and unscrewed the cap.
“That’s the best you could find?” Trevor asked.
“Does he deserve any better? Shit, does even deserve this?”
Trevor was quiet after that. He watched Peter squeeze the can of grease, the metal buckling, a metallic pop issuing from it as he did. Yellow oil trickled down from its stem and onto the small of Quentin’s back. Peter held it closer, aimed better. A steady stream slipped down into the crack of the boy’s bottom.
Peter pushed the greasy halves of Quentin’s ass apart, his hand struggling for a steady grip. He inched the nozzle of the can towards the hole, then plunged it in, wrung his fingers around it, and squeezed as hard as he could.
Quentin lurched awake. Peter’s hand fell free but the can of WD-40 remained firmly in place. Trevor threw a punch at Quentin’s head, his fist careening into the thrashing boy’s temple. Trevor watched as Quentin’s head fell and bounced off the ground again.
Peter ripped the can and its nozzle out of Quentin. The tip was covered in streaks of red and brown. He smirked at Trevor. “Your turn, man.”
Trevor drew the pistol and straddled Quentin’s legs. He stared down at the oily mess and then at the gun and wondered what he was doing.
“What are you waiting for? Don’t tell me you’re going chicken-shit on me?”
Trevor’s mind took a detour. He remembered Quentin’s last great at-bat, the last game of their last season truly spent as kids.
Quentin stood at home plate, under the lights, the traffic of Chelmsford Street ambling by behind him. He dragged the wooden bat across the packed dirt and took his stance, staring at Mister Whitford on the pitcher’s mound. The coach, Courtney’s father, didn’t scare him. They both wore the same blue and red Giants uniforms. Mister Whitford wound up and hurled the ball overhand. Quentin swung hard, connected, and drove it high into the hometown sky, the sound of the hit echoing throughout the park, the vibrations of the bat shaking his arms. He dropped the bat and ran towards first, his eyes seemingly locked on the Cubs left fielder, who searched the cloudless night for the descending baseball. It sailed over the startled boy’s head, over the chain-link fence, and onto the roof of the small equipment shed that stood in the aisle between their field and the next. Quentin rounded the bases. Trevor and Peter waited at home, gave him high-fives when he arrived. Courtney burst out of the dugout and wrapped her arms around each of them in turn. Her chest, once as hard and flat as their own, had begun to change. It felt odd as she pressed against you. It felt, strangely, good.
Peter tore the gun from Trevor’s hands and pushed him off of Quentin, onto the ground. Peter had no hesitation left in him. He thrust the barrel of the gun into Quentin and slapped at the boy’s head to wake him. Quentin did not stir. Peter growled, “How’s it feel faggot? How’s this fucking feel, you goddamned fairy?” Peter shrieked as he pulled the trigger.
A sharp click was all he got. Peter pulled the trigger again. Another click.
Peter pulled the gun free and stood, hulking over both Quentin’s body and Trevor’s. “You forgot to put bullets in the thing?”
Trevor stammered, “I, uh, um,” but stopped when the butt of the pistol slammed against his forehead. He cried, tears spilling down his face. Peter’s boot drove into his stomach and then into his face. Bone crunched. His head shook. He was aware of the salty taste of his own blood across his lips as he descended into unconsciousness. He dreamed his nose was not broken. He dreamed of dancing with Courtney at the prom, smiles on their faces. He dreamed of Quentin and himself as old men, laughing over the matter at a card table, sharing memories and a six-pack of Budweiser.
When he woke, he was alone. Even Quentin was gone. It was still dark and it was growing colder. Trevor pushed himself up off the ground. His head throbbed and pain lanced up his side from his waist to his armpit. He leaned against an old birch tree and caught his breath. Trevor stumbled up the path, then down the tracks. He got in his car, drove out from behind the withering ginger-ale factory, and headed down North Road. He had to get to Lowell General, but he would stop at the police station first. He would wait in the lobby, the black vinyl seat cushions creaking beneath him. An officer, one of the women, would give him an ice pack. When his turn came, he would confess. His nose bleeding, his head aching, his eyes watering and heavy, he held on to one thought, one hope, to keep him awake through the short drive. Trevor Landon prayed that absolution, in whatever form, might still be possible.
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