In school years, which were kind of like dog years, Andy and Allison still only lasted about five minutes.
One day in the cafeteria, Andy reached for a piece of pie, and said, "That Math quiz was tough, huh?" and Allison screeched and dumped a tray of jello over his head.
She apologized about the whole thing an hour later. "Sorry," she said, even though he could tell she totally wasn't. "It was just something I had to do. You wanna go bowling tonight?"
He didn't, and that was that.
Later, cleaning green and red blobs from his jacket, Andy admitted to himself that he was mostly relieved. She was nice and everything, but it was hard work dating a crazy person.
For the rest of them, the club ended less spectacularly. Claire and Bender dated for most of the year, although they didn't quite make it to the prom. After that, the club just kind of faded away. Clapping Brian on the back became "hey", became nodding to him in the hallway, and then petered out to nothing at all.
After graduation, Andy didn't see any of them again for nearly twenty years.
On the week of his thirty-sixth birthday, he stopped to fill up on gas, and maybe buy a Mars Bar or two. It was late and Andy was tired and he'd had to wait nearly an hour for someone to turn up at the last delivery. He didn't even see the cop until he backed up his car and almost ran over the guy.
"Oh fuck!" he said. And he was a terrible person, but all he could think of was that now he was in so much shit.
The guy was still knocked on his ass when Andy got to him. "Fuck, man," he said. At least there wasn't any blood gushing - not that Andy could see, anyway. "You okay?" Andy put out his hand to help the guy up.
"Am I okay?" The cop stared up at Andy like he was the biggest moron on earth. "You are so unbelievably under arrest."
"Yeah," Andy said. He rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Yeah, I kinda thought so."
The cop snorted. "I'm kidding, dumbass," he said. He grabbed Andy's hand and hauled himself up.
It was Bender.
They went out for drinks - because like Bender said, Andy had nearly killed him, and the least he could do was cough up a couple of bucks for a beer. And anyway, Andy was still in shock about the cop thing, and would probably have said yes to 'the least you can do is buy me a Ferrari.'
Beer turned into nachos and beer at some point - Andy hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, and Bender was apparently always up for nachos. And then they were into the catching-up part of the evening.
"Still keep up with anyone?" Andy said. "Claire?"
"Fuck, no, not Claire," Bender said, with his mouth full of cheese and chips. "She got married to a Kennedy or something, right?"
"I uh-" Andy shook his head.
Bender shrugged. "I see Allison sometimes. Protest marches - shit like that."
"Bugfuck," Bender said. He downed his beer. "What about you? Hang out with Claire at her garden parties?" There was a glint of 17-year-old-Bender malice in his eyes, suddenly. "Her yacht soirees?"
Andy licked his lips uncomfortably. "No."
"Thought you dated her after we broke up."
"I took her to the prom," Andy said. He felt weirdly defensive. "But that's all."
"That's right," Bender said. He signalled for another beer. "I remember now. You still hang out with your jock friends? Dave? Mike? Craig?"
"Fuck," Andy shook his head. "How can you remember all those names?"
"I made 'em up. You're a walking cliche, Andy. So what - you're in shipping?"
"How- How did you know that?"
"Like your Dad, right?"
"Yeah, like my Dad." Andy took another nacho, even though the cheese was starting to go cold and hard. "I um. I work for my Dad," he admitted.
"No shame in that," Bender said. But he looked a little amused, and that kind of pissed Andy off.
"Did I say I was ashamed?" Andy demanded. "What about you? No offence or anything, but I always thought you'd end up on the other side of the bars."
Bender laughed. "Me too. Me too. Hell, I thought I'd end up dead."
They were quiet then, while they drank a little more. Then they drank a little more after the little more. Finally, Andy loosened up enough to do some Vernon impressions. Bender countered with some Andy impressions, and then they were completely out of conversation.
"Well, I guess I'll see you round in another twenty years," Bender said. "Drive safe now." He tapped Andy on the nose with his menu, and left him with the check.
Life went back to normal for a long time after that. Andy made deliveries and argued a lot with his Dad. Maybe they argued a little more than usual. Maybe Andy thought about stuff a little more than usual.
One night, he took out his wrestling trophies for the first time in years and years and years. His whole life, he thought, looking at them. He'd messed up his whole fucking fucked up life, and all for a box of crap he couldn't even sell at a junk sale.
He dropped in to his Dad's office the next morning between deliveries. "I was thinking," he said. "Maybe I could take on a little more responsibility. You could show me some of the stuff you're showing Stevie."
His father looked at him like he was nuts. "Why would I do that? You think I want an ex-junkie running my company? You think I want a loser like you running my company?"
Andy flushed. "Not running!" He ground his teeth, trying to control his temper. It would be too easy for this to turn into another shouting match, and then he wouldn't get to say his piece. "Not running. Maybe I could do more than deliveries is all."
"Maybe you could do the deliveries right! Maybe you were a half hour late with that last one. You got five more before lunch. Go do your job, Andrew, and stop wasting my time!"
Outside, Andy kicked the wheel of his van, and then hopped around in pain for a while. "Shit. Shit!" he screamed. He didn't even care who heard.
Andy had always told himself that you could live your life or you could sit around feeling sorry for yourself. And whatever his father said, Andy wasn't the kind of guy who sat around when there was work to be done. He had moments, of course - usually during late night shifts, when the cold made his knee ache and there was nothing on the radio to distract him from his thoughts. But, mostly, Andy found that he could exist in a state of soothing blankness. He could get up each morning, do his job, and not think or feel anything much at all.
Somehow, though, it was different now. It was like seeing Bender in that cop uniform had shaken something loose in Andy's brain.
He found himself remembering things he hadn't thought about in years - like the first time he'd busted his knee. The funny thing was, at the time, he'd felt exhilarated even while he was rolling around in agony. He spent the first week pigging out on burritos and ice-cream sundaes and pizza with extra cheese. It was so great. It was like breaking out of jail and watching the sunrise.
He hadn't even realised the implications until a couple of weeks later, when the coach sat him down and said, "I know it's early days, but if it's as serious as the doc said, you might need to start thinking about other options. Other than your scholarship."
Andy didn't expect - didn't particularly want - to see Bender again. But two months later, his deliveries took him out to the west again, and there was Bender at the same gas station, looking at the magazine rack.
"Is it just me, or did Michael Douglas get really old?" Bender said.
"Is it just me, or do you live in this Stop-n-Shop?"
Bender shrugged. "It's on my way home."
"Okay," Andy said. He paid for his gas, and got his keys out. "I'll see you round, man."
"Wait." Bender grabbed his arm. "You wanna get a drink? You can buy." He actually looked a little unsure, Andy thought. Weird.
Andy hesitated. Drinking with Bender the first time had really messed with his head. Doing it again wasn't very appealing. Plus: "Didn't I buy last time?"
"Yeah, cause you tried to kill me!"
"I said I was sorry!" Andy protested. But. Well. It was true. He'd nearly killed the man, he could certainly shell out for another beer.
They mixed it up - instead of beer and nachos, they had beer and pizza and awkwardness.
Andy picked at his crusts and tried to think of things to say, tried not to stare at the neat lines of Bender's uniform. What was there to say, he wondered. They'd already done the catch-up thing.
"How did you get out?" he blurted once - he'd maybe had a little much to drink by then. "I mean, in. How did you get into police work?"
Bender shrugged. "You remember Carl the janitor?"
"Turns out he was a real good guy - tutored me for the last few months. It was his idea, and I thought hell, why not."
Andy blinked. "That's it?"
"What?" Bender grinned. "You thought I had some big spiritual drama? Like maybe God spoke to me from on high, and said 'Bender, you gotta turn your life around! The world needs you!'"
"No!" Andy said. "Well, maybe. Okay, shut up." He leaned over and grabbed the last pizza slice before Bender could take it.
The first time Andy shot up, he was filled with blinding, all-encompassing rage at the school for forcing him into it, and at his father for making him concentrate on wrestling instead of his grades.
The rage helped muffle the guilt at first, and soon the guilt went away all by itself. So what if he beat people unfairly, anyway. It was a tough game. It was a tough world. All of them were weak. Their intensity was for shit.
Bender called him on his cell phone a few weeks later, while Andy was on the road.
"How did you get this number?"
"I called your Dad's office. Told him my delivery was two hours late."
"Oh thanks a lot."
"I'm kidding. I told him I was an old school friend. Look, I'm gonna be up your way on Tuesday. You want to get something to eat?"
"Yeah, we could do that," Andy said.
On Tuesday, Bender showed up out of uniform, wearing a beat-up motorcycle jacket. Without his cap, Andy could see that his hair was shorter than it had been in school, but still longer than any cop's should be.
"Why did you break up with Claire, anyway?" Andy said, when they'd finished splitting a pepperoni and mushroom pizza, and he could think about something other than 'food, food, food.' "Was it the studying thing? I bet she hated that."
Bender looked at him. "Are you serious?"
"Um. Yeah," Andy said.
"Don't give me that shit. Everyone knows why. The shop teacher's fucking five-year-old daughter knew why."
Bender rolled his eyes. "She caught me with another guy, Andrew."
Andy laughed. "Right," he said. Bender just looked at him. "Oh. Oh. Holy shit." The beer caught up with him all at once. It felt like his whole body was blushing. "I didn't- I guess I missed that. Uh. Wow." He fumbled with his napkin. "So- so are you out and stuff? At work?"
"Cool, that's cool. That you know who you are and shit. That- that's really good."
Bender took his hand and clutched it with mock-gratitude. "Thank you, Andy. That means so much to me."
"Oh, shut up." Andy flushed even redder. "I'm serious. I admire that, man."
"Whatever," Bender said. He shrugged. "Thanks."
They drank a bit more. Then they ordered another pie. Then they drank a bit more. And a bit more. And a bit more after that.
"So, you like shipping?" Bender said after a while. He pronounced it like it was something gone bad in the fridge.
"It's fine," Andy said. "It's great."
Andy started dealing in his second year of college to pay for the stuff he'd bought in his first year.
The raid took him by surprise, and then so did the arrest. At the time, it was like his whole life was one jolt of surprise after another: getting kicked out of college, his father taking out a loan to pay for a lawyer, the lawyer pleading him out and getting the record sealed.
Maybe it was coming off the steroids, but for a while afterwards, it seemed like everything shook him up. He felt weak all the time. It was like Andy's body couldn't believe any of this was really happening to him.
One night, not long after Bender told him about whole the gay thing, Andy found himself driving to the gas station without even delivering anything.
Bender wasn't there, and Andy squeezed his eyes shut. "Stupid," he said to himself. But when he got back on the road, there was a police station right there. He'd never noticed it before.
Inside, the kid at the desk looked all of twelve, and he called Bender 'Sir.' As in: "Sir, this guy says he's an old friend of yours." It kind of freaked Andy out.
Bender seemed really surprised to see him. "Andy, what? What are you doing here?"
"Had a job," Andy lied. "You want to grab a bite later?"
"Yeah. Yeah, that sounds good. Actually, I'm almost finished up here. Kenny, are you going to be okay with all that paperwork?"
Yes sir, Kenny was. So they bought some Chinese and went back to Bender's place.
It was big enough, but kind of sparse - just a TV and a beat-up sofa. No feather boas, no I Love Lucy dvds. It looked like any guy's pad, Andy thought.
The Bulls were playing the Knicks. They watched it and drank way too much of Bender's cruddy beer. At half time, Bender made popcorn and put a whole stick of butter in it.
"So like, you're gay," Andy said when the game started again. He figured he might as well get right to the point.
"Something like that. I don't really think about it that much- shoot! Shoot, shoot! Yes!"
On the screen, Eddy Curry raised his arms in triumph. His muscles rippled and his skin gleamed with sweat. Andy licked butter from his lips. It occurred to him suddenly that he'd spent the best years of his life grinding against other men and rolling around on the floor with them. While wearing tights. "Do you think wrestling's gay?" he blurted.
Bender turned his attention from the game. "Why? Did it make you hard, Andrew?" In the dim light, he looked much younger, and there was some cruelty in his smirk. He looked just like the Bender Andy remembered - the kid who'd cut you--and himself--just for the fun of it. Just to freak you both the fuck out.
Andy swallowed. If Bender was young again, maybe he was too. Maybe Andy was seventeen again, the coolest kid in school again. "Do you want to fuck me?" he whispered.
"What?" Bender sounded really taken aback.
Andy was drunk, he knew, but he didn't care. His skin tingled with excitement. "You could fuck me up the ass if you wanted. I wouldn't mind."
"Okay, I'm benching the beer." Bender grabbed Andy's fifth (sixth? seventh? eighth?) bottle from his hand. He started to gather up the empty bottles.
"I'm just sayin'," Andy said to Bender's back. "If you wanted to stick your dick up my ass, I'd let you." Bender jerked a little, and Andy smiled to himself. "Even if it hurt," he said. "Even if it really hurt." The dirty, nasty wrongness of his own words made him catch his breath and shiver pleasantly.
"Andy." Bender shook his head and took a deep breath. Andy watched his shoulders rise and fall. He turned around. "Andy, have you ever thought about- I don't know, quitting your job? Doing something different?"
"You never answered my question."
"No! Okay? I don't want to fuck you up the ass. Jesus. I'm just saying, you know. Maybe you need to get away from the old man."
Andy laughed. Or maybe he just made a noise. "It's not that simple," he said. "God, you have no idea what I owe him."
"Maybe not, but whatever it is, it's not worth this. You think I don't know what despair looks like? You're gonna eat a bullet one day, Andy. And you know what? It's gonna be a day just like today. You'll wake up, do your fifteen or whatever deliveries. Then you'll go home, have a beer, watch the game, and blow your fucking brains out."
"That's bullshit!" Andy hadn't realised it was possible to feel this humiliated. "That is bullshit!"
Bender rubbed his eyes. He didn't look young anymore at all. "Just think about it, okay?"
He didn't think about it and then he did think about it.
One morning, his father called him into the office and thrust a newspaper at him. It was folded to where Andy had circled some want ads. "You left it in the van, that's how dumb you are."
Andy sighed. "Don't make a big deal of this."
"Shut up. Just-" His father grunted, as though he were so disgusted he could barely speak. "You ungrateful- Do you know how many breaks I've given you? Nobody else would put up with your shit, Andrew!"
"Of course you don't! You don't know anything and you don't care about anything. Maybe I should have let you do the time. It might have made a man of you."
Andy felt something inside him snap. "You're right, maybe you should have. At least then, I wouldn't be stuck here with you in this goddamn dead-end job, feeling like I owe you every second of every day. At least maybe I'd be able to live my fucking life."
His father laughed. "You are unbelievable. You don't want to owe me? Fine! Get out, you don't owe me anything."
"You're firing me?"
"I'm firing you, I'm evicting you. Just get the fuck out of my sight, Andrew. I don't want to see you, I don't want to hear from you. I don't want Christmas card updates. Just get out."
He went to Bender. He had nowhere else to go.
Bender didn't humiliate him with sympathy. He looked at Andy's bags and his box of trophies. "It gets better from here on in," he said simply.
Andy looked at delivery jobs, but his first real work away from his father was some casual cleaning at the local school. It wasn't like it was a huge deal or anything, but Bender took him out for tacos in celebration.
"Hey, remember that time you nearly killed me?" Bender said, as he sprinkled cheese all over his plate.
Andy snorted. "Fine, I'm buying," he said. He tried to sound mad, but he was secretly pleased.
The casual job became a regular job, and after a while Andy started paying rent for Bender's sofa.
"I could move out," he offered once.
"Nah." Bender shrugged. "You're not completely annoying." He grinned. "You want Chinese or pizza?"
Bender was a surprisingly considerate roommate. He picked up after himself, and he was quiet when Andy came home bone-tired after a double shift. He was funny too, and kind.
"I've been thinking," he said to Andy once. "I run this program for my district. Basically, I go to schools and talk about how kids can avoid drugs - stuff like that. You can say no, but would you maybe like to give a talk? Or a few talks."
"Sure," Andy said. "Yeah, I'd like that. I'd really like that. Thanks, man."
The night before Andy's first presentation, they ate popcorn in front of the television. Andy licked butter from his fingers, and said, "You know, we've never talked about it."
Bender put his beer down carefully on the coffee table. "About what?" he said, but Andy could tell he knew what he meant.
He looked Bender right in the eye. "That night I came on to you," he said.
"Yeah. Oh that."
"Andy." Bender drummed his fingers against his thigh. "I don't know if that's such a good idea," he said. "I mean-" he licked his lips. "I mean you're still finding your feet." Bender's voice was actually shaking a little. "It wouldn't be right of me-"
Andy leaned forward and kissed him.
Bender gasped into his mouth, and then pulled back. "Because you're probably feeling all grateful and shit," Bender said. He looked a little wild-eyed. "I mean-"
"Nah," Andy said. He kissed him again, and this time Bender kissed him back. "This isn't gratitude," Andy continued. "This is wanting your ass."
"Oh," Bender said. "Okay."
They kissed some more. "You wanna jerk me off? Or I could blow you," Andy said after a while.
Bender grinned. "You're classy, you know that? I thought that the first time I saw you in tights."
"You fucking pervert. I bet you watched."
"I did," Bender said. He bit gently under Andy's ear, making him gasp. "Watched you all the time."
They moved against each other, kissing and touching. "God, is this really happening?" Andy said once. "It's like all that LSD finally caught up with me."
"Hello - police officer, here!" Bender said. He licked the pulse point on Andy's neck, making Andy jump and squirm. "I don't think you should be telling me about your illegal drug use, pal."
"Okay," Andy said. "Okay. Except, you guys are paying me to- to talk about it. Tomorrow. God, don't- don't stop doing that."
When he came, Andy whimpered and stared at Bender's rapt expression. He felt completely free. It was like being weightless, he thought. Like breaking out of jail. Like watching the sunrise.
Andy thought it might be weird the next morning, but it wasn't - not at all. They had breakfast, and then Bender went with him to the presentation.
"Oh man," Andy said, when they got there. He looked at all the kids through the door window. "Oh shit, man."
Bender flicked his tie. "You'll be fine. You knocked guys on their asses and ground their faces into the mat for years, you think you can't handle fourth-graders? Plus," he said temptingly. "We can get a drink after."
Andy grinned. "Okay," he said. "But I think it's your turn to buy."