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Jordan: Redux

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I once told Rickie Vasquez that my dad used to knock me around when I was younger. Until I threw a chair at him.

What I didn't tell him was that when it stopped it didn't take much longer for him to start beating me, with whatever he could find. He hits me a helluva lot harder now. At this point, both his rage and his motives have multiplied. Only thing that hasn't changed is the target.

And now, with just the use of my right hand, I'm driving as best I can to Tino's. As fast as I'm going — I'm too worked up to slow down — with blurred vision and only one working hand I'm terrified I won't be able to make the turns. The water on the road isn't helping any. Still I step harder on the gas. My tires screech. I'm all about self-preservation, but nothing in me's ever been cautious.

While I try to keep my mind on my driving, eyes on the road and all that, that isn't what's in my head. 'Cuz it happened again tonight.

He came at me with a crescent wrench. Where did that come from? I don't know what he did to my wrist but it really hurts and I can barely move my fingers. Tino will be pissed.

Standing before me in the doorway to his apartment, taking me in, the battered, broken, bedraggled all of me, he is furious. Tino always takes it hard when I'm the one that's hurt.

"Jesus Catalano!" he grumbles, and leaves the doorway to go about getting me an ice pack. "What the hell set him off this time?"

I slump into the nearest chair and mumble something about the rain knocking the cable out.

That wasn't it of course. Something like that had been mentioned somewhere between blows, but the truth is he doesn't need a reason. Never has. He'd say I'm the reason; Tino'd say it's him. What I know is that I wince when Tino drops the ice on my wrist and my old man got all the 'reason' he ever needed last spring when he walked in on something he shouldn't have.

I never told Tino 'bout that night. What would he do with that information if I had?

"You can move your fingers, right?" Tino's standing over me, wanting me to be okay, wanting an excuse to go after the old man. There's adrenaline coursing through him and I can't tell which desire is winning out. Even through one eye I can see he's struggling to hold himself to that place in front of where I'm sitting. Tino's not exactly one for letting things go. But then again, he's not in control of everything.

I wiggle my fingers in demonstration to distract him, grimacing through the pain as I do.

Seeing me able to do so alleviates some of the tension and soon he's breathing more regular and allowing himself to move from that spot on the hardwood. "Probably just a really nasty bruise or sprain then…" he says, mostly to himself. "I think Rider left a brace here," he's definitely talking to himself now as he heads into the bathroom just off the hall. "If not, I know I have some tensor bandages." I will myself to stay upright and conscious until he returns. Keeping my focus external from myself I hear the metallic pull and swing of the medicine cabinet as he opens it and searches for what he needs.

Soon enough he returns triumphantly with both items in hand.

"I am the best!" Tino proclaims and sits beside me in the all too commonplace scene of putting me back together again. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it. I don't say that shit to him though, it'd only piss 'im off.

So instead I murmur some sort of agreement and just kinda zone out on him while he works. He's trying to be gentle as he wraps my wrist but it hurts like hell just the same and leaves me wishing he'd done a little more rifling in that medicine cabinet and brought me some pills, or at least a beer. I try finding something positive to focus on but nothing comes to me and I get depressed when I really can't think of anything.

"Ta da!" He laughs, adjusting the brace as snugly as he can around my wrist. Tino's the darkest, moodiest guy I know, but even so, it doesn't take much to make him happy. Though maybe right now the smile's just for my benefit. Tino's like that. But I don't need to be cheered up. I'm not a little kid. I was shaken up in the car, 's only normal, but I'm steady enough now, steady for me anyway, and I don't need someone playing nursemaid with me and trying to get me to smile. Even if it's him.

"Thanks T," I yawn. But the brace is already shifting out of place. Not enough velcro. Or, too much? I'm not sure. Either way, when Tino pulls the strap to tighten it around my arm, there's no velcro where the strap ends up hitting. His smile, which I still doubt was ever sincere, fades as he studies the problem for a solution. Because I know him I can tell what's going through his head; he's debating whether to ditch the brace altogether in favor of the bandage, or to use the bandage to secure the black brace. He opts for the second, I'm guessing because he figures in the end it'll offer more support. He's less proud of himself when he finishes this time and that's because it's brought up something he hates just as much, or maybe even more, than my old man.

"Need a freakin' child's size," he mutters bitterly. "How fucked up is that?" He straightens up. "It's sick."

Since he's pretty much directing this criticism at me, he isn't expecting any kind of response. Which is good, 'cuz things are closing in on me fast. They do that now and then. And as the room gets darker, and my head gets warmer, and my vision narrower, I somehow push myself outta the chair I'd initially sunk into and drift over to the couch where I collapse in exhaustion.

And then Tino's there, propping me up so he can drop down next to me. When I flop back into place my head is in his lap.

It's cool though.

"Tired?" he teases, tangling his fingers in my hair and leering at me.

I just look at him blankly because we both know the answer; I'm always tired.

My one good eye shuts and I feel him run his hand up under my damp shirt. When did that happen? Was it the rain, or had I sweat through another shirt? I really should take it off, but I don't move — I'll take it off when he makes me — and instead I loosely concentrate on his fingers tracing the outline of my ribs. I used to have abs. There was a time when I'd had definition, a slight six-pack even, and real shoulders; hard to believe these days. When he touches me like that I really hate that I don't have that strength for him to feel. And for two very different reasons.

He won't say anything out loud right now but he's made his point: he's saying I'd have more energy if I'd actually eat properly. I can't bring myself to do it though and it more than bugs him. But it's not something we really talk about. Unless it gets really bad. It's just one of those things. There's a lot that goes unspoken between us.

He moves his hand, now a little lower, and (as much as I hate to admit it) I squirm.

I'm still squirming with his hand under my shirt, a fingertip or two just below the belt line… when his mother walks in. She shoots us a wry look and Tino grins right back. God knows she's caught us up to far worse things.

That's cool too though because she gets a real kick out of it. Inside, I think she really whoops it up when she walks in on us making out. You can tell she likes it. I think she likes knowing her kid's his own person, drums to his own beat and all that. Really though, I don't know how political her reaction to us is; I think she just likes to see her kid happy. Plus, she just plain likes me. Always has. Mothers usually do. It's fathers, I reflect, as I reach to feel my swollen eye, things don't go so well with.

She's talking to us right now but I'm far too exhausted to follow or understand. I let Tino do the talking for us both so I can rest my eyes. Honestly though, I never talk all that much.

The next thing I know I'm being laid out on a bed and Tino is slipping in beside me. He's trying not to wake me and that's nice, but I don't want him to hurt himself in the process — which he will if he keeps this up. He may be everybody's golden boy, and my best friend, but careful is something he does badly.

To stop him from the bother, I roll over and kiss him lightly. He grumbles in annoyance with himself and flops the rest of the way in, pulling me close. His chest is bare and warm and I tuck into him, using him as a pillow.

"How long was I asleep?"

"Maybe two hours," he shrugs. "Momma was afraid you'd stopped breathing for a while."

"Still here."

"Mm, hmm," he agrees. "Go back to sleep."

"What was she saying?"

"What? When?"

"Before, on the couch."

"She's asking if it was your old man again."

"Yeah?" I get out between two deep breaths pulling me back into sleep. "What'd you say?"

"'Who else?'"

Had I more energy what I did right then might've been a nod. She knows. And I know she knows. And she prob'ly knows that. She hates that it is this way, I know that. But this is the way it is. Saying something's not gonna—

Tino interrupts my thoughts when his arms tighten around me and I can't help but smile a little as I drift off, falling back to sleep. It was a rotten night, but it's not ending too badly.

I've never been a morning person, but I can definitely get used to the idea of waking up early if it means waking up to Tino kissing me. Kissing and…

And that scares me shitless. This isn't something I'm sp'osed to get used to. It isn't anything. Just, this thing, that happens.

But I don't need it. I don't need anyone. Tino's my friend. My best friend. And we'll always have each other's backs, but there's nothing here to get used to.

I push him away from my neck. He only laughs and shoots me that wicked grin.

Me and Tino… We've been friends for years. Met in sixth grade when he was just starting the first of his growth spurts and I was just trying my first cigarettes. There were a lot of 'Truth or Dare' games back then. We kissed a lot of girls. But we weren't only kissing girls.

We weren't really tight though until seventh grade; when he found me shaking in the bathroom and trying, but not quite succeeding, to keep from crying. Seems like there must be a sign somewhere telling people I'm easy to take advantage of, because so many have.

It was sometime after that we found we didn't need a game to dare us; we dared on our own. But, even now, years later, it's mostly something we never fully acknowledge. It is what it is.

Talking 'bout it will only change it. Turn it into something it's not. Something with rules, and expectations, and … boundaries. Shit.

Tino is like, the only person I really trust, and now my mind's trying to screw that up, telling me I want him in a way that was never part of the deal. Fuck; there never even was a deal. I mean, it's true that we kiss and we touch and we fool around, but that's all it is. We're not lovers and we'renot dating. We're just — friends. …With…benefits. Jesus, I hate the way that sounds.

But now something in my mind's working overtime to mess me up about it — more messed up than I already am. Not all that suddenly I'm thinking things like 'This could be a regular thing'; that every night it could be us in this bed. That'd be a whole different reason never to make it home, and one a lot better than being the punching bag kid with nowhere else to go. I'd never be that to Tino and his mom. I decided that years ago. Never long term anyways. Sharing a bed by choice's not the same as necessity — the excuse that's kinda always been there for us, available, as an abilbi, should we ever want it. We hadn't so far. But actually claiming that choice 'd definitely signify sum'in more than friendship. Even one with benefits. And what would doing that do?

"Stop dreaming, Catalano." He's already showered and dressed and is looking at me strangely. For a second I'm afraid I said something out loud. That'd be just like me, to ruin everything I've got going for me. But he gives no further indication of what he's thinking. "Get up. The maternal one 's making you some egg whites."

I groan.

I haven't really eaten breakfast since I was nine. When it fell on me to do it, I pretty much stopped the practice altogether. 'Sides, I'm never hungry in the morning, not even if I haven't eaten for the entire week. Which, right now, is actually the case.

"I'm not hungry." I'm aware that he's standing right in my eye line. I wonder if he's aware of the visual he's giving me.

But I doubt it; at the moment he's preoccupied. Tino groans and with sharp eyes looks me over. "When's the last time you ate?" There's no patience in his voice; he's asked this same question of me too many times for there to be any remaining traces of that. Now he's all business.

The lie comes easily: "Yesterday at lunch."

Tino sits once more on the bed, stretching his legs out, crossing them at his ankles. "What did you have?" His incredulity is mixed with boredom — we've had this conversation before. A lot.

The problem is, he wants to believe me, but he knows better. I hate lying to him but I'll just throw up if I eat anything now anyway. The lie agreed upon will keep us both satisfied.

"Grilled cheese."

He sighs in defeat and moves in to kiss me. Hard. He rolls me onto my back and runs his tongue along my bottom lip. I open my mouth to him but he pulls back just enough to break the contact between our lips.

"How's your wrist? Still hurt?"


Tino sighs and helps me to my feet, nudging me towards the bathroom. "Shower; I'll rewrap your wrist after you eat." I'm about to point out we hadn't agreed I would eat when he starts again, no doubt strategically, "I'll find you something to wear."

And like so many other things, I let it go. "Thanks, T."

I shuffle into the hallway and into the bathroom. I avoid the mirror. I already know what I look like when I look like this.