Technical Difficulties Episode 02byLucyH©
The next day, Ryan did get pretty bored waiting outside while Zach tried to escape, but they came up with a new version of the game after lunch. The bad guy would catch both of them, and make one torture him until he revealed the location of some secret plans. In the beginning, nobody actually got hurt. They imagined that a screwdriver was red hot metal and some scraps of cut wire delivered electrical shocks. The prisoners would bravely refuse to spill the secret, and help would arrive in time.
A couple of weeks later, a thunder storm chased them inside after they spent the morning swimming. As usual they ended up in Ryan's garage. Zach lay down on the weight bench and grinned at Ryan with a purple popsicle mouth that matched his swim trunks. He told the imaginary bad guy that he was wasting his time, while Ryan tied him to the bench. Ryan chimed in to agree with Zach, though really he was paying more attention to wrapping the skipping rope around Zach's ankles. He saved the kite string for the wrists, because it was harder to escape that way.
They went through the usual routine with the screwdriver and the wire, but Ryan got bored. He found a pair of needle nose pliers, and used them to pinch Zach's stomach lightly. Zach grimaced and pretended that it hurt. Suddenly Ryan had to know what would happen if he pinched his friend for real, and he did it right as it occurred to him.
Zach yelled and jerked away. Adrenaline hit Ryan's veins hard, and he felt his next heartbeat. He was sure Zach would be mad and get him in heaps of trouble.
Ryan was wrong. Zach stared at him, breathing hard for a moment, then clenched his teeth and told the bad guy to go to hell. Ryan caught another bit of skin between the pliers and squeezed. Zach squealed and struggled. Ryan kept pinching him in different spots on his stomach, riding a kind of roller coaster thrill. Surely any second Zach would tell him to stop it. Probably, he'd tattle or punch Ryan as soon as he got a chance, and Ryan knew he would deserve it. What he didn't know was why he kept hurting his friend.
Zach started to cry, and Ryan finally felt guilty enough to put down the pliers. He said that their rescuers had arrived, and cut the kite string to free Zach in a hurry. Zach sat up, and Ryan handed him his beach towel so that he could dry his face. They sat next to each other on the weight bench while Zach's sobs subsided. He sniffled and dropped the towel on his lap. "Want to come over to my house and play battleship?"
Battleship bored Ryan, and Zach won most of the time, but he jumped at the chance to partly make up for the thing with the pliers.
Partway through the game, Ryan got to the point where he couldn't take any more suspense. "Are you going to tell on me?"
"B 7. What?"
"Miss." Ryan pointed to Zach's stomach. It was covered with sharp purple bruises that stood out against his light skin. "Are you going to tell on me for that?"
Zach looked down and his eyes widened. "Oh. That. No. Just a minute, I'll go change so my parents won't ask what happened." He pushed his chair back and ran upstairs to change out of his swim trunks.
Ryan wondered if he was really going to get away with it that easily.
The next morning, five minutes after Ryan's mom pulled her car out of the driveway to go to work, Zach knocked on the door. He wanted to play the weight bench game again, and be the prisoner. That's when Ryan knew he was going to get away with it for sure.
Zach was always the prisoner after that, and Ryan made him cry a lot of times that summer. When school started, they still snuck into the garage to play the weight bench game on Saturdays when Ryan's mom went to her bipolar support group.
One Friday in April, 1998
Zach tiptoed out of bed and crouched by the night light. He pushed up his pyjama sleeve and examined the red marks on his arm, left over from last week's weight bench game. It really did look like he could have stumbled into a bush like he told Mom, but she was starting to worry and ask if Zach had problems with bullies. The funny thing was that the reason he didn't have trouble with bullies this year was that they were afraid that Ryan would beat them up if they crossed the line. Alone, Zach would get picked on for being small and geeky.
He picked at a small scab, and worried. The weight bench game made him feel brave, like he could handle anything. He didn't want to stop playing it, but what if their parents found out and Ryan got in trouble? Would Ryan stop being his best friend? Then he'd have to deal with real bullies - kids who would attack him for no reason and make fun of him even more if he cried, until he just wanted to hide all the time. Ryan and the weight bench game were the reason his life didn't suck anymore, and he was sure that parents wouldn't be able to understand that.
Zach heard footsteps coming upstairs. He scurried back to bed and pulled the covers over his head so his mom would think he was asleep when she came to check on him. On his way past the window, he noticed Ryan's bedroom light on across the street, and felt a pang of jealousy. Ryan stayed up really late on Friday nights just like Zach did, but he didn't have to pretend to be asleep. He didn't have a bedtime.
Zach unrolled his sleeping bag on the floor in Kevin's basement, silently stewing in resentment about having to be there. He ignored the other boys playing monkey in the middle with Danny's sock monkey. He was going to miss his chance to play the weight bench game this weekend, because he was stuck at the lamest birthday party in the world until noon on Saturday.
He climbed his sleeping bag and covered his head with his pillow to block out the noise. Somebody stumbled over his feet.
"Jesus, watch where you're going," Zach snapped, without looking to see who it was.
"You shouldn't take the Lord's name in vain," Kevin said.
Zach should have remembered that. These were all kids from his Sunday school class. Kevin was home-schooled, and they were the only 'friends' Kevin could invite for his thirteenth birthday party, which was why Zach's parents forced him to go. "You also shouldn't step on people," he grumbled.
"It was an accident."
"I know. Just... never mind."
Someone knocked on the door to the rec room. "It's time to quiet down. We're going to bed." Kevin's dad called through the closed door.
"Okay, goodnight!" Kevin yelled.
They eventually quit throwing the stupid sock monkey around, and did something that involved gathering at the far end of the room and whispering. Curiosity got the better of Zach and he took his head out from under the pillow. The other boys clustered around something on the floor and hunched over to look at it.
Zach told himself it was probably something lame, but went to take a peek anyway. It wasn't like he had anything better to do. He squeezed in between Danny and Kevin and found himself looking at the glossy pages of a porno magazine with lesbians. One lesbian had the other tied to some contraption he didn't have a word for, and was spanking her. Zach's jaw dropped.
Danny turned the page, revealing more pictures of the same lesbians in new positions. "Chill, Kevin. You can't commit adultery in your heart if you're not married, and God actually never said anything about lesbians. You're safe."
Zach didn't believe in God, so he tuned out the discussion and just stared at the pictures blissfully. He'd never given much thought to lesbians one way or the other, but wow... He caught himself starting to drool.
The magazine was whisked away abruptly. Zach blinked and looked up. Kevin shut the magazine and clutched it to his chest. "We shouldn't be looking at this," he said.
Danny rolled his eyes and reached for the magazine, but didn't try to wrest it from Kevin's hands. "Ok, fine. Give it back and I'll put it away."
"No. This is my birthday party, so I'm responsible. I'm going to give it to my parents to get rid of."
Danny put a hand on Kevin's wrist. "Are you crazy? We'll all get in trouble."
Kevin shook his head hard. "It's better to get in trouble than go to Hell."
"Hey, since I'm going to Hell anyway for being an atheist, what if you give it to me?" Zach suggested. He meant it as a joke, but Kevin thought for a few seconds and handed it over.
"No fair! It's mine." Danny said.
"Either Zach takes it or my parents do. It's my party, so I'm in charge." Kevin said, and crossed his arms.
"You're such a prig. No wonder you don't have any real friends," Danny hissed.
The hushed bickering continued for some time, but nobody could change Kevin's mind. Zach held the magazine and stared at the leather-clad lady on the cover, not quite trusting this surreal stroke of luck.
When he got a chance later, Zach whispered to Danny that he'd hand the magazine over after church so there would be no chance of Kevin finding it with Danny's stuff and deciding to tattle. It also meant he got the magazine to himself all Saturday night.
Lying in his sleeping bag in the dark, Zach mentally reviewed those lurid pictures. His thoughts rambled through the pages of the magazine, and he imagined scenarios that became incoherent as he drifted toward sleep. He took the place of the naked woman with her hands tied, and when he looked over his shoulder, Ryan was the one holding the whip. It was by far the hottest thing he'd ever imagined.
Zach jolted wide awake, and thought, "Oh fuck," over and over. Suddenly he was very glad he was missing the weight bench game that week. He really, really didn't want to go there. It was hard enough being small and geeky; adding gay to the mix, and scaring Ryan off in the process, was a recipe for total disaster.