“You’re late.” Dr. Anderson warned.
Declan grimaced from the pain radiating from his knee, as he limped through the door. If he only knew how many times he’d heard those words. Since birth he’d been late to everything. It wasn’t his fault, entirely; his punctuality left much to be desired, but he attributed it to his inability to perceive time.
“Sorry, Dr. Anderson.” He sat down. His skin had regained some color. He didn’t have the accentuating gaunt rings around his eyes anymore.
The session began like any other, but one question opened a can of worms that Declan wasn’t ready for.
“So, tell me about returning to gymnastics.”
“You’re late,” Coach Johnson bellowed, “stretch.”
“Sorry, Coach.” Was all Declan could muster.
He began stretching out. Just like each of the ones before, it was going to be a long work out. He’d lost one hundred-fifty pounds so far, and, while it hadn’t been easy, he knew that this is what he was meant for.
“Alright, today, we’re going to work on your strength.” Coach Johnson announced.
Coach Johnson had kept his end of the bargain and trained him himself for the past couple of months. Sore day out after sore day in, Declan, reluctantly, returned to deal with the exhaustion and torture Coach had in store for him every day hoping that some day, his name would hang on a banner, like many of the gymnasts that had come before him.
The thing about gymnastics that he’d learned is that it’s going to spit in your face and crush you into the ground; belittle, patronize, and berate you. It will crush your hopes and dreams, when you’re down, and tell you you’re inadequate time and again. However those that are able to overcome the constant failure, and the utter frustration, are the ones that go onto achieve great things, much like in any other arena in life. That’s the beauty of the beast; If you can tame it, you may ride it.
A resurgent sense of respect had overcome Declan these past few months. He’d begun transforming his body by running every morning, following his coach’s meticulous diet regimen and adding a few more minutes to each and every work out. Although, he could barely hold a handstand for longer than a second, he felt healthier with each passing day.
“Take a break, kid.” Coach announced after Declan finished flipping the giant tire before him. He collapsed on top of the tire and wiped the sweat from his forehead.
His shirt clung to his body, which was on the brink of breaking itself. He hated being this exhausted, but he knew he couldn’t let it hinder him from showing everyone his true potential.
The rest of the day wasn’t any easier, coach put him through a circuit workout for hours, followed by an arduous conditioning set and finally stretching. Again. Always. Stretching.
As he sat deep in his split, the guys from the competitive team, or the ‘Collegiate’ team, as Coach liked to call them, walked in. Each of them looked like they’d been carved out of the most exquisite marble. One of them, a dirty blond, looked towards him. Their eyes locked, and, for that brief moment in time, the world stopped spinning. It was haunting… Unlike Gable’s poignant gaze, the dirty blond’s stare was kind, welcoming… It felt like home.
“Hey, muchacho, andale.” Another of the guys, presumably, the team captain, shouted towards him.
The rest of the team stood behind him, unwavering.
“Oh, sorry. I’m done any way.” Declan rose up, grabbed his gym bag, and walked towards them, “I’m Declan, by the way, I’m really exci-”
“No one cares-o.” He mocked him, “Get out, closed practice.”
The guy he’d locked eyes with lowered his head in shame. Declan nodded and walked out of the gymnasium, without looking back. He was used to this sort of treatment from his peers, so this wasn’t any different.
“How’d practice go?” Gable’s text read.
Declan swiftly responded with a question, as he got into his car.
“Do I look like a wetback to you?”
They’d become close friends since that Summer. Although, neither of them had much time to hang out, they continued to interact as much as possible. Declan didn’t have many friends, so having one this close meant the universe to him.
“Well, when you speak Spanish, yeah. LOL” his response eliciting a slight chuckle from the overweight teen.
“Thanks, asshole. Haha.” He retorted.
The drive back was grueling, two hours to and from. Every day. The gas was paid for, sure, but the trip itself was still a nuisance. He still had to get home, eat dinner, take a shower, stretch again and read what he could for his upcoming college level course. He knew he had to make good grades to get into college, his parents didn’t make much money, so paying for a higher education would fall on his shoulders. Not to mention that his training depended on him making good grades. Every aspect of his life was codependent on each other.
The texting continued well into his stretching regimen. Back and forth they bantered; as if they never stopped being friends. After all these years, Gable remembered the same things he did. The teams they’d been on, the bullshitting during water breaks.
“So, this weekend... Party?” Gable asked, after a brief silence.
Declan stared at the screen without a clue of what to say, perhaps it was the fact that he’d never actually been to a party, but he was taken aback. An eternity seemed to pass and Gable resent the text.
Finally, he replied with a simple, “Yes!“, he turned off the lights, plugged his phone in, and slipped into his bed. Tomorrow was another day, and that meant another tedious work out.
“So, did you go to the party?” The doctor asked.
“Well, at first, I wanted to. I’d never been to a party; I didn’t really have many friends outside of school. And having to go to Rio Rojo on a daily basis didn’t really help. ” Declan responded.
“But... Alright. It’s not that I was jealous. I wasn’t. At that point we were just friends. I wanted him to know he could trust me. I wanted to make our friendship work.”
“So, what’d you do?” Dr. Anderson pressed on.
“Her name is Shandi. I swear, you’ll like her. She’s one of my best friends.” He assured the jock, as he packed into his car.
It seemed like they even shared sleeping schedules. They were both up at around the same time every morning to attend their own workouts. Each and every morning they’d message each other ‘good morning’ and commence their daily messaging routine, like the day before.
“She’s pretty hot.” He responded after having checked out her MySpace page.
Shandi was his best friend at the time, and she seemed like the type of girl who would be open to the possibility of aiding Declan with whatever he needed. On one hand, Gable benefitted from Declan’s sexuality by getting to know all his female friends. Conversely, he enjoyed talking to the jock. With each passing day, Gable’s messages continued to feel wanted.
“Yeah, she’s smart, funny... You’ll get along just great,” he replied, slightly dejected.
“Do you think she’ll sleep with me?” He responded. Declan reread the message time and again. He felt a pressure in his chest, but he couldn’t allow himself to succumb to the feeling.
“Probably. I don’t see why not.” He replied, swiftly.
It was always like this; Declan would attempt to set him up with one of friends, but it never reached fruition. It was his personal goal to get Gable laid. It had all started when Gable confessed to being a virgin a couple weeks into their friendship.
Since then, Declan made it his mission to change that for him. Although they’d been unsuccessful, he knew that he would do anything to make the jock happy.
So, weekend after weekend, he’d introduce him to one of his friends in hope that they’d take care of the jock’s dilemma. However, he hoped this time it would be different. Perhaps, Shandi would pull through and sleep with Gable.
A couple weeks went by, and during a meet Declan was helping the gym with at, Gable called him. An unusual, but welcome move, by the jock. Though, this time, the timbre in his voice seemed insecure, as opposed to the confident demeanor he exuded in person.
“Decs,” his voice quivered, “I don’t know how to go about this… How do I even talk to her? Will she like me? Do I just message her?”
For a second, his heart fluttered. However, as he realized what the call pertained to, it quickly sank into the depths of his stomach. As with every text, he quickly edited his thoughts, to repress his affections.
“Gabe,” he began, “You’re going to have to calm down. Just talk to her… She’s just like any other girl out there. Relax, take it..”
“No, look… I’m not…” His voice faded.
Declan could hear the apprehension in his voice; it was definitely not the same self-assured guy he’d spoken to many times before. This side was different, it was human…
“Gable?” Declan pulled the phone from his ear, but before it got too far away, he heard the jock’s voice emanating from the speaker.
“I’m not who you think I am.”
“What, are you a vampire or something?” Declan joked.
“No, Declan, look,” Gable grew frustrated, another side of him he’d yet to experience, “I put on this front like I’m all tough, and shit, but… I’m not confident at all. This shit scares me…”
Somehow, his confession didn’t phase him as much as he thought it would. This call was definitely a long time in the making.
“You’ve got to calm down, Gabe,” Declan broke their silence, “you’re an incredible guy. Chill out. Shandi doesn’t need you to impress her, she just needs you to be sweet. Be sweet. Be the guy I know you to be.”
Their conversation didn’t last much longer, even though Declan hadn’t competed, the exhaustion from helping with day’s competition finally overcame him. As he drifted into a deep slumber, all he could think about was how vulnerable Gable’s confession had made him seem.
“And you did this, why?” A guy to his far left asked.
“Because, I wanted to show him that I cared, and, by proxy, a good friend.” Declan shrugged.
He hated group sessions, but they were mandatory; he had no option, but to attend them.
“Perhaps there’s a different way of approaching your question, Mark,” Dr. Anderson tried to mediate.
“Okay… So, being a good friend means getting him laid?” The same Mark pressed.
“No, I didn’t mean that… I meant…” Declan realized how wrong he sounded, “I just wanted to be his friend. He felt so shitty about being a virgin, that I figured I’d help him, or something.”
“Do you think you wanted to live through the girl who took his virginity vicariously?” Karen asked.
“What?! NO!” Declan exclaimed.
“Don’t get defensive… Did you, or did you not, want to know the girl who took his virginity, in order to live through her vicariously?” She pressed.
Declan had never thought about it like that. It was plausible that he was thankful about Shandi not being able to attend the party, because that meant that she and Gable wouldn’t be able to hook up. Perhaps, that’s why he never seemed to place too much importance in actually following through with setting him up with a girl.
The sudden cognizance swept over him with zenith-like demeanor… He, truly, had sabotaged their friendship from the get go.
“Guys… Karen, I don’t think that this is going to get anyone any where. Remember what we’ve worked on…” Dr. Anderson insisted on mediating, but, it was to no avail; it was clear Declan’s case was unique, and it garnered the attention of the other inpatients.
“To not judge others for their actions.” Everyone, except Declan, muttered in unison.
That night, he went to sleep replaying what the other patients had said in his head. He cringed at the reality of it all. He’d purposely sabotaged hooking Gable up, so he wouldn’t have to feel the ting of jealousy due to not being the object of his desire.