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Idolatria Ch. 10

Amateur

Job 30:16-19

I have a momentary edge on my opponent when I first step onto the court. It doesn’t normally take my opponent very long to adapt to the pattern, but that little bit of confusion as they try to figure out where my shots are coming from can make all the difference.

My first exhibition of the season was the first Saturday in March.

Day eight.

It was thirty-love before my opponent from Glassboro State figured out what was wrong with my stance.

This is when my body feels the most natural. I keep myself as close to weightless as possible when I move, only letting gravity plant me for a shot. The racket is an extension of my limbs. Half my conscious mind is gone. It’s just me and my opponent and a fuzzy yellow ball – although of course the rules make it complicated. Where the ball is allowed to land on which shot. How many times it’s allowed to bounce. Where your foot stays when you serve.

The third serve from the other side had adjusted to compensate for the weird angle of my return shots. Lefties aren’t super uncommon – around ten percent of pro tennis players are southpaws, including Rafael Nadal, another reason I like him. But since I also wear a headband to push my curly hair back like he does, I sometimes worry people think I’m trying to look like him. I’m not hot enough, honestly. Plus I can’t tan.

I never tried to learn to play right-handed. It’s not as huge of an advantage as it used to be in pro sports, but it still has its advantages in college varsity.

Game point. Figuring out my stance didn’t help the other side.

I bobbed on my toes as I wanted for the serve. My opponent was slimmer – hardly any body fat, stringy muscles, like a runner. He was quick, but couldn’t seem to get significant power behind his strokes. I’d have to play mid-court and try to focus on shots he’d have a hard time getting back over the net.

The serve came in with topspin, bounced at the corner of my square. I turned my hip and swung under, and he had to dash sideways to get it. Bounced short. I moved to the center and took an overhead strike, watching the little yellow ball hit the ground in front of him, and miraculously, he returned it –

And it landed in the net.

Game – Parrish. My serve.

In the locker room, I secluded myself in a corner away from the showers. I had never been comfortable being naked in front of other men… especially when they seemed not to care at all. I avoided showering at the gym. I changed my clothes one piece at a time. But I had more reason to hide my body just then.

Under the white athletic polo I wore on the court, Levi’s mark hadn’t gone yet. The color had changed like the fading of a sunspot in the eyes – dark violet and blue, rimmed with yellow-green.

I didn’t wash up until I got home. Off the court, the gravity in my limbs had returned tenfold.

The eighth day had been easier than the first. I wouldn’t tell anyone, but that Friday night, I’d laid in bed and just… cried. And I couldn’t tell if the pain was from the guilt or the fight or the fact that I’d left at all.

But slowly, I was beginning to cleanse myself of Levi. The closer the bruise was to fading, the closer I was to the end of my self-imposed starvation… It would hurt less every day to think about him.

I needed to believe that.

If I didn’t, I would never make it through this.

Day ten.

I was a day late for Lent, but I felt like I should still aim for forty. It was a longer time than I’d even been speaking to him.

But it was hard not being able to speak to anyone about my decision. I couldn’t talk to Marc about my abstinence. I couldn’t vent to Janina about the massive fight I’d had. I couldn’t ask my parents if I was doing the right thing. I was alone. All I could do was pray every night and hope I was being heard.

When Marc asked me to hang out after class that afternoon, I welcomed the distraction either way. Marc and I had interests that had slowly drifted apart over the years, but we had pretty much always come back together over video games. So more often than not, we ended up at his place or mine to play. I still preferred his place – Marc usually had the small apartment all to himself since his dad was busy all the time, and my mom was always in my biz even when I had friends over. Plus Marc’s bed turned into a couch.

I sprawled out and made myself at home on it while he set up his game console, and quickly found myself debating his choice of game.

“You know for a fact I suck at FPS games,” I said. “It always just ends up being you hunting me down while I run for my life and forget which way to move the stick to aim.”

“This one’s co-op,” Marc said dismissively. “You’d be on my team and we join a session online.”

“Oh! Great. So another TEAM can hunt me down while I run for my life.”

“Aw, god, you pussy. Fine, you pick something to play.”

I ignored what Marc saw as a playful jab and scooted onto the floor beside him, picking through Gaziantep Escort Numaraları his game titles. We played a lot of different games together, but I’d never been very good at anything with guns.

Marc crossed his legs next to me and watched me appraise his collection. “Hey… Can I ask you something?” he said.

“Depends, what is it?” I asked, examining the back of a box.

He shrugged. “I dunno, just… Why won’t you talk about what’s up with you and Levi?”

I felt stiffness pulling at my shoulders when he said this. “Because there’s nothing going on with me and Levi. Why are you so interested?”

“Ash, come the fuck on. I don’t think you’re sucking his dick, but from the sound of it, you guys chill more than we do anymore.”

My jaw tightened slightly. I desperately wanted to stop talking about this, but Marc was making it clear he was going to keep prying. But I could tell the truth without… explaining all of it. “We don’t,” I muttered. “I’m not hanging with him at all now.”

I ignored the silence that fell between us and went back to checking game titles.

“How come?” asked Marc at length.

“So you were suspicious when I did spend time with him… Now you’re suspicious that I don’t? What, do you think we had some fucking break-up or shit?”

“Man, I dunno… I didn’t know anything about anything you were doing.”

“It’s his business,” I said dryly. “Not something I’m going to spread around. I just don’t want to be around him. Is that enough? I’m gonna put this in.” I popped open the case for a fighting game I knew I was good at. I was pretty sure Marc only kept this one at his place because he knew I would play it. Dudes with weapons beating the crap out of each other with combo moves.

“Aw, dude, you gotta learn how to play something other than beat-em-ups and fighters,” Marc laughed.

“Why, cuz you wanna go back to kicking my ass?” I smirked. “No thanks. Grab your controller and let me own you for once.”

“Yeah, yeah, all right…”

Two rounds in, Marc had gone suspiciously quiet again. I was afraid he was gonna start quizzing me about Levi again, but this was different.

“So… Has Janina asked you to hang out at all since we were at the diner?”

I blinked and looked over at him in the middle of getting back to the character select screen, but he didn’t look up. What was that about? “I mean, I talk to her at practice and when I run into her on campus… But we don’t really hang out, just me and her.”

Something like relief crossed Marc’s face, but it dissolved slowly into worry as he stared down at the floor.

“Why… what’s up?” I asked.

He sighed and rubbed a hand back over the messy fringe of his sandy hair. “I’ve been asking her to go places and shit, and like… y’know, we share a class, so I offer to get together and do homework sometimes…”

“Yeah, go cheat off someone else, right?”

“Fuck off,” he snorted. “Anyway, every time I ask, she, like… asks if you’re gonna be there, too.”

I wasn’t sure what that really meant. “I mean… I’d come along if you want, if I’m not busy.”

Marc gave an apologetic grimace. “That’s not really the point,” he said. “And if I say I didn’t ask you about it, she’ll suddenly say she’s busy or she doesn’t know if she can or whatever. Every time.”

On Marc’s TV, the character select screen had timed out and kicked us back into the title screen. I pulled the versus menu back up. “Janina’s kinda… traditional, though, isn’t she? I don’t think she likes being out alone with a guy. Like I said, we only spend time together at college.”

“So… are you not… like…”

“Not what?”

There have been very few moments in my life where I remember Marc having difficulty running his mouth. And yet, there he was, totally silent with his eyes back on the floor. A strange realization crept up on me and stung my cheeks.

“Dude… If you wanna ask Janina out, just say that to her.”

Marc heaved a doubtful laugh and rubbed over his hair again. “What do you think I’m trying to do?” he sighed. “But if I say it outright and she turns me down, then like… fuck. Nah.”

“You called me a pussy because I hate shooters, and you’re afraid of asking a girl out?”

“If it was just a girl, then no,” he griped. “But she sees me as a friend. If I fuck up everything… How awkward will it be next time we hang out?”

“Oh, no,” I gasped, putting my hands to my face in mock horror. “Oh, no… Oh, Marc, you friend-zoned yourself.”

“Okay, asshole, what would you do if you liked her?”

I blew a stray hair out of my face and thought. If I liked Janina? It was hard to imagine… I’d never thought of her that way. But if I put another face to it…

If I was in love with someone and was afraid they only wanted to be friends… Could I ask them out? Could I still be friends with them if they rejected me? The thought made my stomach hurt. A voice that wasn’t mine pricked through my spine.

… Can’t see you that way.

“Geez, that bad, huh?”

Marc’s snickering brought me back to earth, and I pulled my face out of my hands. “I dunno… um…” I sighed and pushed my hair back. “Okay. I’ll wingman for you next time, alright?”

Marc groaned. “You are the worst wingman ever. No thanks.”

“Hey, that one chick was totally into it…”

“Yeah. Until you mentioned the Tekken tournament.”

“But you got third place! That was cool.”

“Don’t help, please…”

Twelve days.

I had avoided speaking to Jeff at bible study this week and last. I took notes, shared whatever scant input I could. Somehow, being there wasn’t making me feel safe or welcome anymore. Halfway through, I said I was sick and left early.

Not wanting my parents to ask why I’d come home before I usually did, I sat in my car in the back of the parking lot and stared into the runoff ditch by the edge of the woods. I was starting to think maybe I just… didn’t feel like going home. Why, though? It wasn’t like I hated it there. Wasn’t like I didn’t feel like I belonged there. Wasn’t like I wanted to stay here in the parking lot. But I didn’t feel like doing anything at all that night.

I was beginning to feel something like a gnawing hole in my chest.

Twenty days.

Getting to that halfway point was encouraging. I hadn’t felt the urge to go visit Levi in a while, and my life was going back to normal.

At least, that’s what I had to tell myself.

But detoxing from anything never felt all that great, did it? Withdrawing from alcohol, from drugs, from overeating was all painful. The sensations of being broken, lost, almost cold in the middle like a microwave burrito… it was really all I could compare it to. Those feelings were normal. They were going to be normal for this. I had just never felt this awful before, had no idea how to bear it.

Therapy came partly in the form of self-pleasure. To keep my mind from wandering, I’d started watching actual videos on my phone with earbuds in. This was… kind of an exciting experience on its own. I hadn’t gone looking for porn to watch in a long-ass time. To be honest, I didn’t know what to look for, so I just poked through top videos inbetween gigantic ads swallowing up every page, hoping something would catch my eye.

Same as always. Pants pushed down around my legs. Lying on my back with my phone held up on my chest. I was maddeningly conscious now of the difference between lubricant and hand lotion… But it was all I had, and I didn’t think I was brave enough to try going somewhere to buy lube like that.

For some reason, watching porn has always been a strange phenomenon for me. I felt awkward watching the video I’d pulled up, a typical straight couple going doggystyle – maybe because I felt more like a voyeur than part of the action. I could never really put myself in the guy’s place, not that the camera ever lingered on him. And I had no frame of reference for how realistic things were, what any of this felt like. Did girls really make noises like that during sex? Did they actually like playing with their nipples, or getting fucked in the ass like that?

What did that… feel like?

I stroked myself almost lazily. The video wasn’t really doing much for me. I tried to prop my phone up next to me so I only had to turn my head to watch, to free up my other hand, to carefully push it up under my shirt…

Wait – what was I doing?

Face burning, I returned my attention to the video. Better just to focus on that, to get out of my head…

Boy, this guy was… really going to town on the girl’s ass. Wet slaps sounded every time his hips met hers. She must have liked it, though, or was pretending to. Her eyes were rolled back and her tongue was practically lolling out.

I’d fucking break you.

Still stuck under my shirt, drifting fingers found my left nipple. I rolled the soft tip experimentally between thumb and forefinger, and quickly realized just how fucking sensitive it was. The sensation pulled through my chest like wire, strong enough to almost be painful – but if I was gentler, then… Oh, wow.

The girl in the video was kneeling with her butt up, hips being held in place so her partner could drill her over and over again. The nub between my fingers was stiff, nerves pulsing. My hand increased pace between my legs. I stared almost through the video, barely conscious of the girl’s squealing.

I… want that.

Want to…

Be fucked like that…

Oh, god, no.

No. I didn’t mean that.

I didn’t…

It feels so fucking good like this.

I want to be touched this way…

I can’t.

I shouldn’t be thinking like –

Want those noises coming out of me…

I can’t let my mind –

Feels better in his hand…

This is wrong, please stop –

Oh, god, fuck me.

Please fuck me.

Please.

Please –

A knock on the bathroom door broke my reverie. A voice floated in over the rush of water around me.

“Ash! You’ve been in there for a while. Your brother needs a shower, too.”

“‘Kay, mom. Be out soon.”

The sound of the shower drowned out my brain. The stream hid the tears burning my eyes. Scrubbing didn’t make me feel clean. I couldn’t get to where whatever this was had tainted me. The yellowed bruise on my hip felt like a burn scar. With my skin raw and pink, I could do nothing but lean my forehead against the cold shower wall and try not to think about anything at all.

Day twenty-three.

It took my mom actually coming into my room to wake me up for church. It took longer than that for me to stop sitting in bed and staring into space, to finally force myself up onto my feet and start getting ready. I had to dig out my clothes because I hadn’t set them out the night before. I grabbed my necklace off the desk next to notes for a paper I hadn’t done. When I finally got to the kitchen, my mother was practically beside herself at the sight of my hair. The french toast she’d made almost turned my stomach. I declined.

“Asher, what on earth has gotten into you?” Mom frowned.

My dad snorted. “Kid’s not hungry. Hell’s gone and froze over.”

“Honey, are you feeling okay?”

“Fine… Mom, I’m fine-” I ducked the hand she put out to feel my forehead and began combing my fingers through my hair roughly. “I just stayed up late and I’m tired. I’ll eat at lunch, okay?”

“I get his toast,” Dan piped up, making a grab for my plate. Mom smacked his hand away and went looking for the plastic wrap.

At church, I didn’t even look at the sermon numbers on the board. I mouthed words I couldn’t sing aloud. I found myself glancing behind me at the very back pew, as if I’d suddenly find it wasn’t empty anymore.

For the first time in my life, I felt abandoned and alone.

Abandoned by who, I wasn’t sure.

Day twenty-five.

The weather had gotten warm enough that I took my jacket off to go practice at the court. Now the composite was cool against my back, and the breeze kept pulling stray hairs into my face. I blew them away from my mouth, staring mindlessly up at the sky. How long had I been there? I didn’t want to get up. At least on the ground, I felt solid. I felt sure of where I was. Down. Stuck to the tennis court like a trampled piece of gum.

Detox. Get it out. Fifteen days left. Fifteen days, and then…

And then…

And then what? I was cured? I’d never feel like this again? I’d forget Levi and the way I felt with him, how right it felt to be with him, how warm and safe I felt even being close, how his slightest breath of command made me want to prostrate myself-

That wasn’t going to go away, was it?

But it had to. I’d just have to repress it, push it far, far down inside me where…

Above me, the sky was a sheet of impenetrable blue. I flattened my hands against the cold ground and took a deep breath, chilling my lungs. I was trying to relax myself, but I felt my throat tighten and eyes begin to burn anyway. The strains of faint clouds above me blurred. When I squeezed my eyes shut, the heat streaked down my face and was lost in my hair.

“Hey… you okay down there?”

The soft voice jolted me back to my senses. Janina’s face was clipping the sky as she leaned over me, soft lips pouted in concern.

“Hey-” I rolled up and quickly smeared the moisture from my face with the back of my arm. Maybe she hadn’t noticed. “I’m fine. Just got winded practicing. What’s up?”

I was about to stand up, but Janina squatted down beside me, arms around her knees. She gave me a discerning stare.

“Ash… would you ever tell me if something was really wrong?” she asked.

I wasn’t sure what to say. I was no closer to opening up about this to Janina than I was with anyone else, no closer than I’d ever been. In the midst of trying to find a response, my attention drifted, eyes fixed on her sneakers tied with pale blue laces… And then, belligerently, I found my gaze traveling the curve of her legs, her thighs, her figure shaped by skintight leggings –

If I were a normal guy… would that have made me feel anything? Should it? I’d never looked at Janina in any kind of sexual way, but that was because we were friends, nearly family…

I shook my head and ran a hand through my hair. “I… guess it depends,” I said. “I mean, for real. You’re one of my best friends, but some shit – sorry – some stuff I just… gotta work out on my own, right?”

As I spoke, I climbed to my feet, brushing dirt off the backs of my legs, and picked up my discarded racket. I considered going back to practicing… But I was too tired. I didn’t feel like it. I turned to go get my bag instead. Janina tailed after me.

“It’s pretty bad, isn’t it?” she said.

“What is?”

“The thing you’re working through.”

I finished zipping up my racket bag and stuck it over my backpack, fiddling with the straps. “What gives you that idea?”

Janina wandered over around me, folding her hands behind her back. “Well… It feels like you’ve been working through it for a while. Is it the same thing as before?”

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