Exaggeration and Blank Verse
Wishing August Back Again
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Jimmy's room was a lot cleaner now.

That was the biggest difference Craig could see- that the hamper on the far wall actually got used, since clothes on the floor would get tangled in Jimmy's wheelchair. He was glad nothing else had really changed. It let him pretend that this afternoon was happening in any of the three years they'd known each other, and not necessarily in this one when everything had gotten so complicated.

"Hazel's coming over tonight," Jimmy said, sitting by the window with his chair rocked back on the wheelie bars, breaking the comfortable silence that had fallen for the last few moments since they'd finished dissecting their classmates and the day.

"Yeah?" Craig asked from the bed, where his feet were on the floor but his torso sprawled across the mattress, one arm flung across his eyes. He shifted the arm so he could peer sideways at his friend. "But your folks are gone till tomorrow?"

Jimmy nodded. Craig grinned.

"Dude," he said, propping himself up on his elbows. "Awesome. You two are gonna have a great night."

Jimmy shrugged, turning to look out the window. "Not really."

"Oh, come on!" Craig laughed. "You've got the whole house to-"

"Craig." Jimmy's voice was carefully flat and expressionless. "No feeling from the waist down, remember? That includes..." He gestured vaguely at his lap.

Craig missed a few breaths. All anybody talked about was how Jimmy wouldn't walk again, wouldn't play basketball again. It never occured to him that Jimmy also wouldn't...

"Not at all?" Jimmy nodded, his jaw set at a tight, angry angle. "You can't even jerk off?"

"Can we just drop it? Explaining it to you 57 different ways won't actually make me feel any better, believe it or not."

Craig sank back onto the bed, staring blankly up at the white texture of the ceiling.

Jimmy laughed, so forced and false that Craig closed his eyes. "It's not that big a deal. I mean, I figure you guys all do it enough to make up for me."

"Yeah." Craig managed a weak smile. "Especially Spinner- I'm surprised his dick hasn't fallen off, he's always-" He realized half a sentence too late what he'd said. Shit. Shit. Why had he mentioned Spinner?

"Don't worry about it." Jimmy stared down at the street. "It's okay."

Craig swallowed hard, wishing he didn't have such a stupid big mouth. "Well, anyway, you're right, we can do it for you."

"Yeah?" Jimmy's voice was strange- wistful, maybe, or choked up. Complicated emotions that wouldn't fall easily into lyrics; Craig didn't have words for those. "You mean that?"

It didn't feel like a joke anymore, a throwaway absurdity to ease the tension. "Sure, man." Jimmy was looking at him now, his face raw with all those complicated feelings that Craig couldn't name. "You don't mean...right now? In front of you?"

"Forget it." Jimmy turned back to the window quickly, locking his wheels with shaking hands. "I didn't- forget I said anything."

But Craig wasn't horrified, or disgusted, or any of the other things he might have expected to feel in this kind of moment. He was just...sad. And worried about Jimmy. And he wanted to help him, any way that he could, and it wasn't like this would be some sacrifice, right? "Jimmy, man, it's okay." He sat up and stretched his leg out to kick at the tires on the wheelchair. "I was just surprised, you know? I mean, if you want to...watch...it's okay."

Jimmy's eyes were watery, his lips trembling. Craig could feel those dark eyes- pain-filled, haunted- on him as he wiggled out of his sweatpants and slid the fly of his boxers aside. He closed his eyes, trying to conjure up an image to get himself going. He tried to think about Ashley, about movie stars, about supermodels. But all that would come to his mind was a memory, a stupid little memory that refused to be dodged or pushed aside.

It was a Saturday afternoon in late August, just before school started again, maybe a week or two before his birthday. Four friends down at the basketball courts, playing a lazy pickup game on a hot day- Craig and Spinner versus Jimmy and Sean. Jimmy was better than all of them, too good for two on two, but he didn't push and they didn't care. They just laughed and ran and enjoyed the game, being together, being alive.

Craig gave up fighting the memory and sank into it, closing his eyes tighter, moving his hand faster.

After a few hours Sean and Spinner left; he couldn't really remember why, but it probably involved Ellie and Paige. The ladies called and the boys came running. Craig and Jimmy didn't mind. They switched to one on one, and the fact that Jimmy was gifted at the sport became even more tragically apparent, but it was all right. They didn't even keep score. That wasn't the point; the point was the sun and the smell of the asphalt court going soft under their feet, the sound of the ball smacking against the backboard and the shuffle of their shoes and their own shouts and laughter...

Another hand closed around his own, and he opened his eyes, startled, half-expecting to find himself looking to a late August heat-haze over the courts. Instead he was looking at Jimmy, who'd moved over close, who was gently pushing Craig's hand away and wrapping his own around Craig's dick. Craig opened his mouth, then closed it without saying anything. Jimmy's hand started moving- a different rhythm, faster. Better. Craig closed his eyes and went back to August again.

Tying their t-shirts around their heads in halfassed turbans, the taste of salt in his mouth every time he licked his lips, the trickles of sweat that ran down the smooth skin and hard muscles of Jimmy's torso as they hustled down the court, dodging and weaving and dancing with the game...

He shuddered and came into Jimmy's hand, biting down on his lip to keep the words inside. He wasn't even sure what they would've been. He leaned back against the bed and looked up again, the same textured ceiling, while Jimmy pushed himself across the room and silently dug a towel out of the hamper. He wiped his hands clean and buried the towel back under all the dirty clothes, then rolled back over to the window.

"Getting late," he said flatly.

Craig stared straight up, imagining he could look right through the ceiling and the roof to the sky that wasn't as blue as it had been in August. There would never be a day like that again; even if the sky was right and the sun was warm and the courts were open, it couldn't be the same. Jimmy was in that chair forever, Sean was gone to Wassauga Beach, they'd all cut Spinner out of their lives since the truth came out about the shooting, and as for Craig himself, well...worrying about money and Ashley and being crazy didn't leave a whole lot of time for basketball.

"Yeah," he said vaguely, sliding off the bed and reaching for his pants. "I probably should head home, Joey's gotten kind of weird about me being out late these days. I can't blame him...I mean, people talk about kids going out and doing something crazy, and in my case that might very well be literal."

Jimmy smiled, or at least curved his lips up. "Hazel's gonna be here in like an hour. Should probably put on a clean shirt or something."

"Need any help?" Craig asked, running his hands through his hair and glancing around the room. He wanted to bolt, to get out of the house and find somewhere to think about what had just happened...or more likely, go home and play his guitar and not think about what had just happened. But he had a feeling that if he ran out on Jimmy now, the tension in the air between them would never go away again. He'd lose pretty much the last guy friend he had at Degrassi anymore, lose the last fading shreds of August.

"No, I'm good," Jimmy said, staring out the window at the street. "You'd better get going before Joey gets worried."

"It's not that late." Craig shuffled his feet against the carpet. Jimmy was working very hard at not looking at him. And he sucked at this kind of emotional confrontation. Just ask the female population of Degrassi. "But if you want me to go..."

Jimmy shrugged.

"Okay." Craig reached for the door handle. "I'll see you in class tomorrow, then? And we're still going for pizza on Friday night, right?"

Jimmy glanced back over his shoulder, blinking. "Oh...yeah. Yeah, if you're still up for it."

"Of course I'm up for it." Craig smiled as he opened the door. "Always, man. Always. I'll see you later."

He had to pass the basketball courts on his way back to Joey's. He didn't break stride, but closed his eyes, imagining that he could smell summer on the air- heat and sweat and dust. He remembered some theory they'd read about in science- that every moment spun off an infinite number of alternate universes, where things went differently. Every action set off a million consequences that went off in different directions forever. There was a universe where his mom had never met Joey, one where he'd never come to Degrassi, one where he never cheated on Ashley, one where the band didn't break up.

Maybe there was even one where none of the complications of this last year had happened, where they were still laughing and carefree, where the future was wide open.

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