Chapter 23:

Bro Wars I: The Pantsing Menace

Pigeon on a Power Line

Now listen, I’m not the type to complain about a free gun show.

But—go figure—the shower in the master bathroom in Brian’s house is big enough for two grown men, and good old B-dog seems to have no issue showering right next to another naked guy. I guess it’s the desensitization from all the towel fights in his reeking locker rooms. Either that, or it’s that signature brand of situational awareness that had him slip in his own shower and grab for the showerhead of all things- and promptly rip it and all the piping straight out of the wall.

So I’m over here trying not to stare at the marble mountains of his asscheeks when he meets my eyes with this look.

“Hey bro,” Brian says.

“Mhm?” I ask, making sure to turn my lower torso perpendicularly away from his.

“Are you nervous?”

The last time someone asked me that, they proceeded to suck the breath from my lungs by way of my lips. So I brace myself for the worst, and reply:

“Nah, why would I be?”

“Just saying bro, the guys really like you.”

I nod, grimacing.

The guys, as it would happen, were little more than a incessantly-honking gaggle of jocks from across every discipline of sport imaginable. My first outing with them started with an exceedingly thorough dressing down of my physical appearance and speculations about the ethnic origin of my mother over nachos. It then proceeded into a movie theater, where there was a spirited debate about whether or not I was actually the mythically rumored guy dating Anne-Marie. And when it mercifully ended, I had to, by tradition, lose an arm wrestling match to everyone. From a Lacrosse midfielder to a track-and-fielder, my manhood suffered blow after decisive blow.

Just when I thought I was done for, as I slumped over wheezing in a Wendy’s parking lot, it happened.

Perhaps it was my perseverance they found charming. Or maybe it was that can of recycled dick jokes I’d been saving for a rainy day with Ricardo and Co (Ft. Raisa). In either case, Drake himself had decided to induct me into the gang. And his words were basically law—The all-abiding rule of cool for this hivemind of two-meter meatheads.

“Drake said something,” Brian announces, as he makes a show of scrubbing the geometric quarries of his armpits. “He said he wanted to get you laid this weekend.”

“Uh-huh,” I reply, hoping that this topic will last as long as anything else in his goldfish attention span.

Brian nods to himself. “Yeah. But I told him that’s not cool, bro. Pressuring you n’ stuff.”

“Oh,” I reply, “That’s- actually pretty cool of you, B-dog.”

He grunts affirmatively. “Yeah bro. I told him that you already had a girl that had eyes on you.”

For all his bizarrely on-point emotional intuition, Brian hadn’t quite figured out that me and Anne-Marie had been together for the last two months. Quite impressive, considering that I’m pretty sure we even made out in the back of his truck at some point—giggling, moans, and all. But who’s to say. It’s usually so deafeningly loud in there that you can barely hear yourself think. Or maybe Brian’s just not a big fan of labels- which would be yet another point on the list of why he’s precious and must be protected.

And speaking of…

“What’d he say to that?” I ask, raising an eyebrow.

“He got mad that I was trying to kill his vibe and stuff. Said I was being a pussy like when we played jump-tracks.”

I’d need a change of pants if I had to leap past an oncoming train for $5,000,000, let alone $5. But the attitude’s to be expected. There’s nothing more cavalier than selfishness, after all.

I bite my lip. “He didn’t try to throw hands over it, did he?”

“Nah bro, it’s just playing around. We haven’t really thrown hands since like, months. Not after you said that thing about brothers.”

“You mean, ‘The only time a brother should lay a hand on another brother is to lift him up?’”

“Yeah, that, bro.” Brian nods so fervently that globs of detangling conditioner go machine gunning out from the soggy red bush on his head. “The guys say it all the time.”

I wipe my eyes free of chemical burn, and reply, “I’m surprised I was that much of a social slam dunk.”

“Yeah bro, like I said bro. The guys think you’re a three-point baller.”

I must be rubbing off on him, because I’m pretty sure he just- ‘yes and’ed me. Having never expected Brian to grasp the finesses of improv repartee, I chuckle like a rebellious lawnmower.

“Alright, alright. I already said I was coming this weekend, B-dog. No need to smother me. Besides, A-dog’s showing up and I wouldn’t miss that for the world.”

Brian nods like a proud parent. Then, he whoops and hollers, “That’s that shit we like up in here!”

Mr. Robertson’s ethereal pitch reverberates through the walls. “What did I say about monkey business in the showers, young man?”

Brian shrinks into his mountainous shoulders like a five year old that just kicked his ball into the living room chandelier.

God, he’s such a lovable idiot.

The same, unfortunately, is hard to say about the guys. The lot of whom, even in the mere two weeks since I last was subjected to their antics, seem to have forgotten everything of my behavioral training save for the cheesy quotes I ripped from stoic war movies. And, much like a war movie, Friday night at the locker room starts with a montage of screams and scattered man-parts.

Just how in the hell does Raisa do it?

“To the victor,” Drake announces, “Clab in the blood and guts of his enemies-”

“Clad,” I correct.

His voice booms on nonetheless, “His enemies, for whom the only bell that tolls is the church at dusk.”

“WOOO,” comes the group response to their leader’s call, in the brief interlude between the toasting of their beer cans and the utter liquid decimation that follows.

Northwest Elm Lacrosse had absolutely dominated Southwest Elm at the national qualifiers, starting off the second-last month of the season with an absolutely unheard-of 23-2 win-loss record. So you could say that Drake, the shining star of the team, was in a bit of a good mood.

“Suck, it Southwest!” He yells flecks of spit into my face. “You shoulda been there to see it, traitor!”

The locker room reverberates with flatulence and cheers alike. How the hell am I going to explain that I spent their precious victory night painting plastic figurines?

“Hollup, hollup,” says Morace, coming up from behind. “He might be a filthy traitor, but without him we wouldn’t have any beer. Three cheers for Ogden’s beers!”

Another uproar, followed by a topic change to the checklist of the chicks they’ve invited. They’re ranked like usual; The ugly chicks that have boyfriends at the bottom, the cute ones that are single above that. And, at the very top, the hotties which have boyfriends they argue with a lot.

I give Morace a thumbs up for the save. And “Moe” winks back at me in the way to say he knows I asked for my Birthday money early to buy half a dozen twelve-packs, for which he’ll pay me back.

Moe is pretty much the only other guy here that knows how to breathe through his nose—Which makes it all the more surprising that he’s Drake’s second-in-command. Admittedly, I was a bit caught off guard when the track captain came up to me after somersaulting out of a keg-stand only to ask me if I’d read Foucault. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned to stop trusting, it’s my first impression of social expectations.

And, aside from Trissie, he’s the one other person that managed to instantly clock what kind of “very cool guy” I am to Anne-Marie. Might be a mystery to the guys, but it’s pretty obvious that me and that mythical dater of angels like Anne-Marie have never been in the same room together. It’s like Superman and Clark Kent—if both of them had half the body mass and twice the social anxiety. The working theory is that Anne-Marie’s real boyfriend is a jock from Southwest Elm High. But a Southwest Elmer wouldn’t know how to sneak into the Northwest auditorium to make out behind the stands- at least, not without bringing overpriced ounce-bags of weed to peddle to freshmen that didn’t know any better.

I start sidling my way over to the corner of the locker room. Only a couple more feet and I’ll be home free behind a jutting island of lockers. But only inches from escaping the limelight, two massive arms come down on my shoulders like a pair of warhammers.

“Where do you think you’re going, lil’ bro?!” Drake yells.

My plan was to put my social camouflage to use by the cubby by the doorway—the same invisibility that hid me from Anne-Marie for half a schoolyear—to avoid as much interaction as possible until the party. But, as my pants come down around my ankles, it looks like life had other plans.

“Yoooo!” Drake yells. “He still wears tighty-whities!”

The room erupts.

It’s not my fault that my dad loves 12-for-1 deals. And also doesn’t know that you only need to hit the one-click order button once…

“Bro.” Brian announces, craning his eyes down straight at my crotch. Then, in his kindest, most unfortunately sincere voice, he adds:

“Nice cock.”

There’s a collective silence. So I try to throw him a life preserver:

“No homo?” I ask.

But Brian can only scratch his head. “What?”

Drake slaps my back hard enough to send me stumbling to the floor before accosting Brian with a headlock.

“Bro!” cackles the glorious leader, “What did you just say?”

“Bro what do you mean?” Brian whinnies like a deaf horse, wrestling back as he adds, “He just has a nice cock, bro.”

The jocks hoot and holler at the impromptu sparring match, cheering on the clashing paragons of masculinity. As bad as I feel for Brian, I’m glad that everyone stopped staring at the semi-chub I got from thinking about the way Anne-Marie kissed me up on Makeout Hill.

Drake sneers as his arm works its way through Brian’s defensive neck-clench. He laughs:

“What did I tell you about the gay shit, lil bro?”

“Bro whatchu on about?” Brian reverses the lock and mounts Drake from behind to the audiences’ wild cheers. “My dads say nice things to each other all the time!”

In tune to this latest reversal, the audience resets who they’re rooting for to a neutral, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

With his ego on the line, Drake’s eyes flash with something dark. His shoulder sets into motion right at Brian’s crotch-level, only to be stopped by a big, dark hand.

“That’s enough, fellas,” Moe says.

Like the light of civilization streaming down into this barbarous jungle of muscle, the basalt sculpture that is the jock’s second-in-command glistens in the eyes of his lackeys. The instant that Moe’s eyes meet Drake’s in the twinkling mist of body spray and shower steam, the latter’s grip on his prey loosens.

“My bad, bro,” Drake says, dusting his hands off on Brian’s shoulders. “No hard feelings, bro?”

Brian nods eagerly, and looks up at his captain. “Bro.”

The locker room fills with the sublime glow of brotherly love.

But I don’t buy it.

If I’m being honest, the word “bro” has started to lose all meaning to me. It’s yes and no, good and bad, right and wrong. And somehow, these goons can decipher each of its dozens of meanings in whatever context they come. I had thought of documenting this bizarre sociological phenomenon at first, before I realized that I should stick to my lane—after all, birds and mushrooms and shit have far more consistency and far less sweat-stained aggression. At the end of the day, “bro” is whatever the moment needs it to be. And in this case, it’s yet another blind forgiveness of unbridled aggression.

Brian hobbles away from the spat with the same kind of dumb grin he makes whenever he fails to hit his maximum reps. That is to say, it’s the most visibly upset I’ve seen him short of when he’s afraid he disappointed his dads with the report cards he couldn’t hide in time. The ginger hunk plops down on a bench beside me, limp as a puppet. The ding of the afterschool bell sends the gaggle of jocks marching out the doors. Drake nonchalantly herds them at the front, and Moe flashes me an apologetic look as he takes up the rear.

“You okay, bud?” I ask.

Brian’s massive pale shoulders shrug like shifting icebergs.

“Don’t let him get to you,” I say. “Drake couldn’t tell his dad’s ass from his own face.”

Brian grunts. His eyebrows are pleated, focused in thought more intensely than the time I asked him if he prefers tits or ass.

I frown. “What’s going on, B-dog?”

“Bro…” he says, turning to me with these earnest, doberman’s eyes. “I need your help.”

“Anything,” I say, expecting him to ask me to massage his shoulders with a rock again.

Brian clenches his teeth, and his rectangular brow grows rigid.

“I want to do something about Drake.”

Kya Hon
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