Aaron is always ready to fight.
Perhaps a summer spent in a less stressful atmosphere will allow him to relax.
Aaron was on his cot when Shaun walked in that afternoon. Shaun gave him an inquisitive look as he began undressing. Aaron usually had a book open when he was there, but today he was simply lying flat on his back with his eyes open. Shaun had been playing soccer. It was a warm day, and he was sweating heavily. He was equivocating between going swimming or taking a shower. He still wasn’t sure which to choose, but he needed to get naked to elect either option when he left the cabin carrying a towel, so he was working his way toward that end.
As he undressed, he said, “What’s up?”
Aaron rolled onto his side and then into a sitting position. “Thinking,” he said.
“Thinking,” Shaun repeated. “About?”
“I saw Dylan and Micah in the woods making out. And more. Naked. I’m thinking about the best way to use that. I’m going to get Dylan.”
“Whoa! You’re going to tell on them? Rat them out?”
“Yeah. That’s what I’m thinking about. What the best way to do that is.”
Shaun stopped undressing and sat down on his bed, his eyes on Aaron’s. He shook his head. “Man. Really? My God, man.” He stopped but kept staring at Aaron.
Aaron had been on his cot thinking. Part of him had been relishing the thought of Dylan being called on the carpet and ignominiously dismissed from camp. Thinking of him walking, shoulders slumped, out to a car that would haul him away. Thinking of waving at him, a smirk on his face, as Dylan left.
Something about that didn’t feel right, though. It should feel right. After all, the kid had treated him like dirt since the day he’d arrived. Dylan had belittled him because he wasn’t rich, because he still was prepubescent, because he couldn’t ride horses well, because his clothes weren’t new and fine, because of where he came from, because—because of just who he was. Hadn’t Dylan been laughing at him, smirking at him, making comments to Micah about him? He had! Now the kid would get some of his own back, and Aaron would be the one who made it happen.
So why did he feel so uneasy about it? He shouldn’t. And why was Shaun staring at him like that? Well, maybe Shaun would be someone to bounce his feelings off. Shaun was smart and even-tempered and fair, someone he could get feedback from.
“What? You don’t think I should do that? But look. I heard him talking to Micah. He’s rich, just like I thought. Has his own horse, lives in a huge house where he has his own suite of rooms, probably a mansion because it has a big, landscaped yard. He has so many clothes he uses a whole room for a closet! You’ve seen the clothes he wears. He’s the best dressed counselor in camp.
“I’ve heard him making fun of poor city kids. I’ve heard him bragging about how he looks! He’s a stuck-up rich kid.”
“So? None of that affects you at all.”
Aaron shook his head. “You don’t get it. I hate rich kids like him. They’re all bullies. And I’ve got him! I saw him fooling around with Micah today. They were naked! Which means he’s gay. He’s a gay rich kid. And he was fooling around with another kid, Micah! I tell Harry he’s gay and was fooling around with another camper, you know, having sex, and he’ll get fired. Booted out. Disgraced! He’ll be gone! And they’ll tell his parents!”
Shaun was looking disgusted. He stood up and paced a bit, then came back and sat across from Aaron again so he could meet his eyes.
“So you’ll tell Harry, and that’ll cause who-knows-what trouble for Dylan. For Micah, too, for that matter, a kid who’s never done anything to you to deserve that. And for what? For doing something most boys do if they have the chance, especially at a summer camp. There’s something in the air that makes you feel sexy here. Don’t you feel it? I sure do. Go out in the woods alone and it’s even stronger. You went out there today; didn’t you feel it? Didn’t it give you a boner, just being out there?”
“No. I don’t get boners very much. And I didn’t feel sexy out there, either.”
Shaun gave him a disbelieving look, then said, “You should see a doctor. Someone specializing in adolescent endocrinology.”
“They’ll look at your hormone levels and maybe give you some medication.”
Aaron was shaking his head. Shaun was always surprising him with what he knew. But this was no time to change the subject. Aaron needed answers. “So what does that have to do with talking to Harry about what I saw? Why shouldn’t I?” Aaron wasn’t backing down a bit, glaring at him.
Shaun grimaced. He stared at Aaron hard for a moment, meeting his glare, then looked away. He was quiet for a moment, then spoke quietly, not looking at Aaron any longer, sounding almost like he was talking to himself. Except he wasn’t.
“You know, when we’re 13, we start thinking about things we haven’t before. More grown-up things. Like responsibility. Like who and what we want to be. There’s a recognition about things at this age that we haven’t had before. We recognize we have a place in this world, a separate one from our families and friends. That’s a major recognition. We start to see that to be who we are, we have to build that for ourselves.”
He took a quick glance at Aaron, saw him watching, and then looked away again as he continued. “We’ve had teachers and parents and friends’ parents and all the adults in our lives telling us all along what to do. They made our decisions for us. Now, at 13, we start to see we have to do that for ourselves. We have to begin to take control of our lives. We have to be in charge of ourselves and not let situations and events control us.”
He stopped for a moment, then turned to look at Aaron and this time didn’t look away. Aaron was looking at him with wide eyes. “Where did all that come from?” he asked. Never had he heard Shaun talk like this before.
Shaun gave him a bashful look. “My mom teaches child development at NYCC. I’ve read a couple of her books.”
Then he lost the shy look and became serious again. “Aaron, you’re an angry kid. That’s what you are. You have reasons for that. Things have been hard for you, harder than for most boys. The way you’ve handled that is by getting angry at everything and everybody. But that’s no way to go through life. Neither is what you’re talking about doing now.
“You’ve got grievances against Dylan. But a lot of that has to do with your anger. Kids here all like him. You don’t, and part of it is because you see him as a rich kid and you don’t like rich kids, and part of it is things that have happened here that might have a different interpretation than you’ve been giving them. Anyway, what you’re thinking about doing is taking petty revenge on him, and maybe it’ll completely fuck up his life. Who knows? Maybe by telling his boss he did something that had nothing to do with you, you’ll screw him up royally.
“So I’m going to ask you this, and then I’ll leave so you can think about an answer. It’s this: is this being a responsible 13-year-old, doing what you’re thinking about doing, or is it being a self-pitying 8-year-old who tells the teacher that someone is looking at him funny? Is that 8-year-old the person you are and want to be? The person who tells on someone just for the sake of hurting them? Will that make you feel better about yourself? Will that solve all your problems? Is that who Aaron Connor is?”
Shaun finished undressing, then found his towel and wrapped it around himself and headed for the door. When he reached it, he stopped and turned back to Aaron, who was still on his bed, not having said a word.
“You probably don’t want to hear this, but here’s what I’d do if I were you. I’d do the one thing you haven’t done yet. I’d go talk to Dylan. If you have a problem with him, that’s who you should see. Not Harry. Dylan. Time to grow up, Aaron.”
» » » »
What Shaun had said had been like a fist to the stomach to Aaron. He did want to think he was responsible. He’d thought he was for years. Look what he did for his mother and sister. How could he be more responsible than that? Yet Shaun telling him he was acting like a young kid telling his teacher on another kid struck home. That’s exactly what he’d been thinking about doing. That’s just what it felt like.
He realized that that was probably the reason he’d been hesitating instead of actually doing it. Something had been holding him back. Something hadn’t felt right about it. Was this what caused that feeling?
The reason Shaun’s words had had such an impact was Aaron’s recognition of how much truth there was in them. He knew he had an anger problem. He’d always been too thin-skinned. He sometimes jumped to conclusions, too, and perhaps, just perhaps, that had been the case with Dylan. Perhaps not, too, but was it right to throw him under the bus like he was planning to do out of anger that came partly from incidents that really hadn’t affected him?
Should he at least talk to Dylan? He didn’t know the kid at all, he realized. He’d overheard him a couple of times talking to someone else. He’d seen him at a distance. But their only actual meetings were when he’d bumped into him that first day, then in the boxing ring where Dylan hadn’t done anything to him, and during the trail ride, when again it had been his own actions that had caused the situation.
The kid was rich and acted like it. That was Aaron’s main reason for disliking him, for wanting to bring him down. But that wasn’t entirely rational. Aaron could see that.
Talking to him was unlikely to change anything, but it would possibly give him a new perspective on Dylan, and yes, it certainly would be the more responsible, more mature way to proceed. He could always go to Harry if he still felt like doing so after meeting Dylan and talking to him.
It would also take the sting out of Shaun’s words. Yeah, it really would be doing the mature thing to do. It would enable him to feel good about himself. At the very least he’d be able to face Shaun again.
He needed to find Dylan. It was still the boy’s day off, so he could be anywhere. Aaron decided he needed to find him.
» » » »
Where Dylan was was at the showers. He and Micah had jumped in the lake after they’d recovered a bit. It was only a short distance to the lake from where the glade was located. They’d swum just enough to cool off, then dried off in the sun before riding back to camp and tending to their horses. Micah was then going to spend some time on the beach with Richie, training for that job next summer. Dylan smelled of horse, an odor he didn’t mind—that he kind of liked, actually—but he was sweaty, too, and a shower would be just the thing.
He found a couple of other counselors in the showers when he got there. Terry and Jock. Mid-afternoons were usually a slow time for them, and showers felt great in the midday heat and gave them a chance to be away from their charges for a few minutes.
Dylan was popular with the counselors as well as the campers, and he was greeted with a smile. The two boys had been joking around, as usual. They continued after greeting Dylan.
“Hey, you know that Appleby kid? He’s 12 and already bigger than you are.” That was Terry. Terry was one of the larger counselors, and he tended to talk about size a lot. Not camper size, though. The other size that mattered to teenage boys.
Jock countered with, “Nobody here’s bigger than I am, numbnuts.”
“Nobody but me.” Terry smiled at him.
Jock tried to sound shocked. “You? No way. We’re talking hard here, aren’t we? You haven’t seen me hard.”
“Why would I want to?”
That got the laugh it was supposed to. Dylan laughed, too, but then remained quiet.
“I don’t know,” Jock said. “Maybe ’cause you’re gay? I don’t know, Terry, but you seem fascinated by my dick. Or like you want me to look at yours.”
Terry was shaking his head. “Wanting someone to look at your dick doesn’t make them gay. It makes them an exhibitionist.”
“Ain’t that the same?”
“Ah, then you’re not gay,” Jock said and laughed.
Terry laughed. “No, and not an exhibitionist, either.”
“Maybe, maybe not. You sure seem to talk about things that make us look at your dick a lot.”
“When you’ve got it, flaunt it,” Terry said, not a bit intimidated by the accusation. “Ain’t that right, Dylan?”
For the first time, Dylan was being brought into the conversation, one typical of boys in the showers, one he knew how to join without giving anything away. “Yeah, but I’ve got to be careful about mine. Don’t want to put anyone’s eye out.”
That made both guys laugh, as it was supposed to do.
“So you’re big then?” A challenging question from Terry, and one that was typical of him.
“Wouldn’t you like to know!”
“I’ve got you beat. We should probably compare.” There was a challenge behind Terry’s jesting and also a tiny bit of hope in both his voice and eyes. Dylan chose to ignore it, both the hope and the challenge. “Nah,” he said. “Sorry, but there’re three of us here. That’s too many. If I got hard, one of you guys would have to leave so it would fit.”
Both boys laughed, but Terry was disappointed. He’d thought he’d have the chance to show off, to get hard with Dylan, to see him, and none of that was going to happen. The mood had changed just that fast to a joke, and to press the point now would make it all too obvious.
Terry and Jock were done showering; it was time for them to leave. Terry looked back as he was walking out of the shower area and said, “Okay, you’ve got room now.”
Dylan laughed and rejoined with, “Keep working that baby dick. And if you want to show it off, I’ve seen a few campers here who might be impressed with your size. Only a few, though. Baby’s dicks don’t much impress anyone.”
The last sentence was all that Aaron heard when he walked naked into the showers.
» » » »
There was a sudden silence. The three older boys were normally developed teens for their age. Aaron was a teen who’d yet to hit puberty. He was naked, as were they. The comparison was apparent. Aaron definitely had a baby dick.
Aaron had been walking around looking for Dylan. He’d explored all the places he could think of. He’d been to the beach, the boat area, the rifle range, the stables, the eating hall, even the sports areas. There’d been no sign of the boy. Only the shower area was left, and he didn’t expect to find him there. He decided, as he was going there anyway, it would be a good time to get a shower himself as the place was usually empty this time of day, and showering alone would allow him to miss the cold shoulder treatment he’d get if others were there. So he brought his towel with him as he walked to the building. He stopped to strip off his clothes in the changing area. While he was doing that, he thought he could hear voices, but they were faint, and he figured they were coming from outside. He didn’t think anyone was in the shower room till he walked in.
He turned the corner and saw who was there and heard Dylan’s comment about baby dicks. His immediate thought was, Dylan was talking about him. Belittling him, like usual. Making fun of him.
The rage that lived within him rose to the surface in an instant. Forgotten was his resolve to talk to the boy. He dropped his towel and ran at Dylan, screaming. This time he had his glasses on. This time, he’d be able to see where the boy was, and hit whatever he aimed at.
Dylan was shocked, seeing Aaron running toward him, screaming at him. He was so startled, so unprepared, he didn’t even raise his hands to protect himself. Aaron swung a fist and hit him in the chest, then swung again at his face, connecting on Dylan’s cheek. Aaron began to throw another blow but was stopped. A pair of arms encircled him, and he was yanked back, held in a tight embrace.
Dylan was still standing in front of him, one hand now on his cheek, just looking at him. Aaron’s arms were still pinned; he was completely wrapped up by the bigger, older, stronger Terry.
Aaron and Dylan just looked at each other for a moment, and then Dylan spoke. “It’s okay, Terry. Let him go.”
“But . . .”
“Let him go. He’s done.”
And Aaron was. Dylan could see it in his eyes. He could see anger, but the first spasm of violence that had been there when the boy was crazily attacking him was gone.
Slowly, tentatively, Terry released his arms from around Aaron. Aaron felt a little shaky, something he always felt when his adrenalin was subsiding.
Terry stepped back and then waited, making sure Aaron was done. Dylan nodded, then said, “Can you two leave now? I need to talk to this kid, and we don’t need an audience.”
Jock said, “Sure thing, Dylan,” and both boys departed, grabbing their clothes as they did.
Aaron was standing between Dylan and the door to the shower area, his hands still in fists, anger still showing on his face. Dylan watched him for a moment, then said, “Follow me,” and walked past him out of the shower area to the changing room. Aaron hesitated, then followed. When they reached the benches, Dylan pointed to one and said, “Sit!” He said it in the voice of an older boy speaking to a younger one. It was a no-nonsense voice, an angry voice, and Aaron obeyed. Dylan stared at him for a moment. Aaron stared back.
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