Reunions (Part 3)
[Pictured: Aaron after returning to campus in the fall.]
Brent spent the summer back on campus. He’d spent much of his Freshman year cultivating relationships with several professors in various sciences, and one of them had offered him a research assistantship, which included a small stipend on top of room and board for the summer months. After the near silent ride back from the reunion, Aaron dropped him near the dorm and drove off again, heading home to live with his parents for the summer. Brent wondered what exactly had happened to drive such an invisible wedge between them–he was encouraged when they managed to regain some of their ease of conversation over the next month, chatting on facebook about their plans for the next year, until in early July, shortly after Brent received a tearful call from his mother telling him that his father had left in a rage and promised divorce, Aaron disappeared from the internet, and couldn’t be reached. In some desperation for a ride to visit his mother, he bought a bus ticket out of town, but by the time he arrived home he found she had already seen several doctors for a variety of pain medications and she wandered the trailer in a stupor, tended by two of his sisters who hadn’t yet found some poor match in the trailer park to wed young. With work to do back at the college, he spent a short time consoling her meekly and then returned to campus, hopeful that he might not have to return again.
Aaron remained unresponsive, and Brent assumed his friend was giving him the silent treatment for some unknown reason, but his annoyance turned to concern when he received a message from Aaron’s mother, telling him that after a terrible argument between Aaron and his father, he had left and not returned for two weeks. Since Aaron was legally an adult the police had been no help, and she wanted to know if Brent had seen Aaron at all, but he had no news to give her.
In mid-August, just in time for training camp for the upcoming football season, Aaron rolled into town in his Corolla, mud splattered up to the windows. As soon as Brent heard he was back, he went to find him, and discovered that wherever he’d been for the summer, he’d made some changes while he was there. He was a good fifty to seventy pounds heavier, almost all of it fat, and his moderate southern accent had grown thick and rough. He refused to give Brent any information about where he’d been, and simply said he’d had enough of living at home, and when pressed, he cussed his friend out and stormed off to the dorms to get changed for his first practice.
Between Aaron’s rigorous schedule, and Brent finishing up his summer research work, the next time they spoke was when Brent moved out of the dorm he’d gotten for the summer and back into the one he’d be sharing with Aaron, and discovered that along with his new look, Aaron had let a few other things slip too. He’d only been there two weeks and the room was already trashed–dirty laundry was piled everywhere, beer cans and whisky bottles lined every shelf, and Aaron found a few cellophane wrapped cigars by the window, the same cheap, reeking brand his father smoked.
They fought almost constantly. By the end of the first month, Brent would take any chance he could to get out of the room, and had even taken to sleeping in the dining hall on occasion–one of the few places open all night on campus. Aaron was ornery, aggressive, and unapologetic. The football coaches were unhappy with his weight gain, but with some long hours in the weight room and personal coaching from the assistant coach, Aaron was converting much of the fat to muscle. He stank of smoke and alcohol, refused to shower and clean up after himself. It was a relief, almost, when the homecoming game fiasco struck and Aaron hightailed it off campus.
Not one for sports, Brent was alone in the room while the game was going on, relishing a moment without Aaron around, when his roommate burst into the room, still in his uniform, shaking with rage. After the fact, Brent managed to gather that in the second quarter, Aaron had sacked the opposing team’s quarterback, climbed on him, and started grinding his crotch into the opposing player’s ass, howling and shouting, and he’d been ejected from the game. Aaron was furious, but before Brent could calm him down, there was a knock on the dorm room door. Aaron flung it open to reveal the quarterback he’d nearly raped on the field, and as soon as he saw Aaron, he dropped to his knees and started sucking at the front of Aaron’s uniform pants.
Unable to believe what he was seeing, Brent slipped out of the room and didn’t return until the next morning, where he found the quarterback asleep on Aaron’s bed, ass up, cum leaking onto the mattress, but Aaron was gone. He’d packed a bag in the night and fled. Brent had no idea what to make of the strange two months Aaron had been there, and he tried his best to forget them entirely. However, both the quarterback Aaron had fucked and the assistant coach made it hard, because both of them would show up once or twice a month, usually drunk, asking Brent if he had any idea where Aaron had gone. They looked desperate, like they needed drugs. The assistant coach quit a month later, and the quarterback stopped coming around in December, but the look of need in their eyes was something Brent couldn’t shake.
By the time spring semester arrived, the campus had calmed down, and the story of the homecoming football rape had passed into history and rumor. Brent focused on his school work. His mother had recovered from the shock of the divorce, but Brent hadn’t heard anything from his dad. He decided early that he wouldn’t go to the reunion this year. Besides, he didn’t have a ride to get there anyway, so the point was moot. He’d managed to nab another summer research position, and after finals he moved into his summer dorm. All was fine for a couple of weeks, until someone started banging on his door early one morning.
“Hey Cuzz! Your ride’s here. Get up, ya faggot, or we’re gonna be late to the reunion!”
Brent had no idea who in his family might care enough to drag him all the way across the state to the family reunion, but he knew he was going to tell them to fuck off. He got up and opened the door to the hallway, and found himself facing Aaron, wearing a flannel shirt and grimy overalls, smoking a cigar and grinning. He looked confident. Happy in his own skin. He’d never looked like that before–even towering over nearly everyone on campus, he’d seemed to shrink into the background. Now he managed to fully occupy the space he was in, and the six and a half foot monster, reeking of musk and grime and smoke caused Brent to take a step back, allowing Aaron to step inside and shut the door behind them.
“Where’s your bag? I’ll throw it in the truck.”
“I–I’m not packed…” Brent said, I wasn’t, I mean, I didn’t think…”
“ What do you mean ya ain’t packed?” Aaron said.
He couldn’t go–he couldn’t go, he couldn’t ride with him all the way there, not in a truck, not with that smoke. What had happened to him? Small details were leaping out at him now. The full beard, the tattoos running all the way down his arms and onto the back of his hands. “I can’t, I won’t…”
“You have to, Brent.”
“No–what happened to you? What did they do to you?”
Aaron laughed, and then grabbed Brent’s forearm. “I ain’t leavin’ here without ya, Cuzz. Family comes first, you know that! Now, ya can either pack some shit in the next five minutes, or I can pick ya up in yer boxers and carry ya out to the truck. Yer choice.”
“You’re not even my fucking family! Get the fuck out of here.”
He tried to wrench his arm away but Aaron dragged him closer, looming over him.
“Alright.” Brent said, “alright, I’ll come. But let me pack some stuff and put some clothes on.”
He threw together some clothes in a bag, hands shaking, and they climbed into the pickup and sped off out of town, windows down and neither one speaking to the other. Brent clutched his bag to his chest, dreading this week more than any other in his life. Aaron turned up the country music on the radio, and sped off down the highway at close to ninety, and they reached the family homestead in record time.