Description “Worthless” Worthington High School sophomores Roger Jensen and Nick Delios bond when the latter saves the former’s scrawny ass from the class bully, Ralphie Peters. Their burgeoning affection and academic accomplishments are only exceeded by their ridiculous muscle growth.
|Updated||22 Aug 2020|
“Leave the kid alone.”
It was the first day of my sophomore year at Worthington “Worthless” High School and Ralph Peters was about to kick my ass. Ralph wasn’t all that much to look at and as bullies go he wasn’t all that prepossessing either. He was no more than 5’8” and at 180 pounds he was practically barrel shaped, his shoulders, chest, and midsection all exactly the same size, with the sort of stubby arms that make you think of T-Rex. Or Nelson Muntz. But considering I was two inches shorter and all of 120 pounds soaking wet with the muscle tone of a wet noodle Ralph was more than big enough to clean my clock and then some. Which is why when he decided to put my skinny neck in a headlock, there wasn’t much I could do about it.
“Leave the kid alone.”
It dawned on me that the deep, masculine voice with the vaguely Northeastern accent was being directed at Ralph! I had been too busy saying my prayers to realize that I wasn’t just imagining it! I looked up over Ralph’s flabby arm to see who was doing the talking. Wow! Who the hell was this big guy?! Well over 6 feet and well over 200 pounds, with wavy brown hair, soft brown hair, slightly stubbly square jaw, sideburns. Wotta hunk!
“So whatcha gonna do about it?” Ralph sneered. “Here to save Jensen’s faggit ass?”
The big guy had been moving closer the whole time Ralph. Now he casually untangled me from Ralph’s arm and pushed my tormentor (well, today’s tormentor, I should point out) up against the brick wall. Ralph’s eyes widened and he began to squirm but it was pretty clear that the guy in front of him was as much of a brick wall as the one behind him. And then the guy reached under Ralph’s armpits (ick!) and lifted him up to eye level.
“I don’t like bullies,” he said in a low even voice. “Pick on this kid again and you can try me on for size, got it?” And then he just held him there. Ralph’s eyes darted back and forth, trying to think of a way out of the situation that didn’t involve complete and total capitulation. I swear he was chubbing up, too! “Well?” Ralph deflated. He hung his head. “Got it,” he said. “Just put me down, okay?” The hunk replied: “Put me down what? I didn’t hear you.” Ralph mumbled: “Put me down, please.” The big guy let go and Ralph took off like a jackrabbit.
“Nick Delios,” the big guy said, sticking out a hand the size of a hubcap!
“Roger Jensen,” I replied, taking his hand. “Look, it’s lunch time. How about we head over to Franklin’s and I will buy you a burger. It’s the least I can do!”
“Is that guy always such an asshole?” Nick asked, squeezing into a booth that was clearly too small for his huge frame.
“He’s not the only one,” I pointed out. “Not by a long shot. But he’s persistent.”
Nick shook his head. “Every school I’ve ever been in, it’s always the same,” he said, finally letting go of my hand.
“So you’re new here?” I asked. “I don’t recall seeing you around.” Nick nodded. “Yeah, a new school every year,” he said. “At least since my dad walked out. My mom doesn’t like to stick around one place for too long.” I shook my head. “Man, that must suck,” I said. “Having to start a new school your senior year!” He frowned, then laughed. “What makes you think I’m a senior?” he asked.
I just looked at him.
“Uh, you’re fucking huge, that’s why!”
He grinned. “Well, yeah, but it happens,” he said. “I’m a sophomore. Same as you, right?”
How did he know that? I wondered.
“So, uh, did your parents, uh, your mom, like, hold you back for football or something?” It wasn’t uncommon at Worthless where football was king. “I’m 15,” he replied, clearly a bit irked with my line of reasoning. “My birthday was April 10th.”
“Get out!” I answered. “Mine’s April 11th!”
He grinned. “So I’m one day older than you are?” I looked him up and down. “One day and about 10 inches and 100 pounds older than I am,” I pointed out. “You’re 5’4?” he asked. “I would have guessed you were taller!” “5’6,” I replied. “And 120 pounds, if that wasn’t bleedingly obvious!”
He arched an eyebrow. Damn! I was always jealous of anyone who could do that! “Your guesses are a little bit off, in that case,” he said. “I’m one day, eight inches, and 130 pounds older than you are.”
Hack! Gasp! Wheeze!
I nearly choked on my milkshake.
“You okay, buddy?” he asked, looking concerned. Catching my breath, I nodded. “You’re 6’2” and 250?!” He looked vaguely embarrassed. “I guess getting tall early runs in my dad’s family,” he said. “I was this height a year ago and haven’t grown any taller since then, so I guess I’m stuck here.” I laughed.
“Six-two isn’t a bad place to be stuck!” I pointed out.
“I’ll just have to work on getting wider,” he added.
“Clearly you have the genes for it,” I noted. He shrugged his yard-wide shoulders. “I wouldn’t know, to tell you the truth,” he replied. “I never knew my dad’s family and my mom’s people are all shrimps.” We spent the next 45 minutes going over our life histories. He had been born in New England, spent most of his elementary school years in New Jersey, and then hopping around Upstate New York before landing in Worthington. “Welcome to the garden spot of the Midwest,” I said in my best deadpan voice. He looked around. “This is as good as it gets?” he asked. I laughed. “It’s Indiana so, yes, this is about as good as it gets!”
His mom, it turned out, was an ER nurse. Made decent enough money, apparently, but her work hours were erratic and it seemed every year she was looking for something better. “But it’s always the same,” he pointed out. “Which is why I get to deal with this new school shit every year. I really think she’s afraid if she sticks around anywhere my dad is going to come hassle her.”
“My dad’s a jerk,” I pointed out. “Well, at least towards women. My mom left a LONG time ago. He has a new girlfriend every year—and it never lasts. Ten years later he’s still playing the field. You would have thought the fine women of Worthington would have figured it out by now.”
We talked about the classes we were taking. AP European History, Algebra II, Latin II, and Chemistry for me. Basic English, Basic Math, Basic Science, and Shop, for him. “Gee,” he said. “You must be really smart.” I snorted. “Nah, not really,” I said. “I’m just a big reader. I figured out early on that if I stuck my nose in a book I could tune out the fights my mom and dad were having. And then it came in handy when Dad decided to bring home some floozy.”
“You read for fun?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. “Doesn’t everyone?”
I swear he blushed. “Never have been a big reader,” he said. “Never had any books at home and, uh, the library scares me.” I laughed, then stopped when I saw he was getting steamed. “Hey, sorry,” I said. “I mean, if I work at it really hard I can imagine being scared of the library. It’s quiet, it’s big, there’s usually someone too willing to shush you, and the layout isn’t really obvious. But for me it’s always been my safe space. Bullies don’t go to the library!”
He thought about that, for a while, eating fries off my plate while he pondered. “You know,” he said. “I think I have a—what do you call it?—a proposition for you…” My eyes widened. “Uh, I know what Ralph said but I’m not really sure…”
He waved his hands, pushing that away. “No, you’re not getting it,” he said. “The deal is: You’re smart, I’m big. You get bullied, I have trouble with my grades…” Slowly it dawned on me what he was getting a. Pfft! And he thought I was smart! “So if I helped you with your school work…” He nodded. “You could keep the bullies off my back?” He stuck out his hand.
“My tutor,” he said.
“My bodyguard!” I replied.
We shook on it!
And that was how it started.
“Want to meet up after class and get started on my tutoring?” he asked. I was somewhat surprised. We’d just met and already he wanted to hang. Naturally, he misinterpreted my hesitation. “Well, if you’re busy…”
I snorted. “Are you crazy?” I asked. “My social life consists of posting imaginary conversations with my dog on Facebook!” He laughed. “Let me guess,” he said. “The dog is imaginary, too?” I blushed. “No, no,” I reassured him. “Spots is certainly real. Just wait until he decides to hump your leg.” Because God knows that’s what I’d be doing! And I blushed again.
“Where do you live, anyway?” I asked, going for the save. I nodded that way. “1382 Maple,” he replied. Wow! “Get out!” I exclaimed. “You’re in the Heights, too?! I’m at 1317 Maple!” He grinned. “That’s, like, the next block, right?” he asked. “I’m still figuring out the neighborhood.” I nodded. “Less than five minute walk from my house, which is a 15 minute walk from here, and on the way to yours.” So we agreed to meet at Franklin’s, then go to my place so I could drop off stuff, and head to his place.
I was on pins and needles the rest of the afternoon, looking forward to hanging out with My Bodyguard, as I thought of him, and more than a little anxious about how things would go. “Uh,” I said, tentatively, as we were walking along. “You might meet my dad.” He arched that eyebrow again. “It’s that bad?” I seesawed my scrawny shoulders. “Depends on whether this is one of his ‘take the afternoon off and get drunk’ days,” I replied.
It’s no fun being the motherless child of a drunken father but in some ways I have it lucky. Pop runs his own accounting firm, makes a decent living, and his alcoholism is pretty much confined to one afternoon a week, usually Friday (but it varies.) Ditto, he’s a happy drunk, quick to tell you that he loves you, man, really, really loves you. I keep bringing him beer until he gets sleepy, then I feed him something and put him to bed. (And, yes, his problems with women have everything to do with alcohol; he gets nervous, he gets drunk, and they can never-never-never reassure him that he’s good enough. Sad, really.) I know kids whose drunken parents are physically or emotionally or verbally abusive. Like I said, I lucked out. And, no, I didn’t say all that to Nick, didn’t want to scare him away, but I alluded to it.
“My old man was a shitbag,” Nick pointed out. “He only got drunk once a month but when he did my mom came out of it with a black eye or a twisted arm or a bruised rib.” I shook my head. “Dude, that sucks,” I said. He nodded.
As it turns out, Pop was home.
“Roger, is that you?” he asked as I entered the door. (As if it would be anyone else!)
Please, I thought, please, please, please! And, yes, there he was in his usual “Drunk Day” attire, green boxer shorts with purple elephants and a ratty wife-beater. Not his best look! Don’t get me wrong, my dad’s not a bad looking guy. He’s just a couple of inches taller than I am but he weighs half again as much as I do and it’s mostly in the right places. Broad shoulders, thick chest, beefy arms and legs. So, yeah, he has a bit of a paunch but he’s 45 years old, for heaven’s sake, give him a break.
He’s a lot better built than Ralphie Peters, I thought, even though they’re basically exactly the same size.
“Who the hell is that?” my dad exclaimed.
I looked over my shoulder and saw Nick standing backlit in the doorway. All my dad saw was a tall, very broad shadow! Nick stepped forward into the light, a tentative smile on his handsome face.
“Pop, this is my friend Nick,” I said. “Nick, this is my dad, George Jensen.”
Nick stuck out his huge hand. “Nick Delios, Mr. Jensen,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” His hand swallowed up by Nick’s, Pop just stood there and stared up at the huge teen.
“Jesus Fucking Christ,” he said. “You’re a big mofo, aren’t you?!”
I winced. Yeah, when he’s in his cups, Pop’s MBA vocabulary tends to fly right out the window. Nick just chuckled.
“Working on it, Sir,” he replied. “I just need to get my grades up.”
Pop looked at me.
“Ah, ha,” he said. “That explains it!”
I really sorta wanted to know what exactly was explained, but I really sorta didn’t want to know either! “Dropping my stuff off, then we’re heading to Nick’s to study,” I said quickly. So I left them there for five minutes to talk sports, the only thing other than accounting and beer that holds Pop’s interest, while I ditched my books and changed shirts.
“Oh, oh, look out,” Pop said, when I returned. “He’s upgraded to Rugby rather than another Comic Palooza tee-shirt.” He looked Nick up and down. “You must have impressed him,” Pop said. “It’s quite an honor when he upgrades to Rugby!” This time Nick and I both blushed. “Okay, you two, get out of here,” Pop said, opening the door with a drunken flourish.
And we exited.
We were walking down Maple, and I was muttering. It happens. A lot. I mutter. When I’m stressed or upset or embarrassed.
I looked up.
“Oh, sorry,” I said. “When I’m stressed or upset or embarrassed, I mutter. A lot.”
Nick dropped his big hand on my shoulder. “Dude, I can’t imagine what would have you stressed or upset or embarrassed,” he said, leaning down close to my ear, as if sharing a confidence. “I was quite amused by your old man.” I looked up him, I looked up at his hand. I really was happy with the thought that it might stay there for the rest of my life. “And now it’s your turn,” he muttered.
Turnabout is fair play, after all, I guess.
The house Nick’s mom was renting was virtually identical to ours, with the layout reversed and a different paint job. Other than that, I could walk through it blind-folded and find my way around. Which I pointed out to Nick, who said “cool,” and showed me his room (lots of bodybuilding posters), his mom’s room (lots of Impressionist prints), and the kitchen.
“Man, I gotta eat,” he said, reaching under his shirt and rubbing his flat belly. I tried not to swoon. I say “flat” but I mean “ripped,” “corrugated,” “cobblestoned,” “eight-pack,” you name it. “You should eat, too,” he said. “It’s the only way you’re gonna get big.”
I started to stammer something about not having much of an appetite. He held up a big paw. “Stop it right there,” he said. “It’s just a matter of learning how to eat. And you do want to get big don’t you?” I blushed. “I mean, yeah, of course, but look at this…” I spread my hands, encompassing my scrawny body. “Underfed,” he said. “Underconditioned. We can fix that.”
My eyes brightened. “Really?” He nodded. “No doubt about it,” he declared. “Whether we can fix me…” I snorted. “I think we just need to find the right switch to flip,” I said. He gave me a quizzical glance. “What are you interested in?” He pulled back his sleeve and flexed his right bicep. I gasped and grabbed the kitchen counter. “Please don’t do that again!” I blurted. He grinned. “You mean aside from bodybuilding?”
I was stumped. “Oh!” I exclaimed. “Yes! What are you interested in aside from bodybuilding?”
He pursed his lips.
“Dogs,” he said. “I had to give up my dog, Daisy, when my parents split.” My eyes widened and my mouth opened. “Dude,” I said. “That’s so sad!” He nodded. “And, well, let’s see. Woodworking, believe it or not, and, uh, well, gardening.” It was my turn to raise eyebrows (both at the same time, unfortunately!) “For real?”
“I wish I had a green thumb,” I said before he could go on. “Everything I try to grow withers up and dies. Plants literally run from me!”
“They do not!”
“They do, too!”
Just then the front door opened and in walked a very petite, very young-looking brunette.
“Nick, I’m home…” the voice stopped when she caught sight of me. “And who is this handsome young fellow?” I turned bright red, naturally. “Mom,” Nick said, intervening. “Meet my friend Roger Jensen. Roger, this is my mom, Deb Delios.”
I took her small hand—and, believe me, my hands are small enough that I notice when someone’s are smaller!
“Mrs. Delios,” I said. “A pleasure to meet you.”
She laughed. “Well, aren’t YOU the young gentleman?” she asked. It was clear that she was the source of Nick’s vaguely Northeastern accent. “But you can call me Deb, okay?” I shook my head. “Uh, how about ‘Nick’s Mom,’ or, uh, ‘Mrs. D’?”
She rolled her eyes. “What is this? A 70s sitcom? Whatever floats your boat, Mister Jensen!” She eyed the kitchen. “I see the monster has been fed,” she pointed out. “Did he actually leave any for you?” I stifled a burp. “Two tuna sandwiches,” I replied, smugly. “Which is probably the equivalent of his usual daily protein consumption,” Nick pointed out. I glared at him.
Mrs. D harrumphed. “You two knuckleheads stop with the bickering and clean up the kitchen while I go get changed, will ya? Afterwards we’ll talk about dinner. You’re staying right?” I looked at Nick, lifting my shoulders. “The woman lives to feed people,” he pointed out. I snickered.
“Explains you, in that case!”
While Mrs. D was getting changed, Nick and I went over his courses, his grades, which subjects he found challenging, what was easy, and so forth. And I gave him a complete rundown of life at Worthless High, with special attention paid to cliques (“Nerds for me, of course!”), bullies, and beauties.
Dinner was delicious. What mom pulls leg of lamb, roasted potatoes, a killer salad, sautéed veggies, and chocolate cake out of her back pocket? Because that’s what we had and I couldn’t figure out how she did. I could barely stand by the time we were through and more or less staggered to the front porch, Nick in tow. I turned to him as he stood there, towering over me.
“That was great!” I said.
“I had fun!” he replied. “As for tomorrow…”I looked at him expectantly. “I’m your bodyguard,” he said. “I will stop by your house and we will walk to school together. We will have lunch together. We will walk home together.” I nodded. “And I am your tutor, which means…” He looked at me. “Public library after school,” I said. He groaned, then got a really evil look in his eye. “Fair enough,” he said. “Provided you go with me to City Gym on Saturday!” My eyes nearly popped out of my head! “They won’t even let me in!” I exclaimed. He snickered, evilly.
“That’s where you’re wrong, buddy boy,” he said. “All you gotta do is get your dad to fill out and sign a form. Mom has a discounted membership through the hospital and I already have mine filled out and I can download one from their website. And I have a free guest pass!” I didn’t even think about it. I wrapped my arms around his rock-solid waist and gave him the tightest squeeze I could manage.
“You’re the best, Nick Delios!”
Gently, he squeezed back.
“We’ll see about that,” he replied.
Gee, that was a lot of back story, wasn’t it? Just as well, though, since that first day together pretty much defined our sophomore year. Nick would come by in the morning, we would have lunch together, we would walk home together in the afternoon, followed by homework (at my place or his), an early supper (at my place or his), and then an hour at either the library (my place) or City Gym (his!)
Nobody, and I mean nobody, gave me any trouble when Nick was around. When he wasn’t around, there were two or three times in the first week or two when someone wanted to make a big deal about it, pushing me up against a locker, cornering me in the bathroom, knocking books out of my arms, usually to a taunting chorus of “Delios’s Dweeb” or “Nick’s Nookie.” (Didn’t I wish!) And then I would tell Nick about it and by the time we went home one or more guys were staggering around with black eyes, busted lips, and, a lot of times, wet crotches. Yes, he made them piss their pants!
After that, the bullies tended to give me a wide berth.
The jocks, on the other hand, most of whom weren’t the bullies, stopped razzing me. If I was good enough for Nick, I was good enough for them. Likewise, the nerds—my clique of choice, even though I really didn’t have much in common with them, other than good grades—fell for Nick pretty hard, especially when they discovered he had an extensive comic book collection, with half a dozen vintage issues that caused their eyes to pop.
It took all of an afternoon to get Nick comfortable with the public library. I showed him how it was laid out—fiction over here, young adult over there, non-fiction upstairs. Ditto, how the card catalog worked, how to find a book by an author, what it was like to browse. I even introduced him to Mrs. Pate, the afternoon reference librarian, quite possibly the most grandmotherly—and seriously professional—person I had ever met.
As for his “reading below grade issues,” I hit the nail on the head by introducing him to Jim Kjelgaard. No, not Worthington’s Own Channel 47 Sportscaster! I mean the author, Jim Kjelgaard (1910-1949), the young adult author whose 1945 novel Big Red, about a champion Irish Setter and the Quebecois boy who loves him, set the bar when it came to books about boys and their dogs! Nick, his brand new library card dwarfed and somewhat soaked by his sweaty palm, checked it out that first afternoon. And brought it back to me the next day.
“You read it already?!”
“Have you read it?” he asked eagerly.
I shook my head.
“Well, no, not really, I’m more into SF / Fantasy, you know, but I’ve always heard…”
Nick proceeded to tell me the plot, all of the plot, on our way to school. Well, take that back—he only made it about halfway through! He told me the rest of the plot on the way back. And over the fall semester he proceeded to read every single Kjelgaard book in the Worthington Public Library, then got interested in SF / Fantasy when I pointed him to Andre Norton and Madeline L’Engle. By the middle of the semester he was reading at grade. By the end of the semester he was reading above grade.
One day while Nick was perusing the Science Fiction section, the pile of hardbacks under his arm growing ever larger, Mrs. Pate pulled me aside. “This is for you,” she said, handing me an autographed copy of Kim Stanley Robinson’s newest book.
“Mrs. Pate,” I exclaimed, before she gave me that “quiet now!” look. “I can’t take a gift from you. I should be bringing gifts to you!” She snorted. “That young man of yours has turned into a champion reader,” she said. “And it’s all because of you! Warms the cockles of my old librarian heart! Think of this as a reward for ‘Meritorious Service in the Cause of Readership,’ okay?”I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or her, when I gave her a big hug! “Just don’t tell him what it’s about, okay?” she murmured. And I never did.
As for me, well, who knew? I took to City Gym like a duck to water and thanks to Mrs. D’s inability to take no for an answer I started gaining weight. About the same time, my growth spurt, if that’s what it was, finally kicked in. By the time Christmas break rolled around, I was up to 5’8”, two inches taller than the day I had met Nick. And did I mention that I was gaining weight?
Yeah. About that. I grew like a fucking weed! In four months I gained 40 pounds of solid muscle. I was no longer a twig! I had a muscular 40-inch chest, a rock-solid 28-inch six-pack waist, and “decent” 15 inch arms.
“Jeez, look at you,” Ralphie said one day when we were in the locker room changing for gym. It’s always been clear to me that the Locker Room Gods are actually minions of Hell because I had always wound up with a locker next to someone like Ralph Peters. “I guess the Big Guy has been feeding you good, huh?” he added.
The leer was unmistakable in its meaning. Without thinking, I whirled, grabbed Ralph by his tee-shirt and slammed him into his open locker. “Listen, you fat fuck,” I growled. “You can say whatever you want about me but if I hear one nasty word from you about Nick Delios I’m going to beat the shit out of you.” The naked fear in Ralph’s eyes caused me to laugh. Surely he was kidding, right? I didn’t just jack up my arch nemesis, did I, the one who still outweighed me by 20 pounds, even if it was 20 pounds of blubber?
“Whatever you say, Boss,” he managed to splutter. “Nick’s a good guy.” I released his shirt. “Damn straight he is! See that you don’t forget it!” I slapped the back of his head, slammed my locker shut, and headed out.
At lunch, Nick kept looking at me. “Uh,” he said finally. His vocabulary had grown by leaps and bounds but reticence was just part of his nature, what can I say? “Uh,” I replied, waiting for him to get to the point. “Did you beat up Ralphie Peters in the locker room on my behalf?”
I blushed, furiously.
“Well…uh, well,” I started. Talk about reticence. “We had words, that’s all.”
He arched that stupid eyebrow again.
“Oooookay,” he replied. “Well, word on the street is that you slammed Ralph into the locker, slapped the back of his head, and told him to stop talking shit about me or that you’d clean his clock.” I licked my lips. I wasn’t sure I liked where this was going. “And by word on the street, I mean that Ralphie told it to Mark Connor who told it to Jack Gamble who told it to Theresa Fortney who told it to me…” I blew out the breath I’d been holding. “Well,” I said brightly. “I guess it must be true, in that case!” He held up his big hubcap fist in front of my face. I looked at it. “Bump it, doofus,” he said. I looked up at him. He had the biggest grin on his face. And bump it I did.
Oh, yes, I was forgetting to mention the ironic part. The ironic part is that in the same time I had put on 40 pounds of solid muscle, Nick, good as his word, had put on fifty pounds during the same time. That’s right. By Christmas he was tipping the scales at 300 pounds. His chest was up to 60 inches, his arms were up to 25 inches, with a 34-inch waist and 32-inch quads. His strength was off the charts, too, which was good because the coaching staff at Worthington were really pissed off with him. Mrs. D wouldn’t let him play football (“no concussions on my watch!”), he had no interest in making weight for wrestling, and the one time he tried rowing he swamped the shell. Which is why, in some degree of desperation, they started a weight-lifting team. Nick won every competition he entered and under his tutelage the big guys on the wrestling and football teams were getting significantly stronger, which made the coaches very happy indeed!
So now you understand the irony of runty little Roger Jensen “defending the honor” of the biggest guy in school? Right? Right.
“Does this mean I’m no longer your bodyguard?” he asked, looking somewhat forlorn. “And does that mean I’m no longer your tutor?” I snorted. “Get outta here, are you crazy?” I exclaimed. “Of course, you’re my bodyguard! Of course, I’m your tutor. And, for that matter…” I stopped. He was looking at me with those soulful brown eyes from under those thick sexy eyebrows. “Yeah?” he asked, hunching his mountainous shoulders.
I let out a breath, then leaned over and tousled his wavy brown hair. “You’re not just my bodyguard,” I said. “You’re also my best friend. In fact, you’re the best friend I’ve ever had.” He grinned. “You know it’s moochul, right?” You can take the boy out of New England, you can’t take New England out of the boy. I leaned back and stretched, something I did a lot more now that I actually had a muscle or two to flex. “Yeah,” I said. “I know. Or strongly suspected, anyway.” This time I was the one who stuck my fist out. But he didn’t bump it. He took it in his hand and held it for a minute, then squeezed it.
“You’re the best, Roger Jensen.”
I squeezed it back.
“We’ll see about that!”
Spring semester was the same as Fall semester only fewer sports and more activities. Like Valentine’s Day. And Spring Break. And Prom. And growing. And growing. And growing.
Valentine’s Day was interesting, to say the least. For one thing, Nick bought me a card! He handed it to me when he came to pick me up Valentine’s morning. “Uh,” he said, articulate as ever. “This is really a ‘Thanks for being my best friend’ card, you know, not any of that mushy stuff.” I beamed. “Hey,” I said. “I’ll take all the loving I can get.” He blushed.
“And I have something for you, too, but you have to wait until this evening.” His eyes widened. “Really?” It was my Grandma Jensen’s famous Wauconda cake, named for the town in Illinois where she taught when my dad was in elementary school. Chocolate with chocolate fudge frosting.
“Oh My God, this is so delicious,” he said, having just finished off a third of the cake and washing it down with 20 ounces of whole milk. “You made it yourself?!” I nodded, pleased with his reaction. “I’m so glad you like it,” I replied. “My Grandma Jensen’s recipe!”
Just then the door opened and Pop walked in. With Mrs. D.! They were dressed to the nines! Nick and I both stared!
“What about Grandma Jensen?” Pop asked, then spotted the remains. “Wauconda cake!” Turning to Mrs. D, he proclaimed: “We can skip dessert at Gustave’s, Deb. My mom’s chocolate cake recipe is the world’s best and Roger here is its greatest living interpreter!” Nick and I looked at them, looked at each other, looked at them again.
“You’re going somewhere?”
Deb, as per usual, rolled her eyes. “It’s Valentine’s Day, you think we’re gonna Netflix and chill? Phooey on that.” Then she turned and smooched Pop right on the mouth! “We’ll be back late,” Pop said. “Don’t stay up. And don’t polish off that cake!”
When they had left, Nick and I just stared at each other. “Well,” he said, finally. “That’s interesting.” I just shook my head. “How could we have not noticed?” He shrugged his mammoth, or more precisely, his mammoth, shoulders. “I thought your dad was looking spiffer than usual,” he said. “And Mom has been uncommonly cheerful, lately.”
I chewed my lip. “Are we okay with this?” He waffled his hand. “So long as he treats her right, I’m down with it.” I sighed. “The problem in the past is that he usually goes overboard,” I said. He leaned back and stretched. “We’ll see,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. If it works great, if not, it won’t make a difference for you and me. Will it?”
“Not a chance, Big Man,” I said. “Now let’s go see that movie!”
Spring Break was a month later. Pop and Deb (after Valentine’s Day, Pop told me in no uncertain terms to ditch the “Mrs. D.”) were taking us to Sanibel.
“But Sanibel’s boring,” I said. “Nothing to do but sit around all day or ride bicycles and dodge old people.” Nick, practical as ever, asked the most important question. “Does the resort have a gym?” Pop nodded. “A big one.” Nick looked at me. “I think we can deal,” he said.
Mrs. D, I mean, “Deb,” chimed in. “More to the point, some good restaurants and a great golf course. And just who’s paying the freight?” There she had me. “The people who like to play golf?”
Getting there was interesting. Pop and Deb had first class seats (he had miles) while Nick and I were stuck in the back. “Me oh my,” the very cute, clearly gay flight attendant said as we were getting ourselves seated. “I hope you guys won’t be too cramped!”
By this time I was up to 5’9½” and 200 pounds. I had gained 40 pounds since Christmas but only an inch to my waist. Meanwhile, my chest was up to 47 inches and my arms were 18 inches cold. (And, no, I hadn’t been neglecting my legs. My quads were a decent 26 and my calves were just half an inch shy of my arms. When your waist in only 29 inches, 200 pounds goes a long way!) Meanwhile, Nick was up to 330 pounds, still with just a 34-inch waist. You’ve heard of yard-wide shoulders? Nick’s were literally a meter wide. I knew because I’d measured them. And if you happen to be metric-challenged, a meter is 39 inches!
Just then a big fat bald guy in a rumpled business suit and a brief case showed up. Who goes to Ft. Myers for business?! “I’m the middle seat,” he said, grumpily. I stood up and reached for my stuff. “Actually, we’re traveling together,” I said. “Would you like the window or the aisle?”
Just then, Ryan, the cutie flight attendant, intervened. “You know,” he said. “I think I might have a solution. Y’all hang tight and let me check something. I’ll be right back!” And two minutes later, he was. “That’s what I was thinking,” he said. “Unbelievably, we had a cancellation so there’s a seat available in first class. Do you want it?” He was looking at Nick, who was clearly the biggest of the three of us. Nick broke into a big grin.
“I think this is your lucky day,” he said to the fat man, adding for Ryan’s benefit. “Since Roger and I are traveling together, this gentleman can take it and we won’t have to be split up!” Ryan beamed at him. “Super! Just follow me, sir!”
I looked at Nick. He looked at me. “That was close,” I said. He nodded.
“A fate worse than death,” he agreed.
We were standing on the beach, watching the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico where people who live in little pink houses vacation down on. Or, rather, I was watching the sunset. Nick was, as usual during our visit, surrounded by a gaggle of giggling girls. Brittany, Bethany, and Dawn, in this case (or, as I thought of them, “Spittany, Biffany, and Spawn”) although it could easily have been Caitlyn, Kayla, and Kate, or Sierra, Tierra, and Vierra.
Wherever we went, aside from the gym, they were there. Always three of them, always newly conjoined BFFs, always blonde or brunette or ginger (and never black or brown or something remotely multicultural—it was Sanibel, after all.) And Nick was lapping up the attention. Well, why not?
He was a fucking mountain of muscle, with board shorts that barely contained his 34-inch quads, plus a nice dusting of dark curls on his chest and abs, and for this trip hair that was slightly longer and curlier than usual, plus ever-present stubble. He looked like a college football lineman. A Big Ten Senior college about to go off to spring training for the Pats or the Eagles or the Vikings. If he had stood still for more than five minutes, I am pretty sure they would have devoured him literally.
“What I wouldn’t do for a tranquilizer dart,” I muttered.
I felt a pair of big, meaty hands on my big meaty shoulders. “I’m thinking of tranqing you,” I said, not looking over my shoulder. “I’m guessing that if you’re conked out, Spittany, Biffany, and Spawn are going to devour you. Literally.”
He chuckled. “Jealous much?” I felt my inner Diva rear her ugly head but before I could say a word, a pair of giant steel girders—Nick’s arms, that is—wrapped themselves around my tight midsection. “I’m guessing I haven’t been overly attentive,” he murmured in my ear.
I leaned back into him. “You can say that again.” He gave me a squeeze. “It’s because we’re on vacation, you know,” he said. “At school I have to keep my distance or I would have some bimbo on my arm every day of the week.”
I turned to face him. “Isn’t that what every sophomore stud wants?” He looked down, then up at me. “Not if it gets in the way,” he said. I raised my eyebrows. “In the way of what?” I asked. He took my chin in his paw and angled it this way and that. “Of hanging with my best friend, of course,” he said, nonchalantly. “What else could it mean?”
Two months later and it was the weekend before prom. At Worthless, prom wasn’t just for juniors and seniors, it was for the whole school. A little weird, but that’s how we roll at W.H.S. I hadn’t bothered my freshman year—who wanted to go with a little dweeb lie me—but now…
In two months I’d grown another half inch taller, to 5’10, and packed on another 20 pounds. That’s right: 5’10, 220 pounds of solid muscle. I was far and away the best built guy at Worthington High School, with the exception of a certain mountain-shaped object who shall remain nameless, and one of the strongest, too. I was benching 455. For reps. And a week earlier I had achieved what eight months previously I would have considered simply impossible. One rep @ 505 pounds.
Meanwhile, of course, Nick had likewise gained another 20 pounds. At 350, he was quite literally a mountain of muscle, with a 70-inch chest and arms that were closing in on 30 inches. Ditto, at the same state competition (I had joined the team) where I benched 505, he broke the all-time world teen record: 1100 pounds. Which put him right up there with Ryan Kennelly and Eddie Hall and the world’s other elite powerlifters. And what none of the judges or other competitors or the lifting world at large knew was he was faking. Out of sight of anyone but me, he was benching 1100 for reps and his 1RM was actually 1400 pounds, four times his bodyweight.
So we were both feeling pretty studly and fairly self-absorbed which is why we were thoroughly gobsmacked when Mrs. D, uh, Deb, called us into her living room for a chat. And there was Pop sitting in the best chair. “Boys,” he began. “Oh, knock it off, George, let me do it,” she said. “You’ll just get all mushy.” She cleared her throat. “George and I are not going to be here for your prom weekend,” she said. Well, that wasn’t completely surprising. Self-absorbed as we were, it had been clear since Valentine’s Day that we were dating.
“Instead, the two of us are going to Sanibel,” she continued. “To get married.”
And I couldn’t tell you, at this point, which of us said one, which said the other. Time for Pop to clear his throat. “You see…”
“Oh, knock it off, Pop!” I exclaimed. “What fantastic news!” Nick crossed his gigantic arms. “But you don’t want US at your wedding?”
Deb, uh, “Mom” maybe (?), patted his sequoia-sized leg. “Sweetie, George and I have both done the walk down the aisle thing,” she said, placatingly. “This time all we want is Justice of the Peace, a suite with an ocean view and a hot tub, and maybe a golf course…” Pop snorted. “And maybe a restaurant or two, although…” “We could always order in…?”
I cleared my throat. “Glad we got that settled,” I said. “Now I finally know what to call Nick’s Mom. From now on, it’s just Mom!” Nick chimed in. “And now the two of us are going to shove off to the Jensen household so you two lovebirds can spend some, uh, ‘quality time’ together.” We skedaddled. “That was close,” I said. Nick wiped his brow. Not much causes him to break out into a sweat! “I was afraid they were going to start making out in my living room!”
Back at the Jensen Ranch. “Uh, so what about prom?” Nick asked. I shrugged my big, thick shoulders. Let me say that again: I shrugged my big, thick shoulders. I loved being able to do that! “Well, clearly we’re going,” I said. “Prom wouldn’t be worth much without its two hottest studs, would it?” He frowned. Why was he being so serious about this? “But together, right?”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course, together,” I said. “Unless you were thinking of asking Paige, Sage, or Rosemary?” Those three were the ones most persistent in lavishing their attentions on Nick, much to his chagrin. Cute girls (we called them the “Scarborough Sisters,” after the Simon & Garfunkel song, not that they were sisters) and all smart as whips until they got around Nick, at which point they became blithering airheads.
“Good,” he said. “That’s settled. I’ll pick you up at 7 p.m.” I gave him side-eyes. “You will, will you?” He nodded. “I have it all figured out,” he said. “Which reminds me: After school on Monday you’ll want to go to Hadley’s to have your tux fitted.”
He looked at me.
“You can’t go to prom without a tux, can you?” Speechless! “I gave them your measurements,” he said. “But they said with a physique like yours they’re going to need to make some pretty significant adjustments.”
Astounded. Finally, I found words. “And what about you? Where are you renting yours from? Omar the Tent Maker?” He gave me the side-eyes this time. “Mom had one made for me,” he replied. “For my birthday. Tailored.” I gaped. “But haven’t you put on another 10 pounds since then?” I had so I figured he had, too! We had celebrated our back-to-back birthdays with a long gym session, a birthday cake apiece, and an overnight Netflix binge. I’ve never been hungover but I’m guessing what I felt the next day was in the same ballpark!
“I have,” he said. “They built it with room for me to grow.” Once again, my BFF was revealing hidden depths. “Alrighty then!” I said, brightly. “You do have it all figured out, apparently.” He reached for the remote. “Ready for some peak television?” he asked.
“The Expanse or Man in the High Castle?” I replied.
“How about both?”
The doorbell rang at 7 p.m. Saturday. Have you ever seen 6’2” and 350 pounds of solid muscle in a tux? A couple of things: First, it more than fills the doorframe. Second, Mount Kilimanjaro is less impressive!
“I didn’t think a corsage was appropriate,” said the Man Mountain. “But I thought these would do instead.” He pulled a dozen red roses from behind his back.
“Uh,” I said. “Is this a date date?” He smirked. “How would I know?” he asked. “I’ve never been on one.” I nodded. “Me neither!” A voice from the Limo—apparently one with very good ears—added.
“Yes, dummies, it’s a date!”
He looked me in the eyes. Deeply into the eyes. Like Bela Lugosi looking into your guys. “Why would I go with anyone other than the handsomest man at Worthington High School?” I’m pretty sure I squeaked. “Me? Handsomest?” He snorted. “Blond hair, blue eyes, stubble, built like a brick shit house,” he said. “That guy you showed me, Adam Charlton, he’s got nothing on you…”
He took my hand. “Do I really need to tell you twice?” Dinner at…Gustave’s? “Probably we should have gone to Sonic,” he said. “Since we can’t have wine and we need to get out of here. But apparently the prix fixe menu is pretty speedy.” Did he just say prix fixe? I barely knew what prix fixe meant; I wasn’t expecting it from him!
Ray deposited us at the gymnasium promptly at 8:30 p.m. When we walked in hand-in-hand…Gasps! “Can you believe it?!” Cat calls! Whistles! Claps.”I think I’m gonna be sick.” That last was simultaneously from Ralphie Peters and Sierra-Tierra-Mariah or whatever her name was.
For a lumbering mass of muscle, Nick was surprisingly light on his feet. For a couple of musclehead white boys, we weren’t totally without rhythm. And, finally…The slow dance. I’d been dreading it. I knew the theory but…
“Just follow my lead,” he whispered.
Turns out Taylor (I was never going to forget her name) had taught him (“when…?”) how to slow dance, knowing what he had in mind. And at the end, in front of 500 Worthington High School students, teachers, and parents, he kissed me.
It wasn’t a brotherly peck, either. I thought it was just me but when it was over there was absolute silence for about 30 seconds. Then the gym exploded in cheers, applause, whistles, the whole nine yards! We unclenched, held hands and, slowly pivoting, bowed to the four corners of the room.
Then Ray took us home. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” he said, cheekily, as we exited the Limo.
I looked at Nick. “Really?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Taylor’s uncle is well-known in the community.”
Community? What community?! There’s a community!! At this point I couldn’t tell you whether we danced up the stairs to my bedroom, Nick carried me up the stairs, or we just magically floated there.
“Are we going to do this?” I asked. Now when he looked down at me he didn’t have to look very far. I was 5’6” when we had first me eight months previously but now I was 5’10. “Is it what you want?” I squeezed him hard. He gasped. That wouldn’t have happened eight months previously either but I had put on 100 pounds of solid muscle in the meantime.
“Oh God yes!”
I was ready to have at it right then but, as on the dance floor, he led the way. We kissed, slowly, thoroughly. He undressed me, slowly, thoroughly, teasingly, erotically. Then did the same for himself. By the time he was done my 9-inch boner was dripping pre like crazy and ready to explode at the slightest touch. I put my hand on his 12-inch ramrod. He groaned.
“Who does what?” I asked. He arched an eyebrow. “My thought is: We both do everything,” he replied. “Then two-three-ten more times?” I asked. He nodded. “But have you…?”He shook his head. So did I. “But I’ve watched plenty of YouTube!” We both said it at the same time, then laughed.
It was heaven.
After we were spent, I asked him. “Why didn’t we do this a long time ago?” He shrugged his Everest-sized shoulders. “I was waiting for you to figure it out.” I punched his shoulder. I had punched my locker when it got stuck (“Worthless” Worthington strikes again!) and put a fist-sized dent in it. But Nick’s delts at that point were about the size of my head.
He took my hand and massaged it. “I was waiting for you to figure it out,” I replied. He stroked my cheek. “I think you would agree that at this point we have both figured it out?” I nodded, then had a thought. “It’s not just because I was a runt then and now I have muscles, is it?”He rolled his eyes. “You were just as hot then, Stud, as you are now,” he pointed out, much to my surprise. “You just know it now.” And maybe that was the difference. Not that it mattered. I was in bed with my man.
And he was in bed with his.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Pop and Mom were not surprised when we greeted them holding hands when they returned from their wedding / honeymoon / golfing trip. They were all serious, of course, about the fact that we were very young and that commitments made at our age didn’t usually last past college, if that long. Likewise, they said, we might want to play down the fact that technically speaking we were stepbrothers.
“Not that anyone is likely to give the two of you shit about anything, much less that,” said Mom, always the outspoken one. Pop just cleared his throat and nodded.
The biggest change was that he and Mom bought a new house. Each of the existing houses had three bedrooms and two baths which was too few bedrooms and too few bathrooms from their perspective. We pointed out that we didn’t actually need a bedroom for each of us but they put paid to that idea.
“Look,” Pop said, for once the spokesperson. “We don’t care where you sleep but it will be good for each of you to have your own space. Mom and I each want an office of our own so don’t knock it.”
They found a four bedroom, three and a half bath house, with a full basement, and an office, which gave them a bedroom, Nick and I each a bedroom, a bedroom to use as Mom’s office, and a first-floor office for Pop. Plus a three car garage and a pool. Nick and I were both kind of shell-shocked after the first tour.
“Uh,” I said. “You do remember that Nick and I are both planning to go to college, right?” Pop snorted. “Quite aside from the fact that at the rate you’re both going you’ll have your pick of academic and athletic scholarship, your old man’s an accountant,” he said, smugly. “We have been living well within our means.”
Nick and I spent that first summer lifting and lounging around and in the pool and fucking and sucking and lifting and swimming and…Well, exactly what you would expect us to be doing.
“Just think of this as your honeymoon,” Mom said.
“Next summer you’re getting jobs,” Pop added.
Of course, what kind of job they thought Nick was going to manage remained to be seen at that point.
When we started our junior year of high school that fall, he was tipping the scales at 400 pounds of solid muscle, bigger than any professional bodybuilder and most powerlifters. By that point he had a 40-inch waist but his chest was significantly bigger around than he was tall, his quads measured 44 inches, and his arms were bigger than my 32-inch waist. He officially retired from the high school weight-lifting team after a private session with the coach in which he benched an even ton—2000 pounds—for one perfect rep.
After he recovered from his near faint, Coach looked at me, looked at Nick. “You realized this means that Nick is far and away the strongest man on the planet, right? Quite possibly in all of history?” We nodded. “And he’s 16 years old,” I pointed out. He blinked a few times. “I’m guessing you would just as soon this was not public knowledge,” he surmised, correctly. I nodded at Nick. “Black helicopters,” he said.
But that was okay, I took over as captain of the weight-lifting team that year. I started the year at 5’11” and 250 pounds. Let that sink in. In one year I had gone from 5’6” and 120 pounds of nothing to 5’11” and 250 pounds of total muscle stud. I weighed as much as Nick had done when he picked up Ralphie Peters and held him against the wall.
“I’m assuming a 750-pound 1RM bench is satisfactory?”
Coach just muttered and fanned himself.
“Come again,” Nick said.
Coach spread his arms and looked towards heaven. “What did I do to be blessed with a couple of fucking muscle mutants?” We liked that idea!
“Just call us the M&M’s,” we said.
Relieved of any athletic competitions, Nick took up discussion and debate and before the semester was over the kid who had been reading below grade level a year previously was captain of the debate team. Meanwhile, I led the weight-lifting team to its second-consecutive all-state title and likewise broke all existing records for a high school weight-lifting team.
And it never stopped.
By the time we graduated, Nick had for all practical purposes transcended humanity. At 550 pounds he was a national celebrity. Once he passed 450 pounds (just before the end of his junior year) we decided to change strategies. Instead of trying to hide his size and strength (at that point his bench was closing in on 3000 pounds) we decided to advertise it as much as possible.
“World’s strongest kid is also world’s strongest man” went the usual story-line.
We figured if we became extremely well-known it would be very hard for some black ops super soldier program to swoop him up. We had several visits from men and women in black suits, white shirts, black ties and very boring cars, then another set by big blowhards in uniforms with lots of ribbons on their chest. Pop refused to consent to any meetings without cameras and recorders present so they were perhaps a bit more reticent than they were otherwise.
“Look,” he said, finally. “You DO understand that every supplement company in the world, much less the country, is after Nick for research purposes, right? We’re going to do the research, all right, but it’s going to be through Harvard or MIT or University of Chicago or someplace like that; and together, Nick and whichever university, they’re going to license the results. If you want to employ it, get in line.”
By that time, of course, it was becoming apparent that while I was never going to catch up with Nick I was likewise off the charts in terms of physical development. On my 17th birthday I hit my max height, 6 ft., weighed 310 pounds, and was benching more than 1000 pounds for reps. (I also hit max dick: 10 x 8½ inches, still a couple of inches shorter than Nick’s 12-inch cannon but an inch bigger in circumference. He wasn’t complaining!)
I graduated Worthington weighing a dead even 400 pounds, with the same measurements Nick had had at that weight, only I was two inches shorter so I actually looked a bit thicker than he had done. I was kind of irked really. Not because I hadn’t caught up with him, despite having more than tripled my size in three years. No, it was because if I had gained an extra 25 pounds and he had done the same the two of us would have weighed exactly 1000 pounds.
And I thought that would have been cool!
I explained this to Pop, who just rolled his eyes. “You do understand that you’re exactly twice the size of your old man, right?” Pop was in pretty good shape before he met Mom but at 5’9” and a totally ripped 200 pounds he looked freaking awesome.
“Get a grip,” Mom added, who made no bones about the fact that she was delighted to have a gigantic food bill to feed her sexy husband and two gigantic sons! She referred to us as her “own private herd of beef!”
Oh, and there was this: At graduation, Nick was valedictorian, I was salutatorian.
“He’s the jock,” he joked beforehand. “I’m the brain!”
Mom rolled her eyes.
“You’re both going to Stanford,” she pointed out. “Get over it.”
We were on stage together. He listened to my speech. I listened to his. When he was done, he motioned me forward and together we said.
“Thank you Worthington, for bringing us together!”
And then we kissed. The stadium erupted. Nick leaned in and whispered in my ear: “Am I still your bodyguard?” Over the din I was unlikely to be heard so I mouthed my response:
“Until the end of time, baby, until the end of time!”