Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Proud Flesh

"No offense, man, but you suck ass at this game," Seth gloats, leaning over to refill his toy gun with pool water.

"I don't think 'shoot the ants' really classifies as a game," I correct him, smiling as he raises his fluorescent gun and shoots me in the shoulder with a harmless stream of water.

I wait until Seth turns his head before aiming my weapon and shooting him in the ear.

"That's it," he warns. "You're going down!"

Before he can turn his raft around to attack, I slip my leg under the water and press up firmly on the bottom of his floating device in one fluid motion. He lets out a muffled curse word that's drowned out by my laughing and the splash of his body plunging into the water.

"Now you're really going down!" he yells from underneath his upside-down raft.

"Yeah, what are you going to do?" I provoke him. Even though I can't see his face beneath the blue and white stripes of the inflatable plastic lounger, I can tell he's smiling, conspiring.

He audibly inhales deeply and the soft waves that ripple the water would indicate he's gone under. I lean over and watch him approach from several feet below, his form undefined and distorted through several feet of water. In a couple of seconds, I'll be doomed.

Rather than allow him the satisfaction of dumping me off my float, I slip into the water, raise my gun and wait. He emerges with a gasp.

"Damn," he starts, his eyes squeezed as he runs a hand over his face to remove the excess water. "I was so going to --"

The second he opens his eyes, I squeeze the trigger on my gun. Water assaults his face with substantial force and he turns away with a laugh.

"You've got nothing on me," I tease as the pressure fades and the water spewing from the nozzle slows to a trickle.

He shakes his head, a defeated smile crossing his face. "You've got me there. But keep in mind that what I lack in brute force, I make up for in my cat-like abilities and night vision. Keep one eye open at night, Ryan."

During his speech I've managed to refill my gun and the second he finishes rambling, I set aim and release the water on his face once more.

"Yeah," he mumbles to himself, shielding his face with his hands. "I think you've made your point."

I laugh at his saddened expression and watch in amusement as he tries to climb back onto his raft.

"Do you need some help there?" I ask with a straight face as he fails on his second attempt.

"Haha," he mocks, finally conquering the raft on the third try and reaching behind him to retrieve his own gun. "All right, now I'm ready. No more cheap shots."

"I think those ants would like some ammunition then," I tease him.

He ignores me and his eyes are glued to his knee. The plastic raft squeaks loudly as he leans forward to get a better look. I pull my raft over and swiftly jump up onto the seat of the lounger. From the corner of my eye, I see Seth scowling as he analyzes his leg.

"What?" I ask, paddling over toward him until I can clearly see what has him so concerned.

"You made me bleed!" He points to his knee, his face scrunching up as if he's suddenly in an incredible amount of pain.

"Where?" I ask, closing the gap between our rafts until they collide.

"Here!" he exclaims, pulling back ever so slightly so that his shadow doesn't hide his war wound.

I raise a hand to my brow and squint against the sun. Just above his knee, a tiny drop of red mars his pale skin. I can't help but smile as I lean back against the pillowed headrest.

"It's not funny, dude!" he scoffs, barely able to hide his own smile. "You've scarred me. I'm going to have a big-ass ugly scar."

"Seth, it's, like, the size of a pinpoint. I think you'll heal just fine."

"You say that now, but you just wait. It'll get all infected with gangrene…they might even have to amputate, Ryan! No laughing matter, my friend."

All I can do is shake my head and smile. There are no words….

"I think I should get to scar you."

"What?" Has he completely lost his mind?

"You've wounded me…it's only fair," he remarks, shooting his water gun straight up into the air.

"Seth, that's not a wound, that's…a blemish."

"Don't downplay my injury."

I can't help but laugh. Even though he's smiling, I think he might actually be serious. "What do you want to do? Punch me or something?"

"Hmmm, interesting, but no. I doubt a punch…well, my punch, would leave a scar of equal magnitude." He points to his leg.

"You're a very strange kid, you know that?" I shoot at his 'wound' with my water gun.

"The chlorine! It burns!" he moans, quickly abandoning that thought when he starts to laugh.

"Seriously, though, Ryan, this knee's seen better days." He leans forward again, pulling his leg up closer to his chest. "Look," he says, pointing out a region where the skin's slightly darker. "I tried to tackle some gnarly half pipe at a skate park last summer…. The gnarly half pipe won."

I smile at his dramatic explanation. "I would've paid to see that, you know?"

He pats his knee lightly before lowering it back onto the raft. "Laugh it up. Laugh it up. You would've been crying like a baby."

I raise my eyebrows and glare at him. "Something tells me you did cry like a baby."

"Contrary to what my slight and wiry figure may have you believe, I'm tough as nails, Ryan. Only dry eyes here. Tough as nails," he repeats the phrase slowly, emphasizing every word with exaggerated enunciation.

"Right…."

"Spare me your cynicism. Don't go telling me you didn't cry when you banged up your knee." He points to my leg. "C'mon, spill. What was it, faulty training wheels?"

I don't like where this is going. My stories don't revolve around faulty training wheels or a gnarly half pipe. Though I wish they did.

"Nah," I sigh, awkwardness impeding my speech even more than usual.

"Is this going to lead to some knife-wielding, West Side Story, musical Chino tale?"

"What? I don't…," I stutter, then shake off his nonsensical words with a wary smile. "No."

"Than what? C'mon, Ryan, share the brother love." He pats the surface of the still water with his palm, gesturing for me to come up beside him. I stare at him like he's grown a second head.

Staying where I am, floating in a slowly rotating circle several feet away from Seth's raft, I answer him bluntly. "I fell on some rocks."

Seth nods, raising his index finger as he speaks. "Not quite as impressive as the gnarly half pipe, is it now?"

I smile and shake my head, turning my eyes away from his and gaze, looking out over the ocean. I hope this conversation is over.

"What did you do? Trip over your tail, Snoopy?"

"Snoopy doesn't have a tail," I mumble, keeping my eyes set on the horizon.

"You're the expert," he concedes. "Seriously, though, man, spill."

"I don't know, it was a long time ago. I was seven or eight."

"Aaand?" he presses.

"I forgot to bring in the mail."

Several seconds of silence follow. Maybe he sees where this is going. Maybe he'll let it go.

"So?"

Maybe not.

I turn to look at him through squinting eyes, praying he'll catch on.

"Dude, I don't get that glare stuff. I need words."

"I was supposed to bring in the mail," I say quietly, slowly, shrugging while silently begging him to read between the lines.

He nods, biting his bottom lip and tilting his chin into his chest, breaking eye contact.

Finally.

I know this silence is killing him, but I don't mind it. I turn my attention back to the ocean, placing the toy gun on my chest and letting both of my hands fall off either side of the raft into the cool water of the pool.

"Must have needed a lot of stitches…." Seth's speech is cumbersome, his words blanketed by an uncomfortable tone I've come to associated with this subject. He's no different than his dad, my old friends, my teachers, the doctors. They can't handle it. They don't want to handle it and I don't want to relive it. It's always worked out that way. But Seth wants to know. Despite himself and all the awkwardness he's undoubtedly fighting, he still wants to know.

I tear my eyes away from the far off distance and glance in his direction. He's abandoned his water gun, which is now drifting aimlessly afloat the crystal clear water. His hands are clutching and releasing the smooth plastic of his raft's armrests. "No," I reply after a long pause.

I can see the word register on his face, the corners of his lips twitch like they do when he's mentally arranging the pieces in his mind.

He lifts his brow when he comes to his conclusion. "That's a pretty big-ass scar not to have had stitches…." It was a statement, not a subtle way of asking another question. Seth speaks his mind, and if I felt compelled to answer him every time he made a frivolous comment like that, I'd be an extraordinarily tired person.

He's right, though, and that deserves some sort of confirmation. I wait until his eyes finish their spastic jumping from inanimate objects until they finally land on me. I nod. His lips form a sad half smile and he nods back several times while his gaze drifts off on another journey of the landscape.

I close my eyes and enjoy the warm orange glow of the uninhibited mid-day sun through my eyelids. I slip one foot off the raft and let the cold water envelope my toes. The contrast between the two sensations, along with the calm lapping of the water against the wall of the pool, is extremely soothing.

"What about your ankle?"

"Seth…." Before I can even think, the annoyance in my single word answer is overly apparent.

"I'm sorry…. I just…," he stutters.

I open my eyes and pull my foot from the pool, placing it in a warm puddle of water that's pooled between inflated areas. "Hit by a car," I mumble with a quick lift and fall of my eyebrows. I know that saying what I've said is like setting off a firecracker in Seth's mind. I wait for the inevitable firing of questions.

"What?" His smile isn't lost in his incredulous expression. "You were hit by a car?"

I have to smile back, it's just too comical. He's sporting that same expression he had when he found out I hooked up with his potential grandma; awe with a hint of disgust toward the unknown.

"Well…sort of," I reply. His eyes enlarge in a silent plea for more information. I turn away before explaining. "My mom…she was drunk…and she was planning on driving to work." I pause to catch his gaze for a split second but his face is frozen and it's obvious that he wants me to continue. "Trey tried to stop her by taking the car himself. I tried to stop him because he didn't have his license….." I look up to meet his eyes before finishing. "The car wasn't in reverse…."

I immediately turn away, occupying my attention with the reflection of the sun off the puddle of water by my feet while waiting for some sort of response from Seth. After four or five seconds of silence, I sneak a peak out of the corner of my eye. He's not looking at me, which is a relief, but his face is twisted with shock and disgust.

Finally he stifles an ironic laugh. "So your brother ran you over…."

I nod matter-of-factly. "Broke my ankle in four places." I pause before adding, "But my mom didn't drive to work, so I guess it all worked out for the best."

"Dude, why haven't you told me this?" The hurt radiates through his voice.

I sigh and lift my head, meeting his pitiful gaze with tired eyes. "Because I don't want you to look at me like that," I point in his direction. "It's bad enough that I get that from your dad," I add under my breath.

"Dad knows about all of this?" He waves his hand in a circulation motion, referring to our conversation so far.

I shrug. "I don't know. I guess. But he looks at me…like that." This time I point to his face with a smile.

"Sorry," he smiles, his cheeks tinted with embarrassment. "I just won't look at you. How 'bout that?" he jokes, paddling furiously in the water with his left hand until I'm faced with the back of his raft.

"This should last long," I mumble sarcastically.

"I'm doing this for you." He raises a hand in the air and points behind him, in my direction.

"Can you stop talking for me, too?" I ask with a laugh, secretly hopeful that he'll at least promise to tone down his late-night and early morning ramblings.

"For you, Ryan? Anything!" he mocks. "But in that case, I'd be hurting you more than helping you. You know, by denying all of my infamous wisdom."

"It was worth a shot," I admit in mock defeat.

More silence passes before a quiet voice comes from the back of the raft. "But seriously, Ryan, you know you can tell me this stuff and I won't go all social worker on you, right? I mean, I won't 'look' at you differently or anything."

I laugh at his comments despite his painfully obvious sincerity. "Yeah, I know."

"Does that mean I can turn around? I think I see Mom 'cooking' in the kitchen, and I use that term loosely, and the sight's making me nauseous."

I purposely delay answering his question, taking the time to refill my emptied water gun. "Yeah, all right," I answer as I plug the gun's ammunition compartment.

His raft starts to move as he begins paddling with his hands. "Well, that's good becau--"

He's cut short when a stream of water sprays directly into his mouth.

"I didn't say you could talk," I inform him with a serious expression.

"Oh, that's it." He shakes his head. "You're going to wish you stayed in Chino!"

I laugh as I dive off my raft and swim for my life.