Blake Tillerson

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Chapter I.III

There is a time in everyone's life, when we look, talk, and act nothing like who we have been, and who we will become. It is a time of great change. We're faced with things we've never been faced with before (though, does that ever end?) and we're asked things we never thought we'd be asked. And we are riddled with hormones.

I'm talking about teenagedom.

Tim didn't particularly enjoy talking about being a teenager. He didn't consider it a real part of him. Now, I can see why. I think we all remember things that we did, that we regret doing. Things we did that we'd rather we never did. Well, this was one of those things. I think I heard this story from my mom, actually. Tim wasn't particularly proud of himself.

* * * * *

In sophomore year of high school, Tim's closest friend was a kid named Richard. Well, his real name was Ricardo Gutierrez, but he went by Richard and asked all the teachers to shorten his last name to just "G" when calling role. He had a younger brother, Pablo, though he went by Paul back then. As the years have gone on and on, life happened, and they grew apart. At the time of writing, I know we're still trying to get ahold of them, but sometimes no matter how much you connect with someone, time can pull you in different directions. They were a pair of dark skinned, slick-black haired Mexican kids. Not an uncommon sight in San Diego, to be certain.

They always sat at a table just outside the cafeteria, with a couple of others. I struggle to remember who, exactly. I remember a soccer player named Eva, but that's it. And one other. But that was the core group, just some pals who hung out at lunch. I'm leaving someone out, right now. I'm getting there.

Blake Tillerson. A fellow sophomore, Tim only ever described him wearing his signature outfit: yellow bell-bottoms with a light red button-up shirt. I can't imagine that was the only thing he ever wore, but it had to have made a big impression. In any case, combine that with some seriously gelled, dark brown hair, and what has been unflatteringly described as a "shit-eating grin", and you get the essential Blake look. He was brimming with overconfidence wherever he went. Anyone who went to school with him would tell you that he was famous for asking out just about every girl, all of whom rejected him.

Tim wouldn't have cared if it hadn't been for one thing; he harped on the Gutierrez boys. He was a talkative type, so he couldn't resist conversation with anyone he passed in the halls, or sat next to in class, or the like. Though, given his reputation, it was usually him who started the conversations. So any time he came across Ricardo or Pablo or both, he couldn't help himself but try out some small talk. Unfortunately, aimed at the Mexican brothers, it often came with an inordinate amount of inappropriateness. He commonly referred to the brothers as "the immigrant kids", would ask if they had tacos, burritos, or churros in their lunch. I heard an awful story about some jokes involving green cards. The list goes on.

Ricardo pretty much always told Tim to ignore Blake. Tim talked a lot about "getting back at him", and though it was usually meant in jest, Ricardo made it a point to tell Tim not to do any of it. Tim wasn't entirely sure why. He figured, though, that Ricardo just didn't want any attention. For a year, freshman year, he let it slide. But then Blake started leaning into Tim, too.

Tim's an extrovert. He, of course, has a deep appreciation for time spent alone, especially out in the woods, maybe sitting near a creek, but any invitation would be attended. He made space in his schedule for just about everybody. And so, he was a frequent party goer in his high school years. Through the lens of alcohol and teenage adventures, he started to be pretty popular. And Blake tried to hang around the popular kids. It was a pretty "forced" strategy, but it worked out well enough. Almost no one knew how, but Blake always seemed to get invited to the big social gatherings.

Trying to get in good with popular kids, Tim started to get more attention from Blake. One thing Blake liked to do was to give people nicknames, see if they stuck. For Tim, it was "Timmy Bear." It probably had something to do with him being a big dude, and a hugger. Every time Blake saw Tim, it would be an "ayy, Timmy Bear!" Blake especially loved teasing Tim about his "field sketches" that he would make in class instead of doing notes. Tim decorated every piece of paper he ever got with elk, primates, fish, and, very commonly, caterpillars, which Blake took to calling "worms." Blake had a small collection going of "worm doodles" on any piece of paper Tim would throw out, which Blake (falsely) believed he could embarrass Tim with. Unfortunately for him, Tim's not-sharing his art wasn't because he was insecure about it, so when Blake did eventually try and make a scene, Tim shrugged it off. All it did was make Tim even unhappier with Blake, perceiving that he was trying to soil his reputation.

It came to a head one day, sophomore year, when Ricardo, Pablo, and Tim were hanging outside the principal's office after school, having waited for Pablo to be done being scolded for cheating on a test. Blake was making his way out the school, and the two aspects about Blake that Tim disliked the most came together in one awful scene — Blake teased the Gutierrez kids for not being better at Spanish despite their heritage, used their given names instead of Paul and Richard, called Tim "Timmy Bear" and tried to go in for a hug — one of few hugs that Tim had ever refused — and then he walked out into the parking lot, his ketchup and mustard outfit fading off into the cool air of the San Diego spring.

Ricardo repeated his mantra of ignoring Blake, more to Pablo this time than to Tim; he was an essential big brother that way. But while Ricardo was teaching someone to get a thick skin, Tim was having his own little brainstorm. Except this time, unlike times before, he didn't joke to Ricardo about it, because he knew that Ricardo would tell him not to.

* * * * *

So by a lunch, later that week, Tim had concocted the plan.

Blake started his lunches by sitting alone at this one circular table in the far corner of the cafeteria. This was where he ate his lunch — as fast as he could — before going around to all the hangout spots of the popular people that he knew. His pattern was so tight, that people could predict when Blake was about to show up. He had a route. So Tim knew his time was limited. Blake was on a schedule to make uncomfortable teases at very specific times. So, he skipped getting his own lunch, and strode right on over to Blake.

Blake, of course, was very surprised. And, perhaps, a little nervous. What could Tim be doing here, sitting at his table, and talking to him? It was alien. And, despite it being precisely the situation Blake had been aiming for all along, alien was still uncomfortable. So when Tim said "hey buddy", Blake was a little on edge, though more than willing to play into it.

"H-hey, Timmy Bear, what's happenin'?"

Blake probably started that way.

"Well I was just thinking," said Tim. "You seem like a cool dude, none of my friends wanted to do it with me, so I thought… hey, Blake probably would be down. So I came over here. Wanna know what I'm talking about? Take a peek…"

On some level, Blake knew that he was being buttered up, and he knew that Tim wasn't one to talk like this, but on the other hand…

There was no circumstance under which Blake could refuse attention like this.

So with an unsure, but soon eager nod from Blake, Tim peered from side to side, making sure no teachers were around, and…

He pulled out two big metal water bottles, one blue and one green. Blake was, understandably, underwhelmed and a bit confused.

"And?" He asked.

"Wait for it," Tim assured, and opened one. "Smell it."

Tipping the bottle in Blake's direction, the intention became clear.

"Tim! You're crazy!"

"Hey, hey, no one's gotta know! It's clear, just like water, see? Perfect crime, am I right?"

Blake was fairly sure he knew where this was going, but was curious nonetheless. After an inquiry, Tim made things perfectly clear.

He was proposing a chug-off.

No longer surprised, Blake smiled deviously, continuously suppressing the nagging anxiety about what would happen if they were caught. "You devil, you!" He almost took one of the bottles, but Tim pulled it back, quickly.

"What's wrong, scared you'll lose?"

"Not at all, just need to know that you really know what you're up against. I'm Chug Master Tim, you know. Do you know?"

"Oh I know."

Tim, even from a very young age, had amazing alcohol tolerance. He was a champion at the parties, for drinking people under the table. The school legend about him was that it was impossible for him to get drunk. Anyone who was there the day the Shelter opened knows that's a lie, but they also probably know that he was drunk after everyone else was.

So Tim handed Blake the green bottle, and said, "ready?"

"What's the bet?"

"Oh, the bet?" Tim put down two dollars — a lot more, in today's money. Blake eyed it. He knew he was going to lose. Chug contest with Chug Master Tim? It was impossible. Were two dollars worth it?

But then he remembered just how much his status would increase if he did win.

"Ready," he said.

"That's the spirit! On the count of three. One… two… three!"

And like that, Blake held up the bottle at an almost ninety degree angle, choking it down as fast as he possibly could. Tim did the same… at first. But after a second, he lowered the bottle, slowly, making sure that Blake was still going. Blake didn't notice, of course — his eyes screwed shut in concentration, like he had found his life purpose and it was to beat Tim at his own game. But Tim just smiled, and waited for him to finish.

Blake slammed down the bottle (which made a louder noise than he expected, and startled even himself), and let out a loud "aaah!" Seeing that Tim already had the bottle down, he shrank a bit. "Aw man, looks like I lose."

"Look again."

Blake peered in, and saw that it was still half full of vodka.

"I… I win?"

Tim slowly nodded, grinning widely.

"I, I win! Holy shit, I won against Chug Master Tim! Two dollars!! That's, that's insane! Oh, Timmy Bear, you're going down, you're going down, ahaa, I'm the new chug master, that's amazing, holy shit!"

"Ehh, don't get too full of yourself. I got bored of it halfway through. Anyways, here's two dollars. Have a good day, Blake."

Blake, bewildered, took his two dollars, and just watched Tim leave. He tried to muster up something witty, but he was too… unsure of what just happened. This was a victory, right? Two dollars and status? What just happened?

Tim, of course, just got happier with each passing moment, his heart beating faster and his stride exaggerating with enthusiasm. When he arrived back at his table outside the cafeteria, Ricardo asked: "What took you so long? And why do you look so self satisfied?"

Tim sat, and got real, real comfortable, while more and more people asked him what he did. Very soon, Ricardo's slight smile had disappeared. He knew what Tim's "devious" look was.

"Tim," he asked again, "what did you do?"

"Oh, nothing," Tim replied. "I just got Blake to drink a whole bottle of laxatives."

* * * * *

I'd like to incorporate into the telling of this story, some ideas from one of Tim's old journals. Nothing is word for word, and it doesn't fully relate to the story, but I think it fits, in its own way. Tim was very cynical about humanity at the time he was a teen. Seems completely unlike him, I know. If I were to guess, something about the city did it to him. These notes were crumpled and thrown away. Edna was the one who found them, and kept them, because she did that with all of Tim's drawings or writings that he wasn't satisfied with. It wasn't until much later in his life that he found out she'd known to check the trash bin in his room before throwing it out with the rest of the garbage.

On the drive home from the principal's office (the second time he'd been there that week), Tim leaned against the back left window, looking out at the dark night's water as it ran past. The streetlights slowly strobed the car with yellow, then black, then yellow again, illuminating and fading in a calming, familiar sort of way. The San Diego Bay glistened with the orange, red, and sometimes blue lights of the city. Tim always liked to think that it was a kind of bioluminescence. He knew it wasn't, but it was more interesting to him, to imagine that the bay was teeming with life so unique and reactive that it made a glow, like those bacteria in some lakes he'd read about. It was better than to think that the city was so large and imposing that even the ocean could not stand to hold its nature against San Diego's harsh lights, its sleepless populace, the noises of waves crashing on the sand outnumbered by the noises of cars on the highways, the horns of angry people in traffic.

Tim liked to imagine some type of creature that could make those sounds, too. The bay was full of bacteria, and the land was full of giant rhinoceros-like creatures, with huge horns and screeching feet, that lived amidst a forest of squared, stone trees, with bark so thick that there was an animal specifically evolved to destroy it — something with a large trunk, and a big bone ball at the end, that would take out the old and weak trees. The ecosystem prospered as a result — in the place of the old dead trees, a new tree would usually grow and thrive.

"I'm very disappointed in you." Grandpa Elliot said, behind the wheel. "I know the Tillersons, and they're very nice people."

Tim was very silent, planning out his response. He knew he was screwed either way, and on some level he already knew that what he did was wrong.

Tim tried to tell his dad that Blake made a joke out of the G. brothers' culture. Said that Paul and Richard didn't need Blake "roughing them up" like that. Elliot told Tim that they both knew Blake wasn't "roughing them up."

They had stopped at a stoplight, a soft red shuttering through the front and back seats.

"He's an outcast, Tim." Elliot reminded.

Tim had had enough of this talk from his friends. He never heard the end of it from Ricardo. He honestly didn't think that Blake would admit that he participated in a chug off — he thought the alcohol would deter him from talking about it. He simply didn't mention that part, it seemed. Tim decided he wouldn't either — he wasn't going to self destruct to bring Blake down with him. In any case, just seeing how pale Blake looked… it made him chuckle at first, but then it made him sad.

Tim opened his door while the light was still red, and said: "I'm going to take a walk along the beach. I'll be home in about two hours, ready to talk."

Elliot told him that him and his mom would be asleep by then, so Tim said they'd talk about it tomorrow. Elliot agreed, and asked that he closed the door so the car behind them would stop honking.

Tim did just that, and watched his dad drive away towards their house. Off into the hordes of rhinoceroses, into the concrete forest. Tim walked down the sidewalk, enjoying the cold, salty air on his skin. He hadn't the chance to prepare a jacket for this walk. Not that he would have wanted to. Tim was always one to let himself be bare against the elements. It made him feel alive, or, something. Natural? In any case, he took comfort in discomfort.

The ocean was beautiful. There were one or two people on the beach, far away. Looked to be a couple, sharing an evening. Tim guessed that some people thought that city lights at night were romantic. These, he decided, were the parasites. They burned rhinoceros blood to get places, and they infested each and every tree. But when he thought about how they had really made everything else come into existence, the metaphor fell apart, and he got sick of the whole thing. The city was just the city, and people were just people.

Coming up on a pier, Tim thought that maybe he didn't feel like walking. Maybe he felt like going to the end of the pier, sitting, and looking out at the water. On his way, he started to think things over.

Suppose, for a second, that Blake wasn't being a dick. What was he trying to do?

Tim reached the end of the pier, and sat. He closed his eyes, and focused in on the ocean waves below him. He tried to think of the fish that must have been swimming around — maybe there were seals not so far away. And beyond that, whales lingered. If you swam far enough and deep enough, there were sharks, eels, jellyfish, coral reefs — anemones, fronds, squids and octopuses. Maybe something large, and undiscovered — or small, and discrete. Plankton, kelp, starfishes. Clams, mussels, sea urchins. Sometimes Tim felt absolutely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of life that earth had. Somewhere out there was something not a single soul had ever seen before. He knew that much. There was so much, humans couldn't possibly catalog all of it. There was always going to be something that was too good at hiding. Something elusive. Something unable to be put in any boxes, kept in any one place. Something no one understood.

Something alone.

Like Blake.

Maybe, maybe he was trying to be friendly. Make friends. Maybe he was just really, really bad at it.

Something splashed in the water, no more than ten feet from him. A seal? A big fish?

A large, vaguely circular shape swam past his dangling feet. Tim's eyes followed its ripples to the shore, where something gorgeous emerged.

A big turtle, its colors obscured by the night and the city lights, walked just slightly up the shore and stopped. Its wet hexagonal back took in San Diego and reflected it back twice as vibrant. Nature took the electric and made it something wonderful to look at. But there were two brighter, focused lights on the turtle's back. Tim panned his eyes over to the couple he saw earlier. Now that they had turned them on, he could see the headlamps they wore, with which they scanned the beach. For a split second, Tim hadn't a single clue what they were doing. Then, they came upon a plastic water bottle.

The woman speared it, dropped it into a trash bag at her side, and kept moving. Tim smiled.

Huh, he thought to himself. They aren't all parasites.

* * * * *

The next day, Tim got a call from Ricardo. Tim wasn't at school — he was suspended — but Ricardo was, and he'd talked to Blake. Said that they had a long, long conversation. Tim decided not to ask for the details. He figured that, at that moment, he didn't deserve as much, and he'd just let Ricardo talk.

Ricardo said that he'd offered for Blake to sit at their table with them.

Tim cringed a little, but didn't complain.

Ricardo said that he never wanted Tim to try and act in his stead ever again. Said that he didn't need "protecting", or for people to seek "justice" for him. Said that he didn't want Pablo to grow up thinking that revenge was the best option. Said that Pablo really liked Tim, and so he wanted Tim to act better.

Needless to say, Tim was having a very hard time taking it all in.

But he was trying, was the thing.

Tim was really, really trying.

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