By nj.

The phone rang. I had almost forgotten we had a phone; no one ever called my dad at home. He had his cell phone. I didn't, but no one ever called me. Except for when the footy was cancelled, which didn't happen very often.

"Cian Lewis", I answered.

"Hey, Stu here. I was wondering... I'm bored, sort of… So can you come over to my place? We could err... play football. Or, I have this new computer game, it's err... you know that one that..."

"Yeah, alright, I'll come", I laughed. Stu was quite the wordsmith on the phone, I thought.

"Cheers, see you!" he said.

"Wait! I don't..."

But it was too late. I heard a click, and gone he was. I had no clue where the kid lived. Well, the appointment was made, so I had to go, with aversion. I didn't want to throw a pity party with my problems, and I suspected him of wanting to be helpful. I decided I would say nothing about my dad. I grabbed the phonebook to look up his address. I turned a few pages, until I realised I didn't even know his last name. It started with an M, I recalled. What else did I know about him...? He played in a band. I had seen them on a school party. What was their name again...? It was really strange. 'Poor' something. Richard. That's it. 'Poor Richard'.

"I should really ask them why they're called Poor Richard, when I see him this afternoon. If I see him this afternoon." I thought.

I started the computer in the living room, and looked it up. The search returned many results: a farmer's story about a bad harvest; some replies on a message board, jokingly comforting a man named Richard. No, this wasn't working. I added 'band' to the search, and there it was: their website. Stuart Murphy. I picked up the phone book, and searched for Murphy. The first three were on the wrong side of the town; the fourth was too close to school. Stuart took his bike or the bus to school, so that was impossible. The last address was the one I went to.

Still proud of my detective work, I rang the doorbell. A short man, probably thirty-something years old, opened the door. His hair was much longer than Stu's, who had a buzz cut. It was wavy and it just touched his shoulders.

"Does Stuart Murphy live here?" I asked him with a soft voice.

"Yeah, you're Kieran? Come in!"

"It's Cian, actually", I corrected him.

"He's upstairs. Take off your shoes, please", he replied, ignoring my comment. "First door on the right!"

I knocked the door. "Jeez, come in man, you don't have to knock!” Stu answered from inside his room. "What took you so long?"

"You failed to tell me where you lived", I replied with a cynical tone.

"Fuck... Sorry. How did you find me then?"

"Well, let's just say I'm glad you're in a band."

He managed to trick me into telling him more about my dad. I even showed him the bruises on my protruding ribs (I was pretty skinny). I told him my about my plans to make myself stronger.

He said, "You know, I've always wanted to be stronger. I've never been able to defend myself."

This surprised me. I always thought he and his friends weren't really the type people who'd get into trouble.

"I shouldn't tell you this, but there's this bunch that forces me to do things for them. They say they'll do something to me if I refuse. I have to, well…you know, things like nicking clothes and shoplifting and such. They're some slackers that just smoke fags on the parking lot, revving their car's engines, trying to impress the sluts that hang out with them. I can't get rid of ‘em; they always know how to find me."

This was the first time someone told me something so personal. I didn't really know what to do, so I didn't say anything.

"I'd really like to give them a proper punch in their faces", he continued. Although we both knew that this wasn't going to solve anything, I nodded. He also thought my plan was ridiculous, and I knew it. Yet, we decided that we both wanted to get stronger.

I had never valued friendship. I thought that I’d avoid problems by avoiding people. It worked for my relationship with my father, but apparently he was a bad example. In this short time I started to value the company of a peer. Stuart’s room seemed to revolve around music. I liked listening to the radio every once in a while, but I didn’t really have favourites. He pushed an acoustic guitar into my hands and taught me how to play a few simple chords. I just kept repeating them until it started sounding like a song. Meanwhile, he started playing on his electric guitar that he also used for the band he played in. My very first jam session was born. We laughed every time I made a stupid mistake that ruined the whole sound. It didn’t matter.

That whole afternoon passed by without touching a football or a computer, so our initial plans went out of the window. But I didn’t mind. I really needed a conversation. Something very simple and elementary, though something my life lacked. Even though my lack of social skills was obvious, even to myself, Stuart was really nice and understanding. I found out I had more to share than misery.

Back at home, I picked up my new dumbbells and tried to lift them. I had no clue what to do, but I did know that I couldn’t really curl my arm. It was a great struggle to get them out of the shop that afternoon, and now the struggle continued. I never thought it would be easy, but I didn’t even seem to be able to make a start.

"I'm glad I live today, and not 4000 year ago. I would have been killed by a bear in no time... Weakling", I said to myself.

I decided to quit. Maybe Stu and I could train together. I turned the television on, like I did every night.

"This is the first day of my life. I'm glad I didn't die before I met you."

It was a short video with happy couples in a living room, cuddling. It touched me. I'm sure it was the song that did it.

When the video was over, they interviewed a writer. Uninterested, I changed the channel. Sports. The 'strongest man' competition. I had never seen it before. I wondered what they would do with fathers that hit them. They'd probably lift him up and throw him away; the heavy, polished boulders didn't seem to be a problem for them. Their statistics were really impressive. I never really thought a person would be able to lift that much. What was I waiting for? They must have started at an early age, and they must have worked hard for it. How much would a gym membership cost?

Dad didn’t come home that night. A part of me was happy. I even hoped something bad had happened to him, when I looked at my bruises. I tried to hide that thought. •

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