A small Southern town.
Two young boys looking for things to do,
a summertime of freedom spread in front of them,
Jeff’s house was just across the road from the school, and we were on the swings where the kindergarteners played, just watching. There were six boys there waiting for Jeff to come out. They were kind of messing around like boys do, wrestling and chasing each other and seeing who could spit the farthest. Stuff like that.
Jeff finally came out. All of them were wearing tees and shorts, and all of them had towels. They got on their bikes and were off for the river. We gave them a good head start, then rode after them.
Pretty soon, we were on the dirt road that led to a couple of farms farther out a ways and passed by where the river widened and kids swam. There was a large oak tree there with branches extending out over the river, and a rope had been hung. Boys would swing out over the water, seeing who could drop the farthest from the bank and make the biggest splash.
We could hear the boys’ voices, but we rode past where they were, going about thirty yards down the road. A few years ago a flood had undercut three large maple trees that were growing right near the river, causing them to fall. They’d gone down, but their roots had held pretty much, and the trees were still alive. They hadn’t been as large as the oak but were still good-sized, their trunks plenty big enough for adventuresome boys to walk on. The trees extended about ten feet out into the water. Me ’n Riley had climbed on them and fished from them before. We dropped our bikes, took our fishing rods with us, and, staying low, crept to where we could crawl out onto the horizontal trunks of two of those trees.
There, within clear eyesight, we could see seven naked teenagers—or a few who were almost teenagers. There were some of each. And we could see all of them. Every bit.
They were having a good time, jostling with each other, teasing and taunting, playing grab ass, having fun. Riley didn’t even throw his line in the water, just watched the boys. And as he watched, the same thing happened that had happened to him last night. He got a stiffy. I could tell because he kept reaching down and sort of pressing on it through his shorts. Last night he hadn’t had the shorts on when he was pressing on it.
I guess I was in the same condition. But we weren’t the only ones. Several of the boys by the oak tree were like that, too, and man, they were getting a lot of grief about it from the other boys. But I guess there’s something about that that’s catching, because before long, it seemed all those boys were like that.
Then what happened made me really glad Riley liked those vampire comics so much.
Those boys all were hard and sticking out. I knew what they were feeling; I’d been having those stiffies all my life, of course, but lately they’d been feeling a lot different. Lately, when I got that way, it seemed like I had to touch it, or squeeze it, or rub it, or something. It was difficult to leave it alone when it got that way now.
Well, those boys, they seemed to have that problem, too, although they didn’t do what I did, simply just put some pressure on it one way or another. No, what they did I’d never even thought about doing.
Jeff was sort of their leader. Most groups of boys, there’s a leader, and Jeff was it. Anyway, he was just as stiff as the rest of them, and he started talking, and pretty soon all those boys sat down in a sort of a circle, and they all started holding their stiffies and with their fingers wrapped around them, started moving their hands up and down, sort of tugging at themselves.
I wasn’t sure they liked it much because, while the looks on their faces when they started showed they were real happy doing what they were doing, those looks started changing. The grins turned into grimaces. But even then, I didn’t see any of them stop the tugging, so it must not have hurt too bad.
Then, to my surprise, one of the ones who was facing in my direction, not the ones with their backs to me, sort of leaned back, stiff-like, and made like a groan and sped up his hand, and then I saw some stuff spurt out of his stiffy. He kept up the rapid sliding of his hand only a short time after that, then stopped and started taking deep breaths.
And then a lot of them were doing the same thing. I looked over at Riley, and his face was all red, and he had his hand down his shorts. That was when I realized where my hand was, too. I hadn’t even noticed.
We were both just holding ourselves. Neither of us was doing what the boys had all been doing. I looked back at them, and Jeff was still doing the rubbing, and as I watched, he called out, “I win. I lasted the longest.” And then he straightened up, too, as the others had, and all the others suddenly cheered.
I had no idea what all that was about, what they’d been doing, but I did know it was exciting as all get out. I was breathing fast, I imagined I was as flushed as Riley was, and I even thought about that night when I’d be sleeping with Riley again and that we might try to do what they’d done. It was there in my mind to do that as soon as I saw those boys doing it.
I pulled my hand out of my shorts, even though I was still as stiff as I’d ever been, and it kind of felt like I shouldn’t be letting go quite yet. I glanced at Riley, and his hand was still in there, and he was moving it a little. Maybe he wasn’t planning on waiting till tonight.
I watched him, and his face was getting redder, and I guess he was thinking more about what he was doing than where he was standing because he took a small step, just for better balance I guessed, but where he stepped there was no trunk, no branch, nothing but air, and suddenly he was gone and there was a loud splash. Riley was in the river, and unfortunately on his way down it as the current was carrying him to where all those boys were now looking in our direction.
“He was watching us!” shouted Jimmy, one of the boys, pointing at Riley as he was coming toward them. Jimmy waded into the river and snagged Riley as he floated by. Riley had started swimming like mad when he’d seen Jimmy coming for him, but Riley had clothes on, Jimmy didn’t, and in any case, Jimmy was older, bigger and stronger. He caught Riley easily.
Now he had him on the river bank, and the other boys were crowding around him.
“We need to teach him not to spy on people,” one of the other boys said, sounding mad, but I didn’t know which one because I wasn’t watching them any longer. I was on the move. I was scared but not so scared I was going to leave Riley alone over there with those older boys. No way. If they did something to him, they had to do it to me, too. We were buddies—more than buddies—and I was going to be with him now that I knew he needed me. Riley was brave, but that only takes you so far. I wasn’t as brave as he was, and I was certainly scared but knew that Riley would be much happier if I was there instead of being alone right then.
“Let’s drown him,” Jeff said. I knew his voice. His Southern drawl was heavier than the rest of them. “No one will know it was us. They’ll think he just fell in and drowned. Then he can’t say what he saw.”
I couldn’t believe he was saying that. If he was just trying to scare Riley, that was one thing, but Jeff sounded eager. Like he really wanted to do it. He wasn’t that good an actor. He was kind of slow and had been held back a year in third grade. That was one reason he was the leader of these boys: he was a year older than they were. But he also was mean, and somehow some boys took to that.
I saw Riley jerk loose from Jimmy. He wasn’t one to back down from a fight even if the kids around him were bigger. When his arms were free, he put up his fists, and just that quick, Jeff stepped over and hit him in the stomach. Riley fell down, and I could see he was having trouble getting his breath. Jeff laughed.
By that time, I’d got off the tree I was on and was walking along the bank to where they were. One of the boys looked up and saw me, and said, “Hey, there’s another one.”
Two of the boys broke loose from the others and came to get me like they thought they needed to. They’d seen me coming. But they came and grabbed me anyway and sort of escorted and pushed me to where Riley was still on the ground, gasping. Besides being wet, he looked both mad and very frightened.
“You can’t drown two of us,” I said, looking at Jeff and not feeling quite so much scared now that I was facing him. Some, but not much. Surprised me a little.
“Sure we can,” Jeff said, and his eyes looked like his voice sounded. “One of you fell in, the other tried to save him, and you both went under. Easy.”
“Not easy,” I said. “We’re both excellent swimmers. Probably better ’n you are. Everyone knows that. And I told my ma where we were going, out here fishin’, and promised her we’d stay out of the river. She knows I don’t lie to her. Since you guys all have towels, people who saw you know you were comin’ out here to swim. So all you guys are here, and we two just happen to drown when you guys are around. Yeah, right. No one will believe that story. And not all of you will be able to keep what you did a secret, either. It’ll get out.”
Jeff stopped looking eager and started looking mad. I started not being not scared.
He looked around at the other guys, then just at Jimmy. “Strip ‘em,” he said, and then to the two guys who’d come for me and were still standing right behind me, “both of ‘em.”
That brought grins to everyone’s faces except Riley’s and mine.
We weren’t wearing much and it took no time at all before we were as bare as they were. The differences were obvious. We were entirely undeveloped. They’d all begun. All but one had at least some hair, and Jeff had a lot. We didn’t. We were skinny and looked like little kids, which may have helped us because I saw a few of those boys’ faces change when they looked at us. They saw how defenseless we were, how little we looked without clothes. Neither of us was five-foot tall yet. We were both small all over compared to them.
“What’re you going to do?” a boy named Sam asked. He was one of the ones who wasn’t looking as gleeful as the others. I knew Sam a little. He delivered our newspaper. By his tone of voice, he seemed to be calling Jeff out.
“Take their clothes and make them walk back to town naked. Serve ‘em right. And beat ‘em up a little so they’ll know not to talk about what they saw us doin’. You want them spreadin’ that around?” Jeff was glaring at Sam. Sam didn’t seem scared, though. Jeff talking to him like that just made Sam’s face go even harder. But I couldn’t tell what the look on it meant. Jeff wasn’t happy, that was for sure, but that was the only thing I knew for sure.
“No,” Sam said. “None of that. I’ll just talk to them, then they can go.”
Jeff stepped closer to Sam. Sam didn’t move. Jeff was bigger. Sam looked determined, and it seemed to me he had a, well, a dignity about him. It had something to do with how he stood there. I couldn’t really define it.
I thought there was going to be a fight. It looked and felt like there would be. Sam was challenging Jeff’s leadership, and Jeff wasn’t going to permit that. Me ’n Riley were just a sideshow now.
Jeff started to say something else and then stopped because suddenly there weren’t just nine of us any more. What happened was, three girls suddenly walked into the swimming area. They were all wearing tees and shorts and carrying towels and had bags that I could see had clothes in them.
The girls stopped, seeing all those naked boys, and the boys, well, suddenly the two younger boys who’d had all their attention a moment ago, me ’n Riley, meant nothing at all to those boys. What mattered to them was covering up their private parts. Especially the younger boys whose private parts weren’t all that much bigger than ours and whose owners obviously weren’t all that proud of them and thought those girls shouldn’t be seeing them that way. But all the boys did that covering-up with their hands as quickly and thoroughly as possible, using both hands, even though some of them could easily have done it with one, while the girls started laughing as only girls can, sounding very mocking and jeering. Girls are good at that.
And what was I doing? I was scooping my clothes, not caring a lick about covering anything up, calling to Riley to do the same and seeing he already was, and then he and I were hightailing it out of there, back toward the fallen trees and our bikes. Those boys didn’t try to stop us, didn’t reach out to grab us; that would have meant moving their hands from what they were hiding.
I could still hear those girls laughing and making rude comments as we were biking past the oak tree, on the dirt road on our way home. We were still bare-assed naked and carrying our clothes. We’d stop later, down the road a piece, before dressing.
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