High school is part wonderful, part wrenching for most everyone.
Along the way, for the lucky ones, personal growth occurs.
It was the last week of August. We’d begin our senior year in a week. We’d been getting in shape for football for two weeks now, and high school jocks, who are mostly in great shape already and looking forward to summer-camp drills to get in even better shape, get to feeling pretty good about themselves.
I didn’t know who started the idea. Though I enjoyed and was part of the camaraderie of the team, I was also a captain (yeah, Coach T had named me a captain for my senior year) so I did stay out of some of the more outrageous machinations the guys got involved in. The latest grand idea spread through the team pretty rapidly: a bonfire and campout on Friday night out by the lake for the football team.
Jake soon was in the middle of it, as usual. He was probably the most popular kid in the class. When he got involved in something, most likely everyone who could got right involved along with him.
Jake wanted the party to be restricted. He had this idea that it should be for new seniors only. There was an immediate problem we had to solve. The drinking age in our state was 21, just like it was everywhere in the country, and none of us was that old yet. Jake was worried that some of the guys would bring beer. He was worried about pot, too. He didn’t want either to be brought, but was realistic about it. It would be difficult to completely control it. But by limiting the party to seniors, he thought we wouldn’t have as much of a problem.
If we had a party with underage drinking or weed, it could end up being a fiasco if we were caught, and he could see the possibility that we’d be kicked off the football team, which he wasn’t going to have happen to him. He was counting on an athletic scholarship somewhere.
I was as much of a straight arrow as Jake was. I didn’t drink or smoke anything, but knew some kids did. I thought Jake had a good point but didn’t see how he or anyone else could enforce it.
Jake made it a point to talk to each of the guys who’d be the new seniors on the football team. He were sure at least some of them would bring beer. Jake made it clear to all of them: they had to police their beer; they had to only drink it themselves—no passing it around to anyone else, and they couldn’t make a spectacle of it. It would be their responsibility. They agreed. They didn’t want to piss off Jake, and they saw his point about how bad the consequences could be if we were raided.
I was still pretty sure their assurances were paper thin. I felt that such rules would end up being more like guidelines; no one could oversee a crowd of unruly jocks, and no one really wanted to try. But at least Jake was satisfied.
Anyone who’s been through high school knows what happens when you start a party that’s anything like this one was going to be. So it was no surprise when what could be easily predicted happened. Most of the newbie seniors had girlfriends, and when the girls heard what was happening, they decided they were coming, too. It was to keep their boyfriends out of trouble; that’s what they said. I had a different idea; I thought it was to make sure that if there was any sex happening at the campout that involved their boyfriends, that sex would be with them and only with them. This would be a campout without adult supervision. Of course there’d be sex.
Jake asked around to find out which boys were coming with dates and was assured the girls that were coming wouldn’t drink the beer their boyfriends might have.
Of course, some of the boys didn’t have girlfriends. And some girls at school who didn’t have boyfriends saw this as a great opportunity to get one. Boys might be longing for girlfriends, but it always seemed to me that girls weren’t so much longing as they were desperate for boyfriends. They’d do about anything to get one; if that meant sex, well, why not? This wasn’t the fifties or even the earlier years of the sixties. Or the later years. It wasn’t even the seventies or eighties, either, when remnants of earlier times and a more straight-laced morality were still hanging on by their fingernails. This was the twenty-first century. Sex among teens was as natural as picking your nose—and far less embarrassing.
Girlfriends and girls without boyfriends weren’t the only kids who showed up. There were a few kids who didn’t fit either category, just kids who were friends with other kids who were coming to the campout and came with them. Jake wasn’t about to try to control that. So we ended up with a few extras there as well who weren’t even going to be seniors or even football players.
I had Beth to go with me. Beth. Yeah.
Jake was my best friend, but my best friend who was a boy. It worked the same way but differently with Beth. I’d spent more of my life with her than I had with Jake. Jake had gone through early puberty with me. He’d been the first one to show me how parts of my body worked before I’d known they worked that way. Beth and I hadn’t ever done that. Somehow, playing house, playing doctor and nurse, playing ‘I’ll show you mine . . .’ hadn’t been something we’d ever done, or ever even thought about. Maybe it was because we’d have fought over who got to be the doctor.
We were close, though. Just not in any sort of sexual way. But, when she found out we were going to camp out, celebrating the coming of our senior year, and that girls were coming along, she came up to my room a couple of days before the event. She’d spent a lot of time in my room over the years, just like I had in hers.
“What ya doin?” she asked, and sat down on the bed, on the edge of the mattress as usual. I was on it, too, leaning against the headboard, reading a book. Yeah, I read books, but I kept quiet about it so I wouldn’t take any grief for it. I read a lot. I had been reading for pleasure before my Creative Writing class but read even more after that. Mr. Jamison had introduced me to several authors I really liked.
I looked at her over the top of the book without answering. She laughed, then wriggled back so she was at right angles to me, her back up against the wall. Unusual for her.
Beth was tall for a girl, five-nine or –ten. She wore her hair in a ponytail even though most girls at school were wearing other styles; she liked doing things her own way and always had. She was very independent and strong-willed.
Her build was something like Jake’s: slim, slight, but while he was all muscle without it showing much, she was softer. She didn’t have a very girlish figure—no pronounced hips or butt, not even much of a chest. Somehow, that made her even more attractive to me. Most of the guys I associated with went on and on about the girls with the biggest boobs. Those bumps on their chests seemed to drive them wild. I guess it’s right to say everyone has a type; mine certainly was a girl who was less top-heavy.
The one other thing she had in common with Jake, however, was that she was strikingly cute. At least I thought so. I never did quite get why she didn’t date much, why she didn’t have boys crawling all over her. Maybe it was because she had a wicked, sarcastic sense of humor, or maybe it was because she was one of the top GPA kids at school. I know if I’d been into dating girls instead of waiting till I was in college to do that, and if I’d not known her so well as a friend, I’d certainly have asked her out. Personality and all. I’d had to put up with her strong will and acerbic tongue since freshman year. That turned a lot of guys off. She wasn’t a bit the submissive, easily swayed girl a lot of them are.
“I hear you guys are having a campout,” she said when she was comfortable against the wall. “And that there’ll be girls there.”
“Guess so,” I said. “It was only a select few of us guys, at first. We were going to camp out, swim, probably drink some beer, and just be cool before getting back into the grind of school and grades and football and all that shit.”
She grinned at me. “Beer? You?”
She had a point. I hated beer. I didn’t understand how anyone could like that stuff; it tasted like something brewed from rotten grass and mildewy leaves strained through a pair of well-used, unwashed sweat sox. I secretly believed none of the others really liked it, either, and that they only drank it because it showed how macho they were, and because everyone else was drinking it. Or maybe they just liked the buzz. In any case, I wasn’t old enough yet. And any beer that was there would be pretty much out of sight, not being passed around.
“Yeah, well,” I said. “Maybe not me, but some guys will have some. You don’t want to be involved with that.”
“So you taking a date?” she said, ignoring my reason why she shouldn’t go.
As I said, she can be sarcastic. She knew I wouldn’t be taking a date. She knew me better than anyone else, even Jake. Just as I knew her; she didn’t date any more than I did, and I didn’t date at all. I simply didn’t have time for girls what with football, keeping my grades up, working out to keep in shape and the reading I loved to do.
I rolled my eyes at her and didn’t answer.
“So, why don’t you take me then?”
I sat up straighter and laid the book on my lap. “Uh, you mean like a date? Beth, I don’t know, but I think it’ll be a little wild up there. We were going to go swimming, and no one said a word about bringing suits. I have heard the word ‘skinny-dipping’ mentioned. I think they all like the idea of letting the warm summer breezes tickle their nether parts out in the open with others watching; it’ll be sort of a bonding experience for the football players who’ll be seniors next year. At least, that’s what I was thinking before knowing the girls were coming. After that, well, I think a lot of the guys were even more eager for us to skinny-dip. So, when we knew that girls were coming, I did hear about bathing suits—no one is going to wear one. I think all the guys are excited about being naked out there with a bunch of naked, uninhibited girls. So, naked teens, maybe some beer, no adults around . . . that’ll be a scene that isn’t really your style. You know?”
She wasn’t smiling now, just looking at me straight on, her face showing nothing. She sat there for a moment or two like that. Her voice was softer when she spoke.
“You won’t be taking a girl with you, Whit. Are there any other boys going without a girl coming with them?”
I had to think for a second about that. I wasn’t sure, but whether what she said or not was true, she was implying something; that was obvious from the way she said it. Suddenly, I felt nervous. This was a girl with no restrains on her tongue.
“What do you mean?” I asked after a moment.
“I mean, it might be better for you if you take a girl, that’s all.” Still straight-faced, still very sober, and still not saying what she might have been implying.
“But Beth. Think about it. Naked kids. No chaperones. A little beer. Maybe some drunk kids. Probably, well, almost certainly at least, some sex. You’d be the only one with a bathing suit on, probably. These guys are mostly all jocks. It’ll be raunchy.”
“I can skinny dip,” she said. Then she shoved off the bed and stood up. “What time will you be picking me up?”
Some of the guys had tents and came early to set them up. It was still plenty warm and there was no rain in the forecast; just sleeping bags out on the ground would be fine for most of the group.
Then I noticed the tents were brought by the guys who had brought girls. Oh, yeah; duh.
There’d been a discussion, and it had been decided it would be better to have several campfires stretched out around the lake rather than one big one. One huge fire might attract unwanted attention, and this way, more kids could be sitting cozily around a fire, cooking smores, chatting together, rather than being in a big crowd where the loud kids were getting all the attention. This way, too, the guys who’d brought beer could be separated from the rest; they could have their own fire.
There was only one good place to swim, and so when the skinny dipping began, that’s where everyone would congregate. But that was for later. It was still twilight and I think everyone was more comfortable with the idea of getting naked after dark. I sure was.
There were eight kids in my group around my fire. Jake, of course, and his girlfriend, Lanny. She was of Mexican descent but had been born here. I wasn’t even sure she spoke Spanish. Her last name was Stevens, her father’s last name. She was god-awful cute, and they made the best looking couple in school. I figured Jake for prom king this coming year. He’d be a lock for it. She might get queen, too, but she wasn’t the outgoing, vivacious type. She was reserved and only seemed to have two interests: grades and Jake.
I’d asked Jake if they were doing it, that is, if they were having sex. Somehow, after the two of us had stopped fooling around and he’d started dating girls, we’d never talked much about sex. It was the same this time; I’d brought it up and he hadn’t answered. Everything else was fair game to be discussed, sure, and even who was going with whom, but sex itself wasn’t mentioned. I guessed the two of them were being intimate, though. He’d be a fool not to be doing it with her.
I was thinking about seeing her naked. She was that cute.
Of course, I’d see Beth naked, too. And she’d see me. I wasn’t worried about that. Boys look like boys, and girls look like girls. I supposed there was more difference between the tops of girls than there was with the middles of boys. And I wasn’t all that interested in seeing all those differences; I just liked the idea of seeing everyone naked. It gave me a fizzy feeling thinking about it.
I figured there was something wrong with me, but then, I’d thought that for a long time now and it didn’t bother me any. I was just me. Couldn’t do anything about it, and I liked being me. I just didn’t think much about it.
So that was four of us: me and Beth and Jake and Lanny. The other four had simply latched onto our group. I wasn’t sure why, but wasn’t going to turn anyone away who wanted to join us.
The other four were two boys and two girls. We were all about the same age, within a year. They had shown up because news of the party had gotten around, and those who wanted to be part of it hoped no one would throw them out. I think if there were freshmen or even sophomores, they’d have been told this was for older kids only, but I hadn’t seen any kids there younger than juniors. The two boys who’d hooked on with us were both probably 16. I was pretty sure of that because neither of them would be a senior this coming year; I wasn’t sure about the girls.
I knew one of the two boys because he sat at lunch with us. It was Noah. I guessed he’d joined us because he knew me and the other soon-to-be seniors; he’d eaten lunch with us every day at school for the last two years. I guess he felt he was part of the football team and should be included at the party even though it was for seniors. He was one of the few rising juniors on the team who had been bold enough to show up. Maybe Noah felt more connected to our little group than to anyone else because he ate with us at lunch. In any case, he was with us, one of our eight.
The other boy there had been brand new to the school at the beginning of the last school year, and he was on the football team. He too would be a junior. He had transferred in because his dad had got a new position at the local college. They’d arrived in town just before our season had begun. It was when the local college was hiring, I guessed. The kid, whose name was Trevor Torrence, had come out to the first practice we had and spoken to Coach Tolliver. From that point on, he’d been with the football team. Mr. Tolliver had a smile like that Cheshire cat Lewis Carroll wrote about. Turns out, Trevor was an All-State kicker in Iowa where he’d been while his father taught at Coe, a college in Cedar Rapids. Madison, like so many high schools, hadn’t had much of a kicker. Now we had a good one.
Trevor was very quiet, and you might have thought, seeing how he was a kicker and a quiet kid, he might be small, thin, reedy, and shy. He wasn’t. None of the above. He was big, almost as big as I was, and while he rarely started a conversation, if you spoke to him, he didn’t hesitate speaking back. He wasn’t shy at all. He also seemed to me to be smart. Having a professor for a father, that made sense. I liked him, even though I didn’t know him well. He smiled a lot and had long, reddish-blond hair. He was a good-looking kid, and I’d wondered when he’d first joined the team if maybe we’d be friends. I hadn’t had any classes with him and only saw him at practice and the games. I hadn’t noticed him becoming close to any of the other players, and thought that might be why he joined our group at the lake. Maybe he thought he’d be able to become better acquainted, to fit in better, if he attended the campout.
The thing was, I’d caught him watching me now and then during practices. I’d caught him looking in my direction in the showers after practice. And I’d wondered about him.
I was surprised to see the two girls who also joined our group. They’d be seniors like Jake, Beth, Lanny and me, but they weren’t party girls. They were more like Beth in that regard; they were intelligent, studious and while decent looking, they were the type who were focused on getting into a good college; high school was merely a step in that direction. They were low-profile types. I knew neither of them more than simply knowing their names. They were Lisa and Katy, and why they’d attached themselves to us, I had no idea. Any more than I knew why they’d come at all.
The eight of us got started fixing up our campsite. Beth had brought a package of eight hotdogs and buns, and I had as well. Jake and Noah scouted out some sticks and Trevor started whittling them into skewers for the dogs. Katy and Lisa were together collecting more sticks and firewood from the woods behind us, and Beth went to join them. I watched and saw her speaking to them as they made their way into the woods. Beth could make friends in an instant, something I’d never had a knack for; she was much more socially apt than I was.
Beth had this way about her. Some girls can be catty with other girls, try to put them on the defensive or in some way or other make them look bad, kind of like the girl in the story I wrote for Mr. Jamison—but for some reason, while there were girls like that out our school, they left Beth entirely alone. Perhaps they realized that such behavior wouldn’t bother Beth at all and might make them look silly or pretentious.
The mood was happy around that fire, cooking our hotdogs, then eating. Somehow, eating in the open like we were after getting everything all set up and doing our own cooking, we were all ravenous, and two dogs apiece wouldn’t have been enough, but everyone had brought something with them, so we had chips and salsa and bananas and Noah, bless him, had brought cupcakes. Beth had brought a cooler with bottles of water and cans of pop.
I got to feeling restless for some reason. Everything was calm and convivial around our fire, but just sitting there, talking and relaxing, was getting to me. I was usually a laid-back sort, but not that night. Maybe it was thinking of what was coming later; I didn’t know but sitting there was making me antsy. I got up and stretched and said I wanted to go see what the other groups were doing, that maybe a team captain should do that. I asked if anyone needed anything, and Trevor said he liked root beer and had forgotten to bring some, and he wondered if anyone else had brought any. I told him I’d check if anyone had, and told him to stay where he was and get better acquainted with everyone at our fire.
I rescued a couple of cans of root beer from, oddly, the cooler brought by one of our defensive linemen; his group was sitting together around one of the fires, each boy with a girl, and mostly they were guzzling beer. They did have a sixer of root beer, however. Live and learn. It was a warm night and all the guys had their shirts off and only shorts on. The girls were dressed similarly, and a couple had such skimpy tops on that I was sure they weren’t wearing bras. There were several empty beer cans on the ground. They smiled at me when I took two cans of root beer, and Oscar, our 280-pound nose tackle, gave me a thumbs up. His eyes looked glassy. There was no doubt that what he’d been drinking hadn’t been root beer. I’d have to make sure he didn’t pass out in the water!
His girlfriend was sitting on his lap. I couldn’t see her left hand. It seemed to be underneath her, somewhere in his lap.
Maybe that was why he was glassy-eyed.
I put one root beer can in our cooler when I got back to our fire and gave the other to Trevor. “I think a bunch of them are getting ready to swim. You guys want to do that? You don’t have to.”
That was me being cautious and polite. I sure wanted to join the others. I expected that probably everyone in our group did, too, but I wasn’t sure about the girls. But maybe they were excited about it as well. What’s more fun than getting naked with a bunch of other kids and whooping it up? Losing your inhibitions for one night? The only problem was, none of us were a bit drunk, and it had seemed to me as I passed other campfires that at least some of the rest were.
There was a whoop from down the way, and I turned to see Michael Aaron, a well-constructed linebacker, was nude as the day he was born, quite a spectacle in the flickering light of their campfire, and he was lifting Missy Myers, also naked, above his head and running toward the lake. Missy was lucky if she was even 100 pounds. She didn’t seem to have a problem with all 100 of them being displayed to all, however. She was squealing and laughing as she bounced above him with every step he took. She wasn’t the only thing bouncing as the two of them ran.
Jake jumped up. “C’mon, Lanny. Let’s get wet.”
Lanny and Jake started down the lake towards where the others were, but Lanny stopped after only a few steps. “Best leave our clothes here where we can find them after,” she said. She began pulling off her top. Then came her shorts, and then the rest, done with her back to us. Jake just stripped; he didn’t seem to care who saw whatever there was to see. I’d seen it enough, when we were younger and then every year after in the showers, to know it by heart.
When they were bare, they ran hand in hand and joined the others who were getting into the lake.
I looked at Beth, and she rose and said, “What’re we waiting for?” Then she started stripping. So I did, too. No big deal, right? Just because none of these kids except Trevor had seen me undressed, well, so what?
Except it didn’t seem that way. Especially with Beth there. She was a friend, but in no way a sexual turn-on for me. Actually, looking at her stripping, at how nonchalant she was about it, made it easier for me. So, I started undressing, all the time knowing that people were watching, but going ahead anyway because if Beth could, so could I. She was right: I was glad she had come.
But I doubt the others were watching me. They were up and stripping as well, and when I took the time to look away from Beth at them, they were bare before I was. The two girls weren’t a bit bashful. They had, well, they had girls’ bodies. Trevor was built. Large with large muscles and no noticeable fat. But then, I already knew what he looked like from our after-practice showers. Yet, still, I did glance down, trying not to be obvious, and saw what I’d seen before, that his was smaller than expected, but one with lots of wrinkles, and I remembered the movie Lucas where Lucas explained to the bullying jock that wrinkles meant it would grow when excited, and lack of wrinkles meant it wouldn’t. I’d thought about that a lot since seeing that movie when I was 10. For some reason, I’d remembered it. And as I’d grown older, I’d looked at boys in the showers, looking for wrinkles. Most boys had them. The ones who didn’t seem to, they also usually had the longer willies. So maybe Lucas was right. Maybe those boys simply got hard without getting much longer.
The reason I was so interested in that was because, truth be told, I wasn’t of the wrinkly variety. It didn’t grow much at all when I was excited.
Looking at Trevor, I thought his probably grew quite a bit. I looked up, and his eyes were on mine—my eyes, that is, not what was below. He had a small, intriguing smile. He nodded at me, very slightly, his smile broadened, and he turned to follow the girls who had already started down the lake.
That left Noah, whose eyes were directed at me but definitely not anywhere near my face. I looked at him, too. He was buff! A smaller guy, yes, but he appeared to be in really fit shape. This was the first time I’d seen him naked. He was muscular, on a small scale, but he was very solid-looking. He had the proper equipment and it wasn’t small; it suited him just fine. Now, instead of wondering what he looked like naked, I’d be wondering what he looked like aroused. I knew that as soon as I saw him, saw his really fine-looking body and saw him looking at me. The thing was, I knew he was gay. I hadn’t known that about any of the other boys I’d had crushes on. Well, wait a sec on that. I hadn’t had crushes, not real ones, and hadn’t had one on Noah. I just found some boys very attractive, some interesting, and you can’t help it if your imagination goes where it goes; you can’t control that.
I had no idea if he’d be interested in fooling around with someone who wasn’t gay, but it did make me wonder. Looking at him. Looking at him looking at me. Wondering.
He finally looked up, met my eyes, and blushed. I’d always thought he was way too self-possessed to ever blush. Then he scurried off to join the others. Leaving me alone with Beth.
She was looking me over just like Noah had. I laughed. “You’ve seen me mostly naked before lots of times,” I complained.
“Mostly,” she said, grinning and stepping over in front of me. “I’ve always wondered. About a lot of things, really.” Then she did what I couldn’t believe she’d do. “I wondered what this looked like, and wondered why you never made any moves on me. Nada. Zip. Not even when we were young. I wouldn’t have objected. I always wondered why you didn’t ever do anything like that. As I say, I wondered a lot about a lot.”
As she was talking, her warm, soft hand was giving me very gentle, very interesting squeezes.
I squirmed a little. “What are you doing?” I asked her, my voice sounding a little husky.
“Finding out if I was right in how I answered some of those questions.” She’d only squeezed a few times. Then she gave me another. I was feeling myself responding; of course I was.
I cleared my throat, best I could. “And this stuff you were wondering about, did it include what you’re doing now?”
“Whether I’d be able to do that, what it would take, and what it would mean. Yes to all the above.” She gave me a last small squeeze, then let me go and stepped back, looking down at the results of her efforts. They weren’t really noticeable; I was a little plumper, but probably not so much that she’d be able to see the difference. I could feel it, but it wasn’t much. I had very mixed feelings. There was relief and embarrassment and concern, all at the same time.
I felt like covering myself, but that would have been awkward, so I forced my hands to stay at my sides. “Did you get your answers?” I asked.
She stepped closer again, and this time she took my hand. “I’ve wondered for some time if you were gay, Whit. Now I know.”
“I’m not gay,” I said, and tried to pull my hand away, but she held on, squeezing it tighter. I stopped pulling.
“I’ve heard you say that occasionally. But I’ve also seen the guys you look at and the girls you don’t. I’ve seen what interests you and what doesn’t. I know who you’re attracted to. I know who turns you on. But if you don’t want to talk about it . . . if you don’t want to admit it to yourself, I’m fine with that. I just wanted to know for sure. For me. And just so you know, I am, too. Not gay but bi. I’m going to see if Katy wants a girlfriend. That’s why I told her to join us. I know she’s gay. Lisa’s straight, but she’s Katy’s best friend, and Katy wouldn’t have come without Lisa tagging along. Katy’s kind of like Noah—she’s not shy about it. And speaking of Noah . . .”
She stopped and looked at me. I looked out over the lake. The lake wasn’t causing my heart to beat so fast.
“He’s one of the ones you look at. Jake’s another. I saw what happened when he started dating girls. You got through it. You didn’t say anything. But I saw. That was when I started wondering, because I know what boys do together at that age. We all know.”
“You do?” I was a little shocked. I know in sex ed the teacher had talked about masturbation. She hadn’t said a thing about two boys having fun together.
“Sure. Boys are crap at keeping stuff private. I think some like to tell. Yeah, I knew. Maybe you remember. I spent more time with you during that time, after Jake changed sides. It took you a while, then you got back to being you again. But you’ve been looking around ever since. I figured you tried out a couple boys. I could name at least four of them if you want. It never lasted, though, and I’m really not sure if anything happened.”
I didn’t say anything. I just looked at that lake. Finally, I said, “I’m not gay.” She was quiet, too, just holding my hand and looking out over the lake as well for a time, then said softly, “Let’s go swimming.”
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