New town. New life. Opportunities afresh. Only thing is, you’re still you.
Some explicit language in this chapter.
I haven’t said too much about Jimmy, Carl or Phil. Or me, either, but I don’t know how much talking about myself is that important. I think I was such a typical 16-year-old boy, there’s no point in painting my picture. I was tall—though not all that tall at about six feet, too skinny, kind of coordinated but not like the great athletes are, smart enough to not have to work hard in school to get mostly B’s, with a smattering of A’s and C’s thrown in. I was going to work harder in my senior year and get all A’s just because I wanted to prove to myself that I could. I was about average, looks-wise with light brown hair and clear skin, good teeth and posture. Pretty boring stuff, that, huh? Not too many strong positives, I’m afraid. Not much to set me apart. Which was fine with me because I had no wish to stand out, to be in any spotlight.
It might be a good idea for me to say what ages we all were. Tim was the oldest and like me would be a senior during the upcoming school year. He was 17; I was 16. I’d graduate as a 17-year-old, Tim as an 18-year-old. I’d graduate younger than most of my classmates simply because of my birthday and my mom wanting me to get into kindergarten as soon as it was possible. That focus thing I mentioned before: she was determined to get me enrolled as soon as she could manage to convince someone I was ready; whether that was in her best interests or mine, I’d never been able to establish. I didn’t know if it was within that school district’s criteria or not. That was two moves and many years ago.
I always joked to her getting me in early was because she wanted me out of the house as soon as possible. She teased me back by not denying it. We tended to be like that with each other.
Jimmy was a jock and 16 like most of us: me, Roger and Carl were all 16, but I was the only rising senior that age. Tim was 17 and Phil 15. Jimmy loved anything athletic. He was a couple of inches shorter than Tim and me, and probably stronger than both of us. He told me he lifted weights because he liked challenging himself and wanted to be strong. But he also had a quirk. Well, to me it was a quirk. I wanted to play basketball the right way and with passion. Tim just wanted to play the game to win; I think his ego needed that. Jimmy, on the other hand, just liked to play to have fun. He was laid back, easygoing, and smiled a lot. Didn’t seem to have a care in the world. When I asked Roger once, he told me that Jimmy didn’t do all that well in school, but it didn’t bother him. His dad owned a garage in town, and Jimmy would have a job there as soon as he finished high school. That was fine with him. He said he loved working on cars.
Carl was difficult for me to get to know. Usually you can fit a label to any boy pretty easily. Not Carl. He was quiet but not shy; well-spoken when he talked, but he didn’t do so very often. He wasn’t a boy to get hidden in the background, however. You knew where he was, and he was always in the fray during our games. Not a bit retiring, yet not making a spectacle of himself, either. It would be hard work getting to know him well; you knew that by just being around him. I had a lot to learn given I was in a new town, would attend a new school where I’d be unknown, and had several other things to think about. Because of that, I just never made the effort with Carl. But I did realize I could be making a mistake by not doing so. That was the sort of effect he had on me. He seemed the still-waters-run-deep sort of kid.
He did have one outstanding feature that strongly appealed to me. He was very protective of Phil.
Ah, Phil. It seemed to me that most groups of boys had a Phil hanging at the edges. He was the awkward kid, the one who didn’t quite fit in. He was the worst basketball player by far but never seemed to hang his head because of that. He had his limitations, he accepted them and just wanted to be part of something. I never asked Roger how the group came together, but I had the feeling Phil had been tagging along with Carl for a long time. I thought it likely Roger had wanted Carl, and he got the pair of them.
Phil didn’t really understand the game. He didn’t seem to pick up on its finer points, either. After watching him for days, I saw him making the same mistakes, not learning from them at all. I found it a little embarrassing, but it didn’t seem to bother him.
When we played, the rest of us tended to make allowances for him. We’d give him openings to shoot, let him get the occasional rebound, not try to stop him from dribbling up court. We let him get involved just enough that our consciences didn’t lay guilt trips on us.
Well, the rest of us did—other than Tim. Tim cut him no slack at all. When Phil was on Tim’s team, the ball never seemed to go to Phil, at least not from Tim. We changed teams after every game, so Tim ended up with Phil about half the time. In those games, Phil basically just ran up and down the court as his team did, but unless the other teammate—that’s to say, not Tim—passed him the ball, that was about the extent of his involvement in that game.
Tim had learned, however, not to chew Phil out for screwing up. I saw him do that a couple of times early on, and both times Carl was right there in Tim’s face. Well, below his face because he was shorter, but he let Tim know these games were intended to be fun for all of us, and bitching at someone wasn’t part of it. He looked like he didn’t intend to back down if Tim wanted to take the matter further. I could see that; the others must have, too. But no one stepped in, and Tim just walked away. The others must have known that would happen. To me, it said something about both Carl and Tim.
So that was the group. We played every day. Sometimes someone couldn’t make it, but they always called Roger if that was the case, and Roger would bring in someone else, oftentimes Paul, but others occasionally. But mostly it was us six. We’d play for a couple of hours in the mornings with breaks whenever we needed them during play, both to rest and get some water; it was during those times I got to know the non-basketball sides of the guys a little better. We’d often get together after lunch for more b-ball, too.
For breaks, we’d sit outside in the shade against the side of the barn, drinking bottled water that Roger always seemed to have on hand. It was kept in a small office-sized fridge in the bottom part of the barn. Roger would hand us each a bottle, then we’d sit, sip and talk.
We’d talk about what boys our age talked about. School, what we were going to do after school—and girls. We talked about girls a lot.
Tim was usually the one to lead the conversation in that direction. He seemed to be obsessed. He was almost 18, and I was pretty sure he was a virgin. I don’t think a guy who was getting any—or even who’d gotten some—would be so focused on sex. I put it down to his being frustrated.
There was a lot of frustration in Tim. He liked basketball but liked winning more than he liked playing it. From what Roger had told me, he didn’t do well in school. He had to work to get C’s, and he didn’t much like doing schoolwork, so his GPA was either just under or just over a 2.0. He’d graduate, but college wasn’t in his future. He was going to work for his old man in construction—at least that’s what he told us. His dad was a job foreman for a construction company in town. Tim had been working with him on job sites for a couple of years now, mainly carrying stuff, picking up litter, doing untrained manual stuff. Seemed like a dead end sort of a life to me, but I wasn’t going to tell him that.
But mostly he’d talk about girls. About which ones he’d already been with and what they’d done and which ones he had his eye on to do that stuff with next.
Jimmy often gave him shit about it. Jimmy had all the earmarks of a kid who knew his way around a girl’s anatomy and had gained his expertise through personal experience, not the internet. There was simply a different tone in his voice, a different level of certainty when he spoke of girls. He was relaxed and confident when discussing them. What I enjoyed, however, was that he wasn’t above tweaking Tim a little when he spoke. He was subtle enough that I don’t think Tim ever caught on.
“Lisa Donald? You say you had Lisa Donald? Way to go, man, I thought she was a virgin for sure.” That was Jimmy. Not outright calling Tim out, not scoffing at his boast, but to me sounding like that was exactly what he was doing.
Tim spat into the yard and tried to play it cool, ignoring Jimmy by not responding at all to his comment, working hard to make us think his story about Lisa was nothing special. “Yep. Couple of weeks ago, right after school let out. Went out by the lake, a few of us. Skinny dipping, and the some of us—just a few of us—paired off. I saw Lisa checking out what I had when I came out of the water, and I guess she was impressed. I kind of liked the rack she was supporting, too. We found a spot. I don’t give details, but yeah, I had sex with her.”
“Lisa Donald,” Jimmy said. To me, disbelief underlay those words, but there was enough feigned surprise and even stud-to-stud congratulations in the way he said it that Tim took it as approval. Jimmy gave Tim a look that Tim missed. I knew Jimmy wanted to say something more, but you had to be a little coy with Tim. He could get mad in a hurry, and he was bigger than Jimmy. Those two could go after each other on the court. Jimmy was a jock. He didn’t back down from much, and he was strong. But, with Tim, I thought it possible you could get in serious trouble if you backed him into a corner and he came out swinging. That was a guess on my part, but you can feel things, and that’s what I felt. Perhaps Jimmy did, too, because he never went that far with Tim. He always found a way to say what he wanted to say without too much direct feather-ruffling, and Tim tended to miss the less obvious stuff.
“Well, that’s just something. I’ll say that. It’s something.”
Jimmy’d thrown out the bait, just a bit more than subtly this time, and Tim couldn’t resist it. “What’s something? You saying I didn’t have sex with her?”
“No, sir, not at all. You say you did her, then you did. What I’m saying is something is that I thought she was a pretty honest girl. You know, student council, Honor Society, goes to church every Sunday—a Baptist one, too.”
“What difference does that make?” Tim wasn’t mad yet, but it could go that way if Jimmy didn’t tread cautiously.
He did. “Don’t really make no difference, but it’s something, all right. See, I thought she was as honest as a straight edge, and I heard her talking to my sister. They’re good friends, and Lisa’s over to our house quite a bit. Last week, I heard them talking. They wouldn’t have been talking like they were if they’d known I could hear them. But my sister was telling her about a date she’d had with Sam Ecksley and about how Sam was trying to get in her pants. Well, trying to slip his hand down there. I guessed from that he’d already had his hand up top. But she said she let him in under her jeans for just a bit and then told him to stop. That she wasn’t ready for that kind of sex yet. Said she’d give him a hand job if he was desperate.”
“So, what does that have to do with Lisa?” Tim had sat up straighter. This was a story about sex, and he was eager to hear more. But, besides hearing about a hand job and all, what did it have to do with Lisa?
“Well, when she said that about saying no to Sam, Lisa told her that was the right thing to do, but maybe not the right time to do it. Said maybe she should have said it earlier, that some boys, when they got that far, it was hard to stop them. Then she asked what Sam had done after that, and my sister said he’d been all over her stroking him off and sort of forgot all about what he’d been trying to do, and they just went ahead with the offered hand job. My sister? Yeah, she said she’d done that. Embarrassed the hell out of me.”
“Yeah?” Tim was getting impatient. I was trying hard to keep from grinning. It sounded to me like Jimmy was setting this up pretty well.
Jimmy frowned, probably trying to look unhappy that his sister had done what she’d said she’d done. I doubt any boy likes to hear of his sister doing that, although it would be better than hearing of her giving a BJ. Anyway, he frowned, then said, “Well, at that point, Lisa asked, ‘What was that like? I’ve never done that. I’ve never done much of anything, really.’”
“So what are you saying? That I’m lying?” Tim moved to stand up, and Jimmy put his hand on his knee, holding him in place. “Hell no. I’m saying it’s really something for Lisa to lie like that. Really something. Maybe she was embarrassed, but why? She had no reason to say anything at all. But maybe she really liked it but didn’t want to say she did. Who knows why girls say the things they do? But I’ll tell you straight out: it’s something all right.”
“I know what it was,” I said. I thought I should give Jimmy a rest, and I was quickly becoming good at teasing Tim just the way Jimmy did. I wasn’t quite as adept at it as Jimmy was—he had more experience with it than I did—but Tim and I were verbally jousting all the time, and I was getting better at it. Mostly it was in fun, though sometimes his words weren’t meant in jest. I always pretended that they were, however. “I think she just forgot.”
Tim turned to me. “Forgot?”
“Yeah, it probably wasn’t all that memorable.”
Everyone laughed, which was what I was going for. Tim looked like he didn’t know what to do, and finally just took the safe way out and laughed, too, realizing if I said that, I was buying into his story. That convinced me. He’d never done with Lisa what he said he had or he’d have argued the point just to prove to us how manly he was.
After that, the questions went around for the rest of us like they always do. What had we done and with whom? Tim, as usual, wasn’t daunted by the teasing directed towards him. I knew the rest of us had no doubt he was lying about his conquest with Lisa, but he seemed unawares.
“Dave, how about you? You don’t talk much about any girlfriends.” Tim said that with a leer in his voice. Suggestive? Probably teasing and not meaning the implication, but with Tim, you couldn’t be sure.
Passive aggressive—not unusual with him. I answered as though I had no clue as to what he was implying. “Well, I haven’t been here long, and haven’t met a single girl yet. From the way you guys talk, there are some around here. But I don’t see any of you guys hanging around with any, so I guess that’s all talk. For me, yeah, back in the real world—” I tended to call where I came from ‘the real world’; they didn’t like it much; it’s always handy if you’re a guy to have something up your sleeve like that; you never know when it’ll come in handy “—I had a girlfriend. We weren’t going to last after I left for college; we weren’t into each other all that hard, but sex, yeah. Sure. We know a lot more about sex in the big city than you do in the sticks, and she liked it.”
That got the retorts and boasting going, and when they were all talking about it, boasting about personal exploits—they being more familiar with how to get each other’s goat and catching each other in lies because they knew the participants better—they began paying less attention to me, giving me the chance to think about what I’d said.
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