10. Rising Tide

Stephanie kissed me on the cheek and pulled me closer to her as we danced. In the background, Boyz 2 Men's "I'll Make Love to You" was playing, the dance-floor was crowded with hormonal teenagers, and it appeared that the evening's prospects were looking good. The Country Club was packed with high school kids celebrating my birthday with me. Everybody appeared to be having a great time, and Stephanie was sending out signals that said that this night was only going to get better.

In the few weeks we'd been dating, it became clear to me that Stephanie was a wild girl. Although she was still a virgin, she was a lot more aggressive than Staci had ever been. Not that I wasn't moving things pretty fast myself. By our third week together, I had her giving me handjobs when we made out. Here on the dance floor, I got the distinct impression I'd be able to take it to the next level tonight, assuming we could sneak off somewhere without arousing the suspicions of her mom, who was one of the chaperones.

As we danced together to the sensuous strains of the Boyz 2 Men tune, she kissed my cheek and pulled me closer, and I felt my dick turning to wood. She felt it too. I kissed her on the neck and began to suck gently. She started to sigh and I said, "Hey, why don't we get outta here and get a little fresh air?" I wanted to take advantage of the moment. I realized I didn't have a plan or a place in mind, but I figured I'd come up with something.

We made our way through a crowd of entangled teenagers and walked toward the food tables. After a minute, Stephanie excused herself to talk to her best friend Caitlyn--in the ladies' room, of course. As she walked away, I let my eyes and ears take in the sights and sounds of the evening.

The party had turned out just right, I mused. More and more people had started hearing about the party by word of mouth, and it got harder and harder to limit the guest list. Every day during the week before the party, I was asking my parents for permission to invite ten more or so. I slid the first extra ten under the radar; after that, though, I started getting some grief. But Matt came to my rescue. First, he offered to kick in some of his summer earnings to help pay. Second, he did some checking and found out that we'd be able to rent the pool and a lifeguard. Although that added to the cost of the party, it also increased the available space, so it wouldn't be too hard to manage the expanded guest list. By the time all was said and done, there were 125 kids at my birthday party, including half the varsity football team and their dates. And my parents didn't even ask us to add more chaperones.

Matt and I had started setting things up about three hours before the party. He'd brought his sound system for the clubhouse, and our friend and teammate Ruben had offered his for the pool area. Mine wasn't worth shit so I didn't bother with it. We collected CDs from everybody and had hundreds to choose from. Matt had gotten guys from our freshman team to take turns spinning tunes and had devised a schedule for each guy to man one of the sound systems for a shift.

Matt's mom Pam and my mom were there with us early, helping us decorate the place and getting all the food set up. Pam had pretty much taken charge, and before we realized what was happening, she was ordering us around, telling us how to arrange things. After we'd set up the clubhouse, she and my mom went home and left us to set up the pool area. Chaperones were scheduled to get there about half an hour before the party was supposed to begin.

Matt and I were arranging the food and drinks at the bar area of the pool, when he looked at me, grinning, and said, "I think it's gonna go over big, Phillips!"

I laughed back at him, excited, and we high-fived.

We finished up about the time the chaperones began to drift in. Heading into the pool's dressing room, we stripped out of our street clothes. I watched Matt as he pushed his jeans and boxers down over his hips and onto the floor. He's beautiful, I thought absently, then immediately dismissed the thought and stepped out of my own slacks. After we'd put on our swim trunks, we each grabbed one of the poolside lounges and stretched out next to each other, facing the pool and taking in the beautiful day.

We sat there quietly for a while, then Matt broke the silence. "So..." he began, "is Stephanie gonna give you the birthday present you really want?"

"If I have anything to say about it, she will," I replied.

"How are you gonna pull that off?"

"Just let me worry about that," I said. "You better be thinking about your own chances." Stephanie and Matt's date, Laura Mason, would be here any minute.

"Hell, Andy, it's as good as done. You know I'm irresistible."

"We'll see."

About fifteen minutes before it was time to start, Stephanie showed up; not too long after, Laura arrived. They changed into their swimsuits, then we fired up the stereo, and the four of us jumped into the pool. Soon the lifeguard arrived, and we were set.

The party started by the pool, and guests began arriving quickly. Almost everybody came in street clothes and went into the dressing rooms to change, but a few people came in swimsuits and packed their street gear separately. Within the first half-hour of the party, it became clear that we'd have a good contingent of upperclassmen football players and their girlfriends or dates. I noted Matt surveying the crowd and smiling with satisfaction.

The pool area was already full of kids in full party mode when Cole Martin, my Varsity Bro, arrived. He was wearing swimwear, a tank top, and a pair of sandals. He walked over to the edge of the pool and gazed across it to see who was there; then he set a sports bag down next to a chair, jumped into the pool, and swam over to me.

"Hey, Cole," I greeted him.

"Hey yourself, freshman," he said, flashing me his melt-the-ladies smile.

Then he grabbed me and before I had a chance to react, he started dunking me. After I'd recovered from the surprise, I put up a pretty good fight, but damn, he was strong. He got me dunked fifteen times, one for each year. People were laughing at me and everybody applauded him. Coughing out a few gallons of water, I spewed out, "Thanks a lot, asshole," but I couldn't help but smile.

He climbed out of the water and motioned me out with him. We walked over to where he'd set his sports bag down and he shook it gently. I could hear glass bottles clinking against each other. I raised my eyebrows and he smiled. "Let's try it again, freshman: 'Thanks a lot, Cole, you awesome stud.'"

"Thanks a lot Cole, you awesome stud," I laughed. "Is that really what I think it is?"

"As promised," he said, and dived back into the pool.

As the evening went by, we opened up the clubhouse and people started getting out of the pool and going inside. Matt had gotten dressed and had gone inside with Laura. I got out not too much later, and headed toward the dressing room to put on my clothes. Cole was right behind me. As I went over to my locker he grabbed a spot on the bench next to me and said, "Hey, you're not pissed about the dunking, are you?"

"No way, Cole, it's all good. I'm glad to see you, and I'm jazzed about the Everclear."

"Not a problem, freshman, but you're gonna have to pay me so I can pay my brother back," he said as he began undressing.

As we talked, I let my eyes wander discreetly over Cole's form. He never hurt for attention from the opposite sex and it was clear why. Cole was about six feet tall and weighed about 165; he was rock-solid without looking steroidal. He had jet-black hair and a stunning face; sometimes that face looked like the dictionary definition of "innocent," and sometimes it looked as if he were about to pull off the world's biggest bank robbery. Cole's eyes were a deep blue, much deeper than Matt's, and his skin was pale and flawless. His pecs were solid and understated; he had a tightly-chiseled six-pack, and the thinnest suggestion of a treasure trail leading downward. As he pulled off his swimsuit I was jolted by the intense black of his pubes against the alabaster skin of his groin. I noticed also, and tried not to notice my noticing, the long, thick, cut cock, about the size of my own. A hefty set of balls hung down about as far as his dick, and his thighs, lightly dusted with black hair, gave way to a somewhat thicker dusting of hair from the knees on down. I couldn't see a flaw, and probably studied him for a minute too long, because he caught me looking at him. He smiled a little, but didn't say anything in response. His attention was focused mainly on what he was saying to me.

"We're gonna put you boys on the map tonight, freshman, so you're gonna owe me some big favors. Most of the varsity team is here."

"That's awesome, Cole," I said. It occurred me that I was a little awestruck by this jock. I laughed at myself some on the inside; I wasn't usually much into hero-worship, but Cole had been a good guy to me and had taken me under his wing. As a result, I couldn't look at him without feeling...what was it? A deep sense of appreciation.

Yeah, that's what it was. Yep.

We finished dressing and walked out together. I met Stephanie coming out of the dressing room, and the three of us walked into the clubhouse. Cole went to hit on some of the girls, and Stephanie and I saw Matt and Laura talking to Matt's nemesis, Jared Jacobson. As we walked over, Jared saw us and said, "Phillips, happy birthday, dude. Looks like this won't be a complete disaster after all."

I snarled a little and was about to lay into him but Matt quickly slapped a hand on my shoulder and responded for me: "Hell, no. These people here, they know who got it goin' on."

Jared returned a weak smile, opened his mouth, and mumbled, "Okay, okay. I'm gonna walk around and see who's here."

"Wait up," Matt said. "Come over here for a minute."

The two of them walked over to where Matt's Varsity Bro, Jeff Blizzard, was standing. I could see Matt introducing Jared and Jeff; then Jeff reached down discreetly into a sports bag lying by the chair where he was standing.  He pulled out a bottle of Everclear, and dumped a little into Jared's cup of Coke. Jared's face brightened visibly; he shook hands with Jeff and went off to find some of his adoring fans to tell them about his new friendship with the varsity quarterback.

Matt made his way back to where Stephanie and Laura and I were standing. "He's playing lacrosse this year," Matt said, grimacing. "Fuckin' lacrosse!"

I laughed and asked, "So what was all that 'be-my-homie' stuff about?"

"Well, it's like you said," he replied. "Boy's gotta learn his place, right along with the rest of his little dick-lickers. So I introduced him to Jeff. It's like, already you gotta go through us to get in with the upperclassmen."

"So you think you got him neutralized now?"

"Fuck, Andy, did you see him practically blowin' his wad over Blizzard ? Jacobson's my bitch."

Stephanie asked, "What's the big deal about that guy? Why are y'all talking like that about him?"

"He went to our junior high, and he thinks he's the shit," I said. "We're just trying to let him know that this ain't junior high anymore and the rules are gonna be different."

Stephanie rolled her eyes. "Whatever. I don't get boys at all."

I kissed her on the cheek and said, "Just be patient; you will."

Matt laughed as Stephanie blushed.

As the evening went on, some people went back to the pool, some danced, and some made out in the dark. The chaperones discreetly cooperated as long as couples didn't get too openly obscene.

After I'd greeted just about everybody, I began paying more deliberate and exclusive attention to Stephanie. We danced a lot, made out some, danced some more, talked with friends, and danced still more. I was happy the party was shaping up as a success; I was even happier with the signals I was getting from Stephanie.

I shook myself out of my reverie as I waited for Stephanie to finish her conference in the ladies' room, and pulled my wallet out of my back pocket. I opened it up and discovered that the condom I'd placed in it earlier in the summer had started to wear through its wrapper, probably from the friction of my wallet rubbing against my back pocket. The lube had totally dried out and the condom looked unusable. Disgusted, I stuck it into my pocket. Great.

On top of that, my horniness was beginning to make things uncomfortable underneath my slacks. I looked around and adjusted myself a little.

Cole and Jeff were standing at the food tables; they'd been watching me as I walked off the dance floor with Stephanie, and as I waited, they came up to me smiling and laughing. Cole said, "What's up, birthday boy?" Then nodding at the bulge in my slacks, he added with a leer, "Never mind, I can see for myself."

I felt myself turn a deep red, and replied, "Fuck you."

"My ass is definitely not what you're lookin' for, pal," Cole quipped. As Jeff smirked, Cole continued, "I'm bettin' you're thinking about doin' the nasty with your woman, or am I wrong?"

With some belligerence, I responded, "What's it to ya?"

"Now don't get all pissy with me, freshman," Cole said. "I'm about to do you a favor. Where are you thinking about going with your girl?"

"I don't know," I muttered. "Don't worry about it, I'll work it out."

Cole reached into his pocket, pulled out a set of keys on a key ring, and handed them to me. "How 'bout my van?"

My eyes got wide; Cole's van had a custom sound system, and a mattress in the back. Used for camping, of course. I looked at him with some suspicion. "Really?"

"Really, dude. What are Varsity Bros for, if we can't help out a younger Bro in need? And here's a little something for atmosphere." With that, he reached into one of the several ice chests under the tables, pulled out an ice-cold six-pack of Cokes, and set it on the table. Then he walked over to the stereo system and selected a few mood-setting CD's from the stacks. He looked around to see if anyone was watching, picked up a sports bag from off the floor, set it on a nearby chair, and opened it. After he packed the CDs he'd chosen into the bag, he reached in and pulled out an unopened fifth of Everclear and brought it over to me. He looked around briefly to see who was watching, then said, "Put this and the Cokes in the bag and take it with you."

"Wow," I replied. "Thanks, Cole." I put the bottle back into bag, added the six-pack of Cokes, and zipped it up and set it by my feet. Then, remembering, my face darkened. "But I can't. I'm screwed. Look at this, goddammit," I said, reaching into my pocket and holding up the ruined condom.

Jeff started laughing like a hyena. "Freshman, you are such a loser," he guffawed. "So smooth, Phillips. Maybe you oughta check the inventory once in a while."

"Shut up, Jeff," Cole replied, grinning at him. "No problemo, dude. Glove compartment, front seat, passenger's side, I got a whole bunch of 'em; help yourself." He hesitated a minute. "But they're Magnums, so you still might be out of luck."

I smiled wickedly at him. "That won't be a problem."

"Oh, man," groaned Jeff. "This kid's waaaaay too full of himself already, Martin. Are you sure you wanna set him up for an easy score like this?"

Cole smiled at me and said, "He's just jealous 'cause he uses Trojan Extra-Smalls."

As Jeff began to talk trash back at Cole, I saw Stephanie coming out of the ladies' room and heading toward us. I nodded in her direction. Cole saw her coming, and said, "I'll give you half an hour and even cover for you with her mom if she asks."

I frowned. "What'll you tell her?"

"Let me worry about that, freshman. I promise I won't bust you. Just go on. And try to remember which hole to put it in," he said, grinning wickedly.

That wisecrack annoyed me, but he was doing me a huge favor, so I ignored it.

"Thanks," I said, stuffing his keys in my pocket as Stephanie joined us. "Let's go listen to some music, Stephanie," I said as I grabbed the sports bag and walked with her out the clubhouse door into the parking lot.

Cole had parked his van on the southeast end of the lot, next to a large oak tree.  Just past the tree was the entrance to a jogging trail that headed off into a wooded area. We walked toward the van hand in hand, stopping once in a while to make out a little. There was a bench by the oak tree, and when we reached it we sat down. The day had been fiercely hot, but the night was pleasant. We sat and talked for a little while, then Stephanie said, "What's in the bag?"

I zipped it open and said, "Just stuff for us to make our own party." I showed her the Everclear and the Cokes and the CDs.

Stephanie smiled and said, "You're such a bad boy."

"You don't even know," I said to her, arching my eyebrows like a mad scientist with an evil plan. Pointing to the van, I said, "This is Cole's vehicle." Then I pulled Cole's keys out of my pocket and said, "This is Cole's birthday present to me. Let's step inside and see if you can top that."

I opened the back of the van and said, "Climb in and get comfortable; I'm gonna turn the van on and get the AC and the stereo going." Stephanie got in and I shut the door behind her. Then I went around to the front, got in on the driver's side, turned on the van and put the Boyz 2 Men CD in the stereo. I reached over to the glove compartment on the passenger side and opened it. Cole was right; there were about two dozen wrapped Trojan Magnums inside. I grabbed a handful, threw them into the sports bag, and went around back to join Stephanie.

She was already stretched out on Cole's mattress. When I got in, she sat up. I broke a Coke out of the six-pack and handed it to her, took one myself, then opened up the Everclear and said, "Drink some of your Coke so there's room for this." We drank a few swallows and I poured some Everclear into each of our Cokes. I leaned over and kissed her, and holding my drink toward her I said, "To us...and to this night." She brought her drink up and tapped mine with it; we each took a belt of the spiked Cokes, then she lay back on the mattress, pulling me down on top of her. I began kissing her on the lips, on the neck.

We stayed in that position for awhile, making out. Things got more and more intense, and before too long I began thrusting against her crotch with mine. I put my lips on hers and began kissing her feverishly, until she opened her mouth and our tongues danced with each other as the heat intensified. Finally I said, "I want to see all of you, Stephanie," and with that I began unbuttoning her shirt.

She smiled at me uncertainly and said, "I've never done this before, Andy. I'm not sure I'm ready."

Continuing to unbutton her I said, "We'll only take this as far as you want."

After I'd gotten her shirt completely unbuttoned, I pulled mine over my head and off. Then I took my shoes and socks off, loosened my belt, and pushed my slacks down off my hips. Soon I was dressed only in my boxers. At that point I positioned myself over her again, kissed her for awhile, and continued undressing her. I got her shirt off and she helped me with her bra. When she was naked from the waist up, I began kissing her on the neck, and gradually moving down to her nipples, I began to kiss and suck on them gently. She responded by moaning softly and caressing my back with her hands. I thrust gently against her and she put her hands inside my boxers until her hands were stroking my asscheeks and pulling my midsection tighter into her. Then she pulled my boxers down around my thighs. I pushed them down past my knees and kicked them off. I rolled over onto my side, kissing her. She looked at my rock-hard cock, then looked up at me. I said, "Touch me, Stephanie." She reached out, took my cock into her hand, and started to stroke it gently; but I pulled back and said, "Wait." I rolled over onto my stomach and positioned my shoulders at her hips, then unbuttoned her jeans and peeled them off. She had a pair of white lace panties on and I eased them down until she was naked too.

I moved my body up until our midsections were even with each other once again. I gently lowered my body down, holding myself up a little with my arms, and kissed her on the mouth, the chest, the nipples. My dick thrust lightly against her; the sensation of her pubic hair tickling me intensified my lust. But she began to tense up. "Andy, I'm not sure about this," she moaned.

"It's okay, I promise I'll be gentle," I told her.

"I'm a little nervous; I don't know if I can do this," she said. "Why don't you just let me touch it for you?"

Damn. Was she gonna back out after getting me this far? If I wasn't going to get to home plate, I was determined to get as much as I could. I looked at her and replied, "I'd like it better if you kissed it for me."

She looked at me uncertainly for a moment, so I said, "It would feel so good, Stephanie, it would be the most awesome birthday present I ever got." And with that I held her close to me and rolled us over so that I was lying on my back and she was on top of me.

"C'mon, Stephanie, kiss me all over," I said. And with that, she started kissing me on the neck. I caressed her body as she kissed me, and gradually she moved down. She kissed my chest and ran her tongue over each of my nipples like I'd done for her. Then she continued her southward course, until she reached my pubes. She kissed me right above the penis, giggling at the way my pubes were tickling her nose. Then she skipped over my penis and began planting kisses on my balls.

The sensation was almost more intense than I could stand. Soon she took my hard cock in her hand and then began kissing it. It was maddening; I had to have more. "Stephanie, I moaned, "put it in your mouth...please." She looked at me uncertainly, then opened her mouth and wrapped it around the head of my penis.

I was leaking like crazy, and she took her mouth off my penis and said, "It's kinda salty; is that sperm?" I said, "No; that's just to help lubricate things for...well, you know." She put me back in her mouth and started moving her lips up and down on my penis.

There's no such thing as a bad blow job, as any guy will tell you, but she hadn't quite figured out how to keep from scraping me with her teeth; and I knew there was no way she was going to let me blast off in her mouth. I had to have her, and I figured the only way I was gonna get her was to get her needing it as much as I did. So I lifted her gently off me and said, "Okay...your turn."

I rolled her over onto her back and began kissing her on her nipples like she'd done to me. As I was kissing her breasts, I brought one of my hands down below her waist. I caressed her pubic hair as I kissed her and sucked gently on her nipples, then I gently put a finger inside her and began to stroke. Her nipples got harder and she started to moan even louder. I planted a trail of kisses down her torso until my face was at her crotch. I was turned on beyond belief; going down on someone was something I'd never done before. Slowly I spread her apart a little with my hands, and got my head between her legs, and began licking her with my tongue. The scent of her and the raw sexuality of eating her out was driving thought out of my head and pushing me forward on a wave of pure lust. I spread the lips of her pussy apart and began thrusting my tongue into her deeply, occasionally licking her clit. After tongue-fucking her for a while, I decided to concentrate completely on her clit, circling my tongue around it at increasing speed, and eventually stroking it directly with my tongue.

Stephanie's moans had become deep, heavy, rapid breaths. I came up for air, replaced my tongue with a finger, and, still massaging her clit, climbed higher until I was positioned on top of her once again.

"Stephanie," I panted, "I have to have you, babe." She was in no condition to disagree. She put her hands on my back, pulled me into her and said, "Okay...don't hurt me."

I reached over to my side and into the sports bag, felt around until I found a condom, then pulled it out. Continuing to kiss her and lick her nipples, I tore open the wrapper, pulled out the condom and unrolled it over my cock.

I probed her opening gently with my fingers and guided the head of my dick into place, then thrust gently. I eased slowly into her, pushing in just a little further with each thrust. Then she grimaced, and I felt something give. She gasped, and as I looked down I saw there was a little bit of blood. My first reaction was, Ohmygod, I've torn her up. Then I realized what had happened. And, once I'd stopped panicking over thinking I might have hurt her, my next thought was, shit...Cole's gonna fuckin' KILL me for this getting his mattress sheets all nasty.

But we were both too far into it for me to worry much about messing up Cole's sheets. As I eased myself all the way into her and began stroking in and out, I continued to kiss and caress her. Before too long her grimace gave way to a wide-eyed look of surprise and pleasure. As I had with Staci, I made sure I stroked Stephanie's clit with every thrust of my dick.

As I lay on top of her, drilling her on the same mattress where my Varsity Bro had done the deed with a number of girls, I could feel her lust intensify in sync with my own. She put her hands on my ass as I was pounding away, and began pulling me hard into her with each thrust, literally slamming me into her. Then sometimes she'd run her fingers up and down my back, with increasing pressure, until she was scratching me hard with her fingernails and moaning. It was raw and primal and I loved it. I could tell she did too.

After about ten minutes, I couldn't take it anymore. My breathing got more ragged and faster, and I lifted my face up so that I could look at hers as I came. I thrust deep inside of her and exploded.

It was a miracle that I didn't break the condom from the resulting explosion of jizz. I'd never had as intense an orgasm in my life. I hadn't gotten the timing quite right, though, I could tell; she was still not quite there. So, recovering, with my softening dick still inside her, I began stroking her clit gently with a finger. Her breathing got faster and shallower and her moans grew louder, until she tensed and cried out, and climaxed. She pulled me tighter into her and began kissing me frantically on the lips, on the cheek, on the neck; then, as her breath began to slow and her body seemed to relax, she started to laugh a little. Gradually I pulled out of her and rolled over on my back, spent. I pulled the condom off, tied it in a knot so it wouldn't leak, and laid it down beside me next to its opened wrapper. Then I turned my attention back to Stephanie.

She lay next to me, stroking my torso with her hand and smiling. A tear rolled down her cheek. I looked at her in alarm and said, "What's wrong?"

She smiled and hugged me and said, "Nothing's wrong, Andy. I'm crying because it was so good; it was everything I hoped my first time would be." She snuggled up against me and planted more kisses on my check and chest.

We were quiet for a while, then she sat up and looked around. "How long have we been here?"

"About half an hour."

She frowned. "We probably better get dressed and back in there before we get caught."

We put our clothes back on and tried to look and act like we hadn't just had wild sex. I picked up the condom wrapper, the Coke cans, and the Everclear, and stuffed everything into the sports bag, then I opened the back door and we stepped out. I went around to the driver's seat, ejected the CD, turned off Cole's van, and locked it up. As we began making our way back to the clubhouse, she kissed me one more time and said "Happy birthday, Andy." We walked arm in arm, talking and laughing. As we got to the front door, I kissed her one last time; then we opened the door and walked in, and she went to find one of her friends. I walked over to the food table and put Cole's sports bag back under the table. Nobody said much of anything to us when we came in; we hadn't been missed.

Cole was on the floor dancing with Amy Wilson, a varsity cheerleader. When the song was over he walked back toward the food table. While he was still about twenty feet away, he saw me and grinned.

"Everything work out okay?"

I flashed him a thumbs-up sign, handed him his keys, pointed down to his sports bag, and grinned. "Perfect." Then I added, "Umm, I think I need to wash your sheets, though. It was her first time."

"Gross, man. Tell you what, freshman, you can wash the rest of my sports gear too," he said. I turned up my nose, but doing laundry for the varsity team was one of the standard annoyances the freshman team had to put up with anyway. "Come by tomorrow and pick all that shit up."

"Okay. Hey, Cole, thanks, man, that was incredible," I said.

"You owe me for the Trojans, stud," he added. "Just help me keep the supply stocked and you can use the van whenever I'm not using it."

"I may take you up on that once I get my driver's license."

"You don't have to have a driver's license for the way you were driving tonight," he grinned.

I laughed, traded high fives with him, and went to find Stephanie.

All night long kids went back and forth between the clubhouse and the pool, changing from swimwear to street clothes and back. A fair percentage of the kids on the guest list managed to find their way to the Everclear, and there were dark corners in the clubhouse and hidden places behind hedges on the pool lawn where couples managed to sneak off and make out. I heard several voices laughing from the jogging trail, and my teammate Ruben, who'd taken his own date for a walk in that direction, reported that there was some pretty heavy action going on out there too.

The party wasn't successful only from a sex-and-booze standpoint; I introduced a lot of my classmates to many of the upperclassmen. There were junior and senior football players, cheerleaders, and class officers at my party; Cole and Jeff had delivered a good group, as they'd promised. I'd met most of them before and Cole and Jeff introduced me to the few I hadn't. As I went about introducing some of the freshmen to some of the upperclassmen, I grinned at the thought of what a good start we'd made on implementing Matt's goofy "let's-become-big-studs" plan.

As the evening drew to a close, and it was time for everyone to go home, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen Matt in a while. I wanted him to help me see the guests off so I started looking around. He wasn't anywhere in the clubhouse so I walked over to the pool. I found him there with Laura. They were making out on the lawn at the far side of the pool area. Laura's hand was rubbing the front of Matt's swim trunks. It looked like Mr. Irresistible didn't make it to home plate. But I was also betting it wouldn't take too many more dates.

As I began to head back to the clubhouse, he saw me on the far side of the pool, and in a few minutes he and Laura had gotten up, gone in and changed back into street clothes, and joined me while I said goodbye to my guests. With Matt and Stephanie and Laura beside me, I said goodbye to as many people as I could, thanking them for coming. Everybody clearly had a great time. The presence of the Varsity football players and their dates and friends had turned the party into an Event that everyone was glad to be a part of. Matt was right, I thought to myself: this whole "popularity" thing is kinda stupid, but it can be used to your advantage. And we definitely scored some points tonight. As we transitioned from saying goodbye to cleaning the place up, I thought with gratitude about my deepening friendships with the older guys on the varsity team.

The parents who chaperoned helped us clean up and they all commented on how well the party had gone and how "well-behaved" the kids were. Yeah, I thought, we even booze it up and fuck well-behaved. As we were cleaning up, I looked around quickly to make sure there wasn't any evidence of unauthorized substances, but I didn't need to worry; the Varsity boys had made sure no stray bottles of Everclear stayed behind.

My parents showed up at the end to help haul stuff home. Matt lugged his stereo to our van, and I packed up my gifts in a box and put them in the back seat. I'd told everybody they didn't have to bring gifts, but I got quite a few anyway: some CDs, some gift cards, and a pretty respectable wad of cash, about two hundred fifty dollars. That would help me pay for my part of this party. I took one last look around and smiled to myself; things had worked out even better than I'd hoped.

I'd invited Matt to crash at my place that night. After we'd unloaded and said goodnight to my parents, we headed up to my room. Matt stepped out for a few minutes, then came back in with a big wrapped box. He gave it to me and I put it on my bed and sat down with it. He smiled and leaned back against my desk.

"What's this?" I asked.

"It's your birthday, moron, what do you think it is?"

"You didn't have to get me a gift, Matt."

"Yeah, I did," he grinned, "because you damn well have to get me one. Just two weeks away, remember, ADD-boy? I don't want no big-shit party, but you damn well better get me something."

I laughed and started opening the box.

Inside the box were two smaller ones. The first box was clearly a shoebox. I opened it up and found a new pair of my then-favorite soccer boots, Lotto Stadias. They cost about $90 and during those years I regularly went through three pairs in a year's time. The best soccer boots are made out of kangaroo leather; they're soft and supple and have a great "touch," and I always wore holes in them quickly.

"Damn, Matt, " I said, admiring the boots. "That's too much money."

"It'll be worth it if I don't have to hear you bitch about not having any decent soccer boots this fall."

"Thanks, man," I said.

"Open the other one," he said.

The second one had the dimensions of a framed picture, and for good reason: that's what it was. I was unprepared, though, for what lay under the wrapping paper.

Matt had framed a couple of photos of the two of us, taken by his mom. One was from when we were nine, and the other one was from late in the previous summer, when we were both fourteen. Amazingly, each photo had us in identical poses: Matt on the left, Andy on the right, both of us bare-chested and grinning, each with an arm draped over the other's shoulder.

Underneath the photos, Matt had placed an inscription: "I got your back. Always. Love, Matt."

I couldn't speak. My throat seized up and my traitor eyes hazed over with moisture. I kept my blurry gaze fixed on the photos as I struggled hard for some composure. Then I put the frame down walked toward Matt. I stood facing him, staring into his eyes, as he smiled and nodded his head up and down.

"This is going on my fuckin' wall, Matt," I began. "It's...I..."

"Yeah, that's how it is, isn't it?" he said, laughing a little. Then he reached toward me and pulled me into a firm hug.

"You're the best, dude," I said, as I felt his fierce, physical, muscular love hold me fast to himself.

"Happy birthday, Andy," he said in reply.

We stood silently embracing for a couple of minutes, brothers-in-arms who'd stood down the monsters from so many years ago and dared the world to bring more. Then, slapping my right shoulder with his left hand, he laughed, shoved me backward onto my bed, and, grabbing one of my videogame controllers, sat down on the floor to play a couple of games before he crashed out for the night.

I lay back on my bed, staring at the ceiling, and thought about the many hours we'd spent like this over the years. My mind took me back to that night when a couple of nine-year-olds sat playing video games in this same room, a night when tears fell and pain was faced and promises were made; a night when two boys unknowingly became a part of each other.

I sat up and looked over at Matt. Absorbed in his game, his face radiated concentration and effort.

I looked at my birthday present.

The eyes of the two younger boys, smiling but wary, were troubled.

I shifted my gaze and looked at the eyes of the boys in the newer photo. Contrasted with the first, it was a study in healing, and strength, and companionship, and peace.

Somewhere along the way, pacing each other, we'd outpaced our demons, at least for the time being.

I closed my eyes and for a moment, breathing slowly and deeply, I let Matt's words wash over me, sink in, and do their work: "I got your back. Always. Love, Matt."

Then I sat down next to him and grabbed a controller. "Move over, dickhead, and let someone with skills show you how."
Copyright 2004 by Adam Phillips.  You can email me at aaptx28@yahoo.com and I'll do my best to reply.