"If you don't get a
first-string assignment, get over it quick, because from here on out,
it's about the team."
It was the beginning of
August; we'd been practicing together, "informally" and off-campus, for
almost two weeks. Our head coach had shut down freshman football
practice fifteen minutes early that day, called us off the field, and
gathered us together. Thirty tired and sweaty fourteen-year-olds sat
in the grass, listening nervously. School would start in a week, and
football season would begin the last weekend of the month. It was
time to assemble the starting team and get them working on developing
chemistry during practice.
I was glad Matt had pressured
me into staying with the team and playing this year. Like everyone
else sitting there, I wanted to start at my position so badly I could
"Those of you who end up as
starters need to know this," Coach continued. "If you're out there on
the field as a starter, there's somebody riding the bench who's almost
as good as you.
"You'll know by our next
practice who's going to start for us this year. But before that, while
we're all together right now, I want to talk to y'all as one team.
"I promise you two things.
First: you continue to give me a good, solid work ethic during practice
throughout the season, and you'll get playing time; I don't care if
you're a starter or not. And not only that, if one of my starters gets
injured or stops giving his best, somebody riding the bench gets that
starting position. So you have to practice just as hard as the first
"And second: if you get a
starting position, that position is yours to lose. If you're a starter,
you earned it by your performance and your attitude, and you'll keep it
by your performance and your attitude. If you lose out in either
department, one of the boys warming the bench will take your spot and
you'll go to the bench. Are we clear on that?"
Everybody on the team nodded
"All right. The list of
starters was posted about fifteen minutes ago back on campus, on the
front door of the gym. Check it this weekend before you come to
practice Monday, and I want my starters out here Monday morning at 7:30
for a meeting before practice.
"Okay, that's it, gentlemen."
The gathering began to break
up as boys started heading silently toward the parking lot. The tension
in the air was hard to miss.
Matt made his way over to me,
grinning from ear to ear. Shit, I thought to myself: the entire
friggin' team is trying to play it cool and resist the impulse to break
into a mad dash toward the parking lot, to get their parents to drive
them straight to the gym, and here comes Matt, cool as a cucumber,
grinning like a fool. So damn irritating...but I couldn't help but be
proud of him. There wasn't any question about who was going to start at
quarterback. Matt's only real competitor for the spot, Ruben, knew it
as well as anybody else.
Matt drew up beside me,
slapped me on the back, and said, "You're awful quiet, Phillips;
where's the fuckin' funeral?"
My stomach-butterflies were
commanding my attention at the moment in spite of my happiness for
Matt, so his joviality annoyed me. "We're not all suckin' the coach's
dick, Matt, so we can't all walk around with a shit-eatin' grin like
until we see that damn list."
Matt's grin turned into a
scowl and he gave me a shove. "Give me a fuckin' break, Andy, and ditch
the false modesty shit. You been burnin' it up out there, and you're
name's gonna be on that list, and you know it, too. So don't be out
here, all 'oh, poor me, I might have to ride the bench!' Cut the
bullshit, 'cause nobody's buyin' it."
"Just save it for later," I
said nervously, "and let's see how it works out."
"Whatever," Matt replied,
rolling his eyes and striding on ahead of me toward the parking lot.
He was right, of course. I
made the list as one of the starting wide receivers. Matt, as expected,
was quarterback. Ruben, Matt's potential rival for the QB spot, was
designated as starting fullback. All in all, every one of my "gang"
made the first-string cut. The six of us all made our way toward each
other, high-fiving and celebrating and talking with excitement about
the coming year.
The torture of those summer
two-a-days bled over into the beginning of the school year. The first
week of school came, and the workouts got more intense. We
hated all the "abuse," and hated the coaches who subjected us to it.
But we knew also that they were dedicated to the game and dedicated
into making us into warriors. And we saw that, as a result, we grew
stronger, tougher, faster, and more confident; our physiques
responded positively too.
Though we'd been working out
together off-campus before school actually started, the first week of
school we finally got to use our school's practice field. So at the end
of practice we all headed back to the locker room for showers. I never
thought twice about seeing any of the guys naked; beyond the one little
encounter with Matt a few years back, I'd never done anything sexual
with a guy, and never really had any interest in it. Aside from
checking them out to compare-and-contrast with my own equipment, which
we all did, seeing these boys naked didn't particularly do anything for
me. I noticed with some detached admiration that we were all developing
really fine physiques, but when I saw the guys naked in the locker
didn't feel any particular attraction.
The practice on our first day
of school lasted from the last period of the day until five o'clock
that evening. After
practice we hit the locker rooms and stripped down to shower for the
first time. It was uneventful...
Except for the fact that Ethan
was undressing with me in the same locker bay.
Ethan had fiery red hair,
which had always intrigued me a little. I wouldn't say I was attracted
to him, although he had a great body and a stunningly handsome face.
But something about his hair always gave me a vague feeling of
distraction when I looked at him. I'd never reflected much on it, but I
did register it with some self-puzzlement. That day, I hadn't seen him
at the beginning of the period; he'd dressed out earlier than I had at
the beginning of practice, and was out on the field before I'd gotten
to the locker room, so I didn't know we'd chosen lockers next to each
After practice we'd walked
into the locker room, laughing and joking together, and of course had
ended up in the same locker bay. Ethan could talk more than any person
I had ever met, and he continued non-stop as we began undressing. I had
stripped down to my jock while he was talking, and was sitting on the
bench listening to him tell some story about a trick he and Justin had
played on Justin's older brother. Ethan sat down on the bench and
started untying his shoes, when it hit me: man, I bet all his body hair
is that color. Something about that thought caught in my head, and I
found it difficult either to listen or to say anything about the rest
of his story. Instead, my eyes began following the movements of his
hands as they removed various articles of clothing. I froze as he
out of his pants and stood there for a minute, droning on with his
story, dressed only in his jock.
I wasn't listening. My eyes
were fixed on his midsection.
He hadn't been paying me any
attention; he was too busy running his mouth and stripping off his
clothes. But as he finished his story, he must have asked me a
question. When I didn't respond, he must have looked at me and noticed
that I was sitting there staring, zombie-like, at his jock. Gradually
his voice got through to my consciousness:
"I said I'd let you kiss it,
but we might attract an audience!"
I looked up at him, confused.
He was grinning wickedly.
Oh, man. Busted. I felt my
face flush and I know I must have turned bright red. My mouth went into
gear before I had my brain engaged, and I stammered, "I never...see, I
just...well, your hair...it..."
His grin vanished and was
replaced by a look of annoyance. "My hair?" he replied, furrowing his
brows. I'd find out later that he was somewhat self-conscious about his
red hair and didn't like to be kidded about it. "What the fuck does my
hair have to do..." then his eyes grew a little wider and the evil grin
returned. "Oh, that," he said. "Yeah, it's the same color everywhere.
And locking his eyes on mine, he grinned and shucked the jock, saying,
Wow. His dick was
average-sized and I wasn't particularly turned on by his equipment--but
his pubes! He was right; they were that same bright red as the hair on
I found that riveting. I had
no idea why. But I needed to regain my control and my cool. I managed
to tear my gaze away. I stood up, looked up at him and said,
"You're a freak, dude."
Without missing a beat he
responded, "You must like freaks, then."
When I said "Huh?" he sneered
and pointed at my jock, which had definitely started to tent out.
I looked down at my jock, and
back up at his face. Shit. What the hell was I doing? What was going on
with me? I started to stumble through a reply.
"Uhh...fuck that, man, I was
just thinking of..."
He interrupted me, laughing.
"Forget it, dude. I got wood more often than I don't these days.
C'mon." He motioned toward the showers with his head, grabbed his towel
and headed toward them, launching into another of his inane stories. I
waited about ten seconds for my dick to settle down a little bit, then,
still slightly dazed, stripped off my jock and followed him.
We showered, got dressed, and
headed toward the parking lot with our teammates, where parents were
waiting to give us rides home. When I got home I got busy with homework
and chores, and forgot about the incident. But when my head hit the
pillow around eleven that night, I thought about it briefly, and it
troubled me a little. Why would my dick be interested in Ethan's red
pubes? I turned it over in my head, and not coming up with any
satisfactory answer aside from reminding myself that my dick got hard
at random these days, I let it slide and fell into an untroubled sleep.
By the next morning, I'd pretty much forgotten the whole thing.
During that first week of
school I discovered which teachers I liked and which I didn't, how long
it would take to get from my locker to each classroom, and where I'd
eat lunch. Making friends and getting noticed that first week was easy;
the junior high hierarchy still seemed to persist, and I noticed that
the same kind of thing was happening with some of the kids who'd come
from the other junior highs. Somehow, though nobody ever talked
explicitly about how these things fell into place, it seemed as though
the popular kids from all the junior high schools began to gravitate
toward each other. The process of "slotting" people into niches that
had already begun in the summer accelerated. I reflected on this
and realized that I felt a little
sorry for all those people who couldn't walk with ease into the
privileged spots. Somehow it didn't seem fair that things were gelling
so quickly. But that's the way it goes, I rationalized: sucks to be
I was enjoying the change of
routine from the summer, but I was often tired from the combination of
soccer and football workouts. My soccer coach had moved me from center
midfield, a position I felt I owned, to forward. I didn't like the
gameplay of forwards and I didn't like the stress of having to score
consistently. I preferred the midfielder's primary role of moving the
ball from the backfield into the possession of the forwards. And
midfielders weren't presented with as many opportunities for shots on
goal, which was fine with me. I enjoyed the footwork and quick thinking
required of midfielders; I wasn't interested in being the guy who
always had to pull the trigger.
But in sports you pretty much
do what the coach decides you should, so the opening weeks of school
found me spending a lot of extra practice time on the soccer field,
working on my shooting. As I'd feared earlier in the summer, taking on
sports in the same season, on top of my classes and the rest of my
schedule, added up to a life that was going to take some effort to
manage. At the end of that first Friday of school, I left football
practice dog-tired. After I got home I worked on the lawn a little, did
some studying, visited with the family, ate, watched a little TV, and
decided to go to bed early.
My brother Danny, coming
upstairs from having been out with some of his friends, noticed me in
my room. Danny was a lean, good-looking, towheaded kid with a bundle of
energy; he enjoyed sports almost as much as I did, and played on his
school's baseball and basketball teams. His real talent, however, lay
in his artistic ability. I always enjoyed watching him draw, and, truth
be known, was a little bit envious of his talent in that area. We were
pretty close, I guess, and that had its upside and its downside: the
love was fierce between us, and so was the antagonism.
Every bit the brat that all
twelve-year-old boys are, he stopped in my doorway, stuck his head into
my room, and quipped, "Wow...Studboy turns in early on a Friday night!
Struck out again, didja?"
I grabbed a rubber baseball
from my nightstand and threw it at him, pegging him hard on the left
shoulder. "Yeah, I may have struck out, dickhead, but I can still
"Oww!" he responded.
"Goddammit!!" He picked up the ball and stormed into my room, rubbing
his shoulder and scowling. "I don't know why Mom and Dad think you
fuckin' walk on water; you're always doing mean shit like this and it's
not funny. I was just kidding, asshole, just the way you're always
givin' me a hard time."
I felt a little ashamed; he
was right, sort of. I went over to him, tousled his hair, and said,
"I'm sorry, Dan-O, I didn't mean it to sting quite that bad; anyway,
bein' mean to a kid brother's an older brother's job, don'tcha know?"
He stuck his chin out at me in
defiance and mumbled, "Eat me."
I burst into a laugh, but
did my best to suppress it. Grinning, I replied, "Hell, Danny, ain't
nothin' there to eat." He cocked his arm back as if to hit me up-close
with the ball, but broke into a smile, and finally began laughing
himself. He let
his arm fall back down, then looked at me with an expression that was
part grin and part grimace, and said, "God, I hate you."
I grabbed him by the
shoulders and turned him 180 degrees. Then I pulled him into me,
his back against
my chest. When I had him firmly trapped, I said into his ear, "No
don't, bro, you love me...and I love you too, bud." And with that I
planted a big wet kiss on his cheek.
"Ewwwwww!" He broke free from
my grip and made a show of wiping his cheek. "Get away from me, you
"C'mon, Dan, make up your
mind," I teased. "First you're askin' me to eat ya, and now you're all
homophobic. What's it gonna be? You want some Andy-love or not?"
Danny scrunched up his face in
a display of revulsion and said "Shut the fuck up, dickface, you're
creepin' me out."
I laughed and said, "Then get
outta my room."
He rolled his eyes at me, then
laughed and walked back into the hall.
The next morning I was up
early. In addition to my ongoing job throwing the daily suburban
newspaper, Matt and I had been in the lawn-mowing business over the
summer. It was Saturday, and we had about six lawns to do that day. I
threw on some grey boxer-briefs and a pair of red Umbro soccer shorts,
a white half-tee, and a pair of old running shoes. Mom was downstairs
puttering around in the kitchen. As I walked into the kitchen, she
noticed me and said, "Morning, Andy. You're up early for a
"Gotta make the cash, Mom," I
told her. "Matt and I have six lawns today."
"Well, sit down and have some
breakfast first," she replied. "You'll need fuel for all that yard
work. I was just about to cook some bacon and eggs."
I obliged, talking with her as
she cooked. We reviewed the week, talking about my subjects at school,
soccer and football, my piano lesson that week, and Stephanie. After
meeting Stephanie at Kathryn's party, I'd gone to the freshman dance
her the weekend before school started, and we'd been pretty much
inseparable since then, so we were officially "going out." Mom listened
attentively to the details of my week, offering a few nods of
encouragement and support, telling me to make sure I "stayed balanced"
and didn't neglect anything.
As she began serving
breakfast, my dad came into the kitchen, poured himself a cup of
coffee, and sat down at the table. "Hey, Dad," I said as he picked up
the Saturday morning paper.
"Morning, Andy," he replied.
"Wow. The one thing your mom and I can usually count on is the fact
that on Saturdays you three kids will be sleeping in and breakfast will
just the two of us."
"Well, I'm going out mowing
with Matt, but I guess Mom's tryin' to get breakfast down me before I
go." Dad smiled and buried his nose in the newspaper.
Since I had their attention, I
decided to bring up a subject that had come to me just yesterday. "Hey,
"I was wondering...I know it's
last minute, but I got to thinking I'd really like to have a bunch of
kids over for my birthday next Saturday. I have some good money saved
up from the summer and I could kick in for food and stuff..."
My mother looked stricken.
"Andy, you're talking a week away! I thought you just wanted a quiet
evening with you and Stephanie and Matt and...well, whoever Matt's with
"I know, Mom," I said, "And
that was the plan, but yesterday I just kinda got to thinking: my
birthday's usually the first one of the school year, and it would be a
good way to get people to socialize and stuff, different kids from the
different junior highs mixing together. I know we had the freshman
dance last week, but you really can't party with anybody much when
you're at a dance."
My dad asked, "How many kids
did you have in mind, Andy?"
"Oh, I don't know, maybe fifty
Mom looked at me as if I'd
shot her. "Fifty!"
Her mortified expression
caused me to cringe. I ducked my head, squinting and grimacing, and
said, "Okay, I guess that's a lot."
She responded, "Ya think? I
don't know, Andy; I don't see how we're going to accommodate fifty
people on this kind of notice. I just don't think I can get the house
ready by that time. You kids don't do the world's greatest job of
keeping things neat and tidy around here, you know."
"Well, it was just a thought,"
I said, apologetically.
"Who are these kids?" she
"Mostly my teammates from
football; a few soccer guys, and girlfriends, and the freshman
cheerleaders, and some other kids; you know, friends of friends, and
My mom looked at my dad.
"Mark, what about the Club?"
My eyes got wide; I hadn't
thought about the Country Club. Between the clubhouse and the grounds
there'd be plenty of room.
"I don't know, Kate. It's
expensive, and it's short notice. I can guarantee it's too late to get
I quickly put in, "Dad...could
you check it out? I'd be willing to put in big money. I have about
three thousand dollars in my savings account from the paper and mowing,
and we don't need the pool. The clubhouse and the grounds are good
I could see the gears turning
in my father's head. "It's not just the money, though, Andy. Fifty
kids: we'd need a lot of chaperones, and I don't know if anybody will
be willing to help out on this kind of notice; also, who's going to
together the food? A caterer's expensive, and your mom doesn't have
time to do food all by herself! And you're going to want music, right?
Are you talking hiring a DJ and the whole bit? And anyway, do you think
you can even get fifty kids to come on such short notice?"
I smiled to myself. The
questions were a clear indication that it was a real possibility.
"Dad, trust me, there won't be
any problem getting fifty kids to come. And we don't need to hire a DJ;
we can use Matt's stereo--it's awesome. Matt and I have plenty of CD's
and we can tell everybody to bring their favorite ones. And we can take
turns spinning tunes."
My father looked over at my
mother with raised eyebrows. She shrugged her shoulders at him as if to
say, "It's your call." He turned back to me and said, "Well, assuming
it's available, I guess I don't have a problem with it. But if we're
doing all the upfront work for it, I'm not chaperoning. You have
to find enough chaperones for a one-to-five ratio."
"Oh, man," I whined. "Dad,
please. Ten chaperones?"
"Take it or leave it;
those are my terms and they're not negotiable."
I sighed. I knew I had no
chance of winning this one. "Okay," I said, "but can Matt and I pick
"Not only can you," he said,
"you must. And they have to
meet with our approval. And you have to
ask them yourselves."
"Fine," I said. I knew which
parents from among my friends were a "light touch" and didn't get in
our faces too much.
"And we're not springing for a
catered job," Dad continued. "So unless you know a free
caterer, it's a matter of convincing your mom that you're worth the
I jumped in quickly. "Mom, on
the food, what if I got Matt's mom and Stephanie's mom and Jennifer's
to help? I'll betcha I could talk them into it. Hell, Matt and I will
even help if you want."
Mom frowned at my language,
but finally said, "Well, if Pam, and Stephanie's mother, and Jennifer's
mother tell me they're willing to do this, and if your father can get
the Club for next Saturday, and
if you'll pay half of all expenses,
then I guess it's okay with me, on one condition."
"That you and Matt have
nothing to do with making any of the food. Just stay out of the kitchen
until after this thing is over!"
My father and I laughed. I
stood up and hugged both of them to help seal the deal, and said,
"Thanks, guys. You're the best."
"Spare us, Mister
Touchy-Feely," my dad quipped. "Could you be any more transparent? The
only 'thank-you' we need is the assurance that things won't get out of
hand and that you kids are gonna be on good behavior."
"Dad," I said to him
impatiently, "you know my friends; they're good kids. I don't hang out
with the losers and the waste-oids; it's gonna be fine."
"All right," my dad said. "Now
go on, get out of here, and get your lawns done. You have some
get to us."
As I walked toward the kitchen
door and out of the house, I heard my dad saying to my mom, "...kid
forgets I grew up in the 'Dazed and Confused' era...We all inhaled, and
we were all 'good kids.' So don't be tellin' me
about 'good kids'."
I smiled to myself. We'd be
good enough. Or at least good at not getting caught.
As I came up the sidewalk to
Matt's house, I saw Pam, his mother, working in the flower-bed that
bordered the walk leading up to their front door. When she saw me she
put down her trowel, smiled at me, and said, "Hi, Andy. You're
not usually around this early on a Saturday. I'm sure Matt's still
I frowned. "He is? But we have
a whole shitload...I mean, we have a whole buncha lawns to do
today. He knows we have to start early."
Pam was stifling a grin. She
picked up her trowel and resumed her flower-transplanting. "Just go on
up to his room and wake him up, it'll be okay."
I nodded at her and headed
toward the front door. It won't be
okay if that jerkoff causes us to
miss a house because his ass isn't in gear, I thought to myself.
I had just
pledged a bunch of money to help make my birthday party a reality.
I walked up the stairs toward
bedroom, intending to read him the riot act. His door was shut. I
opened it, and when I walked in, sure enough, Matt was on his back in
bed on top of the sheets, sound asleep, dressed only in a pair of
I was about to scare him awake
when my eyes fell on his midsection. His balls were hanging out of one
leg of the boxers, and even through the fabric of his shorts you could
see that his dick was rock-hard. I found myself unable to look away. I
let my eyes wander up his taut abs and nicely-developing pecs, toward
I stood there for a minute,
staring at his face, growing increasingly uncomfortable for reasons I
couldn't begin to fathom. I was looking at him through a
of eyes I'd never opened before. And I was unprepared to deal with what
they were seeing.
Even at fourteen, Matt had begun to radiate raw
sensuality and masculinity. I looked okay myself, but to my eyes at
that moment, Matt was developing into a work of art. Out of nowhere,
the image of Michelangelo's David that we'd seen in art class last year
flashed through my mind. My eyes surveyed Matt's strong cheekbones, his
classically-proportioned nose, the sensual curve of his lips, the
mussed-up morning hair that managed somehow to frame his face and
enhance the impression of casual, effortless perfection. Some hidden,
silent place in my heart spoke of unknown need, and I felt an ache I
did not understand.
I shut my eyes tightly; seeing
had become an act of utter disorientation. I shook my head back and
forth, rapidly, violently. Thought had vanished and was replaced with a
dark intensity I couldn't express. It felt like falling; it felt like
being filled to the bursting-point; it felt like emptiness.
I took a deep breath and
forced myself back into coherence. This was no work of art lying here;
this was Matt--ordinary, everyday Matt, who was about to cost us at
least one lawn's worth of money if he didn't get his ass out of bed.
What the fuck was going on with me?
I grabbed his leg and shook
him. "Matt! Wake up, we gotta get moving, asshole!"
Groggy, Matt opened his eyes
and smiled at me. "Hey, Andy."
"Goddammit, Matt," I fumed, "I
told you I was coming by at seven. We're
to do six lawns today."
Matt sat up in bed, rubbed his
eyes, and said, "What time is it?"
Even in my exasperation, the
image of Matt's magnificent sleeping form still had me reeling.
Fighting to maintain my equilibrium, I replied, "Almost seven-thirty.
Come on, dude, we're off to a late start." I stood at his doorway
staring, accusing, and trying my best to recover.
"Okay," he said; "just let me
take a shower and brush my teeth."
Before I could voice my
disapproval he stood up, and began to push the boxers down and off his
morning wood caught on the waistband on its way down, and then came
free with an audible smack against his belly. Stark naked and
completely hard, he yawned and stretched, scratched his balls, then
walked past me toward his closet and pulled out another pair of boxers,
a tee shirt, and a pair of running shoes.
As he bent over to pick up his
shoes, I watched the firm muscles of his ass flex, and again I felt
myself falling into unknown depths. He closed his closet door and
walked toward me, on his way to the shower.
He stopped briefly when he got
to where I was standing, and stood facing me, naked. He looked into my
face seriously, seeming to study my expression. Slowly he began to
smile a little, for no reason that I could discern. The twinkle in his
eyes was impenetrable.
I understood nothing. I wasn't
even sure what planet this was. I was too undone to defuse whatever was
going on here, but I felt an urgency to regain my composure. I frowned
at him and said, "Just fuckin' hurry up, will ya?"
He continued to look at me
intently. I thought for a minute he was going to say something
serious...and then stuck
his tongue out at me and gave me a classic "raspberry." With that,
laughing, he left the room and went to get his shower.
Something--something threatening--had come out of nowhere, and I didn't
have a name for it. But I hadn't spent years fending off monsters to
allow this weird shit, whatever it was, to fuck me up. I forced myself
past all those sensations, all those unknowable feelings and thoughts,
and moved my attention toward the day that lay ahead.
We worked on four lawns
without stopping. Then, around noon, we decided to take a break and
grab some food at the McDonald's down the block. I ordered my standard
Quarter Pounder Extra-Value Meal, With A Coke; Matt went for the same,
with a Dr. Pepper.
We sat down in a booth to eat,
on opposite sides from each other, and started talking about the
upcoming football season, and this discussion segued into his monologue
on becoming the Varsity quarterback eventually. The course of his
rambling was familiar to me by now, involving the standard scenario of
the two of us as Big Men On Campus, heroes on the playing field and
dominating the leadership positions in student government, liked and
respected by all. And, of course, desired by the best-looking girls in
He paused for a second to take
a bite of his burger. I brought up something I'd been thinking about
for awhile. "You know, I'm not sure I get you, Price. I mean, isn't
that pretty much how it's always been for us? But you're the one who
was always talking about how stupid the whole 'popularity' thing is.
How come you're all-of-a-sudden so intent on being Hot Shit At The High
He looked at me. "Nothin'
wrong with being popular. I never said there was. I mean, come on,
Phillips, if you get to choose, isn't it better to be popular than
"What I mean is that it's
stupid the way people fuckin' idolize the popular kids. And it's
fuckin' dangerous. People copy what the popular kids do."
This was too much for me.
"You're full of shit," I countered.
He flipped me the bird and
replied, "No, I'm not. Think about this: if you and I don't show some
leadership, who's left by default?"
I didn't even have to think
twice. I rolled my eyes and answered, "Jared Jacobson and his sorry-ass
Jared was a guy who'd gone to
our junior high. He was a child of privilege, and a reasonably gifted
athlete and student. He and his friends had belonged, along with us, to
that upper tier in the junior high pecking order. He'd always gone out
his way to make sure everyone knew he and his little posse were better
than the rest of us in that upper tier, to say nothing of all the
Matt grimaced and continued.
"Exactly. And pretty soon it'll be open season on losers and geeks, and
next thing you know we're like every other fuckin' high school in the
world, with the kids at the top making life a goddam nightmare for some
little nerd, and everybody else copying."
He paused for a minute and
added, "That fuckin' sucks. It's not right, dogpiling on people like
that. Who knows what that can do to a kid?"
I looked at him in disbelief
and displeasure. In junior high he'd always talked in disparaging words
about the student
hierarchy, though he never seemed to mind
being at the top. But there seemed more to it in his words today:
something was different here. The irony had ratcheted up a notch. He
appeared dead set in his ambition to stay at the top, but he seemed
more disdainful than ever of the whole idea of a "student
I didn't get it. We'd never
picked on kids back in junior high, but the way we treated people never
had the dimensions of a moral cause, at least not to me. I didn't
believe in hurting anybody; Matt had helped me with that. But his
intensity on this subject right now was making me uncomfortable. This
was a crusade for him, an obsession. I didn't want any part of it.
Sure, I'd take the popularity, but I wasn't one for big moral causes.
"Forget it, Matt," I began.
"You and me, we're not that powerful. I don't give a shit how popular
we get to be. We're just two people, for godsake. The weird kids are
always gonna get picked on. You think anything we do is gonna make
things better for them? I figure my part is just to be nice to
everybody. But that's not gonna make a difference for those guys in the
"Yeah, it is," he said. "Our
friends, man--we don't do shit like that. There is a difference. We
don't make fun of people the way Jacobson and his asshole rich friends
do. You've seen the way those dickless jerks treat the geeks and the
ugly kids and the kids who don't have the best clothes. And then
everybody else just fuckin' does what they do because they're the
popular kids. Dude--those poor bastards who always get tortured like
that, they're human beings too. They have feelings just like we do,
Andy, and nobody should have to put up with that shit. Someday some
fucked-up kid's gonna get to a point where he's had all of that shit he
can take, and he's gonna go over the edge and put some bigtime fuckin'
hurt on himself, and then how's everybody gonna feel?"
I wasn't buying it. "So by
becoming Big Popular Studs, you and I are gonna to prevent some loser
from offing himself?"
"Yeah, himself...or maybe
someone else," Matt added ominously. "All that mean shit doesn't have
to happen here. We're cool with everybody; all the guys we hang out
with are, too. If people think of us when they think of 'the popular
kids,' we can kinda set the tone for what happens around here."
He continued. "Most of the
kids around here like us better than Jacobson already. I figure because
we play football, we have an edge: it'll be easier for us to get into
student government, because people know us from football. It's the
first sport of the year and we get the exposure, dude. Then, once we're
in, whatever we say, whatever we do, that's gonna be what people copy."
"I don't know, man," I
replied. "I got my own shit to worry about, I can't be no fuckin' role
model. That's what you're talking about, you know. What's this big deal
you always have about coming to the rescue of people you don't even
know? Who fuckin' made you defender of the defenseless?"
His eyes flashed fire at me.
So rarely did Matt ever invoke
his dead brother's name that on those occasions when he did, I knew he
was speaking from a place inside where the hurt never leaves. In Matt's
soul, Kenny's murder stood for everything that was wrong with the
world. It stood for safety and security collapsing; it stood for
fathers abandoning grieving little boys; it stood for people using
people, hating people, hurting people, for their own gratification.
What was there to say in
response? His conviction was unutterably correct. I shut my eyes
tightly, then opened them again, trying to shake off the accusation,
and the anguish, that lay beneath his quiet answer. Thinking about
others by now came as naturally to Matt as breathing. Somehow he lived
in that place. By comparison I was only an occasional visitor, and
sitting here reeling from Matt's two-word rebuke, my conscience was now
berating me with that fact.
I looked over at Matt.
He was staring at the table as he said, quietly, "I know how it feels
when you think you can't take it anymore."
I looked down at my burger. I
couldn't speak. I couldn't eat. I was afraid to raise my head, afraid
to look him in the eye. "I'm sorry, Matt," I said, concentrating on my
French fries. "I didn't mean it."
He put his hands on my
shoulders and raised me from my slumped-over position until he could
look me in the face. "Then mean something else," he said.
"Okay," I said quietly,
forcing myself to meet his gaze.
We continued to look each
other in the face silently. Gradually, the hard-set lines of Matt's
lips began to morph into his trademark smile. He took his hands off my
shoulder and slapped me gently on the right cheek with his left hand.
"I'm good for you, aren't I?"
"Yeah, Matt," I had to smile
back, "you're good for me. Maybe too
good for me. You're so full of
"No," he said,
matter-of-factly. "I'm not bragging, dude. I need to be good for you.
It makes me feel better."
"'Cause, bro," he said, eyes
sparkling. "If I can make you better, it means you ain't so fuckin'
much. Otherwise that big geek-brain of yours would give me an
"Hey, what can I say? That's
me: big geek-brain, big athletic skills, big everything."
"You forgot big head and big
I shot him the finger. "Fuck
"With that 'Big Everything'? I
don't think so, sailor."
I doubled over with laughter,
probably more out of a sense of relief than anything else.
We went back to our lawn work,
and by the time we'd finished it was about 4:30 in the afternoon. We
walked ourselves, our equipment, and our money back to my house. After
we'd put away the lawn equipment, we went into the house and headed
toward my room. On our way I said to Matt, "You got plans for the rest
of the night?"
He said, "Nope. I just thought
I'd go home and watch TV and play video and shit. I've been goin' out
every weekend and it's hurtin' the cash flow."
We began walking up the
stairs. I asked him, "Wanna hang out here, then? You don't even have to
go home to grab clean clothes. You can shower up here, and you can put
on some of my shit afterwards; we're not that different in size. I
don't wanna spend a lot of money either. I still have a lot left but
some of it's gonna go fast this month."
"Food too? Your mom okay if I
I smiled. "Like you even have
"Sounds good to me," he said,
turning the corner at the top of the stairs. "Sleepover?"
"Sure, why not," I said.
We went into my room and he
sat down on my bed. "Let me call home and tell Mom I'm here for the
night. I guess it means I gotta go to church with you tomorrow morning,
"Of course, dude," I replied.
"We have to keep you from burning in hell for your sinful ways."
"Fuck you, Phillips, your
family doesn't even believe in hell," he said.
"Well, yeah, but you know the
drill in this house. Sunday morning's church, dude, and that goes for
anyone who's spending the night, too."
"Okay; it's not that bad, and
anyway," he added with a wink, "maybe I'll sit next to Beth and give
her a thrill."
My sister was eleven
years old and had a huge crush on Matt. I wasn't amused.
"Cut it out with that shit," I
"I was just kidding, moron,"
he said. "Yeah, I'll stay tonight and do church with y'all tomorrow.
Got some good clothes for me to wear so I don't have to run home?"
"Yeah, a pair of khakis and a
nice-lookin' shirt, that'll do. You can even wear a pair of my shoes."
"Excellent. Okay, I gotta call
After Matt had made his phone
call, we spent some time playing Nerf hoops. As we finished a game,
Matt turned to me and said, "What did you mean about your cash getting
drained? What are you gonna buy?"
I had forgotten to tell him
about the revised birthday plans. "I just decided I wanted to
have a lot of people over for my birthday party."
"Cool. We're gonna party here?"
"No, man," I explained, "It
was short notice and my mom almost shit kitties. Dad's gonna look into
the Club for me and see if we can book it. But I have to pick up half
"Wow. That is gonna cut into
the bank account."
"Yeah," I said, "but it'll be
awesome. I mean, think about it. Since you're so into making us the
campus studs, we invite our football team, their girls, cheerleaders,
some other kids. It'll be like, 'Andy's party rocks, dude!' and the
next thing you know everybody's havin' a good time and it works in our
"How many people?" he asked.
"'Bout fifty," I responded.
"It'll be the first good party of the school year at the Club. And that
won't hurt your plans any."
Matt grinned. "Yeah, that's
what I'm talkin', Andy. Now you're with the program. Don't invite that
asshole Jacobson, though."
"Are you kidding? Of course
I'm gonna invite him, and some of his rich friends, too. If we're gonna
do this thing you want, we gotta win over some of that crowd, and what
better way than to let them in on the first and best party of freshman
"Hell, yeah. Or not; you could
just see what works out when you get there. Whatever you want."
Matt's eyes sparkled mischief
as he said, "There's lots of places there to sort of go off with a girl
and, you know, get to know her a little better."
I frowned. "Yeah...but here's
the deal. My dad says we have to have ten chaperones."
"That's a crock of shit."
"Well," I said, "maybe so or
maybe no, but he's not gonna budge."
"Won't that kill it?"
"Nah, it doesn't have to," I
replied. "We can figure shit out. You and I get to pick the chaperones,
and they can't be everywhere. Also, I gotta see if your mom and
mom will help my mom with food and shit, and you can ask Jennifer's
"Well, you know my mom will,"
he said. "Sometimes I think she forgets you're not in the family. And,
hell, Jennifer's mom is so glad I'm not going out with her daughter any
more, she'll do whatever I want." Matt grinned. His good looks and fast
moves were already giving parents some concern.
"I can charm Stephanie's mom
it," I added.
"Yeah, as long as she doesn't
know what you have in mind for her daughter."
I blushed a little. I was
pushing it a little farther each time I went out with Stephanie, and
intended to make her the next notch on my gun.
Matt thought for a minute,
then asked, "Do we get the pool? Swimming could really help stuff. You
know, lots more skin, that kind of thing."
"Probably not, on this kinda
notice," I answered. "But we can have fun without it. "And..." I paused
for effect: "I can probably get a little something to make the punch
"No way, dude!"
"Yep," I said. "I betcha I can
get my Varsity Bro to get us some Everclear or something."
I thought back to that Monday
morning meeting after we'd found out starting positions. At our high
school it was a tradition for each freshman football player to be
"adopted" by a Varsity player who served a "big brother" function for
the year. At that early morning meeting, every starter found out which
older player had chosen him. My Varsity Bro was a popular junior, a
receiver named Cole Martin. From the day he was designated my Varsity
Bro, we got along really well. He never treated me like a freshman,
unlike some of the Varsity Bros, and I'd been invited to spend time
with him and his friends a couple of times.
The day after the freshman
dance, I was at his house with a bunch of the Varsity players, when he
hauled out a couple of six-packs of beer, passed them around and said,
"Time for us to turn Andy into a total bad boy. I hear he already got a
good start this summer, drillin' Dylan Clark's woman; this oughta
finish the job." I blushed, but inside I was feeling pretty studly, if
the older guys thought my hook-up with Staci was a ballsy move. Anyway,
that night I got drunk for the first time in my life. It only took two
beers, because I'd never had more than a single beer at a time before.
Over the next days, Cole and I had gotten more and
more tight with each other, and we'd actually hung out together a few
times in the last week. As I got to know the older football
players, it became clear to me that I had one of the coolest Varsity
Matt broke into my
reflections. "No way are you gonna talk Cole into scoring booze for
you. How would he get it? He can't walk in and buy it either."
"His brother's a senior
at UTD," I explained. "He lives on campus but it's nearby. Brad hooks
him up with liquor any time he wants it."
"Fuckin' A," Matt said. "But
even if he got us some, how are we gonna get trashed with all those
"Well, we can't get trashed,
not really," I said. "Anyway, Matt, have you ever been trashed?"
"Umm, no. Not really. You know
what, dude? Truth be known, I've never had more than two beers at one
time in my whole life and that was only once."
"Right," I replied. "I'm not
saying we should get fuckin' polluted. I'm just saying we could have
around for a little buzz, you know? I figure it might be fun just to
throw a little Everclear in some of the punch, or maybe it would be
easier just to carry around the bottle on the sly and hit people's
drinks if they wanted some. That way we wouldn't have to worry about
chaperones tasting it in the punch."
At that moment Matt jumped up
from my bed wide-eyed. "Hey, as long as we're talking about impressing
people, do you
think Cole and some of the Varsity Bros and upperclassmen girls would
come? I bet Jeff would come if I asked him." Jeff Blizzard was the
quarterback of the Varsity team, and was Matt's Varsity Bro.
"Great idea," I said. "I
think Cole would do it for me, and between Cole and Jeff we could
probably get all the upperclassmen we wanted. It wouldn't hurt to have
the varsity quarterback and his friends."
"Sounds like the guest list is
getting bigger, though," he mused. "Think your folks would shit at the
thought of seventy-five?"
"Definitely," I said. "But I
bet I can get them to go for it anyway. Like Danny says, they think I
walk on water." I grinned, thinking about the little encounter with
Danny and the baseball. Just as quickly, though, my smile
began to fade. "Shit, that means five more chaperones."
"Well, we'll just have to make
sure we get the right ones," he said.
We spent about ten minutes
coming up with a list of chaperones who would satisfy my dad's
requirements and yet not keep us on particularly short leashes. When
we'd pretty much decided on the adults we thought we'd like to ask, I
read the final list to him and said, "Okay, is this list the one we're
going with? We probably ought to start asking them today, or at least
"Yeah, that sounds about
right," he said, obviously enthused at the prospects. "Wow, Phillips,
the thought of this is startin' to get me off! Music, food, booze, and
hot girls. Perfect combination!"
With that comment, he started
taking off his clothes. "Okay, gimme some of your shit to wear," he
said casually, naked by this time, "and snag me a towel." My unease
from the morning resonated weakly through my brain, but this time
seeing Matt in his birthday suit felt unremarkable. I'd seen Matt naked
hundreds of times by now, and, I noted with gratitude, whatever was
going on at the beginning of the day, things were now back to normal. I
he was half-hard. I smiled to myself, and shook my head. He's as bad a
horndog as I am, I thought. Must have been the thought of
girl a little buzzed at my party, then going off by himself with her.
I went to my dresser and
pulled out a pair of blue mesh shorts, a pair of white cotton CK
boxers, and a white tee; then I went to the hall closet where my mom
kept the towels, and I grabbed a bath towel for him. Walking back into
the room, I handed him the stuff and said, "Okay, hurry up, and don't
use all the hot water." He looked at the boxers and said, "Fuck the
boxers, man, we're not going anywhere. I'm just freeballin' it."
"No, way, asshole," I said. "I
don't want your boys in direct contact with my clothes."
"Get over it," he complained,
"and just wash the fuckin' shorts. And anyway, the equipment's gonna be
rubbin' up against your boxers if I put them on, right?"
Well, obviously. Somehow that
hadn't struck me. "Yuck. Maybe I'll just give 'em to you." I thought
for a minute, then relented. "Man, I don't give a shit. Just freeball,
I don't care."
He cracked a wicked smile and
said, "Anyway, you've had it in your hand, spittin' jizz all over you;
what could be worse than that?"
"Don't remind me," I shot
back. "Okay, leave the boxers here, but just fuckin' hurry up, wouldja?
And you gotta throw on a pair of jeans when we go down to eat. I don't
want my mom having to catch sight of your dick through that mesh."
He looked at me wickedly and
began, "Well, maybe she..."
"Don't," I warned, not letting
him finish. "Shut up and go shower, dammit!"
"Already there," he said as he
wrapped the towel around him and walked out into the hall.
Danny was in his room playing
Danzig's "Demonsweatlive" CD at top volume. As Matt passed by on his
way to the shower, Danny noticed him, turned off the CD, stuck his head
out into the hall, and asked, "Hey, Matt. What're y'all doin'?"
Matt went into Danny's room
and sat down on his bed. "Well, Pest, we were dividing up the green and
now we're showering."
"Uh-huh. Y'all are showering.
Right. Yeah, you'll like that, wontcha, you fairies," Danny joked. Matt
was actually much better than I was about treating Danny like a human
being. As a result, Dan completely idolized Matt, and always did
everything he could to spend time with us. He was always trying to
impress Matt by acting tough and sarcastic with him.
"Aww, Danny, don't be a poor
sport," Matt teased, grabbing him, pulling him up from the bed, and
giving him "noogies." "Next time we'll invite you if you ask nice."
I'd overheard their little
encounter. I walked into Dan's room and said, "You two can give it a
spin if you want," I threw in, "but I think I'll pass. Showering's a
"Yeah, and maybe a
one-man-one-girl operation if you're lucky," Matt added, continuing to
keep Dan locked in his grasp.
"I don't see that happening
any time soon," I replied.
With Danny struggling to break
free of Matt's death-grip, Matt's towel started to slip off and pretty
soon he was standing there naked, holding Dan captive. I laughed
at the sight: Dan's neck was in
Matt's headlock, and Matt's dick was pressed up against Danny's
Danny croaked out, "Hey, watch
the naked, man, and get that thing away from me."
Matt let go of Dan, picked up
his towel, walked back into the hall, and said, "Rejected again! Okay,
little dude, I know when I'm not wanted."
Undeterred, Dan called out,
"No, really, man, can I hang out with y'all for a while? I promise I
won't be a pest." "Pest" was Matt's pet nickname for my brother,
although it was obvious he loved Danny like a brother.
"Let us get cleaned up, Dan,"
I said, "then we'll talk about it."
After we'd both showered, we
took turns playing video games with Danny and letting him sit in while
we talked about school and football and girls. As always, Matt went out
of his way to make Danny feel like a part of the conversation and treat
him like an equal, instead of treating him like the annoying little kid
he was. Danny was pretty transparent in his hero-worship
of Matt, and Matt always got a kick out of that.
We went downstairs and ate
with the family. It turned out that Beth was spending the night at a
friend's, which was fine with me. It would have been a little much to
siblings drooling like idiots over Matt.
After some more videogaming, a
movie on the VCR, a late-night pizza and a little TV, Danny went to his
room and Matt and I started getting ready for bed. I pulled out a
sleeping bag, and Matt said "I'll flip you for the bed." I pulled a
quarter out of my pocket and flipped it, saying, "Call it." "Heads," he
responded, and heads it was, so I got the floor. I undressed, turned
out the light, and crawled into the sleeping bag; up in my bed, Matt
was already under the covers. We talked quietly for a while. Just as I
was beginning to get drowsy, Matt said, with obvious amusement, "Dude,
your little brother really loves me, doesn't he?"
"Yeah, he does," I said, and
added silently to myself, right
along with my sister, my Mom, and my
Dad, and... I choked, mentally, on the end of that thought; as I
lay there in the dark, musing, the frightening sense of dislocation I'd
felt when I'd first set eyes on him that morning began to rise in me
once again. But exhaustion won out, and before I'd had much chance to
brood, sleep took me.
Copyright 2004 by Adam
Phillips. You can email me at email@example.com