K. J. Pedersen
I LOVED THE cool nights of October ... the breeze, the chill, just enough to feel, but not so unpleasant or cold. It was still warm enough to wear a shirt without a coat or even a sweater. As usual I found myself sitting on the park’s lawn under the tall trees opposite the playground. My friend Wulfric Peterson sat across from me Indian-style, our knees touching. A few minutes before we’d watched a brilliant meteor shower come and go. Now we were quiet and simply enjoyed being outside together. We came to the park so often that it felt like our park, at least at night. Never mind that Sceofeld Park was the property of the Æthelbaldson Foundation — though open to the public — and going there after the sun had gone down was a violation of law; we were trespassing.
Worse still, Wulfric and I were passing a bottle of red wine back and forth, drinking it slowly, enjoying the flavor and the lightheadedness it brought. We were well under the legal drinking age of twenty. Sometimes we smoked herb, which was against the law in Liberia whether you were a minor or not. It wasn’t against the law in all the constituent republics of the Anglian Federated Republic, just ours. A security station stood up the street a few hundred feet or so. Breaking the law under their noses, defying authority so wantonly, was part of the pleasure.
“So, man, do you love her?” Wulfric asked me suddenly.
“Yeah ... I guess.”
“What do you mean, you guess? Kalli’s great. Pretty, sweet, smart, wild, tender — what’s not to love?”
I wished he hadn’t brought my ‘girlfriend’ up at all. “Things have changed between us,” I said finally.
“I don’t know how to explain it, Wulfy.”
He pressed on: “You are so lucky, man.”
“Let’s drop it, okay?”
“You love her though, don’t you?”
I looked at my friend for a long moment. “You sound like you’ve never even kissed a girl.”
His cheeks flared, even in the dim light of a partially cloud-obscured moon, I could see color rise in his cheeks. “I’ve had girlfriends before, Toby.”
Defiantly, he said, “Yeah.”
“Before you moved to Sceofeld, I had a girlfriend.”
“I thought you said you had girlfriends, plural.”
“That’s right.” He handed the wine bottle to me.
“Name them,” I challenged.
“You wouldn’t know them.”
I smirked at that, mocking him. “Sixteen years old and you’ve never been kissed.”
“Then tell me who.”
“I told you already that you wouldn’t know them. It was before you moved up here.”
“When you were ... what, fifteen? Fourteen? Did she let you feel up her breasts, her little fourteen-year-old nubs too?”
He nodded and his long, dark hair fell forward over his face and eyes. He pushed his smooth mane back, but kept his face down, and his eyes on the grassy blades. His mouth was a thin, solid line, clenched with anger, or embarrassment, or both. Sure, I hassled him. He was a year younger than I was. In a strange way, I guess, he filled the little brother’s role for me. I had only a younger sister, just six years old. I couldn’t help myself — sometimes I hassled him fiercely, the way any good older brother would.
“Why are you blushing?” I asked.
“Because you’re pissing me off!”
I laughed. “Sixteen and never been kissed!”
He lunged at me, drove me back into the grass. “You are such an asshole!” He was already as tall as I was, six feet even, but I was older, and stronger. It didn’t take long before I had him on his back, pinned. I leaned forward, so close that my long hair fell forward and touched his nose. He pushed against me; I retaliated. I leaned into him, grabbed his wrists tighter.
“Get off me.”
“No, this is okay.” I laughed, and, to add injury to insult, knocked him on the forehead with my knuckles.
That was a mistake; it gave him just enough freedom to throw me off. We wrestled on the grass for a few moments. Exhausted, we collapsed side by side, panting for breath. He looked over at me, grinned, and laughed.
“You really are an asshole, Toby.”
I sat up suddenly because my thigh was wet. “Oh, shit! Look at what you’ve done! You spilled the wine!” In wrestling, we’d knocked the bottle over. The wine was all over my pants.
He sat up and started to laugh, hard. “Oh, man, brother, I can smell it. No way you’ll be able to hide it. Your father is going to skin you alive!”
“It’s not funny.”
“Red wine ... hope it doesn’t stain.”
I stood up, ran my hand down over my pants leg. They were soaked, and I could smell the wine too. Wulfric was probably right. My parents were likely to tear into me good if they were still up when I finally decided to go home. And knowing them, the bloody night owls, they probably would be.
Wulfric handed me the bottle. There was still some left, and I took a long drink before giving the remainder to him. He drank it down, wiped his mouth with his shirt-sleeve, and grinned again at me. Usually he wore such a sullen expression that smiling on his part was enough to cheer me up. Who cared what my father and mother said? I lifted the bottle of wine from my father’s cabinet, so what? I’d been drinking since I was twelve.
Arguments with my parents were one thing — they didn’t particularly worry me — my relationship with Kalli was quite another matter though. Kalli Komensky, my on-again, off-again girlfriend, and I met last winter just after I moved up to Sceofeld from Mamescaester. We had so much in common it seemed, and we hooked up as boyfriend-girlfriend right away. But as the school year progressed it became clear there were problems with our relationship. We broke up, got back together, broke up again during the summer, and were now somewhere in between being boyfriend and girlfriend and just friends. We didn’t fight, or even argue, or anything like that, but we’d drifted apart.
Wulfric dropped the empty bottle in a garbage can and walked toward me. I was leaning against one of the trees. He leaned back beside me. Wulfric was my best friend. His friend, Shane mac Cormac, too, was a good friend. Okay, I should be honest: They were just about the only friends I’d made since moving north to the Niew Lifrapol Bay area. Moving at sixteen, almost seventeen, was hard. Aside from my best friend Iesu, I didn’t have any real friends to speak of in Mamescaester either, just a few drinking buddies, a girlfriend who was kind of meanspirited, and a couple of other girls whom I dated from time to time. I didn’t like Mamescaester Academy any better than I liked Sceofeld Academy now. Still, Mamescaester was home. My mother grew up there; hell, I grew up there too, in the same neighborhood.
I was beginning to feel melancholy again. Wulfric seemed to notice and had stopped smiling. He was an intelligent boy ... cool, reserved, calculating, but loyal and honest. He didn’t seem like he was a year younger. In fact, most of the time, he seemed older, more mature.
“Toby, this isn’t like you, being depressed. You’re usually the gregarious and wild one, man. You’re acting like Shane.”
I shrugged, then asked, “Where is Shane tonight?”
“I think he’s with Matti Kirkagárd.”
“That’s cool,” I said. “You ought to introduce me to Mattæus sometime. There’s that party coming up next week down in Hohtun. Why don’t you invite him?”
“Suppose I could.”
“Hey, he’s your neighbor, not mine.”
“He’s a loner, you know. Your personalities are different. He’s more like — ”
“You?” I said.
He nodded. “Yeah, he’s more like me.”
“Invite his brother Johannes too. He’s the only cool jock at Sceofeld.”
The two of us stood there in the dark for a few minutes, not talking. I rolled a hashish cigarette, lit it up, and took a drag. Then, force of habit, I handed it to Wulfy.
“You love Kalli, yeah?” I watched the wisps of smoke rise from his lips as he spoke.
I said, “Used to think so.”
He nodded and mercifully let the matter drop. Then he handed me the joint again. “Maybe we should be heading home now. It’s getting close to eleven. The last bus will be coming along soon.”
Wulfric lived on the south end of Sceofeld, almost to Hohtun, the next town, which was about three miles south. I lived just two streets down from the park. During the summer, Wulfric, Shane, and I walked together at night, from my house to Wulfric’s (Shane lived between us), and sometimes all the way back. Sometimes we took the bus.
“That wasn’t funny,” he said as we left.
After another toke, I handed the joint — almost gone now — back to Wulfric. “What wasn’t funny?”
“Did I feel up her ‘nubs’?”
I laughed. “I thought it was.”
He was silent for a long moment. “Have you and Kalli ever...?”
“I mean, I know you two are physical, but, have you ever...?”
“No. Not that.”
He nodded shyly.
“Wulfy, I’m serious, you sound like you have no experience at all with girls. So, have you ever even kissed a girl?”
“I said so, didn’t I?”
“Oh, c’mon, man, I won’t tell Shane if your lips are virgin!”
He slugged me, hard. “Fuck off.” He ran forward, spun, flashed me the middle finger with both hands, and ran off again.
I ran after him at full speed. “You little shit, I’m going to kill you!”
To be continued....