It’s about a girl.
This isn’t going to end well. Justin is curled up on the grass, on his back like a beetle, biting his thumb, laughing so hard he can’t breathe. We’ve been drinking Western Flower champagne out of red Solo cups. Full red Solo cups.
Justin also concocted butterscotch pudding shooters. That’ll look nice on the return trip, if you know what I mean. Robby and I abstained. Which probably helps explain why my head feels a bit lighter than my body but I still know things like my phone number, address, and gender. Robby, I think, is in about the same condition. Justin is . . . not.
Usually we don’t drink at all. A celebration is in order, sure, but with the champagne bubbling in my guts, I’m starting to think a night of video games and pizza might’ve been a better idea.
“Someday,” Robby says slowly, studying the rim of his cup, “I want to be just like you, Ty. I want to tell a story.”
“You should,” I say. “Writing is fun.” Which, even as I say it, I know is one of the dorkier things I’ve ever said. And I’ve said a lot of dorky things. I keep a list. “Splendid abdominals” comes to mind. Also “milky belly.”
“But I want to tell a true story,” Robby says. “I want to be able to tell a story that ends with the sentence, ‘And that’s when the profound tsunami of blow jobs started.’ ”
Justin hacks, coughs, stutters a breath, and keeps laughing.
I force myself to laugh with him. My story is true--except for the whole “fiction” thing. Maybe “science fiction” is a better term, because my plot is about as realistic as a B movie.
“When do we get to read it, anyway?” Robby asks, taking a drink.
“Sometime,” I say. “Listen, can I ask you guys something?”
“The capital of Guam is Hagatna,” Justin says, giggling.
“G’head,” Robby says, trying to find a serious face to put on.
So I ask, “Do you think I should just tell her?”
Robby groans. Justin stops laughing.
“Oh, shit, Tyler,” Justin says. “Not again!”
Robby chugs the last half of his champagne in one mighty gulp. A super big gulp, you could say.
He belches. “Justin’s right,” he says. “It’s time to move on, man. ‘Time to git goin’. What lies ahead I have no way a’ knowin’. . . .’ ”
Singing Tom Petty. Badly. Isn’t he dead? It’s taken a couple years, but Robby--currently wearing a distressed Zeppelin T-shirt--has circled back to a classic-rock phase.
Justin, still on his back, raises a hand. “Wait a sec,” he says. He turns his head to one side. A second later, a great glut of butterscotch and champagne rockets out of his mouth and onto the grass. The sight of it makes my stomach roller coaster.
“Okay, I’m back,” Justin says. He grunts and sits up, crossing his legs and dangling his hands off his knees. “What were we talking about?”
“Never mind,” I say, and finish my drink. The champagne carbonates my bloodstream and burns acid in my stomach. So this is why we don’t drink very often.
“You can’t back out now,” Robby says to me. He sits on top of the concrete picnic table where we’ve decided to hold our little party, his feet on the bench. “This needs to be addressed. So? Let’s do this. Are you trying to say she has no idea? Seriously? Let’s start there.”
I look aimlessly around the dark park, hoping someone will happen by and mug us.
Robby and Justin aren’t her biggest fans, and I know this. I never should have even brought her up.
I met her the first day of freshman year. Three years ago.
Well . . . not so much “met” as “made brief eye contact.” It was enough.
My first crush happened in eighth grade. A girl named Lily Rose. No joke, that was her name. I’d thought Lily was “cute.”
Rebecca Webb eclipsed cute and went straight to being the sun that lit and warmed my world.
If I could be any more melodramatic about how she made me feel, believe me, I would. It’s the best I can do.
Becky Webb stood in front of me in line in the cafeteria that first day. All us freshmen seemed to be trying too hard to look cool: bangs in faces, shoulders thrown back or curled forward, sharp scowls or wide puppy-dog eyes. You could tell the upperclassmen by the way they’d snicker and shake their heads at everyone else, and by the fact that they’d shoved their way to the front of the line, leaving us ninth graders to bring up the rear. Yeah, looking cool was a mathematical impossibility on our first day of high school.
But we tried anyway. We collectively scanned the entire smelly, damp room as if we didn’t care in the least that no one cared in the least about us. As if any moment, a group of popular seniors would wave us over to their kingdom-table. I was just happy I’d found the cafeteria without getting lost.
Like me, Becky scanned the cafeteria, moving her head in slow circles as we shuffled forward to order our soggy lunches. Our lighthouse-like movements must’ve been in sync, because for the longest time, I didn’t notice her. I mean, I saw a girl with iridescent blond hair trimmed short in back, long in front; this girl a little shorter than me, in denim cutoffs and a dark blue ringer T-shirt, but I didn’t see her face. Not until that moment.
When I changed my scan to a faster tempo, just to mix it up a bit, our eyes met.
I’d like to say she smiled at me. She didn’t. Not really; it was one of those toothless Hey, how’s it going? Don’t answer because I don’t really care sort of half grins you give people when you want to be polite but not start a conversation.
My head locked in place on my neck, my eyes wide, taking in every detail of her face.
That was it. The beginning of the end.
She faced forward again after our brief contact. A tattoo, half-covered by her shirt, graced the smooth curve where her shoulder met her neck: a nautical star, blue and black. Big, too--three or four inches across. I liked it, but it surprised me. A collared shirt would cover her tat, but her ringer T didn’t. She wanted people to see it. And I wanted to ask her why.
This adorable, serene, tattooed girl picked up a chicken salad and carton of milk while I blindly grabbed whatever crap du jour was flung at me by the hairy cafeteria ladies. A suave gentleman might have purchased her lunch as a way to break the ice. Since I was not then and am not now a suave gentleman, I instead almost spilled my swill on the cashier as I watched Becky walk to an empty table.
A friendless dork myself, I sat at a half-full table several yards away to study her, tasting nothing of my lunch and ignorant--mostly--of the glares I got from the muscular, mustachioed seniors whose table I’d invaded.
Becky methodically arranged her food, adding to it a box of animal crackers from a cobalt messenger bag slung over her shoulder. She’d safety-pinned a patch to the front, but I couldn’t tell what it depicted--a band logo, I guessed. She dumped the cookies on her tray and appeared to organize them.
How? I wanted to know. By species? Alphabetically?
Becky nibbled at her salad while pulling a paperback book from her bag. Night Shift, by Stephen King.
If I wasn’t in love with her before this, now my devotion became complete. Night Shift was the first Big-Boy Book I’d ever read, sometime in fifth grade. It was an older book too. Not many people even knew about it anymore.
When the bell rang ending lunch, I chose the trash can nearest Becky to throw away my remains. My path, of course, took me right past her. She seemed in no hurry to get to class. Despite years of story writing, I had no words to say to her; speaking and writing are two vastly different skills, it turns out. I walked right past without saying anything. Even “hi” would’ve been a good start, but nope.
I did, however, glance at her zoo of animal crackers. On one corner of the tray: fully developed, healthy monkeys, giraffes, zebras. On the opposite corner: mangled, snapped cookies.
She was only eating the broken ones.
Pretending for my sake it’s the first time we’ve had this conversation, Robby says, “What do you think of Rebecca, Justin?”
Justin says, “Well--”
“Shut up, I’m talking!” Robby says.
This cracks them both up. Justin falls backward, coming within inches of plastering himself with his own rich, creamy butterscotch puke.
“Forget it,” I tell them. “Forget I said anything.”
“Aw, I’m sorry, girlfriend,” Robby says. “C’mon, keep yer skirt on. I’m serious, Ty. She doesn’t know? Three years, and she has no idea how you want to give her a bit of the old--”
“It’s not about sex,” I say before Robby can complete his sentence. It’s for the best. I don’t want to know how it ended.
My friends stare at me. Justin, perplexed. Robby, amused.
“Not exactly,” I add. “I mean, it’s not even about kissing Becky. Not that she’s not beautiful. She is.”
Robby nods. Justin drools.
“If she showed up naked at my bedroom door and said, ‘Let’s go,’ I wouldn’t say no,” I go on. “I’m not that honorable.”
Justin notices his drool and wipes it off with the back of his hand. Robby still looks at me like I’m an idiot.
Even from that first day, my attraction to Becky Webb was something different, something unusual. I wanted to hold her, protect her, hug her. One recurring daydream involved me holding her tightly as she wept in my arms. I’d tell her everything would be okay--whatever “everything” it was that bothered her--and that I was there for her.
It’s a sick dream, I know. Selfish. If she was crying, then she had been hurt.
So then, what--I required her pain to satisfy my sick lust? I mean, how jacked up is that?
. . . I’m not explaining this very well.
Thankfully, my cell rings. I pull it out of my hip pocket, fumble it for a second, then blink at the screen, trying to decipher the caller’s identity. The champagne, swiped from Justin’s dad’s liquor cabinet, has drawn hazy smoke curtains over my vision.
When the haze clears, I tap the green button on my phone.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Who is it?” Robby demands, trying to bum-rush me but tangling his legs in Justin’s and crashing to the ground instead.
I cover the receiver with my thumb. “Becky!” I spit at them. “So shut up.”
My friends look at each other, then back at me, and leap.
I backpedal, trying to evade. No luck. They tumble into me, and Robby gets his hands on my phone. While Justin plows his weight into my middle to keep me pinned, Robby puts the phone up to his face and shouts, “Hey, Raw-becca! We were just talking about you!”
I didn’t stalk her or anything. But when I saw her around school, I did take note of where she was coming from or where she was headed. Over the course of about a month, I pieced together her schedule freshman year: English, math, biology, lunch, drama, computer lab, French.
I didn’t follow her. I paid attention, that’s all. Maybe one week I’d be on my way to English and see her coming out a door in the same hallway. Maybe a few weeks later, sent on an errand to the office, I’d pass an open classroom and see her in the front row in French. That kind of thing. At one point I realized we passed each other every day at the same place at the same time: by the trophy case near the office, between second and third periods.
I did not talk to her. What if she hated my guts? What if she laughed in my face? Too risky. Plus, this was high school now; she had hundreds of guys to choose from. What did I have to offer? Zits, cowardice, and silence? Aw yeah. Cue my rockin’ theme music.
“Yeah, hey, it’s Robby,” Robby says into my phone while I struggle against Justin. “Robby. Robby. ROBBY! Damn, woman, what am I, deaf?”
“Shut ugh!” I grunt. Justin, giggling at Robby’s joke, digs an elbow into my gut, cutting off my breath.
“We’re just hanging out at the park, drinking a little,” Robby says to Becky. “Maybe a lot. I don’t remember. Guess that’s a good sign, huh? Yeah, so what’re you up to tonight?”
If my best friend drops dead right this second, I’ll be totally okay with that.
About two weeks into freshman year, I climbed on the city bus after school as usual. Mom, Dad, and my sister, Gabrielle, cared not at all that the city bus was a cesspool. In fact, they seemed to enjoy that I had to get up so early to make it to a bus that got me to school on time, and catch a bus home that took twice as long as a car. “I had to do it too,” Gabby had sung during breakfast on my first day. “Have a good one, freshman!”
The city bus idled in a pull-out just beyond the school parking lot. I didn’t know Robby when I sat down in the seat next to him. It was one of the few empty seats available, and I didn’t blame anyone else for not wanting to sit there. Robby had headphones on, and he used his thighs as a drum kit for whatever noise he was listening to. He sang all the parts: vocals, guitars, drums, the works, alternating one for another.
Sighing to myself, I sat gingerly on the blue upholstered seat. He didn’t even turn.
“‘Fatality!--reality!--you await the final kaaaaaaaaaaa!’”
I had no idea what the last word was, because his voice reached an impossible pitch. He stopped drumming his legs long enough to throw two heavy-metal devil horns with his hands, turned to face himself. He was his own crowd.
At least he was having a good time. I turned to look out the window so as not to bug this weird kid . . . and saw Becky standing on the sidewalk beside the parking lot.
I sat up straight and watched as a flashy gray SUV pulled up to where Becky stood. She didn’t move. A full minute must’ve gone by, during which the weird kid beside me began singing another song. Finally, a woman got out of the driver’s seat and walked around the back of the car toward Becky. I assumed it was her mom. The woman wore pristine workout clothes with a baseball hat, hair pulled through the back, in a way that made me think she got dressed up and wore makeup to go exercise.