I nearly freaked out right there in the coffee shop. Not out of excitement over Kate’s awesome news, but because the first thing I thought of was Allison. I’m such a dick. What kind of boyfriend am I? Here Kate tells me about something that could influence the rest of her life, and all I could think about was kissing Allison. Then the guilt kicked in. Combined with the jolt of caffeine surging through my system, and I was ready to explode.
While Kate drove me over to Eric’s house, I did my best to distract myself, searching for tunes on the radio, making wise ass comments to get Kate to laugh, and digging around in the glove box to see what her dad keeps hidden in there. None of it worked. We arrived at Eric’s, kissed goodbye, and I watched her drive away. Still, all I could think about was kissing Allison.
Allison and I have always had this exciting, yet elusive relationship. After years of missed opportunities, years of never being in sync (either she had a boyfriend or I was with Kate), we found ourselves alone in a hotel room overlooking the nation’s capital. I didn’t mean to kiss her, it just happened. An impulse.
When I told Kate, she forgave me. I thought everything was fine; we were fine. Yet, as soon as Kate told me she would be gone all summer…
Allison’s face showed up in my head.
Her face is always in my head; as is her hair, and her body, and her laugh and…
This has to stop.
I walk down the long driveway to the Garcia’s house, passing a cream colored pickup truck that belongs to Eric’s brother, Drew. Parked in front of it is a rusting behemoth covered with patches of Bondo and botched attempts at spray painting over the defects. This relic from the 1970s, a Chevy Caprice station wagon, is Eric’s car. His parents bought it for him on his sixteenth birthday. It cost $300. We call it the “Family Truckster,” after the car in National Lampoon’s Vacation. We’ve had a lot of good times in it. I can only hope that there are a few more adventures before the beast finally dies.
The front door is wide open, and I call into the house.
“Anyone want to play some hoops?”
Inside, a silhouette approaches, and my best friend walks into the light, smiling.
“About time you got here,” Eric says.
As he joins me outside, I trot over to the rose bushes to retrieve a wayward basketball. I bounce it a couple of times, then shoot the ball at the rickety old basketball hoop standing on the far left corner of the driveway. The ball hits the backboard, and the ground is showered with flecks of rust. The hoop is a hunk of junk after many Ohio winters. It’s stood in the Garcia driveway since I first met Eric, back in the 5th grade. The two of us became friends after we discovered a mutual affinity for the Cleveland Indians and the Blues Brothers. The Garcia house has been a second home to me ever since.
Eric is smart, change-the-world-with-a-single-idea smart. However, he’s more interested in scoring beers than accepting his true nature. Eric is never lacking in girls interested in having flings with him, but deep down I know that he’s in search of the elusive “one,” that girl who’ll rock his world with a smile and a single kiss.
Eric sets down a silver boom box that he’s carrying with him. Knicked and scarred, this tape player is as beloved as the Family Truckster. Eric’s a bit of a music freak. He owns over 200 LPs, seven cases of cassettes, and his appetite is never filled. He turns on the radio and a fast blues number echoes across the yard.
“Oh yeah, I love this song,” Eric says.
“Who is this?” I ask.
“Mason Ruffner,” he replies, only it’s in a tone that says, Duh. Mason Ruffner? Who the hell’s heard of Mason Ruffner?
He picks up the basketball. “Game of Horse?”
“Sure you want that kind of embarrassment?” I reply.
“I’m feelin’ lucky today.”
The front door bangs open. Drew Garcia bounds out dressed in a security guard uniform, complete with a tin badge and squeaky, black work shoes. Drew is an older, heavier version of Eric. He just graduated from Youngstown State and lacks a sense of humor.
“I’ll be back around midnight,” Drew announces, “I expect everything to be in perfect shape when I get home.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Eric asks.
“Your party tonight? Yeah, don’t look so surprised, little brother. I’m not stupid.”
Eric shifts, uncomfortable.
“It’s your ass if anything happens to the house,” Drew states.
“I have everything under control.”
Drew mocks Eric. “I have everything under control.” He starts laughing, thinking he’s so hilarious. “Dude, you’ll never have everything under control because you’re just a sixteen-year-old dork! That’s why Mom and Dad left me in charge while they’re on vacation.”
Clearly unaware of his lameness, Drew continues to cackle as he makes his way to his pickup. As he climbs in, Drew leans out the door and calls out, “Midnight, little brother!” His car door slams, and he guns the engine. Tires squeal as he backs out of the driveway and races away.
“I swear he’s adopted,” Eric says.
“Are you sure it’s a good idea throwing this party tonight?”
Eric whips the ball into the air, and it sails over the dilapidated basketball hoop and into his neighbor’s yard.
As he trots over to retrieve the ball, Eric replies, “Of course it’s a good idea. My folks are out of town for two weeks. What better time to celebrate that we’re seniors.”
He bounces the ball to me.
“Plus, I’ve been telling people about this little shindig for a month. There’s no turning back.”
I shoot the ball and bank it off the backboard and into the net. Eric picks up the ball and stands in the spot where I made my basket. Pausing to wipe his longish brown hair out of his eyes, he takes aim and says, “Michelle Ito, Bri, I hope she shows up. Girl is such a babe. The way her shorts cling to the curve of her butt. And her eyes? That smile. But really funny, too, and raunchy. The mouth on that girl.” He pauses and imagines Michelle Ito.
He shoots, misses, and the ball careens into the rose bushes in front of the house.
I grab the ball and dribble.
“Is this party an elaborate ploy to get the girl of your dreams over to your house just so you can ask her out?” I ask, incredulous.
Eric shrugs. I laugh out loud. This is why I love him: coming up with an elaborate scheme just to get the girl. Brilliant. Delusional, but still brilliant.
“Well,” he starts, “some of us have to be creative. We can’t all be as fortunate as you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
I drop back and do a fade away jumper that’s nothing but net.
“Damn, dude!” Eric exclaims.
“You know there’s nothing going on with Ally.”
“What about the Washington trip?”
“That… was unplanned. It was just one kiss.”
Eric dribbles the ball.
“Just one kiss, my ass,” he says. “You’re making up some excuse not to find out if there could really be something between you two.”
He sizes up his shot.
“You know,” Eric starts, “I’ve never said this, but I think the reason you told Kate about the kiss wasn’t so much to be honest, but to sabotage you and Allison.”
“I told Kate because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re in a relationship. It’s called honesty.”
“Most guys would have lied their asses off.”
He’s right. No guy I know would ever have confessed to his girlfriend that he kissed another girl. But I did. And you know what? She forgave me, for the most part.
Eric shoots. The ball ricochets back at my face and I have to duck.
“I mean, I get it, Bri, I get the attraction to Kate. She’s smokin’ hot. Great body. Pretty face, reasonable sense of humor. Four out of five dentists surveyed recommend her.”
“Okay, smartass. She’s way more than that.”
“But Allison,” Eric continues, “she has a quality about her, this whole Ally Sheedy, War Games- pretty, tom-boy thing that makes her adorable! I mean, even though you usually see her in a t-shirt and jeans, she’s just… gorgeous.”
“ Don’t tell me you’ve never seen War Games! What kind of childhood did you have? Your parents are monsters!”
We crack up.
I pick up the basketball and turn it in my hands. Casually, I jog over and make a simple layup.
“Eric, you were there that night.”
I bounce the ball to Eric, and he makes an effort to copy my layup. Instead, he misses the backboard completely and collides with the metal pole of the hoop. He rolls to the ground and stays there.
“Yeah,” he begins, “It was… it was pretty intense. We got into a conversation about The Mosquito Coast. You saw that, right?”
“I was with you.”
“Right. So you know. It’s intense. That movie, man, it really messed her up. I think with everything going on at home and… Well, before long Allison is talking manically about quantum physics, our place in the universe and if God exists. At first we thought she was just going off on a tangent, but then she broke down crying…”
He stares off.
“It was surreal, like something you see in some bad TV movie, only not so poorly acted. But you know all of this.”
I toss the ball up, banking it off of the backboard and into the basket. The ball bounces right to Eric. He walks over to where I was standing and makes the shot.
“Hey, you made one.”
Eric flips the middle finger. He tosses the ball and says, “So what is up with you and Kate?”
He lowers his eyes in disbelief.
“I had this plan, Eric: Kate and I were going to spend all of this time together over the summer, and then I wouldn’t think about Allison.”
“I thought so. Then Kate dropped a bomb on me about an hour ago: She’s going to Vermont all summer.”
“Vermont?” Eric responds.
“Some elite horse camp for kids with disabilities. I mean, it’s great. Don’t get me wrong, how can she not take this opportunity? But we won’t see each other until school starts. I’m screwed.”
“Well, uh,” Eric starts, “consider this a trial run for next year, when you graduate. If you and Kate are really supposed to be together, you’ll find out by being separated all summer long. Or something like that.”
“You really think so?” I ask, a little encouraged.
Eric shoots. The ball lands on the rim, spinning around its edge. We both wait in anticipation until the ball slowly rolls off the rim and down to the cement.
“Look at that, Bri, you win.”
Today’s artwork was by Matt Forsythe. Matt has written and drawn the books Ojingogo and Jinchalo, and he is the lead designer on Adventure Time at Cartoon Network. He lives in Los Angeles. For more information about Matt, visit his website: comingupforair.net
Mason Ruffner’s song, “Gypsy Blood” is found on his 1987 album, Gypsy Blood.
Read Chapter 6 of Legendary