The story so far: While at the mall to buy Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers tickets, Brian ran into Allison. It was the first time he’d seen her since school let out. The two friends walked through the Sears ladies swimwear and tread lightly around their feelings for each other. When they found themselves holding hands, Brian panicked and quickly left Allison to go find Eric. The boys have one last errand to run: to pick up the mysterious “Jack.” The year is 1987.
We shout at the top of our lungs every time Tom Petty pleads, “Don’t come around here no more.” God, I love this song. It sounds especially good with the windows of the Family Truckster cranked down, the radio turned up and the wind blowing in your face. It’s a glorious day to be driving around in the Valley. People are out running, having picnics, throwing Frisbees and just lounging around on the grass while an eighty-degree sun shines down. Eric weaves the car around the winding roads that cut through the park, on our way to find Jack.
Sliding around my feet is Eric’s copy of this year’s Cuyahoga High School yearbook.
“Why is this in here?” I ask, lifting the book and flipping through its pages.
“Huh? Oh, just toss it in the back.”
The yearbook falls open at the sophomore pictures, in particular the “I’s.” It doesn’t take long for me to find the photo of Michelle Ito, smiling for the camera. She’s cute, with an inviting smile. Nothing like any of the big hair girls Eric usually dates. The few times I’ve met Michelle, she seemed sincere and funny, which makes her a winner, as far as I’m concerned.
“I can see why you worship Michelle Ito,” I say to him.
“I don’t worship her.”
“You’re such a bullshitter, dude. You probably carry around this yearbook so you can stare at her picture.”
“Yeah, well, she wrote something really profound.”
“Really, what was that?”
“See you this summer.”
“I tell you, Bri, normally when I’m around a girl like Michelle, whose body is so firm and sexy, my eyes drift to her boobs. I can’t help it, it’s instinctual. My eyes just zero in on the boobs, and I start thinking, like, if I keep glancing down, my super human vision will arouse the nipples. Could happen, right? But with Michelle, I just want to look into her eyes. Not that she doesn’t have nice boobs.”
“I don’t know about her boobs, but she does have a nice fanny.”
Eric looks at me, incredulous. “Nice fanny? Who says that?”
“My mom?” I answer, embarrassed.
“Brian, ‘nice fanny’ and your mom should never come up in the same conversation.”
We stare at each, and then crack up.
“Best part of the song!” Eric exclaims.
The music speeds up. Stan Lynch, the drummer for the Heartbreakers (I know this because Eric has told me on numerous occasions) does a drum roll leading into the climax of the song. We pound on the aged vinyl dashboard of the car causing particles to dance around and drop on the floor. As the song ends, the two of us are cheering and give each other a high five.
Eric makes a sharp left on to a secluded driveway, and the Family Truckster chugs up a steep hill until the road levels out into the gravel parking lot of a scenic overlook. We discovered it one night while looking for a place to pee. Eric slams the car into park, and we jerk forward. He jumps out and shouts, “Let’s go get Jack!”
This area is always deserted. An open field with dried clumps of cut grass. Six picnic tables with traces of the ancient visitors carved in the wood. JOE, JOSH, JOHN ♥ CRYSTAL. Some idiot carved PHUCK. We cross the field to a platform that overlooks the valley. Below it is a trail that runs along a steep ledge and descends down into the trees and bushes. Eric and I walk around the platform and quickly make our way down to the wooded path.
Dragonflies skim the surface of the ground while swarms of mosquitoes wait in hunger for hikers to tramp through. The two of us avoid those bloodsuckers and stand directly under the platform.
One night last winter, Eric and I came here with a bottle of Jack Daniels that he’d swiped during his parents’ annual New Year’s party. We stood on the platform. Freezing our nuts off, bored more than anything else. We got to talking about our senior year and how awesome it’ll be when we “rule the school” (Eric’s words, not mine). Out of the blue I thought we should bury the bottle in the ground. Then, to christen our last year of high school, we’d return at some point during the summer, unearth the whiskey, and finish it off.
Eric knows exactly where to look. He crawls under the platform and pulls up large scoops of dirt with his hands. Overhead is the low rumble of an airplane. In the distance, the whistle of a freight train. Eric stops digging and turn to me wearing a devilish grin. Sliding out from under the platform, Eric jumps up and proudly holds the bottle like a trophy.
“Say hello to Jack,” he announces.
Laughing out loud, I grab it from him. “I can’t believe you knew where to find it.”
“I have to confess,” Eric replies, “I’ve come up here a couple of times to make sure it was still there.”
“Why didn’t you dig it up then?”
“Don’t know. Because we’re supposed to do this together?”
The leaves rustle in the trees, and a small animal scurries through the bushes.
“Shall we?” I ask, unscrewing the bottle cap.
“Just a taste,” he says. “Let’s save the rest for the party.”
I hand Eric the bottle, and he takes a healthy gulp.
“This shit’s terrible,” he gasps.
I take the Jack Daniels from him and swallow my own large dose of whiskey. He’s right; it tastes awful. After a long silence, Eric speaks.
“Did you see Ally when you were in Sears?”
“Yeah,” I reply.
“How’d it go?”
I take a deep breath. “Just seeing her has stirred up all of the feelings I have for her. Damn it, Eric, I don’t want to break up with Kate, but I don’t know how much longer I can keep denying what I feel.”
Eric grabs the bottle and takes another swig.
I spit out some of the whiskey taste and say to Eric, “Did I ever tell you I brought Kate up here, to this picnic area.”
“Remember the bike ride date?”
“The famous first kiss date.”
“You remember that?”
“Brian, I’m your best friend, your confidant, I remember everything. But no, you didn’t tell me it was up here.”
“We rode our bikes around the Metroparks until we reached the driveway to this picnic area. As you know, the whole purpose of the bike ride was to find someplace, uh…”
“Memorable?” Eric asks.
“Yeah, that’s it. So, like, we rode up the hill to get here, which was insane. I was about to keel over when we reached the top.”
“That certainly would have made the first kiss memorable.”
“Tell me about it,” I laugh.
Staring out over the vast landscape before us, I can recall everything about that afternoon. Kate and I left our bikes in the parking lot and walked over to this platform. I’d brought along some water and granola bars to snack on while we hung out. We sat down, her legs tan and glistening in the sun. As we talked about our favorite movies and songs, a strand of Kate’s hair kept getting in her mouth. I reached over and moved it, not really thinking about the gesture. She took my hand. We silently stared at each other. The way she was looking at me and the way her index finger gently rubbed the skin above my thumb gave me the confidence to lean over and kiss her.
The breeze gently glided over us. Birds chirped. The sun shone down and a shiver ran down my spine when our lips touched.
I was in love.
“Was it?” Eric asks, snapping me out of my reverie.
“Was what?” I reply, unsure where we left off our conversation.
“Memorable? That first kiss, was it memorable?”
“It was,” I say. “Aren’t they all?”
I slosh the alcohol around in the bottle.
“You know,” I start, “after I told Kate about the whole Allison thing, you gave me some space while I patched things up with her. Why’d you do that? You weren’t pissed at me, were you?”
“Because I told Kate?”
“How could I be pissed because you? Brian, I respect you for being honest. I figured you needed some time is all.”
“No problem. You know I’ve always got your back.”
I’m suddenly overcome with a deep sense of love for my friend. I know guys don’t tell each other that, but I don’t know, I feel like we’re having a moment, and I’d regret letting it pass.
“Eric, you know, being an only kid, I don’t know what it’s like to have siblings.”
“Any time you want to take Drew, he’s all yours.”
I chuckle and reply, “Well, I just wanted to say that you’re like a brother to me, you know? When I imagine if I had a brother, I imagine it being like this… like us.”
Eric avoids looking at me, his eyes blinking away something. Gnats? Dust? Tears?
“Legendary,” he says, almost inaudible.
Now I’m getting choked up. Eric grabs me, and we hug. I’ve never hugged anyone like this except my parents when I was little. When I hug Kate, it’s a different feeling. This is… this is family.
We separate, and he drapes his arm around my shoulder.
“This is going to be our year,” I say. “You and I, we’re going to live it up and hang out as much as possible. That is, of course, unless you end up with Michelle Ito.”
A smile covers his face and optimism seems to radiate from where he’s standing.
“Oh, I’m gonna date her, I just know it.”
We both laugh and walk back to the car.
Read Chapter 10 of Legendary.