Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Ode to an Old Friend

He rode aimlessly through the streets of the housing development. They all looked the same. He could ride to the next town and it would look the same too. Like God got bored when he got to Michigan and just die cut everything like car parts. It wasn’t so much like that up north but down here, below the tri-cities it was all alike. And everyone seemed happy with that. Happy kids playing street hockey, happy dads cutting grass, happy moms unloading cars full of happy groceries and happy dogs seeing everyone at home.
As he rounded the corner onto Pine, or maybe it was Spruce? Elm? Better yet, Hemlock. He couldn’t tell. But as he came around that corner someone wasn’t happy. Two someones in fact. A teenage girl and a young boy of maybe 5 or 6. The shock of this break with the norm slowed him down and he recognized the girl, Annie Jensen. He knew her from church, school. They’d grown up together but weren’t particularly close. He stood up on the pedals and pressed on for about a block until the street was filled by another street hockey game and the handlebars just turned all the way around.
On this pass he got close enough to hear what she was saying. Only snippets of it, above the kid’s rhythmic wailing.
“…you OK?…I know…hurts…no blood…”
At the edge of the perfectly manicured lawn he unceremoniously dumped his bike and strolled up the grass beside the walkway. “Hey.”
Annie’s head snapped up and her look was purely suspicious until she recognized him, then she softened up all the way to noncommittal, “Hey.”
“What happened?” he asked.
“Face plant off the slide.” She bobbed her head in the direction of a jungle gym in the side yard.
“Ow. He OK?”
“I think so but he won’t stop crying. It’s been like 10 minutes.”
He knelt down and reached out for the boy’s curly hair. “You’re OK. Let me see what happened.” The boy turned the full force of his sobbing directly into Rob’s face. Rob blinked and that was it. Caught the boy’s face in his hands and gently touched every part of it, then moved on to the arms, legs, the ribs and the wailing went on uninterrupted, clearly not from physical pain, “Well, I’ve got bad news for you.” Annie blanched. “You’re gonna live. Except maybe for these ribs here. They might have a terrible problem.” Both Annie and the boy looked worried. All sound had stopped. “I think they might be ticklish.” And Rob proceeded to tickle the boy’s ribs, belly, chin and armpits. It took a few seconds but he got the laughs he was looking for. They built until the boy squealed and ran onto the lawn.
Looking back over his shoulder he yelled, “Chase me!”
With a brief glance at Annie, Rob obliged. They ran all over the lawn under and around the jungle gym until Rob caught his foot on the edge of the damned slide and fell, crashing from his 6’4” to the grass with a thud. Before he could even roll over the boy had jumped on him and was yanking his shoulders yelling, “Get up! Get up!”
Annie rescued him by picking the kid up, “Joshua, give Rob a break, OK? He needs a moment. Why don’t you swing.” When Joshua had been dispatched she leaned down to where Rob was continuing to enjoy the feeling of cool grass on his cheek. “You OK?”
“I’m fine. It feels pretty good down here, you should try it.”
She went so far as to sit down cross-legged near his head so she could watch Joshua. He had belly flopped onto the swing set and was twisting round and round getting ready to lift his legs and enjoy the unwinding. “He’s going to throw up.” She observed.
Rob heaved himself over onto his back and tilted his head to look. “You think?”
“Choked on a cheerio and face plant off the slide and I’ve only been here half an hour, puking has to be in my future.”
“Hmmm. Maybe.”
“So, what are you doing here?”
"Just riding around. You baby-sit here often?”
“Too often.” Joshua’s swing had come to rest. He got off and was wobbling around on the grass looking very much like he might vomit. “The parents are friends of my parents from church.” Joshua finally stumbled and fell, giggling in the grass.
“He’s cute.”
”I guess.”
“I can’t wait to be a dad. Slide with my kids, teach ‘em how to ride a bike, read stories.”
“Yeah right.”
“What 15 –year-old guy wants to be a dad?”
He looked her straight in the eye for a moment. She thought he might be trying to figure out whether or not she was kidding. Then he said, “No.”
She broke from his gaze when Joshua came flying by and belly flopped across Rob’s chest. “I’m hungry.”
“Mac and Cheese with hot dogs?” Annie offered.
Annie pushed herself to standing and headed to the house. When they stepped onto the patio she checked over her shoulder and instead came face to his feet. Rob was carrying Joshua over his shoulder. She looked around, confused, at the lawn, Rob’s bike, the neighbor’s houses and finally sighed a bit and pushed open the door, standing back to let the boys in.
She pointed as they walked, “Family room, TV, his room is up there, bathroom and game room downstairs. It’ll take me maybe 20 minutes to make dinner.
About 20 minutes later she walked into the family room and had opened her mouth to tell them dinner was ready when she got interested in what they were doing.
They were lying on the floor staring at the Chutes and Ladders board. The pieces had been swept to the side on the floor and they had covered the board with paper. Rob had a pen and was writing and talking, “This one means hello and you say it _____”
“_____” Joshua tried.
“Pretty good. Here, I’ll make you a big one.” As he picked up the pen again he noticed Annie lurking. “It’s Japanese. I took those summer classes.”
“Cool. Umm, dinner’s ready.”
“Thanks.” The boys popped up and followed her to the kitchen.
Rob rescued nearly spilled milk, he picked out cool pajamas and he read stories in different funny voices. He also negotiated a night-light instead of an open door and only one glass of water. It was possibly Annie’s most successful Joshua-sitting experience since he’d learned to walk and talk. She thought that she should be taking notes. She also thought that when the small audience was asleep he would probably leave.
Annie knew Rob, she would even call him a friend but not a close friend. They’d never been to each other’s houses or gone out for ice cream. They had some friends in common though, sometimes ate at the same lunch table and had hung out a couple of times at church functions. She wasn’t surprised that he’d stopped to give her a hand when he saw her struggling. She was surprised that he’d stayed.
After he’d delivered Joshua’s water he sat back down at the kitchen counter to finish the milk from dinner while Annie loaded the dishwasher.
“Why did you decide to teach him Japanese?” she asked.
“He asked.”
“Out of the blue he asked, ‘Do you speak Japanese?’”
“No, I was speaking Japanese to make him laugh and he asked what it was.”
“Why Japanese?”
“It seems like the farthest place from here you could ever go and they offered it at the University summer school thing so I decided to check it out.”
“Isn’t it really hard? I mean, at least with French or Spanish you get to use the same old alphabet.”
“Yeah, I guess. They’re pictures, though, and they’re kind of fun to draw. I picked it up pretty quick.” He drained the glass and stood up to put it in the dishwasher before she closed the door and started it. “Where are the parents?”
“Detroit at a concert or something. They’ll be back around midnight.” It was 7:30.
“Do you want some company?”
“Yeah, sure. I mean you’ll have to go way before they get back and everything but sure we could uh, play a game or watch some TV. Do you want to bring your bike up to the patio? You know for safety’s sake.” OK, so apparently she was nervous.
“Let’s see,” he said coolly, “Sure, of course. No thanks, I just got my ass whupped in Chutes and Ladders. What’s on? And sure, I’ll go do that now.”
“I’ll…I guess I’ll go turn on the TV. Family room, you know?”
“Be right back.”
With 6 premium channels plus all the regular cable you’d think it’d be easier to find something good on TV. She settled on Win Ben Stein’s Money then curled her feet up under her on the couch.
Rob came back and sat on the other end of the couch. While he quietly answered the questions on the show he took his sneakers off and bent his long legs to put his feet on the sofa between them.
Over time teenagers are like magnets, they’ll come together. First it was just feet, then, when Annie shifted uncomfortably he invited her to turn and sit in the circle of his arms and legs. By now they were watching The Breakfast Club, something they’d seen a million times so neither of them was concentrating on it. Rob laced the fingers of one hand through hers and used the other to stroke patterns on her forearm. When the subtle whiff of her shampoo became too much for him he nestled his chin on her shoulder and that nestling led inevitably to kissing the curve of her neck.
Up to then Annie was too nervous to do much but accept his attention but when he started kissing her, her hand flew up almost involuntarily to the back of his head to hold him there, keep him from stopping. His hair had been shaved earlier that month for a swim meet and by now it was fuzzy, like a teddy bear. It felt delicious under her palm.
Turning to kiss for real was only a little awkward. Eventually his hands slid under her shirt and she let him touch her breasts. She kept herself mostly to his arms and back, though.
At some point after they had rolled onto the floor she heard a zipper. Trying to be cool she pulled back slightly, “Rob?”
He pulled back and looked at her. The same look he’d had earlier.
“They might come home…I just don’t…”
“It’s OK.” He rolled onto his back and pulled her close with one arm. “It’s still early.”
“Yeah, but Joshua…”
“…knows we’ll come if he calls.”
They were silent for a long time. Annie couldn’t look at him. Rob started to stroke the fingers of her hand resting on his chest. He took his time so that she wouldn’t stop him, gently sliding her hand down over his stomach, letting her rest and wait.
When the side of her hand brushed the tip of his cock she flinched. She hadn’t meant to. It wasn’t as though she didn’t know where they were going with this whole hand thing. Now she was embarrassed. Bold and ridiculous honesty were her normal fall back positions so she went with them, “Um…I don’t know if I… want to…” he waited for her to go on, “to well, touch it.”
“You don’t know if you do?” he teased.
She didn’t like being teased. “No, I mean I don’t want to touch it.”
Not unkindly he asked, “Have you ever touched one?”
“Then how do you know?” he was almost teasing again.
Annie got the giggles, “I don’t know I just don’t think…”
“He won’t bite.”
“Well, I didn’t think that.”
“Here,” Rob linked his fingers with hers and brought her hand down until they were both holding his cock. He led her to stroke it and when she’d gotten the hang of it he slid his hand away and leaned up to kiss her again.
So they went on like this for a bit. She didn’t know what else to do so she just kept doing what he’d shown her and that made her wonder if she should be doing anything else and that meant her mind was about as far from enjoyment as she could be and that meant that fears of being caught and rumors spreading around church got the better of her. But he hadn’t stopped before. The panic started to rise in her, she was forming arguments in her mind and then suddenly she slipped sideways and their teeth clanged together so hard that tears came to Annie’s eyes. “Ow!”
“Yeah. You OK?”
“I guess.” She took her hand off his penis, “Ow.”
He was doing that intense staring thing again.
Annie drew breath, “We need to stop this and you need to go. I’ve got to put away the dishes and this stuff in here before they get home.”
He stared a minute longer, assessing perhaps, “OK.” Then he lay on his back on the floor and let out a breath. Annie lay back next to him and they just stared at the ceiling breathing, not touching for a minute or two.
Eventually he zipped himself up and they sat up together. Annie passed him his shoes and walked him to the door when he was ready. Before he opened the screen door he turned and kissed her gently on the forehead, just at the hairline. As he mounted his bike on the walkway she mustered up, “Thanks.” He turned his head and smiled then rode away.

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