The Age of Innocence

Chapter 2

I was right. If Troy wasn’t on a date with Alyson, he was on the phone with her. I’d heard first relationships were often pretty hot and heavy. They robbed you of a special part of your being and gave it to someone who was mostly a stranger. I didn’t understand why someone would do that, but I hadn’t ever fallen in love.

I hadn’t known it could rob you of your best friend. Troy seemed to have it bad. Maybe it was love. I thought more likely it was sex. He knew as little about that as he did about love. As little as I knew about either of them. I missed having a wingman, didn’t like being alone, didn’t like being bored. Before, I’d spent most of my time this summer with Troy, and we could be bored together.

I knew there were things I could be doing, but I didn’t seem to have the energy or desire to do them. There were always kids in the park playing pickup games of soccer and softball and basketball. I said earlier that Troy wasn’t much of an athlete. Well, I wasn’t either, though I was better at physical games than Troy; he was better at video games. But while I was better at physical games, that didn’t mean I liked them any better than he did. Give me a choice of playing basketball or reading a book, I’d ask where the nearest library was.

So I was sitting at home, finding nothing on TV during the day and having no interest checking through what was streaming. I was bored, and when I’m bored, I get to where I have no energy at all. It was even too much work just to look out the front window, but that’s what I was doing, sitting there thinking unhappy thoughts when I saw a huge moving van coming slowly down the street in our direction, then stopping almost in front of our house.

“Hey, Mom!” I called out. “Are we moving and you never told me?”

There was a moment of silence, then, “Damn. You were supposed to be out playing with Troy. I thought we could get away before you found out. Shoot. I guess we’ll have to take you with us now. Rat piss!”

My heart sort of missed a beat. Do all boys sort of fear their parents are going to desert them? I don’t know. Probably not. It was irrational to feel that way, but I’d had separation issues from an early age, beginning when she was late picking me up from preschool.

I knew my mother, though, as only a thirteen-year-old boy can. She had a perverse sense of humor. She was a strong, strong woman, and I guess she thought scaring the shit out of her son was one way to demonstrate that. Or just thought it was funny. She knew of my phobia. Yet she’ll pull shit like this just because she could. She and I had a love/hate relationship—mostly hate. I never knew what to expect from her. If the cops ever erroneously picked me up for some unholy crime, I don’t know if she’d leave me in jail or bail me out. I really don’t know. “Be a good character builder, a few nights in the jug.” I can just hear her saying that. Then she’d laugh and say, “If you’re contemplating anything where hard time is a probable result, I’d suggest you start carrying a tube of K-Y Jelly with you.”

What mother would say something like that? To a sweet kid like me!

Dad lets her get away with it. One time I was totally pissed at her because she was being totally unfair about something that was important to me. I think she was doing it just to show she could. So I recruited my dad. He took me into the den, shut the door, and spoke to me.

“She can go a little overboard at times, Scottie. I know that. She likes wearing the pants in the family. Being in charge makes her happy. She’s deals with a lot of frustration every day because her life isn’t what she expected. She thought she’d get an important job right out of college and make a lot of money, be important, be in charge. It didn’t work out for her. She lost a couple of jobs, said some nasty things when that happened and ended up with some unfavorable references as a result. She didn’t get any job offers that she wanted; everything she found started her at the bottom instead of a higher position, one she felt she deserved. So, she stopped looking. Pride, I guess. Decided to stay home and be a housewife and mother.

“She still takes out some of her frustrations the only way she can: bossing around the people she can. That’s you and me. She has a temper and can become a bit irrational when it hits her. But see, I put up with it. I like to keep her happy. If she doesn’t feel in charge here, she isn’t happy. She’s fine most of the time but has bad days when she remembers some of the slights she’s suffered. You sometimes end up getting the brunt of that.

“I understand. It isn’t fair, and it ticks you off. At thirteen, you’re still young enough to expect life to be fair. But, you know, you have the right to be happy, too, Scottie, and fairness keeps your world in balance. When something is important, when she goes a little too far . . . well, if I have to put my foot down, I do. You’ve seen that. Doesn’t happen often, but when it does, when she sees how serious I am and adamant about something, she backs down. I want you to know you can talk to me when something like this happens. I don’t want you to feel helpless. So, tell me what this problem is right now. Maybe, if it’s truly important to you, if there’s no reason for her opinions, I can talk her into changing her mind. But maybe not, too. Before anything else, I need to know what this is about.”

So I told him, explained it, and he could see that she had no cause for her position other than just showing she could say no whenever she wished. Not giving me a reason why I couldn’t do what I wanted to do seemed an admission that she didn’t have a reason. He listened, then said to wait in the den. He went and talked to her. Took longer than I thought it would, but he came back with good news. She’d changed her mind. She also disappeared after that for the rest of the day. I thought that maybe that had to do with the pride he’d mentioned.

Hey, very few people are only one thing. She could be very loving and supportive, too. I just never knew which one I’d be dealing with, with her. The ogre side had been making too many appearances lately.

Dad told me that I shouldn’t expect his intervening too often—only when I was really upset and not getting a credible explanation for a decision she’d made. “After all, most of her decisions are reasoned,” he said. I thanked him and followed his advice. I fought my battles with her and only resorted to the bigger gun when it was important to me and she was simply being arbitrary.

So, anyway, I was learning she’d planned to abandon me or was pulling my leg, one or the other, while watching the moving van stop and two men get out. I decided not to confront her. I’d just ignore it and hope she felt a little embarrassed. I’d also watch carefully. If those men came up to our door, then maybe I’d call Dad. That would be the time to worry. But they didn’t. They crossed the street and went up to the Fullers’ front door.

The Fullers were an old couple, and I should have guessed the van was for them as they’d had a For Sale sign in their front yard for the past month, and recently a Sold label had been pasted diagonally over it. I wasn’t sad at seeing them go. Both of them were grouchy. I guess they just didn’t like teenagers. Or maybe it was because when some more athletic teens than me played touch football in the street in front of our house, sometimes some of the kids would run on their lawn. They had this immaculate lawn, see, and . . .  Shit, I’m getting distracted again. I’ll stop writing about the Fullers. The Fullers have nothing to do with this, other than that they were leaving.

I watched a lot of furniture being taken from the house, then the men locking the front door and getting in their truck and driving away. The Fullers had left just a little earlier. When they’d done so, I’d thought of going out front and waving at them, but they’d never done more than growl at me; waving would have looked sarcastic, and I did try to be nice and helpful to everyone, so I hadn’t.

Later that day, I saw another car drive up and a younger couple than the Fullers get out. Well, most people were younger than the Fullers, so there was no need to mention that. But, along with the man and woman, a young girl got out, too. I could tell it was a girl only because she was wearing short, cutoff jean shorts. Did I mention they were short? Very short? What I’m saying is that no boy would be caught dead in shorts like that. Doing so would be advertising he was hung like a mouse and so could get away with such brief cover-ups. So he wouldn’t. But otherwise, this girl could have been a boy. She was about my age, I could tell. I knew what girls my age looked like, and that was her. Except for one thing. She had a flat chest. Her tee shirt was loose, but when it was against her body, it hung as straight as mine did.

Well, this was interesting. There weren’t many kids who lived on our street, just a few, some of those football players. There were kids on other streets that ran parallel to ours, in front and behind us. But having another kid this close was interesting. And it being a girl was even more interesting. But what was this ‘no boobs’ business?

I guessed I’d find out.

In the interests of full disclosure, the thought of replacing Troy with someone else was on my mind. I guess I had some of my mom’s pride, because it hurt that I’d been abandoned so easily, and I’d love to have a replacement for him to think about. And the replacement being a girl? That should shake him up even more. He was probably gloating that he had one and I didn’t. Well, maybe I would; maybe I could tell him I’d found one, too. Why not? I just wouldn’t mention that mine didn’t have boobs.

Hey, beggars can’t be choosers. So maybe I was a bit shallow. Aren’t you allowed to be at thirteen?

≈≈ ≈≈

The next day another truck was on our street. I watched them unload. The new family was there supervising. The girl was watching, and I thought, no time like the present, and walked over.

She was standing next to her mom, and no way was I going to mess with that. So I stopped short a ways away and made it look like I was fascinated with the way the truck was loaded and how the men lifted all the heavy stuff. I was doing that when I heard, “Hi. I’m Eileen. Who’re you?”

And so started as crazy a friendship as I could ever have imagined.

Eileen—Lina by preference—hated Eileen; that she always introduced herself using that name never made much sense to me. She said it was because she was always nervous meeting new people, but that was an absolute lie; she was never nervous about anything. She and I became great friends. I hesitate to say best friends because how can a boy my age be best friends with a girl? And I had a best friend already, even if I didn’t see him as much anymore and was a little jealous and a lot disappointed in him.

But she had a way of making the difference between boys and girls unimportant. She was a tomboy of the highest rank. She eschewed girlish things. I ended up playing soccer in the park because she was always so eager to go, and it was easier to get into games if two were joining rather than just one.

It ticked me off that other kids wanted her on their side more than me pretty quickly after the first game we played. She was good and didn’t mind the bumping and tripping and all. She gave as much or more than she got, too.

I should have realized that she was strong from any early conversation we had in my room. She hadn’t acquired the embarrassment gene, and I had enough for the both of us, which made our conversations unusual, to say the least. One of our early ones up in my room is a perfect example. She was sitting on my bed, her feet on the floor. I was in my computer chair.

“Why do you do that?” she asked. “You keep looking at me funny, Scottie. And your eyes are mostly on my chest.”

“No they’re not.” Well, they were. But no boy would admit that.

She gave me a disapproving look and said, “Are we allowed to lie to each other?”

“Well, okay then, I do look maybe a little. You’re thirteen. I’m used to, well, uh, you know.”

“I know? How should I know what you’re thinking?”

“Sure you do. You must. You’ve had Sex Ed just as I have. Didn’t they tell you in Sex Ed what cute young boys think about?”

“Oh, you mean sex? And that’s why you’re looking at my chest. You‘re wondering where my boobs are. And who said you were cute?”

“That’s a given. Everyone thinks I’m cute. But, anyway, uh, yeah. Your boobs.” I think I blushed. It felt like I was blushing. Who talked like this? Aren’t girls supposed to be demure and shy? Lina sure wasn’t!

And then she showed me just how shy she wasn’t. “You’re wondering why I don’t have any?” Then she shocked me. She pulled up her tee shirt! Her chest looked pretty much like mine, except right around her nipples there was a wider circular area that was brownish-pink, and the nipples themselves might have protruded just a wee bit more and not been of pinhead size like mine were. But her chest was more like my chest than different.

I was looking at a girl’s top parts, and for some reason, I didn’t get a boner. Didn’t even get a tingle. Weird. But Lina didn’t, never had and never would, seem very sexy to me.

“Is there something wrong with you?” I asked. “Most girls have boobs by now.” That was me being brave.

She grinned at me. “I’m in Gymnastics. You should see me walk on my hands. A lot of girls, if they train hard, tend to have delayed puberty. That’s me. Something about hard exercise delaying the onset of hormones. But it’s okay. Once I stop training, it’ll all happen then. That’s what my doctor and mom have both said. I’m fine with that. I like not changing, like who I am right now. Besides, I’m not into boys at all. I’m pretty sure I’m a lesbian.”

“What! You’re . . . Can you just say that?”

“Sure. Nothing to be ashamed of. These days, everyone can be who they are. And it’s why I don’t mind showing you some skin. I don’t get turned on by boys and don’t try to turn them on, either. A chest is just a chest.”

“But, but . . . so, you’re interested in other girls. In their, uh, parts? That turns you on? Really?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing, I guess. If that’s who you are, thinking about those things, yeah, I guess that’s fine.”

“You can’t tell me you never think about other boys. That you don’t look at them in the locker room, in the showers. Everyone is curious, especially at our age. And naked bodies are sexy.”

“I don’t think about boys’ parts! Ewwww!”

“Why not? What’s wrong with boys’ parts? They’re just parts. I mean, they don’t do much for me, but that’s one reason I think I’m a lesbian. If I were straight, penises would excite me. So would boys’ shapes, their physical attributes. How cute and outgoing they were. How male they were. None of that does. But what about you? You mean you’ve never had a crush on a boy? All boys have crushes on other boys. That’s what’s normal. On girls, too. At this age, our hormones don’t specify. You get crushes, don’t you?”

“Uh, I’m not comfortable talking about this.”

“You’re not? Most kids our age love talking about sex, even if they don’t know much about it. Maybe that’s why they like talking about it, to learn more and to verify that what they’re feeling is normal. So far, you don’t sound normal. Maybe you should see a doctor, find out what’s wrong with you.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me!”

“There is if you don’t get crushes! Everyone gets them. I get them, especially on girls. Other gymnasts. We shower after each training session. I get excited just thinking about those.”

“Why?” I asked, being clever. “If none of them have boobs, what’s to look at?” I grinned and marked up a point for me in the air.

“Some have boobs. But it’s not just boobs; it’s seeing them naked. Seeing all that skin, their shapes, the way they carry themselves, how some are very shy and others like the other girls looking at them. It’s all good. I don’t believe for a minute that you don’t enjoy looking in the locker room, too.”

I didn’t answer right away. The fact was, last year in seventh grade, we didn’t have to shower, and so no one did. Not even the brave boys. The macho ones. As a result, the classrooms we were in after Gym ended up with a peculiar, overriding musky aroma of young, prepubescent boy that was strong enough to knock over a camel.

We were told showers would be mandatory in eighth grade. Something I was having uncertain feelings about. No one but Troy had ever seen me naked since I was ten. He looked like I did, so I expected I was normal. Still, this would be a ripe situation for bullying, and I wasn’t sure how I’d handle it if other boys started making fun of me. I knew I wouldn’t like it if anyone was made fun of.

Lina was looking at me, so I had to respond. “There hasn’t been anything much to look at for me. No one got naked in our locker room. At the pool, kids get naked in the dressing room, but Troy and I never go in there. So I haven’t seen any naked boys other than Troy, and no other boys have seen me, either. You know, if you get crushes because of all the naked girls you see, maybe that’s why I don’t get crushes, either, boys or girls, because I’ve never seen either naked.”

“You just saw me half naked. Don’t go getting a half-crush on me. I’m only interested in girls and don’t want to break your heart.”

I knew exactly how I’d react to Troy making such an egotistical statement! This was a girl, but she didn’t look all that much like one. She looked about half-boy, and I couldn’t let her simply get away with talking like that. I did the only thing I could think of, what seemed right at the time without giving it much thought.

“Breaking my heart, huh,” I said, and dove at her. Tackled her onto the bed. Rolled on top of her, getting in the superior position.

Then she sort of wriggled or something—I’m not sure what—but she ended up on top, holding my hands to the ground on each side of my head, grinning at me. I couldn’t believe how strong she was.

But after she’d left, I had to think about what she’d said. And what I hadn’t. Sure, I’d had crushes on other kids. Boys and girls. I was normal. Why hadn’t I wanted to admit that to her? I wasn’t sure.