An Accidental Romance

Chapter 2

Tuesday, June 4 — Wednesday, June 5

”What?” I asked.

“I didn’t say anything.” Mike still looked upset.

“No, Mike,” I said with great feigned patience in my voice, “you didn’t say anything. You’re just giving me a look.”

“Yeah, well, I guess I expected a little more encouragement from you, not evasion.”

Damn! I didn’t expect him to throw it back in my court quite so easily. He didn’t get the better of me in spats very often. “Okay. Honesty being the best policy, I’ll be honest. I’d like to meet this guy before I agree to anything, even before I get my parents involved. Jeffy, oops, Jeff, should meet him, too. You’ve never said much about him. Is Jeremy a good guy?”

“Yeah. He’s fine.” Mike sounded exasperated. “He’s a little shy with strangers but warms up when he gets comfortable with them.” He paused a moment, then said, “When he sees they’re not assholes.”

I laughed. That was pretty good. “Okay, you got me. But you have to admit that I do have a point. Pretty hard to get rid of someone you’ve already extended your hand to if it then doesn’t work out. Better to know in advance.”

“Yeah, I do understand. I just thought . . . well, never mind. Your house, and so you should have more say than just my whatever. Just remember, you’re not just doing it for me but for my parents and Jordan’s mother as well. That’s his name. Jordan. Not Jeremy. Jordan.”

I thought it would be a good idea to change the subject at least just a little. Mike was running a bit hot, and it was unusual for him to stay provoked this long. He didn’t like confrontation, but when he got angry about something, he didn’t back down easily. “When are they coming?”

“This weekend. So, in four days. Why?”

“Don’t be so defensive! We need to figure this out so everyone’s happy. Not just you!”

Mike stood up, his face not friendly. Jeff stood, too, and grabbed his arm. “Hey,” he said, “David’s right. We need to talk about this, and if you’re going to get angry, it’s not going to work. So, sit down. Please.” Then he grinned.

That was Jeff. The please. And the grin. It was pretty hard to get upset with Jeff.

Mike sat down. Then he looked at me and said, “Sorry. It’s just that there isn’t room in our house, and Dad feels guilty about that, and Mom doesn’t want to make things harder for Cynthia, and, well, I guess I’m pushing too hard trying to help them out.”

“Look, I’ve got an idea.” I didn’t have lots of ideas and was proud of myself for this one. “Why don’t we get Jordan to come here early? He can stay with you in your room, and you can bring him over, and Jeff and I and our parents can meet him. It’ll all be much easier that way, nothing being forced, and it’ll be easier to get them to say yes if they’ve already met him. Unless he’s a real jerk, I’m sure I’ll be okay with it, and Jeff’s Jeff, the easiest kid in the world as far as getting to like another kid goes.”

Jeff blushed again. I must have said something right.


Mike spoke to his mom when he went home, and she called her sister, and Mike phoned me to say Jordan would be on a Greyhound bus the next day, arriving around noon. I got up early the next day, 10:30 in the morning. Jeff was already up. I had a bowl of cereal, and after eating, I found him in the family room puttering around looking bored.

“Want to head over to the park with me, see if there’s a game on?”

His eyes lit up. “Sure,” he said. “Give me a minute to change.”

Jeff loved playing soccer with me in the park. He was pretty good for his age. The games there often were with kids of mixed ages. They were for fun more than anything else. The older kids like me let the smaller ones have lots of room to do their thing, and everyone had a good time.

I didn’t have to change. I’d dressed in shorts, sneaks and a tee shirt after my shower. Jeff was back downstairs in just a couple of minutes. I grabbed a ball from the closet and we were on our way.

We walked to the park, which took us about ten minutes. It was still morning, warm but not uncomfortably so, too early for most of the guys who played in the park all summer. A lot of them were my age and a little older, the age when in the summer, getting out of bed before noon was considered rash behavior. They’d be coming by in droves around one in the afternoon, eager to get in a game.

There were kids playing now, but only a few, and they welcomed Jeff and me enthusiastically. The more the merrier, especially for soccer. Formal competitive soccer in high school and above was eleven players on the field on each side, one being the goalkeeper and the others basically playing defense, midfield and offense. ‘Basically’ because in the park, we had varying numbers on each side, so the positions kids played varied as well. What would be the left wing forward position in school in the park could be a combination forward and midfielder and even a sometime-defender.

Jeff knew a couple of the kids on the field, younger kids than me, and quickly got us in the game. I was the oldest player until a couple more kids showed up.

At first, with only younger kids on the field, I took over as one of the keepers. As time passed and new kids came and ones who’d been playing awhile left, I got to move out onto the field and played more or less wherever I wanted to. Which for me meant midfield. I liked the mental part that position required. Soccer could be compared to a chess match but with movement. I was no grandmaster, but I hoped some day to be.

Eventually, when I was sitting out resting for a bit, Mike showed up with a boy in tow who had to be Jordan. I’d met him briefly a few years ago. He had changed from a boy who was kind of similar to Jeff back then to a middle teenager like Mike and I were.

I watched while they were walking toward where I was sitting on the sidelines. Jordan was a little shorter than Mike, who in turn was shorter than I was, not having had the recent growth spurt I’d had. Jordan was slender but didn’t look frail or skinny. His walk was assured, his body language comfortable. He was smiling at something Mike said, and I found myself captivated by how that looked. I thought maybe I should smile more. I didn’t think it would make me look as good as it made him, however. Before the smile, he hadn’t looked anything special. With it, his face lit up and he was actually attractive.

He had thick brown hair that looked like maybe he combed or brushed it once every couple of weeks and left it unattended the rest of the time. It was messy, strewn around on his head to a degree, but not entirely unkempt, either. It was long enough that it covered his ears. It looked good. I would learn when he was closer that he had expressive, large brown eyes that showed his feelings. His face was moderately handsome without being cute or feminine at all. He appeared to be a boy who’d have no problem getting dates. A boy whose looks would grow on you.

But when they reached me and Mike re-introduced us, I changed my mind about him. Jordan looked down almost immediately after the introduction. Mike had told me he was a little shy with strangers. He looked more than a little shy to me. He looked like he lacked much confidence at all. His eyes told me that, as did his body language.

I had a problem with shy kids. It took a lot of patience to get to know them, get to a point where they opened up, and patience wasn’t one of my virtues. I wasn’t shy myself and didn’t understand why kids who were like that were that way. I spoke up for myself when I needed to. Why couldn’t they?

We all sat down after the introductions. “So, you play soccer?” I asked Jordan, wanting to get him talking.

He raised his eyes to mine momentarily. That’s when I saw them for the first time, really saw them, saw how large they were, what a deep brown color they had. “Yeah. I’m going to go out for the varsity this year if we still live there.” Then he looked down again and gave me the impression he was sort of shrinking into himself. Hmm. Maybe it wasn’t just shyness; maybe it was depression or grief. His whole world was being turned upside down. All the stability he’d had was soon to be gone. Maybe I should cut him some slack. I couldn’t start to imagine what my life would be like if either Mom or Dad disappeared. If moving to a different city was a possibility.

“What position do you play?” I asked.

“Wherever the coach puts me. But what I like best is center midfield.”

“Oh, great! That’s what I play. Maybe I can help you out a little; tips, pointers, like that.”

He raised his eyes again, and this time I did see something. No way I could read it, but I saw something. Intelligence, certainly, but more. He’d reacted to what I’d said. But whatever it was, it was gone as quickly as he looked away from me, and then Mike spoke, and we moved on.

“Looks like they’re finishing. I’ll go see about getting us in the next game.”

“No, let me do it,” I said and stood up. I didn’t want to be left alone with Jordan. He didn’t seem eager to speak, to get acquainted, and it could be awkward just sitting here with him without talking. Even with Mike there with us, I was feeling a little uncomfortable. I didn’t know why. Usually when I meet someone new, we get together with no problem at all. With Jordan, it was going to be more difficult.

I knew a couple of guys on the field and spoke to them. They were ready to play again, and several other guys who hadn’t played yet were standing on the sidelines, too, waiting for their chance.

We quickly formed into two teams. I wasn’t sure just how it happened, but Jeff ended up on my team with Mike and Jordan on the other side. Jeff loved playing with me. At the park this was the only place that happened. But he always played right wing forward when he could. He was fast for his age and good with the ball. He also knew I’d get the ball to him from midfield when I could. When playing with older kids, the younger ones were frequently ignored. That didn’t happen when I was responsible for passing to the forwards.

The game went like they usually did at the park. Scattershot soccer without much harmony on offense or defense. I spent a lot of time watching Jordan. He and I were both playing center midfield, so we were more or less guarding each other, although most of the action was at one end of the field or the other as everyone congregated around the goals. But I did get the impression that Jordan had played the game before. He was very clever with his feet. I felt I was a better passer than he was; I liked that part of the game a lot, the part where I got to try to outsmart the defense and set up our offense. Jordan’s skills appeared to be more in handling the ball and bringing it up the field by himself; he was certainly good at that. I might have been able to see the entire field a little better. He might have had better ball skills.

We’d been playing awhile when Jordan got the ball on his side of the midfield line and started to bring it forward. I was there to meet him. I doubted he’d pass; he usually hadn’t till he was about halfway to our goal from the center line. I decided this would be a good chance for me to show him why passing was a better option. I had a pretty effective tackle move, and this was the perfect place for it.

What I was going to do was sweep the ball with a low leg kick, my leg and foot almost touching the ground. As he approached me, he had to try to go left or right around me. Either way, he’d be pushing the ball to that side, and the ball would have to be in front of his foot. I could tackle with either leg, so I’d sweep my leg to kick the ball from the open side. I’d done this many times before and was good at concealing it till the last second. Jordan, never having played with me before, wouldn’t be expecting it.

I figured he’d go left. Most kids had a stronger right foot than left, and by going left, he’d kick the ball with either the outside of his left foot or the instep of his right, but then have it set up for moving forward with his right leg. But whichever foot he used, the ball would be exposed, and if he went left, it would be to my right. So, a sweep with my right leg would be a perfect tackle.

It worked just as I expected. He tried to go around me to his left. The ball was open for a second. That was all I needed. I went low and swept with my right leg, my foot outstretched.

I missed the ball entirely! He did something I’d never seen before. As my foot was nearing the ball, he stepped over it such that each one of his feet was touching one side of it, and he jumped. He lifted the ball off the ground, and my foot passed directly underneath it.

Of course, by not hitting the ball, my foot continued farther than I expected it to, throwing me a little off balance. I twisted to the side, right in his path, and we came together. As we’d both been moving forward, it was a matter of us running into the other. But I was low and off-balance and on only one foot. He came down with both feet on the ground, perfectly balanced, and the bump I got from him was enough to knock me ass over teakettle, flat on my back.

Play stopped. He giggled. He stood over me and giggled. And just like that, I saw red. I’d just been made to look foolish, and he was laughing at me. I couldn’t ever remember being so mad so quickly before.

He saw my emotions in my eyes and stopped giggling. He looked contrite. He leaned down and offered me his hand to help me up.

I so, so wanted to slap that hand away. So wanted to yell at him, call him every name I had in my vocabulary, and that was extensive. I even opened my mouth to do so and in the process tell him to shove that hand up his ass, but I saw Jeff had run up.

That meant I had to control my behavior. I was very aware of my need to be a model for Jeff. I knew all my intended responses to Jordan would be poor sportsmanship. The only thing Jordan had done wrong was laugh, and that hadn’t been more than a second or two, just an automatic response, and I probably had looked quite silly. I couldn’t cuss at him or not take his hand with Jeff there watching. I knew Jeff looked up to me; I couldn’t let him down by acting like an asshole.

But I was still mad. You don’t get over that sort of anger that easily. I took Jordan’s hand and let him pull me to my feet but glared at him while he was doing so, and then yanked my hand away rather roughly. I took a step and then felt a twinge in my left ankle. Twisting farther than I’d wanted on my sweep had tweaked it. Not much, but a little.

“I need to sit out a minute,” I said and limped to the side of the field. My limp may have been a bit exaggerated.

Jordan watched me go. I knew that, because I glanced back and saw him looking at me. Then I saw him toss the ball to a teammate and follow me.

Jeff tried to follow me to the sideline, but I waved him back. “Go play. I’m fine,” I called to him. “Just need a minute or two.”

I sat down in the grass, and, since Jordan had followed me off, the game just began again with one man down on each side.

I was still angry. Deep inside, I knew I shouldn’t be. But at fifteen, it’s not that easy to calm your emotions. You tend to be controlled by your pride. That had been hurt, along with my nascent manhood. I wasn’t mature enough yet to handle it any better than I had.

Jordan didn’t know what to say. So, he did what I guessed was typical of him. He remained silent. He did sit on the grass a short way from me and kept looking down, then up at me and down again.

That got old pretty quickly. I was mad, I wanted to yell at him, and he gave a very good impression of a puppy who’d just been told he was a very bad dog. Not at all easy to cuss out someone acting like that. I may have been an asshole, but I wasn’t a major one.

But I still was one, nevertheless. “You knocked me down and laughed at me,” I said, my anger resonating in my voice.

I expected him to defend himself, even tell me I was full of shit. He did neither. He just kept his eyes down a little longer than he had been doing before glancing at me again.

I took a deep breath. Settle down, I told myself.

I counted to twenty. I’d thought it would be ten, but I wasn’t ready after ten, so counted another ten. Slowly. Then I turned to him. “Why’d you laugh?”

I wasn’t sure he’d answer. He wouldn’t look at me, so why would he answer? This time, though, I waited. The silence stretching out turned into pressure and it became too much for him.

“Sorry,” he said, not much more than a whisper. “I was excited about that move. I’d never tried it before, never even thought about it. But it worked so well, and I was excited by that, and you looked, well, you looked . . .”  He stopped and looked down again.

“I looked like an idiot,” I said, and I could hear my voice had lost its edge; I sounded nearly normal again.

He grinned. I guess he couldn’t help it. He did try to hide it from me. He didn’t want me to see it and take it wrong, but I did see it. That was a problem; I grinned, too. With my anger behind me, I could imagine how I’d looked, lying with arms and legs flopped all over the place; it had been funny. The problem wasn’t what he’d done. Actually, the move he’d made was amazing. No, the problem was how I’d reacted. Pride can cause all sorts of grief. Humility is the better way to go.

I wasn’t sure what to say next and so just looked out at the field.

We were both quiet for a time, and then he spoke. “Your ankle okay now?”

I stood up. Yeah, it was fine. Hadn’t been that bad to start with. I’d just needed time to cool off. “Yeah. Want to go back in?”

He stood, too. “Yeah. I love playing soccer.” Then he turned and looked directly at me, looked me in the eye. “I shouldn’t have laughed. It was awful of me. I’m ashamed. I’m really sorry.”

Now I did feel like an asshole. “Hey, you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m sure I looked silly, and it wasn’t your fault, and that move you pulled was incredible. Let’s get back out there.”

Even though the game was on, we both simply ran onto the field. It was that kind of a game. I took over again at center midfield. Jordan saw me there and moved to a forward wing position, shooing a younger kid up to midfield. I guessed he wasn’t too shy to do that. The kid was happy, though; he was playing with older kids and didn’t mind the position switch at all.

Jordan scored twice before we were done, faking out a defender both times.