The next day, I come downstairs just as Dad is leaving the kitchen. “Hi,” he says, ruffles my hair, and then is gone into his room. I watch as he uses a key to open the door.
I get a bowl of cereal. The day is stretching before me, and I have no idea what to do. After eating, I check my email. Nothing. The unsettled, worried feeling in my stomach returns. Maybe I’m a little angry, too—where the hell is Chase?
I write and send a quick email to him. I complain that I’m getting upset that he isn’t writing.
I stand in my room, looking around, but my room is depressing and I need to be outside. I know that. I go out front and look at the woods, then the road. I’m pulled toward the road, and turn in the direction I took yesterday. I don’t think about why I walk that way and not the other. I just start walking.
I have on a tee shirt, shorts and sneaks. It’s warm enough already that I’m very comfortable. For some reason, I get tense in the house. Out here, I calm down.
When I get to where I can see the neighbor’s house, I get shy. I’m not shy. I’m not. But for some unknown reason, I just don’t want to walk by that house right now. I stand thinking, then cross to the far side of the road and enter the woods. I only go about ten yards into them, and then continue walking parallel with the road toward the house. Her house.
I move between trees and soon arrive at a place where I can see the house and yard and barn but still stay invisible. At least I’m pretty sure no one can see me. I find a thick tree to stand behind and watch.
It’s not quite as warm in the woods, the canopy above shading me from the sun, but it’s not a bit chilly. I can hear birds but nothing else. I stand for ten minutes, then get bored. No one seems to be around. I guess the people who live in the house must be out, or inside, but they’re not visible to me. I start to feel stupid.
It takes only a few moments to walk back the way I came, and I leave the woods where I entered them. I cross the road to the other side, then have to decide what to do. I don’t want to walk home. There’s nothing to do there, and I don’t much enjoy it. Somehow, it makes me feel trapped.
I look around. The road is deserted. I haven’t seen any vehicles at all, and I don’t even remember hearing any while I’ve been at home.
There are no sounds I can hear other than those made by birds, insects and the wind. For someone raised in the city, it’s almost too quiet. I’m used to background noise whatever I’m doing, wherever I am, and this quiet feels weird, kind of unnatural, somehow.
I start to slowly walk forward. When I get to where I can clearly see the house, where it isn’t being blocked by the large trees in the front yard, I suddenly hear a door slam shut. I stop, and then the girl walks into view from behind the house.
She has shorts and a tee shirt on, and sneakers, just like me, although her shorts are athletic shorts while mine are longer, almost down to my knees. I can’t believe what I see under her arm. She’s holding a basketball.
She doesn’t look toward me. She heads for the barn. She gets to it, then goes around the side away from me and I can’t see her any longer. I stand still, and then hear the unmistakable sound of a basketball being dribbled.
I walk farther up the road but find I can walk as far as I want and still never see behind the barn.
I walk back to the driveway leading to the house and barn. Then, almost without conscious thought, I start walking down it.
I still don’t see any people. I’m sure whoever this girl is, she can’t live here alone. She’s about my age, I think. Yet she’s the only person I’ve seen.
I don’t hesitate. I walk to the barn, then follow where she walked to the far side and around it. When I get to the back, the sound of dribbling and a ball clanking off a rim are more distinct. I step out so I can see and be seen.
The girl is playing by herself. That isn’t what I notice first, however. She’s shed her tee shirt. I stare. She’s wearing a heavy bra, but it’s still a bra, and I’m embarrassed and feel like I’m trespassing.
She sees me and stops dribbling. She holds the ball wedged between her arm and side and looks at me, and I look at her.
She speaks first. “You’re the boy who walked past here yesterday.”
“Yeah, I was. I saw you, too.” I stop. My eyes keep slipping from her face to her chest, then quickly back up again. It’s not that I can see anything I shouldn’t be seeing, much. There is the faint protrusion of what must be nipples, but I’ve seen that lots of times at school. It’s just the thought that maybe I’m looking at something forbidden that keeps pulling my eyes there. I’ve never seen a girl dressed like this before.
She watches me, then gets a sort of half grin on her face. “What’s the matter?” she asks. “Never seen a sports bra before?”
She laughs. “This is a lot more comfortable than a regular bra. Keeps me from jiggling around.”
I blush harder, and she laughs harder. “You’re the bashful type, I guess.”
I have to stand up for myself. I can’t let her think that. “No, I’m not. I just haven’t seen, uh, that before, and, well, you know. You’re about my age. Anything like that is, is…” I don’t know how to finish. I can’t say something like, ‘It’s arousing,’ or, ‘It’s sexy.’ I don’t even know her. So I’m left stammering and blushing.
“How old are you?” she asks.
“Ah, that explains it. Fifteen-year-olds are still embarrassed about sex and bodies and boobs and stuff, and I’m a girl. I’m sixteen, so I guess I’m just more mature and that sorta stuff doesn’t bother me.”
This is definitely the strangest conversation I’ve ever had! Here is a girl I’d never met till two minutes earlier talking to me about her boobs as though it’s nothing. Then it occurs to me, she lives on a farm. I’ve heard that some farm girls are pretty matter-of-fact about this stuff. Maybe that’s what it is. I’ve never spoken to a farm girl before.
Actually, I’d thought I was pretty much OK with talking about this stuff too, especially when it came to girls, because I’m gay. Girls shouldn’t bother me at all. Girls’ parts shouldn’t either. They’re interesting, but that’s all.
Except this girl, she... well, she makes me feel a little off-balance. I’m not sure why. She’s pretty, quite pretty, and she doesn’t have much clothing on. That’s certainly part of it. I’m horny, too, even after the woods incident; I’m always a bit horny. Also, she’s talking about stuff that I don’t quite know how to talk about with her. She has me feeling like a nerd, and I shake my head, frustrated and disgusted with myself. Here I am all unsure and fumbling for words and trying to keep my eyes on hers, and that isn’t me at all. It’s not! She’s also got me thinking about sex, about seeing her naked, but she’s a girl!
has dark hair, done up in a ponytail. Dark brown hair that’s shining in the
sun. A pretty face, speckled with sweat and a few freckles that give her a
boyish, cute look, a face browned by being outdoors a lot. She’s not skinny,
but she’s not fat at all or even plump. She looks solid and strong.
I’m still blushing and don’t know what to say. She’s watching me, and I don’t much like the look she’s giving me. It’s not really a superior look, more like she’s just very confident. Too confident. It can tell she thinks she’s the one in control here, but I’m the boy. She, at best, should be thinking of us as equals. And she isn’t.
“You know how to play basketball?” she asks, a sort of teasing challenge in her voice.
“Better than you do,” I reply. I mean for my voice to have the same lilt hers does, but somehow I don’t think it comes across that way. What I said sounds a little rude to me, and I didn’t mean it that way, but I’m confused and a bit rattled by her demeanor. I’m a good-sized kid, larger than other guys my age. I play football, for crying out loud. She’s a girl. She might be a little older than I am, but she’s a girl!
“HORSE or one-on-one? You’re the guest, your choice.” There’s less laughter in her voice this time. Maybe it was what I said, or how I said it. But I sort of like how she sounded when she said that. It implies she’s not taking me for granted so much, and not treating me like a little kid.
I start to say that one-on-one wouldn’t be fair to her but then hold off. Saying that would be cocky, which would probably be all right, but she might think it’s snotty, too, and I don’t want that. I want to be friends with her. I feel that strongly. It might be a good idea to start acting like that and less like an asshole.
“Which are you better at?” I ask, innocently. I’m sure I can beat her at either. It’ll be easier to keep the game close in HORSE, though. She’ll have no way of knowing when I miss shots on purpose. I can play down to her level much easier at HORSE, but she might rather play one-on-one, and I think I should give her the choice. It’s the gentlemanly thing to do.
She looks me over some more before answering. Then she surprises me with, “One-on-one then. If you’re up for that. Don’t expect me to let up just because you’re not competitive or are getting beat. You look strong enough to be able to handle that. OK?”
Let up? She thinks she’ll have to let up, playing me? I am starting to feel competitive. And less gentlemanly by the second.
I step out onto her court. It’s a great court. Someone poured a concrete pad back here behind the barn. It’s a large slab, about as big as half a regular basketball court. The basket isn’t attached to the barn, either. It’s on a pole that’s stuck in the concrete about four feet from the barn edge of the court. There’s a foul line and a lane marked out with white paint. It even has an arc painted showing the three-point-shot distance. I look at all that, then back at her, standing comfortably, confidently, holding the ball.
Maybe I should ease up on some of my cockiness here, I think.
She does have the home-court advantage, after all.
I stop, facing the basket just beyond the three-point arc, looking at her. “Oh,” I say, “I’m Troy. What’s your name?”
“Lindsey,” she says, and bounces the ball to me.
We sit together just off the court, our backs against the old wooden boards of the barn, out of the sun for a change. My shirt is off. She still has all her clothes on, what clothes they are.
I take a pull on my Coke can, and she copies me. I’m drenched in sweat. So’s she. I can smell her deodorant. She can probably smell mine, too.
“The girls’ basketball team?” I say.
“Leading scorer,” she says, pauses, then finishes with, “in the district.” And a grin. Her eyes show she’s not bragging but is proud and is just telling me. There’s laughter along with the pride showing in her eyes.
I sit still for a moment. I’m still getting my breath back. “And how many games did you foul out of?”
She laughs for real. I like her laugh. It’s bright and full and not the tittering, repressed, self-conscious sound some girls make. There’s no pretension in it. When she laughs, you know it comes from inside her and means she’s happy. “You’re not used to girls’ basketball, are you?”
“We didn’t have a girls’ team. I’ve never seen a girls’ game.”
She nods. “Boys are rough, too, but I’ve watched their games and played against a lot of boys. I think our games are rougher. We can’t jump as high as you guys can, so there’s a lot more contact going on beneath the boards, fighting for position, because position means everything in rebounding for us. We do a lot more setting of picks and blocking out. Physical presence rules in our game. We take charges more and don’t mind running into someone guarding us, either. You don’t play girls’ basketball unless you’re tough.”
I’m quiet as I think about that. She’d played hard, physical basketball against me. I’d been very surprised. Then I’d been mad after she’d about run over me a couple times and elbowed and hipped me out of the way getting rebounds, and then, both from being mad and needing to survive, I’d started playing the same way against her. It hadn’t fazed her in the slightest.
I’m a good basketball player, and I’ve played the game a lot. I’m about the same height as she is, maybe just slightly taller. But she is every bit as good a player as I am. She may even be better. What we’ve just done has changed my perspective on her from a pretty girl to someone very much like me—competitive, not liking to lose or back down from a challenge—someone with a lot of self-confidence and pretty sure of who she is and what she can do.
Our game of one-on-one had turned into two games. She’d won the first one, 20 – 9, mostly because I wasn’t ready for her ferocity and toughness. The second one, I hadn’t held back at all. We’d stopped at 22 – 22. I’d been exhausted, playing so hard under the relentless sun—more exhausted than she’d been, but she’d been tired, too, and I think… well, I think she’d been happy. That’s how she’d looked. I didn’t know her well enough to know if there was any other reason she’d suggested we stop. Was she being protective of my ego? Had she wanted to be friends and not sure we could be if she beat me again? I didn’t know. I could see, as we played, she really liked the competition, the fight I was showing, that I was playing her as hard as she was me, that I wasn’t holding back from being rough with her. I could see how she ate that up. Just the way she’d played, in that second game, I knew she now respected my game as much as I respected hers. That made me feel really good, for some reason.
We both sit quietly for a bit. Then she says, “You moved into the Higgins’ place, huh?”
I tip up my can and drain the rest of the Coke before answering. “That’s what the Realtor called it.”
A pause, then, “Why’d you move out here? We’re in the middle of nowhere. There’re no other kids our age around.”
So I tell her. And once I start, I just keep talking. I’m surprised as hell about that. I wonder if it’s because I haven’t had anyone my age to talk to recently. I’m normally I’m a pretty sociable person. I’m not used to being alone so much. Too, she’s a good listener, and I have a lot on my mind. So, I talk, and once I start, I just don’t stop.
I tell her about Carly. About Mom. About Dad going into a shell. About his need for isolation, and how I don’t understand that at all. I spill out my feelings as well as my circumstances. I tell her everything. Except about Chase.
Well, of course I hadn’t seen compassion. We were playing basketball, and not like I’d ever played it in the past. Basketball was always about competition, but still, it was just a game. With Lindsey, it was war.
I wasn’t ready for war, and it was only my competitive spirit in the end that allowed me to carry on with the game without letting my temper kick in. The first few minutes, she’d been an animal. She’d knocked me out of the way getting rebounds, driven right through me to the basket, used her elbows and knees willy-nilly, and, well, I’d never played that way before and had never played against anyone who played that way either.
After having picked myself up off the ground for the third time, and having started to get mad about it, she’d tossed the ball to me and said, “7 - 1.” There’d been no laughter in her voice. But no derision, either. Basketball was all business, all competition with her. And I could see she was eating it up.
I could have gotten mad. I was heavier than she was so could have just run roughshod over her, charging into her, knocking her down, and then making a layup. Part of me wanted to do that. Wanted to do it very badly. But that really wasn’t what she was doing to me. She seemed to be bending the rules a little, but not outright breaking them. She was just playing rough, aggressive but mostly clean basketball. I hadn’t been ready for it. Probably part of the reason for that was the fact she was a girl.
I could have gotten mad and played dirty, but instead, I decided to see if I could play rough too. Rough, but not dirty. It had been difficult deciding that because of the thing about using proper behavior with girls. What fifteen-year-old boy wants to play a really rough game with a pretty girl with a ponytail whose nipples protrude slightly but visibly under her bra? Not this boy, even if he was gay.
I took several deep breaths, then looked at her and asked, “Ready?”
She nodded. I began dribbling straight at her. She crouched a little, bending her knees, not backing off. When I was close, I took a quick step to my left, and when she shifted her weight that way, not moving her feet but just her center of gravity, I went right, brushing her hard as I did. She stumbled, and I had an easy layup in front of me.
“7 - 2,” I said, expressionless, and tossed her the ball.
From that point on, we played fairly even. Well, almost. She won, but she’d had a big lead by then, and I’d not been good enough to either stop her from scoring or outscore her. I’d also found, if I guarded her very closely, I could force her into taking outside shots. The only problem with that was, she made most of them. She had a great outside shot. It was a bit in shock, seeing her drill shots from behind the three-point line, and she widened her lead by the end. So I guess saying we played evenly from that point might be stretching the truth a little.
But I did play her even for the last few points after figuring out the best way to hold her scoring down and the next game was pretty even. Rough, physical, but even.
When it was over, we both were tired and bruised, but I’d felt really good. I’d worked off some feelings I’d had, about
Dad, about Chase even. Being in a very physical game was something I’d needed.
Lindsey had showed me no compassion. Respect? Yeah. Perhaps the beginning of a really good friendship? I hoped so.
Did I want more with her?
Well, she was pretty, and I’d never known a girl like her before— so spirited, competitive, physical and challenging. She really appealed to me. So ‘more’ was something to think about later. I hadn’t discounted it out of hand, and that was something to think about, too. Because there was no question in my mind I was gay. Was there?
I go home eventually, after talking a long time with Lindsey, leaning against that barn. Dad is in the office room working, I guess. Light’s coming from under the door. I silently try the door and find it’s locked. Whatever he’s doing in there, he doesn’t want me to know about it. It must be more than sorting stuff to be thrown away. I can see light coming from under the door, so figure he’s in there. But locked in.
In my room, I check my computer and see there’s mail from Chase. Finally! I open it. He has apologized for not writing. He says it’s hard. He misses me so badly it hurts, and trying to write me just makes it hurt more, because it somehow emphasizes that we’re not together—and won’t be. He says he’ll try to write, but isn’t sure he will very often. His writing doesn’t even sound much like him. Chase is a happy kid with lots of fun in him. There’s no fun in this letter at all.
I write him a long email, telling him how much I miss him, too, but also talking about keeping going, moving on, that hopefully we’ll be back together sometime, but until then, we have to keep living. I don’t know; it sounds weak to me, halfhearted even, a bit sappy and maybe not too realistic and maybe not sympathetic enough, either. Perhaps this is because I’ve never had to buck him up before. I’ve always been the one who’s too introspective; Chase spends little time analyzing himself, just goes with the flow of his moods without trying to understand them. He’d often got pissed at me if I was down for what to him was no reason at all. He’d been good at getting me to snap out of any funk I was in; I’d had little practice with the shoe being on the other foot.
I miss him a lot. But, thinking about it, having met Lindsey makes the pain not quite so intense. It makes it easier to handle.