Chris had been my best friend from the first day of high school. In truth, he had been my only friend since. I was a freshman in a new school and he had been the first person to actually speak to me.
"You know we're gonna kick your ass this year" he said as more of a statement than a question. I just turned and stared at him with a look that was equal parts dumbfounded and terrified.
Over the summer, the bank my dad worked for got bought by another bank in North Carolina so we moved there from northern California after he found out he was being transferred. I was not at all excited about moving to the south and I always assumed a good ass-kicking was in my future here, I just didn't expect it before lunch period on the first day.
I clinched my fists, dropping my black and orange San Francisco Giants carry bag by my side, and turned to face my new oppressor. Quickly looking him over, it was obvious that he was an athlete - not the bulky football type - more the slender, toned shortstop. He was a couple inches taller and definitely more athletic, tanned and a good looking guy. He had shortish sandy hair held in place by a cap - definitely a baseball player - maybe even a quarterback too. With my luck, he was probably also class president, all-around coolest guy in school and just voted most likely to beat the shit out of the new kid.
I on the other hand, had finally started to come into my own over the last year - physically and emotionally. I was still pretty thin but my features were starting to stand-out and I was noticing more second looks from passersby. None of this mattered much at the moment because I was pretty sure I was about to get hurt - bad. He curiously watched my bag fall to the floor then lifted his blue eyes to meet mine. I had recently seen something just like this on the `nature channel', where a young lion coolly stalked its first kill.
As he lifted his hands, I instantly assumed he was probably also a black-belt - visions of the blonde kid that tormented Ralph Macchio in Karate Kid flashed into my mind. To my eternal relief, he just opened his hands and smiled saying "Man, you are one serious fan". "Huh?" was my reply, now equal parts dumbfounded and relief as I dropped my clenched fists.
My expression giving me away, he burst out laughing nearly doubling over in hysterics as he first pointed to my Giants carry bag and then to the logo on his cap. I knew this logo all too well. The Atlanta Braves had teased and tormented my beloved Giants all through the summer (before National League re-alignment), but we were finally within striking distance with about 6 weeks left in the season.
He now reached out putting his arm on my shoulder, trying to balance himself and keep from literally rolling in laughter. At this point, I started laughing too, first from the shear joy of still being alive, then from the realization that I might actually make a friend.
"Man, you thought I wanted to kick YOUR ass" the words broken by his almost sobbing laughter. "I'm Chris Briggs - really delirious to meet you" as he dropped his hand from my shoulder and found my sweaty palm.
"Matthew, err Matt Jordan - militant Giant's fan" breaking into more laughter.
This awkward meeting had in fact been the perfect introduction. I was far too shy to make quick friends. Chris was a year older, a popular kid, and may have never given me the time of day. Growing up in the small California town of Sausalito, linked to San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge, I could have just as easily become a fan of the other bay area team - the American League's Oakland A's. But then my parents wouldn't have given me my treasured genuine replica Giants carry bag at the tender age of 10 and my meeting with Chris Briggs would never have taken place now almost 5 years after that fateful day.
Chris found me again later that day at lunch and we talked nothing but baseball for 20 minutes before a female voice interrupted from several tables away.
"Chris!!". I turned to see a very attractive brunette girl with her palms pointed skyward and a not too pleased look on her face.
"Oh man, I'm in so much trouble. Katie is gonna kill me if I don't get back to her table. First day of school, and my girlfriend is already pissed at me. Catch you later Matt".
I watched Katie's expression as Chris approached and then wrapped his arms around her neck from behind. Her eye's closed briefly in an almost dreamy state of relaxed comfort, her earlier frustration quickly lost in his embrace. I envied her.
Chris and I spoke several times over the next couple weeks. He was always friendly - sometimes even calling out to me across the walkways between class buildings. He wasn't the most popular kid in school after all, but still everyone seemed to like him. I hadn't been so fortunate in making other friends, but so far no enemies either.
I was slowly starting to understand the social structure around the school - both for the students and the faculty. Mr. Cox was the strong-handed principal - seemingly liked neither by the students or faculty. Mr. Spivey was the hip science teacher that conversely everyone seemed to like. Mr. Duncan was the phys-ed teacher rumored to be getting regularly blown by my fellow freshman Donna Simpson. Ms. Nelson was the young English teacher who seemed all too happy to lean over the desk of any cute teenage boy, revealing a very low cut bra underneath a very loose blouse. She was also rumored to be the staff sweetheart for busy Mr. Duncan. Mr. Briggs was the much maligned baseball coach who also had the unenviable task of teaching health (i.e. Sex Ed). Finally, there was Mr. Clark - the sensitive, never- married history teacher that everyone seemed to just naturally assume to be gay.
The school was about the same size as my old school - only about 900 students. Some things are the same everywhere you go - the super jocks and most popular seniors made up the ruling social class, un-admiringly referred to as "the beautiful people" by the lowest of the ruled-upon lower class. Most of the kids just fell somewhere indistinguishably in between.
Chris seemed to float easily between all three groups, always smiling and being smiled at by whoever he crossed paths with. His girlfriend Katie was a different story, always highly selective in the company she kept. Like Chris, she was a sophomore, but you could tell she had her sights set high on the social ladder. I didn't really know what a debutant was, but somehow I figured that Katie was one. She always dressed on the conservative side, stylish, but conservative. Come to think of it, Chris was probably the least conservative thing in her wardrobe. Those two just didn't seem to fit together.
"Oh great, cardboard with tomato sauce again today!" Tommy Johnson was not impressed with the culinary skills of our cafeteria staff.
Tommy and I were in homeroom together and we had started to exchange sarcasms on a regular basis.
"Oh no, Tommy. It's real pizza, it's just last months pizza" came my reply sharing his disgust.
"Oh yeah, then how come my slice says Please Recycle on the bottom", Tommy laughs holding his pizza up in the air and inspecting its bottom-side.
Unfortunately, Tommy couldn't see the wave of tomato sauce and pepperoni rolling downhill to the far end of the slice and then plunging toward his tray several feet beneath. SPLAT!
"You Gross Pigs !!!" came a now familiar shout as Katie looked down at her previously perfect white blouse. "Look what you've done!!!" now almost in tears.
Of course, Katie was just in front of Tommy in line. She would never have allowed herself to get close enough to us for this to have happened had we been in front of her. She likely would have skipped lunch altogether rather than stand in the same line with us. Somehow, the flustered expression on her face communicated all of this as she stormed out of the cafeteria towards the restrooms.
"Idiots" was the last word she was heard screaming as a confused Chris entered the cafeteria as she exited.
At first he looked genuinely concerned, then his eyes squinted and his head tilted when he spotted Tommy and me in the back of the line with tomato sauce covering our waists.
"Exactly what just happened here" asked Chris in a surprisingly calm voice.
Tommy looked at me, I looked at Tommy.
"Chris, man you won't believe this. In a fit of lust, Katie just like started smearing this tomato sauce all over me and Mattie here, talking about pepperonis and big salamis. Man, like I knew she was your girl so I said no way, Katie, we're not gonna be part of some sick, pizza sex fantasy.." Tommy had been trying not to laugh when he started in with this routine, but his voice had now started to crack a little as the expression on Chris's suddenly blood-red face told him he had stepped over the line.
Chris just stood there. I thought he might pound Tommy through the cafeteria floor and into the furnace room underneath. The petrified look on Tommy's face told me he might be thinking the same. Chris just stood there brewing. For a moment, I wondered if his head would explode from the shear anxiety obvious on his face. Tommy started some serious, heart-felt apologizing just as Chris turned and walked out toward the gym.
I found him sitting in the empty baseball dugout far on the other side of the gym, practically off of school property.
"Chris, man I'm so sorry. Tommy can be such a smart-ass. He really didn't mean any disrespect to you or Katie. It was just a stupid accident. Really, he's sorry. I'm sorry."
"You didn't do anything, you've got nothing to be sorry about" Chris said in an even, now quiet voice. "Shit, I'm not even mad at Tommy" Chris said sighing, shaking his head.
"Chris, I don't understand. If you're not mad at me and you're not mad at Tommy, then who are you mad at? Man, I thought you were gonna explode back there, then you just walked out."
As I asked this, I became suddenly very aware that I had no right to have this conversation with him. Chris and I had talked quite a few times in the first month of school, but we had certainly never had a deep personal conversation. Now, here I was grilling him on something that was obviously very personal to him. Chris really was my best friend here, even though we weren't that close yet. But certainly I wasn't HIS best friend and I had no right to talk to him like this.
"Chris, I'm outta line here. I've got no right.."
"I'm mad at Katie, OK?"
"Chris, why would you be mad at Katie. She was just an innocent bystander. I mean sure, she got pretty upset, but I don't blame her. It wasn't her fault".
"Matt, this is going to sound really stupid, but."
Chris paused peering deeply into me as if looking to answer an un-asked question before he continued.
"Chris, I know we haven't known each other that long, but I really do want to be a good friend to you. Anything you tell me stays with me, just me".
His expression signaled that he believed me, the question in his eyes had been answered.
I knew from that first day that I liked Chris. He had an energy about him that I admired. I also admired him physically. Chris had a great athletic body. All the girls thought he was a really cute guy. He was the boy I hoped to be in a year - with the body I hoped to mature into. He had always seemed so happy, easy-going, and able to take everybody and everything in stride. Now, I was seeing an entirely different side of him. Something was causing him real pain. As I look into his sad eyes, I was starting to realize that it was more than admiration that I had for Chris. I could feel a real attraction to him.
The first time I saw him wrap his arms around Katie, I had felt a twinge of jealousy and envy. I had tried to convince myself that I just wanted to be like Chris, to have the things Chris had, to be the boy Chris was. And I really did want him to be my friend. Right now, I desperately wanted to be his friend - his best friend - and to help him past whatever was causing him this pain.
I walked over in front of him and sat down leaning against the dugout fence. Chris sat on the bench looking down at me, his eyes flinching away as he tried to speak.
"Chris, just take your time. It's just me over here."
"I think I can trust you Matt, I need to trust you".
"You can trust me Chris, believe it".
"I really do love Katie. I know she has her personality hang- ups, and yeah, I know sometimes she thinks she's better than everybody else, but that's just her mom's fault. Katie and I go way back. She used to be a real tom-boy and we'd climb trees together, swim together, shit we even went hunting together - granted we just had slingshots - not real guns or anything." You could see his mind float back to that time as he spoke the words with a disgruntled smile.
"Man, it's really hard for me to imagine Katie like that, being a tom-boy and all" I said with disbelief. I just couldn't picture little miss perfect taking aim at a squirrel with a slingshot.
"When we both got to be around 12, things started to change. Her mom got real religious and all of a sudden made it her mission to turn Katie into a proper little girl. At first, Katie really hated it. She'd throw off her new dresses, put on a pair of cut-offs and a t-shirt and come through the woods over to my house with her ball-glove on. But finally, she gave in and became momma's little girl after all. We'd still see each other at school and at church - she was always so dressed up now. Eventually, and I'm still not sure how, we just sort of became official boyfriend and girlfriend for each other and have just stayed that way for over three years now. She's just changed so much. Her mom has done a real number on her. I just don't know if she'll ever be the same girl again that I knew."
"And you're mad at Katie because she's let her mom change her like that, change her from the girl you first fell in love with?" I asked trying to understand.
"Yeah, that's part of it. But it's more than that. This is where the stupid part comes in". Chris stopped and looked at me like he wasn't sure he wanted to go on.
"Chris, nothing's stupid when it comes to emotions. You shouldn't beat yourself up for having feelings. It sounds like Katie was the first girl you loved. You two have a lot of history together".
"Part of that history was, well, let's say when both of us were just discovering that we were different. You know what I'm saying?" looking at me shyly.
"Yeah, you mean when she started discovering girl stuff - not just climbing, hunting.."
"No, not that kind of different. I mean different physically, different sexually."
"Oh. That kind of different, huh?"
"Yeah, but this was all happening just when her mom decided to turn her into a little angel."
I realized that I was now into unexpected and un-chartered conversational territory. I also realized I was in over my head. Most of all, I realized I was terribly curious - too curious - about the details.
"Well, Chris. What exactly did happen?"
"Not much really. She showed me hers once and I showed her mine, but we were only 12 years old. I've been her so-called boyfriend for over 3 years now and we've barely even made it back that far. And, then she wouldn't even show me hers!!"
"So, you showed her yours - but that's were it ended?"
"Yeah, about two months ago. It's grown a lot since I was twelve. I think it scared her."
This mental image was now quickly burning its way through the base of my brain, down my torso, and straight up my scrotum into my rapidly rising 14 year-old penis. The sudden shift in blood was obviously interfering with my thinking - evidenced in full by my next question.
"You can't mean it's so big it scared her?"
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's what did it".
"How uh. How big are we talking here?"
"You've probably heard the talk around school, but I'm the only one that knows for sure. It was up to nine and a half inches as of last Tuesday".
"Actually, I haven't heard the talk around school and, fuck, you measure your dick EVERY Tuesday?!?!"
"Not every Tuesday, stupid. But usually, once a month" Chris said matter-of-factly.
"OK, OK. So you're mad at Katie because she won't show you hers?" now frustrated and definitely less intelligent than when this conversation began.
"No, I'm mad at Katie because of what Tommy said".
"Wait a second, how did Tommy get back in on this. I thought you weren't mad at Tommy. What did he say again, exactly?"
"Well, it's not what he said exactly. It was just the whole idea of Katie doing something so spontaneous and, well, so horny. It's just so NOT Katie. And THAT'S why I'm mad at her. We've been fighting a lot lately about, you know, fooling around and sex and stuff. It's driving me crazy, Matt - and I mean that literally. Sometimes it's all I think about for hours on end and I can't concentrate on anything else. I'm flunking algebra. Man, I just can't think straight with all this shit running through my brain."
"Chris, Katie isn't the only girl at this school and she isn't the only girl here who thinks you're hot! Maybe it's time you played the field a little."
"I just can't do that, Matt. Katie really was there for me a couple years ago when I went through some very bad times. I know you probably think I'm just a happy go lucky guy, but I went into a really deep depression, and .."
I could see Chris's breathing get heavier and his eyes were definitely misting up. After a long pause, he continued.
"I just can't do that to her after the way she was there for me. I'm not even sure Katie even finds me attractive at all. I'm starting to think I'm just keeping her company until she finds something better. But if that's what happens, it's probably what I deserve."
I had underestimated Chris emotionally. He was right, I had thought he was just a "happy go lucky" kind of guy and I certainly never imagined that he could have once been in so much despair. There was obviously a lot more to that time in his life than he was prepared to tell me just yet, but the experience had bonded him to Katie in a way that was now at least partially responsible for new pain in his life. Having seen the expression on his face earlier in the cafeteria and now seeing him struggle to tell me his story, I began to worry for him.
I was just barely old enough to begin experiencing the angst of sexual frustration. Chris was a year older - and had a much BIGGER problem! I didn't know exactly what a 9-1/2 inch dick looked like, but my imagination was working overtime to show me. "Focus Matthew" I said, only inside my head, as I re-directed my attention to a now nearly despondent Chris.
"Whoa, Chris. Your loyalty and faithfulness to Katie says a lot about you. I already admired you, but now I think I admire you even more. I see the effect you have on people. Man, everybody likes you. You're the only person at this whole school that means anything to me, and I don't know what Katie's problem is, but maybe she'll come around. If not, you gotta let her go. And if she moves on, it's her loss - not yours."
Chris looked down at me, a faint smile working its way across his lips. I could see a tiny twinkle in his eye.
"Thanks, Matt. I really appreciate that."
He held his stare on me for what seemed like an eternity. Chris really had a way of boring right through you with those eyes, almost like he was reaching inside you and gathering some information he needed to know. I just sat there in front of him, the emotion still on my face from the passionate defense of my friend. I believed he did appreciate it. I began to reflect on what I had said and I started to wonder if I had been too passionate. Exactly what did Chris see with those x-ray eyes, I wondered.
"Matt, you gonna go out for baseball next year?"
The change in subjects was less than subtle but I took it as a signal that Chris was through this crisis, at least for now. I felt a great deal of satisfaction in somehow helping him get there.
"I don't know Chris. Everybody says Coach Briggs is such a hard-ass. What's the deal anyway, is everybody in this town named Briggs?"
"Nope, Matt. Actually since my sister moved away there are just three of us". As he said this, my heart was suddenly free-falling right through my stomach. "Just me, mom and DAD."
"Oh fuck, Chris. Is there anybody else you want me to insult while I'm at it" I said in miserable sarcasm.
"That's OK Matt. What you heard is right. I promise you, I can vouch for that one first hand" Chris dropped his head in a frown as we started to make our way back toward the complex of class-rooms and temporary trailers that made up our school.
I felt like shit. I had taken success and turned it into failure. Why couldn't I have just kept my mouth shut about Coach Briggs?
"Don't sweat it, Matt" Chris could see the let-down on my face. "And thanks, really. I mean that. Thanks" his last words redeeming me.
"Matt, I'm gonna shoot some hoops after school, basketball season's just around the corner you know. Why don't you come by my house and I'll abuse you for a few games of 21.You can just ride the school-bus home with me. I'll get my mom to take you back home later if your folks can't pick you up".
Basketball wasn't my best game, but I certainly wasn't going to say no. Our friendship was really developing. I just hoped my parents didn't get pissed. I normally would ask first, but surely they wouldn't mind. After all, they dragged me all the way across the country, the least they could do was be happy I was making a new friend.
I spent the rest of the day trying to remember if I had any good basketball moves. I didn't want Chris to be so bored playing me that he wouldn't ask me over again. Finally, I gave up - there were no moves to remember. We didn't play a lot of basketball on the hilly streets of Sausalito. My thoughts then drifted back on the events of the day. Wow, what a day this had been. I could hardly wait to see what would happen next.