"Man, am I starched
!" Brian exclaimed, collapsing against the concrete divider that separated our basketball court from the one next to it. "Can we stop by 7-11 on the way back? I need to get a coke or something."
"Uh…" I was still trying to figure out exactly what I had just heard. "Did you just say you were starched?"
"Yeah, why? Don't tell me you aren't thirsty after playing one-on-one for so long!"
"No, I'm thirsty…but I'm not starched. I might be PARCHED though….you doofus." I couldn't help but grin at his choice of words. Brian might be able to beat me on the court, but a vocabulary whiz he was not. "I think my Mom has a can of that spray starch though, if you really wanna get starched…"
"Shut up, Andrew! Quit making fun of me!" He punched me in the arm, and hard. I noticed he made certain to keep the prominent knuckles of his first two fingers angled directly into the meat of my bicep, the better to inflict pain into my skinny arm. Not that he needed to make any special effort to hurt me if he had really wanted to. At 5'8" and 175 pounds, Brian was the biggest twelve-year-old on our block, and could be quick to give you a beating if he thought you were making a joke at his expense. "Just because I'm not in that nerd school of yours doesn't mean you can make fun of me!"
"OK OK," I said quickly, backing away to get out of the range of any further punches. I tried to get his mind off the exchange with a change of subject. "Let's go hit the Philips station and get a soda. Billy Mooresby told me that the new Playboy magazine came in, and there's a copy there without a cover that you can flip through if the guy behind the counter isn't looking!"
Suitably placated, Brian scooped up the worn basketball and trailed after me off the court. He was more than happy to hang out with me, as I always seemed to be the one coming up with cool things to do. I just had to remember not to insult his intelligence, and we got along pretty well. My neighbor, Mr. Delacour, calls us Lenny and George, but I'm not sure why. My Mom said I'll find out when I get into high school, if I really want to know. Bugging her about it just brought that look to her face though, so I let it go. Maybe sometime I'll go ask the lady at the information desk at the library – she'd probably be able to tell me why, if I asked nicely.
As Brian pushed open the door to the service station's little snack shop, a tiny little bell attached to the inside handle tinkled a couple times before it smacked against the glass of the door with a dull *tink* sound. The cool, air-conditioned breeze that blew against my face as I stepped inside felt like heaven…no…it felt like that first jump into the swimming pool on a hot day – a little bit TOO cold, and TOO fast, but carrying the promise of continued delicious coolness to come with it.
The counter with the register on it was old, lined with polished chrome along the top edge all the way from end to end. It gleamed so brightly in the afternoon sun that I couldn't look straight at it – instead I glanced up from the glare and directly into the suspicious eyes of the guy behind the register. His gaze flicked over me dismissively and settled back on Brian, assuming that any problems he might face from a couple of kids would stem from THIS source.
I could use this to my advantage. While the shopkeeper was busy eagle-eying Brian, I slipped back between two aisles, around a corner, and back towards the far end of the store. This was what we had come for…the small rack of adult magazines in the corner, all wrapped snugly in their opaque covers to prevent peeking before purchasing. All, I hoped, except for a single issue of Playboy…
My heart racing, I twisted the rotating rack around, cringing a little at the squeak it gave as it started to move. Glancing quickly around and not seeing any change to the locations of Brian or the guy behind the counter, I focused again on what I thought I had seen….THERE….yes!
Trembling with excitement, I slipped the flimsy magazine out of the rack and held it in my hands. Here I was, about to flip through another Playboy magazine….prime lunchtime gossip material to talk about for at least a week with the guys at school. I flipped open the cover and had just focused on a beautiful, rosy nipple when
Did you ever get that feeling where your skin crawls and your blood curdles and your feet scrunch up in your shoes until you don't know how you even stayed standing? Hearing the shopkeeper clear his throat right behind me did all that and more. I don't remember exactly what happened after that, but the next thing I know, I was out in the heat and the sun and the muggy, moist air, gasping for breath with nothing in my hands. Brian was sitting on the nearby curb, drinking a coke. I now realized that I have never actually TOLD Brian what I needed him to do, much to my dismay. I started trying to figure out whether I'd even be able to show my face in the store ever again, or whether I'd be stuck walking clear across the neighborhood every time I wanted a coke.
"Hey Andrew, aren't you gonna get a coke?" Brian dusted himself off as he scrambled up off the concrete. He towered over me, providing partial shade as he got close enough to blot the sun's glare out of my eyes.
"Nah, I'll just get a drink when I get home. Let's go check out the creek behind Mark's house. I hear he built a dam there yesterday. Oh, and did I mention that I saw a nipple on the Playboy in the store before I left?"
"A real nipple? MAN, you are so lucky. One time I thought I saw a nipple, but it turned out to be just a birthmark on this girl. She was wearing one of those bathing suits where you can't be sure what you're seeing and…"
As I tuned out Brian's rambling, suddenly content in the heat and haze and companionship of a good friend, I realized that everything was a close to perfect as I had ever known. I hope I stay 12 forever, I thought to myself.