That Fuzzy Madness

by Evelyn Floyd

He didn't seem to know that I thought he was handsome until I gave him the compliment. Even then, I don't think he understood the significance. He simply gave me that broad smile that always melted my heart and said thanks. I felt it had to be said, even if I did feel dumb for pointing out the obvious.

Mark was two years older than I was, and this had been his last year of high school. Next semester he would be off to college or whatever and I would still be in Prairiefield, a junior in high school. This was the last summer I would be able to spend with him.

He was handsome; beautiful even. I was madly in love with him. I tried to deny it at first, but I might as well deny that grass is green. I was afraid, I think, but of what I couldn't say. Maybe I was afraid he'd reject me, or that he'd laugh and tell me I was being silly. I liked being with him, and he seemed to like being with me, too.

The first time I saw him naked, he really wasn't nude at all. He'd only taken his shirt off, but at that moment I suddenly felt self conscious and uncomfortable. Seeing him without his shirt seemed so intimate, even though I'd seen plenty of other guys shirtless. It was summer after all, and the weather had been so terribly hot, so all the guys went around without their shirts. But when Mark peeled off his shirt, I had to look away. With him it was different, but I couldn't exactly say why. That was when I knew that I loved him.

It was July and there was going to be a big celebration down along the river to commemorate the Fourth. There would be food stands and music and after sunset, there'd be fireworks over the water. I wasn't one for big crowds, but when he asked me to join him to watch the fireworks, I couldn't say no, even though I knew he asked me as a friend and nothing else. I was sure we weren't going as a couple, for he'd never said or done anything to make me think he loved me as much as I loved him. But it was okay, because I'd rather be anywhere with him than alone. There would be plenty of time to be alone next year. This was our last summer together.

I worried about what to wear, because while it was going to be oppressively hot in the afternoon, after the sun went down, it'd be cool by the river. I finally decided to wear shorts and a loose fitting T shirt. On my feet I wore my most comfortable pair of sandals. I had some money in my wallet for drinks and snacks. When I was ready, I jumped on my bicycle and rode over to his house to find him in the garage, rebuilding the carburetor of his dirt bike.

I tried to act nonchalant as I rode up the driveway to the garage, calling out to him, but seeing him leaning over the workbench without his shirt on made me feel giddy and as I stared at him I rode straight into the bushes that flanked the big overhead door. I must've cried out in alarm because he was there before the wheels of my bike had stopped spinning. He found me all tangled up in sharp pointy green branches and the frame of my bike. I felt stupid as he came over to rescue me from my predicament.

He pulled the bike out, lifting it and me up almost effortlessly, and after I was clear of the branches, he began to check me for wounds. I brushed myself off, pushing him away and getting to my feet, telling him I wasn't hurt. I stood there feeling humiliated for being so clumsy as he chuckled with amusement, and he began checking over my bicycle as well. Satisfied that it was still functional, he set it on the kickstand and turned to me. I didn't give him the chance to tease me because I moved over to the workbench to look at the carburetor. I knew my face was red from embarrassment.

I asked him about it and as he moved to stand right next to me; he was so close that I could smell the sweat on his skin. It was like a drug to me. He reached down, picking up that carburetor in his grease-covered hands to show me what he'd done to it. I listened to him explain what had needed fixing and adjusting, and most of the words he used were unfamiliar to me. All I knew was that it was made up of what seemed to be a hundred intricate little parts that all fit together as if by magic. He smiled at my incomprehension of all things mechanical, and handed me a wrench. He was going to show me how the carburetor fit onto the engine of the bike and have me help attach it.

I felt lucky to be helping him work on the dirt bike, because I knew how much he enjoyed riding it. I was also a little nervous, too, because I didn't want to break anything. He reassured me that everything would be fine, and if I did break something, he could fix it. He told me where to stand and then he moved to the other side of the bike. He squatted down and asked me to do the same, and I saw his hand reach through the frame of the motorcycle. I stared at it, and I felt a tightness in my shorts as I watched his fingers wriggling around as if looking for something. He repeated his request and I felt dumb as I handed him the wrench. I tried to focus on what we were doing, but my mind kept wandering onto other things. Things that had nothing to do with motorcycles or carburetors. Being in love with him made even the simplest of tasks almost impossible. Finally, we were done with the motorcycle and he stood up. I did so as well, taking a step back as he swung his leg over the seat. He grinned at me, as he reached down to turn the key, then he hopped on the kick starter, and the bike roared to life. It was noisy in that small garage, and he was saying something to me, but I couldn't hear a word over the sound of the bike. I gave him a questioning look and he took his left hand off the grip and gave me a thumbs up. I smiled, because he was smiling at me. I knew I hadn't done anything to fix the bike that he couldn't do himself, but it felt good to have been a part of it.

He revved the motor, cranking on the throttle with quick, sharp twists of his wrist, and the bike screamed like an angry dinosaur. I was a little intimidated by the machine, finding it to be somewhat beyond my comprehension. He let the engine idle down to a dull roar and then he began to back it out of the garage in that straddle legged way guys have standing over a motorcycle. I watched him handling the bike with ease, and felt envious of the machine. It gave him such joy, and all I ever did was have dumb accidents, having to be rescued from my own clumsiness. I almost felt like crying, but I kept it in, as I didn't want him to think I was a wuss.

When he had it turned around on the driveway, he invited me to sit behind him. I looked at the seat and saw there wasn't a lot of room for two people on it. I shook my head, telling him that he should go for a test ride by himself, I'd wait for him here.

He shook his head and patted the seat behind him harder with the flat of his hand. He was insistent and I obeyed, moving closer to the roaring bike and swung my leg over the seat. I was all too aware of how close our bodies were and I felt a rush of conflicting emotions. He made sure my feet were securely on the pegs and told me to hang on. I was busy focusing on where our bodies were touching and when he hit the throttle, I was nearly thrown off the back.

He slowed down and told me to put my hands on his shoulders. I did so, and I felt nervous being this close to him, his sweaty back just inches from my chest. He rode the bike across the yard and then around the edge of the house, heading for the pasture. I felt every bump under the rear wheel through the seat under my butt. There were no animals out there except for a couple of horses that rarely left the barn, and soon he increased his speed, and I was overcome with the thrill of being on that bike, moving across the rough ground at a pretty fast speed. He rode that bike as if it were an extension of his body, and I was in awe of his skill.

We traveled up over several hills and once he gunned it hard, bringing the front wheel up as he jumped the bike over some fallen logs. I gripped his shoulders hard, but I was still unsteady on that bike. After we passed the logs, he told me to wrap my arms around his waist, because of the way my fingers were digging into his shoulders was painful. I complied, and apologized for hurting him. He laughed in that devil may care way of his and pointed to the dirt track in the distance ahead of us. It was a crazy looking thing, full of sharp turns, steep jumps and a lot of narrow straightaways. I felt my heart in my throat as he gunned the throttle hard and I tightened my grip around his waist.

He rode like a maniac, leaning the bike over in the corners so far that I swore my knees would be torn open by the rapidly passing ground beneath, and on the straightaways, he went so fast that the trees were a fuzzy blur on either side of us. And on the jumps, oh the jumps made me fear for my life, because he seemed to enjoy flying that motorcycle through the air like a big metal bird. I clung onto him as if my life depended on it, and he seemed unaware that my hands were almost pressed against that special place between his legs. He was having the time of his life, and I would have been too, except that I was scared shitless. Soon he brought the bike to a halt at the top of the biggest hill on the track, and he asked me to get off. I did so, wondering what he was up to. He let the bike idle, and I watched his face for a clue as to what he had in mind.

He was telling me about the motorcycle, about how the adjustments he'd made to the carburetor were just what it needed, and that it was running the best it had ever run since he first bought it. I was in awe of him, not only for his looks, but for the way he spoke about the dirt bike. If only he loved me as much as he loved that machine. I felt a twinge of envy again, and then I felt ashamed for thinking that I could be jealous of a motorcycle.

He squinted up at the sky and said that we should probably head back, because it was almost time to go to the celebration along the river. I agreed, and he scooted up to provide a space for me on the seat again. It was warm under me where he had been sitting, and when I put my hands around his hips, I felt a wave of emotion that had no verbal description. It was the fuzzy madness of love. He spoke to me over his shoulder, telling me to hang on tight, and I clung to him as tightly as I could, and he laughed in that high spirited way of his and gunned the throttle with a twist of his wrist.

The bike took off like a rocket and I felt as if my stomach had been left behind on the ground behind us. He held the throttle wide open and we were barreling down that hill at what seemed to be a hundred miles per hour, and Mark seemed to be in his own little world as he pushed that machine to its limits. I rode on the bike with him, but I knew that I would never love the thrill of speed and danger like he did. I was scared to death and Mark seemed fearless. He stepped down on the brake at the bottom of the hill, bringing the bike almost to a complete stop, and then he popped the clutch. The front wheel rose up, pointing into the afternoon sun as the smell of dirt and sweat filled my nostrils and the heavy weight of fear filled my belly. He was a maniac, and we were going to be killed if he didn't show some restraint. I found the idea of dying frightening, but then, I thought that dying with him, on the motorcycle he loved so much, well I figured that would be the best way to die after all. I loved Mark and if he killed us both, I wouldn't be sad. I just hoped that dying wouldn't be painful. I felt something burning in my chest, and I knew it was the fuzzy madness of love again. I clung tighter to the body in front of me, and I waited for the explosion of our death to occur.

He released the throttle a bit and lowered the front wheel back to the ground. I saw dirt kicking up where it touched, and he maneuvered the bike over the rough ground with a skill that bordered on perfection. I found that we didn't die, and even though I was still scared to death, I felt at ease finally. He was a good rider, and even if he drove a little crazy at times, he was conscious of the fact that he had a passenger and he kept me safe through it all. It only made me love him more.

Back at the garage he shut the bike off, and then he went into the house to get ready for the celebration at the river. I stood out in his garage, studying his tools and the mechanical things that hung on the walls, wondering why some people were so in tune with machines and stuff and other people weren't. I barely knew a socket wrench from a gear puller, and I wondered how anyone could find pleasure in such things. It was all so alien to me.

Finally he came outside, handing me a bottle of Pepsi. I took the cold bottle from his freshly washed hand, noticing that there was still grease under his fingernails. I was thirstier than I had thought and drank almost half the bottle in one gulp. As I took the bottle from my lips, I let out a loud belch. Mark smiled mischievously at me and we both laughed.

He was wearing a pair of cut off Levis and a T-shirt bearing the name of the metal band that had been at the city coliseum over the winter. I had wanted to go to that concert, but my parents had forbid it. I had been angry at them for treating me like a child, and seeing that shirt on him reminded me of that night. He saw me looking at the shirt and he asked, "Did you go to the show last year?" I shook my head no. He replied that it was too bad, because it had been a real blast. I said my parents hadn't wanted me to go, they thought I was too young. He just shook his head and repeated his words, telling me that I had missed one hell of a good show.

I glanced at the ground, and found that it was a good time to take another drink of the cold soda. He came over to me and said, "Finish that up, it's about time to go down and see the fireworks." I drained the bottle and he did the same with his, and when he set his empty bottle on the workbench, I set my there, too, right next to his, the two of them touching. I don't think he saw what I did, and then I felt a little embarrassed. Maybe he did see it, because he was smiling at me. He then turned and began to walk down the driveway and I ran to catch up.

"You're not taking the bike to the river?" I asked. He shook his head, telling me that there was no good place to park it where it would be safe. I nodded. It wasn't that far of a walk to the river park at the center of town, and as long as I was with Mark, I would go anywhere, even if I had to crawl. The thought of being surrounded by crowds of people usually made me nervous, but I was oddly calm as I walked with Mark. I wanted to reach for his hand, to hold it in mine to be touching him in an intimate way, but I knew I didn't dare.

The streets were thick with people in a celebratory mood, everybody moving towards the river and Mark ran into quite a few of his friends here and there. He told them about his new carburetor set up and how well the bike was running as I hung back, feeling out of place. Soon we were surrounded by vast crowds of people at the river and I made sure to stick close to him so as not to lose him in the gathering. The air was thick with sounds and laughter, and the smell of food was heavy in the air. I wasn't hungry, at least not for anything one could buy at the food trucks, so I didn't even need the money in my wallet.

Mark seemed to be saying hi to everyone there, and I never made a sound. I had lived in this town all my life, but I really didn't know anyone, except for Mark. He seemed to be my only friend, and that was what made his leaving school for college in the Fall so bad. I pushed away the sadness of the future and tried to live in the moment, right here and right now with Mark by my side. He led me down the trails along the banks of the river and soon the crowds began to thin.

He led the way and soon we were alone, except for the occasional couple here and there, sitting on blankets in the grass. I had thought about bringing a blanket, but had decided that was something couples did, not just two friends. Mark had never shown any interest in me romantically, and the only thing he seemed to feel strongly about was that motorcycle.

Finally we were so far from the crowds that I could hear the ripple of the water at the edges of the bank, and the soft muted sounds of crickets in the weedy areas under the trees. We were at least a mile away from the main hub of the celebration, and yet, Mark just kept walking. I stayed with him, and wondered how far he thought we needed to go. When I asked, he replied, "Don't worry, we're almost there."

He soon stopped, and pointed to a small island about fifty yards out into the water. When he told me that was where we were going to get the best view of the fireworks show, I asked how we would get there. "We're gonna swim." I looked at him, and then at the ground, digging the toe of my sandal into the sand. When he asked what was wrong, I replied, "I never learned how." He gave me a shocked look, and then he covered it with that old familiar smile. "Don't worry, I'll teach you." I shook my head, replying tersely, "What, in the next five minutes?" He laughed softly and replied that I had no idea of what he was capable of, but I would soon find out.

I felt so useless all of a sudden, weak and stupid and like a failure. Everything seemed to all come to a head. The anger rose up in me and it was like a rocket shooting skyward. I missed the best concert ever, because of my stupid parents, and now I was going to miss the best fireworks show because I never learned how to swim. I felt like crying or screaming and I think I might have started to do so if he hadn't grabbed hold of me and started to carry me into the river. I struggled and fought, telling him I couldn't swim and that I didn't want to drown. He simply held me tightly and waded deeper. I felt the water lap against my legs and it was colder than I expected. The water took all the heat of my anger away and I no longer felt the desire to struggle. When I finally stopped fighting him, he asked if I was ready to learn how to swim. I sniffed and nodded, all the fight gone out of me.

It was easier than I thought, but of course, he was standing next to me in the water, holding me up as I practiced moving my arms and legs in a swimming motion. He let go of me after about five minutes and suddenly I was swimming all by myself. I paused, feeling panicky, and then I got a mouthful of water as I started to sink. I began kicking and moving my arms, as he had taught me, and I was up again. Then he was beside me, both of us swimming and he shouted, "Race ya there!" and seemed to pass me like he was powered by a motor.

I worked my arms and legs as he had shown me, and I felt proud that I was finally able to swim. Of course he was faster and stronger, but it didn't take long to reach the shore of that island. As I reached the shore, he reached down and dragged me up onto the sand. I lay there, gasping but proud of myself, and he was out of my line of sight for the moment.

Soon he came back and helped me to my feet. He led me to a clearing at the center of the island. The trees of the island were behind us, which gave us a perfect view of the far shore where the fireworks would be going up. The river was almost half a mile wide here, and we had all of the area from the surface of the river to the horizon to see the show. After seeing everything beyond the island, I looked around to take in the scene of my immediate surroundings.

There was a tent, a couple of lawn chairs and a fire pit. He told me there were towels in the tent if I wanted to dry off. I stepped into the tent and I saw it was roomy enough to stand up in, and there were a couple of sleeping bags on the floor. Suddenly he was there in the tent with me. When I asked how he had done all this, he just smiled and replied, "Don't ever underestimate the power of a man in love."

Now it was my turn to give him a shocked look. He laughed and pulled me tightly against him, and I felt him kiss my neck as his arms held me tightly. When he pulled back, he looked me in the eye and said, "You aren't the only one to know how it feels to be in the clutches of that fuzzy madness. I know how you feel about me, and I feel exactly the same way about you, Roger." Suddenly I was happier than I had ever been.

As he started to take off my wet clothes, I asked him about the fireworks, fearing we were going to miss them. He chuckled and replied, "We'll make our own fireworks, and it will be better than the ones out there, you can trust me on that."

The End

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