by Nick Brady
The first day of school was a mess because everything was new. I had to catch the school bus at 6:45 before I was really awake, ask directions to find the office so I could stand in line to get my class schedule, then I began looking for the rooms using the little map they gave me. By the time the first class started I had located my locker and all the rooms for the morning classes. I would have to deal with the rest later.
Edison High School was a lot bigger than the middle school where I went to eighth grade. Most of my old classmates had gone to Central. Dad had me transferred to Edison because he thought it was a better school. Since Joseph was going to Edison that was fine by me.
In the cafeteria at lunch I was looking for someone I knew when I heard my name being called. I looked around and it was Steve from my baseball team.
"Hey Nick!" Steve was yelling.
"Hey Steve. What are you doing here?"
"I live in the district. Did you move?" he asked.
"No, my dad transferred me in because he liked the school."
"Cool," Steve enthused, "This is a great school. The girls are awesome. Have you seen the babes?"
"Oh yeah!" I said with a little more enthusiasm that I felt.
Steve asked, "Are you gonna play baseball?"
"I don't know. You playing Little League again this year?" I asked.
"Not Little League. I mean the school team."
"You mean play high school baseball?" I asked. "I wouldn't be good enough."
"What are you talking about? You're good enough to play school ball."
"You really think so?"
"Sure, all you gotta do is try out," Steve assured me. "And if you make the team you'll get a lot better. They have some really good coaches here. I'm gonna try out for football too."
"Hey man, go for it," I said. Steve was a lot bigger than me and would make a good football player. I wasn't sure about football but school baseball sounded like fun.
"If you think you want to play baseball be sure you take 6th hour PE," Steve said. "That way you can practice with the team if you make the cut. But don't sweat that, you can do it man."
"Thanks Steve, I'll check it out." I did have 6th hour PE and might look into baseball as soon as the season started. High School might be even better than I thought.
Lunch period was over before we could say much more and I waved goodbye to Steve and began to search for my afternoon classes. I managed to find everything and by 6th hour had collected an armload of text books to stash in my locker. The outside of all the lockers had been repainted over the summer and looked nice and clean. On the inside was the accumulation of 30 years of student graffiti. Little crosses with letters in the corners, hearts with Cindy loves Jeff inside, several versions of 'Go Edison Eagles', and the observation that Mr. Grovener eats shit. Some of the writing was so old that it had mostly been rubbed off. I found an out of the way spot and wrote, 'NB+JA'. I chuckled to myself and thought - why not?
I rushed to PE with just a notepad and pencil. I figured if we needed gym clothes they would tell us. There were about 50 boys there but Steve was the only one I knew. Most of the boys were horsing around and it was pretty chaotic but the coaches soon got everybody quiet. They told us that we were to bring gym shorts and a T-shirt and sneakers at first, sweats later when the weather got cooler, and towels if we wanted to shower. Then they had us form up in rows and put us through a series of calisthenics; jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups, a bunch of stuff, and fast, no break between sets.
After about 20 minutes I was sweating and breathing pretty good but I was doing OK. I was still in pretty good shape from baseball season. But a lot of the guys were looking pretty beat, and a few had just quit and looked kind of sick. When we finally stopped, the coaches started pulling guys out of the formation and into separate groups. I could tell they were grouping them by physical conditioning and was relieved to see that Steve and I were in the same group with the boys who did pretty good. This was a good sign.
I don't know what the other groups were told, but my group was to start off with some calisthenics then break outside to play either soccer, touch football or basketball for starters. Something was said about tryouts later but it was kind of general. Coach gave us some rah-rah and dismissed us at 3:30.
I made a bee line for the flagpole in front of the school to look for Joseph. I also needed to find out when my bus left to take me home. As I burst out the front door I could see Joseph standing with his back against the flagpole facing the front of the school. He was easy to spot. I jogged over to where he was standing with a silly grin on his face.
"Hey!" I yelled.
"Hello Nick. You didn't forget."
I skidded to a start just in front of him and resisted the urge to hug him. "Of course not. I've been looking for you all day."
"Yes, me too," Joseph said, "Looking for you that is."
"We both laughed. "Yeah, I knew what you meant. So how do you get home? I need to catch a bus here in a minute."
Joseph made quick little expression of resignation, "My mother picks me up in the Lincoln."
"That's cool I guess. But you only live about a mile away. You could walk that far."
"Yes, I could. It might be nice to do that when the weather is nice, but mother thinks she needs to keep me safe," and he laughed in an apologetic way.
I thought for a moment, "We aren't going to see each other much at school are we?"
Joseph looked sort of resigned. "It doesn't look that way does it?"
"Well, what do you do after school? I mean when you get home."
"I usually practice piano as soon as I get home. I have to spend quite a lot of time at that I'm afraid."
"Could I like, come over or something? Would that be OK with your Mom?" I asked.
Joseph's face brightened. "You would get awfully bored listening to me practice. What would you do with yourself?"
"I would sit and watch you and listen to you play. I don't think I would get tired of that."
Joseph blushed a little, "Oh Nick, I can't believe you mean that. I don't know what to think of you."
"You might think of me as your friend." I said.
Joseph looked kind of funny, like he was about to cry, just then a horn honked behind us. Joseph turned and exclaimed, "Oh, it's Mother. I have to go. Goodbye Nick." He jerked a little as if he was going to step toward me then nodded and jumped into the waiting Lincoln. His mother started off and Joseph turned and looked at me through the tinted window and waved.
It felt sad to watch him drive away. Almost like he was a prisoner or something. No that wasn't right. His parents were very nice and clearly loved him, but he wasn't free in the same sense as I was. I jerked my mind back to reality and ran for my waiting bus.
Mom heard me slam the apartment door and called out from the kitchen, "Nicky?"
I dumped the armload of books on the sofa and walked into the kitchen where my mother was slicing up carrots and tossing them into a stew pot.
"Hi Mom," I said as I opened the refrigerator and checked inside.
"Don't spoil your supper. How was school?"
"Edison is big," I said, closing the refrigerator door and walking to the sink to steal a carrot. I think it will be OK though. I ate lunch with Steve, you know, from my baseball team, and he is going to try out for the school baseball team in the spring."
Mom glanced at me as she started peeling potatoes. "Really? What do you think about that?"
"I guess if Steve can try I can too."
"So how are your classes? Did you meet all your teachers?" she asked.
"Yeah, they're OK I guess. It's hard to say much after just one day but none of them had horns or anything."
I hooked another carrot and said, "I think Edison will be OK, but riding the bus really sucks. I have to meet the bus an hour before I need to be at school and it takes over an hour to get back home. The bus makes a million stops."
"Lots of kids ride the bus Nicky."
"I know, but that's gonna get old in a hurry. Besides, I won't have time for any sports if I have to catch the bus right after school."
Mom gave me her raised eyebrow look. "I'm not much interested in being a bus driver."
"It's not that far," I protested, "How far is it anyway?"
"From here to Edison? About 5 miles I guess."
"Why couldn't I ride my bike?" I asked. "I could ride there on my bike in about 20 minutes. That's a lot quicker than riding the bus and then I could stay after school if I needed to."
Mom stopped slicing and dicing and looked at me for a minute. "That's a lot of traffic for you to be riding through on a bicycle."
"I'm a safe rider," I said. "Couldn't I try it to see how it works out?"
Mom finished slicing up the potatoes and rinsed them off before she answered. "I'll talk to your father. But you would have to wear your bike helmet -- and lock up your bike."
"No problem. I'll check it out."
In the shed behind the apartment was my BMX Bike. I rode it a lot over the summer and it was in pretty good shape. My back tire was low so I aired that up and wiped it down with a damp rag. The front hand brake was a little loose so I adjusted it, and checked the coaster brake on the rear. I squirted some oil on the chain and was wiping that off when I realized that Kevin was watching me. I turned around to see him standing in the door of the little shed with his hands in the pockets of his jeans.
"Hey," I said.
"Hey," answered Kevin. "You getting ready to go bike riding?"
"I'm thinking about riding my bike to Edison. It's too far to walk and the bus takes forever."
"That's a lot of traffic to ride a bike through," he observed.
I looked over at him, "You sound just like Mom. I'm a good rider."
Kevin grinned. "I know you are, but you need to be able to ride fast enough to keep up with the traffic. That BMX only has one speed and it's slow."
It occurred to me that Kevin had a point. "I hadn't thought of that."
"You need a bike with some gears, at least a 10 speed."
"I need a lot of things I don't have. Where am I gonna get a 10 speed?"
"Don't look at me," Kevin replied.
"Hey, I'll just have to use what I've got."
I finished wiping the oil off the chain and front sprocket and stood to push the bike out of the shed. When I looked around Kevin had gone. I jumped on the bike and pulled out onto Denver where the afternoon traffic was pretty heavy. I pumped as fast as I could and stayed far to the right out of the way as much as I could. I did pretty good as I went down the Denver hill and caught a green light at the bottom. I flew through the intersection and sped down Riverside Drive. Once I was on level ground it was harder to maintain my speed and cars had to pull over a little as they went around me. One guy blasted me with his horn as he went by and shot me the finger. When I came to a crosswalk I used the break in the curb to move over to the bike trail that ran through the Riverpark. I coasted along for a few minutes to catch my breath and then braked to a stop.
Kevin was right. Even if I pumped as fast as I could I couldn't get up enough speed to keep out of the way of cars. I needed a 10 speed. I started pedaling again and thought about what I could do as I rode along. I passed the spot where Tony and I had slipped into his little secret place and felt a tingle of excitement. I almost turned around to go back and look at it again but thought better of it. Jack was right. That kind of thing wasn't cool.
After a few minutes I found myself at 41st Street and remembered that Edison was on 41st. I waited for a break in the traffic and peddled east toward the school. There wasn't as much traffic after I got off of Riverside and I did OK until I got to Peoria. From there to Lewis I had to watch out as cars rushed past me. When I got to Lewis I knew it was about a mile to the school so I used the sidewalk whenever I could and kept on until I got to Edison.
There were just a few cars still in the parking lot. Teachers I guessed, and the lucky upperclassmen who had cars of their own. I sat on the bike seat and looked at the flag pole where I had last seen Joseph. This all seemed pretty hopeless. I probably wasn't going to get to see Joseph much now that school had started.
I knew I had better get back soon. If I was late for supper I would get griped at. I started back then decided to turn up Delaware and avoid 41st. It was a through street and I made pretty good time past nice houses with big old trees. When I got to 36th street I saw signs saying "Bike Route" and there was a wider outside lane with bicycles stenciled on it. I jumped over on that and made good time. The cars went by pretty fast but I had more room to stay out of the way.
In just a few minutes I came up on Peoria and turned North through Brookside toward down town. When I got to 32nd I made a quick turn and rode by Joseph's house. I thought about stopping but wasn't sure if that would be cool with his mother. Besides, I needed to get home. I used some side streets to get back up near my apartment then in the back way. I stuck my bike in the shed, latched the door, and ran in to our apartment.
When I walked in, everybody was just sitting down at the kitchen table.
"You made it just in time if you want to eat any supper," Mom said.
The house smelled good and I could see that she had made a nice stew out of the left over pot roast we had for Sunday dinner the day before. Next to the pot on the table was a pan of hot yellow corn bread steaming fresh from the oven and a bowl of green salad at each plate. I suddenly became acutely aware that I was famished. I passed my hands through the kitchen sink for the mandatory wash up and sat down at my place at the table. I was salivating so much that I almost drooled when we said "Amen" after the blessing.
Dad was telling us about something funny that happened to him at work that day. It was a pretty good story but I was calculating in my mind how long it would take to ride the bike to school. Even with the time I spent cleaning up the bike and then figuring out how to get to school and back without using the main streets it had only taken me about an hour and 20 minutes from start to finish. I knew that I could make it in less than a half hour both ways. Just then everyone laughed and I realized that I had missed the end of Dad's story.
I looked around and laughed in a lame sort of way. Dad looked at me and raised one eyebrow slightly.
"What's your opinion of that?" Dad asked.
"Uh, yes sir. I would have to agree," I answered, hoping that made sense. Kevin snorted with laughter.
"What's on your mind?" Dad said. "Certainly not my long winded story."
"No, that was cool Dad, I was listening." Kevin snorted again. "Well, maybe not."
"Nick has an idea he wants to discuss with you." Mom said.
"I'm giving you my undivided attention." Dad said with good natured sarcasm.
All eyes were on me. OK, make this good. "Edison is a cool school Dad. I think I'm going to like it, but riding the bus is a pain. I have to leave an hour earlier than I need to and get back over an hour later. The bus is noisy, crowded, and makes a million stops. I can save a lot of time by riding my bicycle. And if I go out for any sports I will need to stay after the buses leave anyway so my bike will let me do that too. So. uh, that's my idea. I want to ride my bike to school and back."
Dad smiled. "You make a pretty good argument Nick, but riding your bicycle in all that traffic is dangerous."
"Yes sir, but I can take side streets down to 36th which is a bike route with wide lanes, then Delaware down to 41st. Everywhere I need to cross a main street there's a traffic light," I looked over at Kevin who was suppressing a laugh.
"You seem to have this all worked out," Dad said. "Are you sure that will work?"
"Yes sir, that's what I was doing before supper. Even with figuring out the route it only took about an hour round-trip."
"You rode to Edison and back before supper?" he asked.
"Did you wear your helmet?" Mom asked.
"Uh, no, I forgot, sorry. But I will. I'll wear it every day, I promise."
Mom took over the questioning. "But what if it rains? What about this winter when it is cold?"
"If I can't ride my bike I will have to take the bus. Or maybe after I make some friends I can catch a ride or something. Please?"
Mom and Dad didn't respond but looked at each other. That was a good sign. After a minute Dad declared, "You can try it for awhile. But if you have any trouble you will need to go back to the bus."
"Thank you!" I exclaimed, raising both fists straight up over my head in a victory salute. Now Kevin burst out laughing.
"What in the world is the matter with you?" Mother asked Kevin.
"Nothing really," Kevin laughed. "Sometimes I just think Nick is funny."
"Well I can't really argue with that," Mom smiled.
Supper was over and Kevin and I took our cue to clean off the table. I rinsed the dishes and stacked them in the dish washer while Kevin wiped off the table and chairs and ran a broom over the kitchen floor. Five minutes later we were finished.
"Thank you boys," Mom said as Kevin and I went back to our bedroom.
I sat down on my bed and started pulling off my shoes and socks. I had done a lot of exercises in gym and then ridden my bicycle 10 or 12 miles and needed a shower. Kevin kicked off his shoes and laid down on the bed to watch me.
"What was so funny, Laughing Boy?" I asked him.
Kevin chuckled a little. "I knew when I talked to you out in the shed that you would find some way get Dad let you ride your bike to school and back. Nothing stops you."
"What's wrong with that?" I asked.
"Nothing," Kevin said. "I was just surprised you pulled it off by supper time, that's all. You don't mess around."
"Well, I just had it on my mind is all," I smiled back at Kevin.
Kevin was stretched out on his side with his head propped up on his elbow, watching as I pulled off my shirt and then sat down to pull off my jeans. I had undressed in front of my younger brother a million times but was more aware of his gaze than usual. I glanced down at myself as I kicked off my jeans. I was getting more solid and the jeans were both tight and a bit short. I was growing, maturing. I tossed everything into my laundry basket except the briefs I was wearing.
"See any friends at Edison?" Kevin asked.
"Yeah, Steve from my baseball team. Do you remember him?"
"Sure. You went to the same school before he moved."
"Right. He was talking about trying out for school baseball," I said. "Freshmen can play school sports."
"You gonna play baseball at school?"
"Maybe. Steve thinks I could do it. Or he said he did anyway. Maybe he was just being nice."
"No, he probably meant it. You could do it," He looked down at his feet and wiggled his toes in his socks. Did you see anybody else you knew?"
"Not really." I answered.
"What about Joseph? Doesn't he go to Edison?"
"Uh, yes, I saw him out in front of the school after classes," I wondered, "How did you know he went there."
"I sat next to him at your baseball game," Kevin said. "He told me where he lived and I asked if he went to Edison."
"Did you tell him I was going there?"
"No. He didn't ask."
"Why didn't you tell me he was going to Edison?"
"You didn't ask," Kevin smiled.
I didn't say anything, but the look on my face told Kevin that I was a little peeved.
"Hey, I'm sorry," Kevin apologized. "I thought you knew. Did you just run on to him today?"
"No, I found out yesterday when we were eating breakfast."
"You really like him, don't you?" Kevin said.
"What do you mean by that?" I asked, bothered a little by the question.
"I mean you really like him, that's all. Joseph is cool. He knows a lot about baseball for somebody who has never played," Kevin looked thoughtful. "He's a big fan of yours."
Kevin was just being Kevin. "Yeah, Joseph is cool," I agreed. I got up, grabbed a clean towel and a pair of briefs and started for the bathroom. I was aware that my cock was a little stiff, and aware that Kevin was looking at it.
The next morning I stuffed all my books in a canvas rucksack, pocketed my bike chain and lock, strapped on my helmet and took off for school. I needed to be at school at 8:00 AM and figured it would take less than 30 minutes but left at 7:15 just to give me a cushion. That was better than catching the bus at 6:45. I rode over to Peoria on 11th Street then down to 36th and across to Delaware then down to 41st and came out on the high school. It took me less than 30 minutes and I knew I could make it faster with a 10 speed bicycle. Not bad.
I strapped my bike to the end of the bike rack out in front of the school, running the chain through both wheels and the frame. I locked it and put the key in my pocket. It was secure and right in plain sight. It would be OK. I tossed my books and helmet into my locker, pulled out the stuff for the morning classes and was on my way. Cool.
By the time the day was over I had run onto a few more kids I knew and was beginning to figure out where everything was. The school was laid out square so it was not hard to keep track of things, it was just big.
After class I went to the flagpole with my helmet and just those books that I needed for homework, and looked for Joseph. After a couple of minutes he came out with his head tipped back, looking for me. I waved and he smiled and walked faster.
"Hey Joseph," I called.
"Hey Nick," he grinned. "Why do you have a helmet? Afraid of the upperclassmen?"
"No, I rode my bike. It's a lot quicker than the bus."
"Aren't you bothered by the traffic?" he asked.
"Damn! Everybody says that," I laughed.
"Well, its true," Joseph observed.
"Right, well I didn't have any trouble. I checked it out after school last night and it's an easy ride. I even rode by your house."
"Really?" Joseph sounded a little surprised.
"Really. I can go up Peoria right past your street."
"I see. That raises some interesting possibilities, doesn't it?"
I grinned and said, "Seems like it ought to."
Joseph looked very thoughtful. "When do you have to be home?"
"If I let Mom know I am OK, I won't have to be home until about 6:30 when we eat supper. What do you do after school?"
"Either Mother or Alice picks me up here and takes me home. Then Mother often leaves to run her errands while I practice."
"Yeah?" I smiled.
Joseph smiled in return. "I think it would be permissible for you to stop by at that time but I really need to make sure of that. I should tell you however that I really do need to spend some time practicing, and that Alice is almost always there and is a very observant person."
"I don't want to be in the way," I replied. "I'll only stop by if you really want me to."
"Oh please don't misunderstand," Joseph said, "I would like nothing better than to have you come as often as you can. It's just that everything requires arranging I'm afraid. You really have more freedom than I."
"I'm beginning to see that," Just then Joseph's Mom pulled up in the Lincoln. "How about tomorrow?"
"If at all possible. I'll see you tomorrow?" he asked.
"You bet," I said and extended my hand. Joseph shook it and I held it just a little longer than I really needed to, then winked. Joseph raised both his eyebrows a little then winked in reply.
"Until tomorrow then," he said.
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