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I know what those three little words mean. At sixteen, I'm not supposed to, but I do. They've been so diluted by music and television and movies that it seems pop culture's most touching uses of them is how they get substituted with little codes like "I know" and "Ditto." They still do mean something. I'm not stupid, you know.

Sometimes they're used to manipulate; my friend Hakim does that. Sometimes guys say them to each other when they're too drunk to know better; my friend Dusty does that with his frat brothers. Sometimes they're used to stop an argument; my sister and her boyfriend do that. Sometimes they're used as an apology; my step-uncle and aunt do that.

This is not what happened. She just whispered those three little words into my ear. Okay, it wasn't just those three little words. She started with three other words: "Maximiliano Alejandro Fuentes"--two big words and a medium-sized one, I guess, followed by those three little ones.

It started last night. Before that, it started in the afternoon, when I said, "I'm not getting naked. Not for anybody."

"Not even for Heather?" asked Hakim.

I did have to think about it. "Not even for Heather."

"Oh, come on!" he whined. "You made it to second base with her!"

I cleared my throat. "Third."

"So you've been naked."

"Well," I said, "we kept the rest of our clothes on."

"You must be the only sixteen-year-old who's never done it."

"Heather hasn't."

"I have," he told me.

"That's because you're a slut."

"Lisa has."

I stuck my fingers in my ears. "La, la, la-la, la!" Lisa has been my best friend since the first day she scrambled my huevos, so I wasn't going to think about her like that. Ever.

"Dude," Hakim insisted, "I'm not going skinny-dipping without you."

"That's wrong on so many levels."

He clarified, "I'm totally chickening out if you're not."

"But Ange and his girlfriend, Whatshername, said they'd go."

"Not the same."

"And..." I gulped. "... Lisa..."

"I get to see Lisa naked anytime I want."

"La, la, la-la, la!" I repeated.

"Come on, dude!"

"My name's not dude." And then, with utmost finality, I told him, "And I am not taking Heather skinny-dipping!"

And so last night I took Heather skinny-dipping.

Getting to that point was only a small challenge. The weaknesses in the security of the municipal swimming pool were the windows above the locker-room doors. These windows were really narrow, mind you, but, fortunately, Hakim was much, much narrower. He was tall enough that it only took the slightest boost to get him within reach, but, unfortunately, Hakim was as awkward as he was tall.

The only person with the strength and stubbornness to lift him up was Lisa, who steadied his legs with uncharacteristic patience. Her hands, perpetually grease-stained from the tune-ups she performed on her piece-of-shit truck and my piece-of-shit car, cupped his ass for balance, and her raised arms lifted the hem of her hoodie and turtleneck, exposing the bare skin of her hip as it thrust his weight upward.

"La, la, la-la, la!" I whispered.

"What the hell are you doing?" Heather whispered back.

"Did I just do that out loud?"

She giggled. "God, you are so weird." She gripped my cheeks in her palms and drew me in for a clumsy kiss, complete with anxious squirming. "Sexy and smart and totally weird." That's all it took to snap me out of whatever the hell that was.

A glance at Lisa stretching out her taxed limbs snapped me back into it.

In moments, Hakim cracked open the locker-room door, and we scrambled inside. Ange wasted no time stripping and getting into the water, which was just as well, since I had no desire to see him naked. His girlfriend, Whatshername, took her time, which was not just as well, since I had no desire to see her naked either. Teenage curiosity made me look anyway, though, and I was not happy about that.

Heather did a slow striptease for me. This would have been much more exciting had it not been for three things: the first was that, having rounded 75 percent of the bases, I was already very familiar with her long, creamy white torso--perfect for stroking with my tongue, and her barely swollen breasts--perfect for holding in my hands while my fingertips squeezed her nipples. The part of her I hadn't seen was covered by black denim, which she had yet to dispose of.

If she had gotten that far, I just might have missed the second thing, which was in my line of sight behind her. Hakim had removed his shirt to reveal the jutting ribs and shoulder bones I'd always suspected were hidden there. He'd peeled off his fishnet sleeves and half of his pants before he remembered he was also wearing tightly laced, calf-length leather and canvas boots.

The third was something I would not have missed, no matter how many girls might be rolling her hips for my benefit. And no amount of la-la-las could hide the way Lisa whipped off her hoodie and turtleneck and unhooked her bra in one smooth movement. I couldn't stop it--a teenage heterosexual boy was blessed and cursed with a photographic memory when it came to exposed female flesh, even if it was just an arched, muscled back.

And then, almost as if she could feel me fighting the urge to stare, she turned her head, smirked, and uttered to me three little words that seemed at the time to be just as--if not more important than--the earth-shattering three little words I would hear later. "Don't look now," Lisa said.

Just like that, a door slammed shut in my mind, reinforcing the wall of the status quo, echoing with the loudest la-la-la of them all.

That settled, I focused again on Heather, noting that most of her jeans were gone, and her thumbs were hooked around the elastic of her underwear. After they dropped down to her ankles, she kicked them over to the rest of her clothes and told me, "Your turn."

Home plate now in sight, I obeyed, with considerably less grace than she had shown.

"Wow," she said.

"Yeah," I repeated.

The other four were comfortable enough with each other's bodies to splash around the pool, squealing with the goofy innocence of five-year-olds. Heather and I, however, stared into each other's eyes in stunned silence. We drifted away, my arms holding her waist, her arms draped over my shoulders. After a romantic eternity, she leaned in close and said those three words--well, those six words. But it was those three at the end that were the most important. And though even though we're both only sixteen, we know they'll last forever.

i_17bingo: (Default)

I hadn't been physically cornered, but I knew from experience that running would only hinder my escape. The only way out of this situation would be to stand still, remain calm, and keep talking.

The authority figure sipped his coffee and asked, "Aren't you supposed to be in class right now?" Given that I was a fourteen-year-old wandering around an empty high school hallway at ten thirty on a Tuesday, this was a fair question.

The answer was going to require a heaping helping of premium bullshit, which is best served wrapped in a thick layer of facts. In this case, I was supposed to be in class, so I said, "Yes." What I left out was that the class I was supposed to be in was located in the catholic school on other side of town.

"And why aren't you in it?"

"I'm running an errand." This was also true.

"Can I see your hall pass?"

"I don't have one." This honesty thing was a breeze!

The bearded teacher took another sip from his coffee with a grunt. "What's your name?"

There was no reason to start lying now. "Max," I replied. "Maximilian Fuentes."

"And who sent you on this little errand, Mr. Fuentes?"

Now I was going to have to start lying. "The principal."

"Which one?"

There was more than one principal? What was this nightmarish, tyrannical dystopia I'd stumbled into? The situation called for a Hail Mary—both the blind, desperate sports maneuver and the blind, desperate prayer to Jesus's mother. "The funny one?"

He grinned. "She is pretty funny, isn't she?"

I noted that the funny principal was female.

"Go on, run your little errand," he told me. "But when you get back to Mrs. Mihelcic's office, you need to remind her not to send students out to the hallways without a pass."

I noted that the funny principal's name was Mrs. Mihelcic.

He shook his head and resumed his walk to wherever it was he was going before I'd interrupted him, adding, "I'd hate for you to get written up for this."

"I'd hate that too," I said truthfully.

As soon as he was gone, I strolled around the corner and casually opened a classroom door. Whatever doodling, letter-writing, daydreaming, or, God forbid, note-taking was going on in the classroom came to a dramatic halt. I didn't know what the teacher had been doing, because I hadn't seen her at all until the moment she appeared in front of me, her eyes burning with rage and impatience. "Can I help you?"

With my cheeriest voice, I replied, "Hi! Mrs. Mihelcic sent me to pick up Lisa Green!"

"There's no Lisa Green here."

"Are you sure?" I asked. "My height? Light brown hair? Red hoodie? Kind of a mean look about her?"

"Do you see her here?"

I scanned the students' faces, taking care to wave at the really pretty ones, and turned my attention to the plaque on the door. "Oops!" I declared. "I should have looked more carefully! This is room C-101!" Smacking my forehead for emphasis, I added, "I have to learn to pay better attention. Thanks!"

Leaving behind handful of apologies, I slipped back outside, walked across the hall, burst into room C-102, and announced, "Hi! Mrs. Mihelcic sent me to pick up Lisa Green!"

It took me until D-112 before I had to move onto the next stage.

"And why does Mrs. Mihelcic want to see Miss Green here?" The teacher nodded his head in her direction.

I didn't look, because there was no way I could hide the inevitable, incriminating giggle that would spark with eye contact. Instead, I focused my attention on the teacher. "She didn't tell me, and frankly, sir, it's none of my business."

"Aren't you a little too young to be an office assistant?" he asked with a frown.

"I don't know how young that is, sir."

"Do you have a note?"

With a shrug, I replied, "You know how Mrs. Mihelcic is."

"I can't let her leave without a note."

"That makes sense. I'll just go back and tell her that I need a note. Is there a specific format or something, or should I just get a signed piece of paper?"

"I think that, as an office assistant, you'd already know the answer to that," the teacher snorted.

"I'm sorry, sir," I sighed. "I'm trying to learn but I just transferred in and Mrs. Mihelcic is so mad about something and I don't know for sure but I think it has to do with this Lisa Green person and I was afraid to ask too many questions and I know it was stupid and I'm trying to learn and if I have to go and come back with a note I just want to make sure it's the right one because I don't want to be yelled at again and if I learn to do it right I won't get yelled at so much..."

He shook his head, pulled a notebook of blue paper from his desk, and wrote on it. "I'm going to give you two a hall pass. The next time she sends you out, make sure you're carrying a slip of paper that looks like this, but in green. You got that?"

"I do, sir!"

"Go directly to the administrative office; no messing around."

"Okay," I said. "Thank you so much!"

As Lisa got up from her desk and sheepishly joined me in front of the room, it was more crucial than ever that we not look at each other. Her blushing alone threatened to melt my ruse.

As soon as we were alone in the hollow corridors, she grinned and punched me in the shoulder. "What the hell do you think you're doing? You're gonna get me expelled!"

"Come on, Green," I reminded her, "that was slick, you can't deny it."

She rolled her eyes and shrugged. "Should we grab Hakim?"

"Screw that guy," I told her. "It's just you and me today."

She blushed again. "What next?"

"What time does class let out?"

"About ten minutes."

"Then we're going to wait outside C-108," I said. "There's a girl there in black jeans I'm hoping to get to know better."

I heard her growl, but I didn't think anything of it. "Let's just go."

"Give me eleven minutes."

"We'll get caught."

I touched her cheek and looked her directly in the eye. "Trust me?"

"Yes," she sighed.

"Then trust me." Taking her hand, I led her toward the room in question.

i_17bingo: (Default)

When people point at a teenager and say, "That girl is crazy!"; there are a handful of things to which they might be referring. They could be condemning her choice of fashion, hairstyle, piercings, and/or tattoos. They could be praising her willingness to drink a lot and dance topless on furniture. They could even be editorializing on the way she drives. They're not talking about any of these when they say that Lisa Green is crazy.

For a good example of what I mean, we need to look back onto the morning of my fifteenth birthday, when I was supposed to be asleep. I wanted to stay that way, but the hand slapping my face didn't seem to care. "Get up!" it yelled.

I tried to ignore it and drift off, but that hand slapped me again. "Get up!"

"I can't," I replied. "I'm dead."

After another slap, I opened my eyes to a set of swollen lips spread out over an excited grin and a pair of dilated pupils peeking out from a curtain of stringy brown hair.

That woke me the rest of the way up. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

Lisa bounced off of my bed and landed on her feet on the floor. "I broke in!"

I sat up and scratched my head. "You did what?"

"I broke in," she repeated. "Hakim told me how. With a screwdriver and a ruler. I'll show you!"

"That's okay," I mumbled. "I'm the one who taught him." Okay, that wasn't even remotely accurate; but it was my word versus Hakim's, and my lies were way more convincing than his truths. Oh, and: "Don't you think it's a bad idea to break into someone's house when their family might be home?"

She impatiently blew a greasy lock out of her face, crossed her arms, and leaned on a nearby wall. "Your parents are at work, and your sister is doing whatever she does."

I sighed. "So what are you doing here?"

"I'm going to cook you a birthday breakfast!"

With a laugh, I asked, "You know how to cook?"

"I'm learning," she said. "Come on!"

"I need to get dressed first."

"Nothing I ain't seen before."

"What did I tell you about that word?"

She rolled her eyes. "Nothing I haven't seen before."

"Better," I replied. "And you haven't seen it on me before, so turn around."

She rolled her eyes again and obeyed. "Ready?"

"It's been two seconds."

"How about now?"

"Go wait for me in the kitchen."

She sighed and left. I sighed in turn.

Unwashed, untidy, and uncouth, Lisa Green was seven years old and feral the day I met her. And so, even though we were the same age, I made it my mission to civilize her. It took a lot of work, for three main reasons.

First off, we were both trailer trash, so if I was going to teach her some class, I was going to have to learn some myself.

Second, she was a slave to her id. In the third and fourth grade, this meant she ate anything she could forage and beat up anyone who looked at her funny. As she approached high school, she smoked, snorted, drank, and fucked anything or anyone she wanted.

The third reason presented itself a moment later, just as I was pulling a wrinkled rugby shirt over my head, and something metal clatter to the floor. I winced. It occurred to me that my mother tended to pack the kitchen cabinets a little tightly, much to the surprise of anyone who wasn't prepared. The crash was immediately followed by a howl of rage and a solid thump.

I charged into the kitchen to the sight of a huge, fresh hole in the faux-wood-paneled wall, the frying pan lying beneath it, and Lisa, her teeth gritted and cheeks stained with furious tears.

"What the fuck did you do?" I yelled.

She took quick breaths, and the rage began to drain out of the room.

I groaned. "How am I supposed to explain this? Papa's going to kill me."

Behind me, she let out a little squeak. "I'm so sorry."

My eyes still on the damage, I sighed, "I know you are."

She began to sob, "I don't know why ... I'm so ... So ..." When I did turn around, she had backed into a corner and had begun to sink to the floor, trying to disappear into herself. "I didn't mean to ..."

I know she didn't. And I wanted to tell her it was okay, but it really wasn't.

I sat beside her on the floor and scratched her back. She lifted her head and rested it on my lap. As I'd done since we were in the fifth grade, I stroked her head and rocked her back and forth.

"What's wrong with me, Fuentes?"

We used each other's surnames because our relationship had begun with a business transaction; i.e., I'd hired her to beat up a bully. Even during raw, naked moments like these, and even though we were as close as people could get without one having given birth to the other, we still stuck to our professional monikers. It was our thing. "I don't know, Green," I replied, because I really didn't.

"Am I going to be like this forever?"

"I don't know."

"Is that why you don't look at me like that?"

"Like what?"

"Like the other boys."

So we were having this conversation again. "Because I don't think about you like that." And that was true. Admittedly, I did check her out, but I was a teenager, and she was a cute girl; although her oversized clothes made it difficult to tell.

"Why not?"

"Because I'm in love with my girlfriend." I was young. I didn't know what love meant. Still don't.

"She doesn't know you like I do, Fuentes," she said.

I chose to ignore the implication.

Taking a deep breath, she sat up, wiped the drying tears out from her cheeks, and got to her feet. "Let's see what we can do to fix this."

"We can't fix it, Green," I told her. "You broke the wall."

"I said I was sorry!" she snapped.

A moment passed, and she sniffled. After returning her attention to the damage, she concluded, "I can't make it perfect, but I can make it not look so bad. Maybe easier to explain that way."

"How?"

"I need some duct tape, a claw hammer, and a couple of rags."

And I'll be damned if she didn't make it look almost like nothing had happened. I still got in trouble, but I only had to explain a little ding as opposed to a fist-sized hole. The only thing we got for breakfast that morning was a pair of bagels from my refrigerator and a shared cup of coffee from the May's Cafe down the street. That episode, like the dozens before it, was never spoken of again.

Being her best friend took a lot of endurance. It was only a matter of time before it would run out.

Mirage

Mar. 28th, 2011 07:23 am
i_17bingo: (Default)

previously...


I'll never forget the very first thing she said to me. She said, "Shoes sink. New plan: set A-list dove wings in curl?" On second thought, maybe she said, "Blue-pink toucan wet, hurray! This loving the world?" It also could have been, "You think you can get away with shoving a girl?" It was kind of hard to hear because my testicles were aching from a recent, enthusiastic kick, and dirt was being shoved into my mouth.

Twenty years ago, at the age of seven, I had a gang. My lieutenant was Hakim, a master thief who could get anywhere. My thug was Angelo, who was tall and kind of chubby and therefore intimidating. Rounding us out was my cousin Banjo. Banjo was younger than the rest of us and pretty useless, but he wasn't annoying, so we let him hang around. If we were a miniature mafia, I was the miniature godfather. Hakim stole what I told him to, Angelo threatened who I told him to, and Banjo stayed out of my way when I said so.

One afternoon, Angelo were hanging out at the school playground, and we saw a girl our age sitting on our swings. I wasn't having that, so I sent him over to push her off. The fact that she landed in a mud puddle was a sweet bonus. A few mornings later, she retaliated.

My life changed that day.

Prior to that moment, Hakim, Angelo, Banjo, and I were marching down a path that led to juvenile detention and a mailbox full of welfare checks. But as I went home to clean myself, change my clothes, and lie to my parents so they didn't know their son just got his huevos handed to him by a girl, I thought about her. If I was this humiliated without witnesses, how did she feel with a couple of her peers pointing and laughing?

From that point on, I had a new mission. I sent Hakim out to retrieve stolen toys and Angelo out to frighten bullies. But after about a week and a half of this, some of the bullies began to fight back, and it became apparent that Angelo was not a very good enforcer. What we needed was someone mean and angry. We needed that little girl.

I tracked her down and paid her five Merde Bars to take care of Simon Largo, one of our more obstinate problems. It worked out so well that we put her on retainer, at a price of one candy bars and a bag of Xtra-spicy Munlach Brand Buffalo Chips per week. Eventually, she loosened up enough with us that she started kicking ass pro bono.

Her name is Lisa Green, and she was the most important friend I've ever had.

I'll never forget the very last words I said to her, ten years after we first met. I said, "Don't you ever fucking dare ask me for anything ever again."

And yet, there she was on the phone, asking me for something.

I repeated it, just to be sure: "You seriously want me to let you sleep in my place this weekend?"

"You're right," she sighed. "I don't know why I thought calling you was a good idea. It's probably the stupidest thing I've ever done."

"Pretty high up there, at least."

We both laughed nervously.

I told her, "I don't have a choice, do I?"

"You can tell me to fuck off."

"I don't want to do that." I took a moment to squeeze back the tears that were coming. "JFK or LaGuardia?"

"Newark."

"Figures," I muttered. "See you there."

"Fuentes," she told me, "I've missed you so much."

I wanted to say, "I know," or "Me too," but my throat had tightened too much to let words out.

At Newark Liberty Airport the next day, I alternated between watching the arrival board and pacing. I couldn't recall the last time I was this nervous about seeing a girl, especially one I had no plans to seduce.

With the travelers from her flight pouring into the baggage claim area, I paced harder. Would I recognize my long-ago-exiled best friend? Of course I would. I knew that face better than I knew my own. I'd spent my childhood and adolescence witnessing her growing into it.

There was that slightly too-large nose, which I'd had to squeeze shut the first time we'd ever smoked pot. It flared when it was angry, as it did when she'd discovered that the boy to whom she'd lost her virginity was interested only in keeping score. Today it was still a little too big, but smooth and elegant.

There was her jaw--a little too sharp to be feminine--that set when she was hurting, or clenched like it did when she saw me mere moments after uber-bully Ricky Ortega had shattered my nose in retaliation for some stunt I'd pulled. Today, it was still strong, but now soft and relaxed.

There were her eyebrows, furrowed, arched, and raised, now thin and inquisitive; and her hair, greasy and tangled, but now full and soft and bunched into a loose clip at the base of the neck I'd never seen before. There were her engorged lips, which rarely grinned, preferring instead to smirk and pout. Once, they were barely darker than the rest of her face, but now they were crimson, swollen, and sexy.

And then there were her chocolate-colored eyes, able to convey the broadest of emotions by being perpetually narrowed. They could be annoyed, as they always were around Banjo; they could be disappointed, as they always were around my friend Angelo; they could be inquisitive, as they always were around Hakim; they could be judgmental, as they always were around my girlfriend at the time, Heather; they could be stoic, as they always were around her family; they could be coy, as they always were whenever we exchanged secret glances; they could be flirtatious, as they were always were around most boys; and they could be angry, as they were most of the time. On the other side of the baggage carousal, they scanned the crowd until they found me and lit up.

She cautiously moseyed over, her head cocked as she examined me to make sure I was the right guy. As she did, I wondered what she had remembered about my face and whether the current one disappointed her in any way. I gave her a smile.

At this moment, so much needed to be said. She needed to apologize for what she did to make me hate her for so long. I needed to apologize for giving up on her. She needed to tell me how she'd grown up to be such a woman. I needed to tell her about the deep tear I'd made in my soul when I'd walked away from her ten years ago.

She went first. "Fuentes."

That was my cue. "Hey, Green."

"It's good to see you again."

"You're wearing lipstick," I told her.

"Yeah," she replied. "Started doing it to impress a boy."

"Did it work?"

She shrugged.

"It looks good," I said.

"Thanks."

"You want to get out of here?"

"I do."



to be continued...

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Jeremiah

January 2013

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