My unpublished manuscript ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ chronicles Andrew Brown’s struggle to reconnect with his best friend Pete Goodman as a lurid secret Andrew has never told threatens to break them apart for good.
As I mentioned in “A Reintroduction: The Prologue,” I intend to post edited chapters every few weeks. Here’s a sample from Chapter 8. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.
In a quaint Italian square, the familiar street-hustlers hocking their miniature David statuettes and brass-plated Leaning Tower of Pisas are beginning to pack their goods away. Shadows playfully tag each other in the fast-descending dusk.
The group, meanwhile, pushes on into the undetermined night on streets that are as anonymous as we are, devoid of breaking dancers and beating drummers, the destination in front of Glenn and only Glenn. She leads us into a hole-in-the-wall that from the outset resembles a typical old man bar, a dump.
Ant tells me to be nice, her arm neatly looped around mine. But it’s so hard, I whine, when we might be walking into the next Buddy’s, which was the dirtiest, dumpiest old man bar of them all around the block from Balaam. If the wind is blowing the right way and the windows are open in the chem. lab, you can potentially catch a whiff of the Buddy’s special – a pungent blend of piss and urinal cakes and crab cakes.
“I think you’ll be surprised,” Ant, always the optimist, says, “that some of the best food is in the littlest places.”
What’s surprising to me, besides that she’s giving me the time of day and that she picked me to begin with, is that she hasn’t asked me about Jess, but I don’t mention that. I actually don’t say anything once we get inside, too busy eating my words once that smell – tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, fresh fish – hits me. I haven’t smelled anything like it since both my grandparents were alive and we were still a family – and I’m thinking this what I came to Italy for.
“The dated chairs and faded paint notwithstanding, you were right.”
And I swear it could’ve been sophomore year again – it felt like déjà vu – until we get to our table. And there’s only one.
Big and long, it’s the set-up for a family dinner. Not that it bridges the interpersonal relation gap or anything: the cliques still remains intact – Mr. and Mrs. Weary with Mo and the rest of the cheer squad, the rest of the chaperons, Eddy and the mutants, the shitty juniors and their sophomore gayboys that no one talks to, and us cool kids.
That rat Stacy sits next to Large Charley who’s saving a seat for Ant and, wow, one for me too, which I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing because it might mean me and Ant are getting more serious and is that really what I want? First thing’s first, let’s survive tonight, I remind myself.
Being that I’m a gentleman, I push in Ant’s chair for her. And I’m pretty much down in mine, practically touching the cushion when Michelle – freaking Michelle! – cuts in front of me and plops her lumpy ass down. And immediately she takes off her shoes. She doesn’t even say thank you. I simply shake my head and move over one.
I can feel Tommy’s sarcastic smirk before I see it. I can only imagine what he’s thinking, but Michelle really does make it hard not to be a little racist, especially when she plays the race card harder than Al Sharpton. Across from her are some of Bags’s impressionable underclassmen UNO followers intently listening to the propaganda she’s preaching, even marveling at her ability to recapitulate Social Dominance Theory and the hegemonic structure. They, too, will have taken Lannigan’s Intro to Sociology by senior year.
Lilly, Candace, and Becky are to my left; Marie, Tommy, and Pete are across from them. I’m sure Candace is thrilled to have Tommy’s foot in her crotch the rest of the night. Pete’s trying to talk him into seeing The Decemberists at Roseland Ballroom over the summer.
“Mr. Goodman!” his favorite teacher beams, taking the seat next to him. “That’s so funny. I love the Decemberists, as well.”
After a clandestine flit of the eyes at her and a “Oh, really, that’s cool, Ms. Benevo,” he’s back on The Decemberists not missing a beat. And neither does anyone else. Besides me.
“What a funny coincidence,” I say smugly. “You two really would be perfect for each other – if you weren’t a teacher, Ms. Benevo. And, of course, if he wasn’t your student.”
Pete’s eyes widen. He stirs in his seat. But she’s not uneasy like he is. Folding her napkin neatly in her lap, she actually seems very comfortable.
“That would be something, wouldn’t it, Mr. Brown?” she cackles wickedly to herself. “I see you still have a wild imagination. I’m happy to see you haven’t lost that as you’ve grown up.” She drains her pinot, but her intractable eyes remain on me – unmoving, unmoved, clearly having not forgotten our run-in earlier today – until Bags raises his hands like he’s going to give a homily.
“I am thankful…for many things tonight, my friends. Yes, I am thankful for many things: good food, good company, good hosts, and, above all else, good wine,” he chuckles to his glass, and the chaperons lift theirs, “but let us be mindful tonight…mindful of the opportunity we have before us…an opportunity to share a repast with our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Against the light, Bags’s wine glass splashes his face with dilute, red blotches. He looks like a leper.
“We look to…the Commandments…of our faith, which tell us…to ‘Love our neighbor as we love ourselves’. The Commandments are our guides through the strife of war and poverty…of greed and apathy…of doubt…and misunderstanding, of loneliness…and sickness.” Bracing himself against the table, he has begun to sway. “You will…remember this…as one of the greatest experiences of your young lives, and I am happy…to be here…to share in it with you. Enjoy the culture, the people, and…above all else…enjoy yourselves. Now, join hands with one another as we pray the prayer Our Father taught us.”
Cool kids next to fags, geeks next to Goths, whores next to priests, Benevo next to Pete, we tepidly join hands and in unison begin to recite the meaningless words we know by heart but do not understand:
Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallow be Thy name
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us,
Michelle lifts my hand into the air. She nudges me to do the same with Becky’s. I do. The frail thing gives me a queer look, but I shrug. I don’t want to be branded a bigot.
And lead us not into temptation
I see Pete’s pinky finger stroke Ms. Benevo’s wrist. She sees me looking at them.
But deliver us from evil
And I see her as I always have, looking back at me.
“Lord, A-men! A-men!” Michelle screams out. So stereotypically loud and Baptist. What a greasy hand she has too.
Copyright (C) 2017 Andrew Chapin