Originally posted on August 23, 2017, in “A Reintroduction: Chapter 1” protagonist Andrew Brown begins to tell the story of his trip to Italy with his closest pals. The real story, however, is his failing relationship with his best friend Pete Goodman.
Pete’s affair with their art teacher Ms. Benevo.
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Based on what I’ve heard about past travel studies, from the partying and the sneaking out to the straight up orgies, I’m going out with a bang in my senior year. Sure, we’re a real traveling circus of American allure from Balaam Academy and I’m surrounded by plenty of people who flat-out suck. But, in a place I know absolutely nothing about besides that I love the food and the women, who gives a shit? At least I’ve got my friends.
So far, though, the trip I’ve been counting down the days for, for months hasn’t gone as smoothly as I planned.
First, after my parents kicked me to the curb at the airport – couldn’t wait to get the hell away from them anyway – I saw my best friend Pete Goodman who doesn’t have time for me anymore standing at our predetermined meet-up spot with our art teacher and chaperon, his main squeeze Ms. Benevo. That’s right. Pete’s taken her down the river. A lot.
Can’t say I blame him, though. Sure, I’d just as soon slit her throat, but she’s something to look at. Not thin, not fat either – voluptuous is more like it – she’s got these curves and a little chub that’s more than compensated for by her enormous birdfeeders. If he only knew what I do.
Anyway, as if the day couldn’t get any worse, then Becky Gillespie vommed in a paper bag on the plane, which immediately made me vom. Adding insult to injury was Michelle Thompson, or “Black Michelle,” who took off her shoes and aired those sweaty dogs out all flight long.
Even with all of that, touching down at Fiumicino still gave me an overwhelming sense of unobstructed wonderment that comes with having no poisonous, preconceived notions. Like how I used to feel when my mother sent me to rich kid camp for the entire summer before I understood why.
That was until we made it to customs where the guards had semi-automatic weapons with the safeties off ready to fire willingly at us American intruders. You could tell by their bland faces glaring at us deridingly or indifferently – definitely not convivially – that they didn’t like us. It took about 20 minutes in Italy for that to become clear, and, once it did, my childish conception fired from me quicker than the bullet sitting in the guard’s chamber would’ve.
Now, at the first site on our tour – the Roman Forum, whatever that is – I’m seeing the same looks. It’s as if our group’s trespassing on something sacred, something our mere presence taints. Maybe it does considering we’re probably the most uncouth outfit to step foot on the grounds since the time of the Romans.
Marie Davis, my closet pill-head, stunning friend who Pete used to make out with waves me over. She’s leaning on her pseudo-sister and party partner Lilly Foster’s shoulder, another of my liquid-smoke friends, chatting her up about something seemingly inconsequential. I wave them off good-naturedly. Such hotties.
Lilly’s average height but naturally model-thin. The star of Balaam’s promotional catalogue, she’s the school’s prototypical aesthetic with her strong, high cheekbones; year-round tan; and that pin-straight, bleach-blond hair that’s always tied back in a pristine, pink ribbon. And what a backside.
Marie’s no slouch either with her gazelle legs and steely frame and dark Mediterranean features and a sex appeal she knows exactly how to use. I remember the first time I saw her surrounded by all the older, old-moneyed legacy guys – the Dunlaps and the Cunninghams and the McDermotts and the Lunds; the preppy, the popular, the highest of Balaam’s high society – and I thought that this girl’s touched all the bases when I’m still getting no hit.
And, if it wasn’t for them and Pete, I probably still would be striking out, stuck in my room with my cock in my right hand and a frenzied mouse circling in my left. That was when life was simple. Before everything got so complex.
“Hey, pal, long time no see,” Pete says in one of his shitty-sarcastic, typical tones. “Where you been hiding?”
“Obviously under Ms. Benevo’s ass, figured I’d find you there,” I say calmly, bitterly, still pretty steamed about her and him outside JFK instead of me and him. “You didn’t see me?”
“Brown, honestly, not today, I really can’t–”
“You ever heard of Mary Kay Laterno, Pete?”
He rolls his eyes. He’s heard it from me before.
“Because that’s where you’re headed – to weekend visits upstate. And what about her? She’s an adult; she’s supposed to be the one who–”
“Will you shut up already!” he shrilly snaps. There’s that defensive attitude he gets whenever she comes up. And, for a moment, the silence settles between us like we’re an old, married couple. “How many times do we have to go through this, Brown? You know, she’s not that much older than us.”
Ms. Benevo smiles faintly over her shoulder. At him, not me.
“Because she’s got you in her back pocket and we barely see each other anymore.” My concerned, best friend tone is definitely coming off as more of a jealous, jilted girlfriend one, but I don’t stop. I can’t when I’m right. Or wrong. “I’m serious. It looks ridiculous, you lapping around–”
“Brown,” he sighs, “I think I love her.”
Love! My face sags like a deflated balloon. Love! Like that’s actually a concept he understands, that any of us understand. At 17. He’s 17. She’s 30.
Here I am thinking it’s just a fling he’ll get out of his system and it’ll be over after graduation and we’ll have our summer to get ourselves back on track, but that one word changes everything.
“And she loves me too,” he adds, as if it makes a difference. It doesn’t. It actually makes it worse.
“Love!” The word shoots out of my mouth like projectile vomit. Ms. Benevo looks over. Everyone looks over. Now, I’m cowering, whispering to him, “You think you love her? Do you hear yourself? Don’t you get it? She’s going to dump you just like all the rest.”
He offers nothing besides another sigh, the creases of stress rippling across his forehead. Not that he has a chance to respond. Almost instantaneously, I catch a whiff of that familiar lilac perfume. Then, the voice.
“Mr. Brown, do I need to remind you where we are and what your responsibilities are here?”
“No, Ms. Benevo, I’m fully aware of how important this trip is and how we’re representing the illustrious Balaam Academy.”
Pete glares at me. She does too, deciding whether my sass is worth the scene. It isn’t.
“And Mr. Goodman” – she flips her hair back with a huff trying to sound pissed – “of all the students, I expected better from you.” Of course she did. “If I have to come over here again, you’re both on duty with me tonight. Do we understand one another?”
What else is there to say besides a relenting, dogged, “Yes, Ms. Benevo, we understand” in unison.
Again, the faint smile for him. Again, nothing for me. And then she leaves us, me and my best friend, in the same place we always seem to end up together, which is nowhere.
My hands are shaking. I don’t know if I want to strangle him or her more. Haddaway’s on repeat in my head. I’m humming,
What is love?
Don’t hurt me,
Don’t hurt me,
Pete doesn’t seem to notice or care. His eyes are still on her.
I know I should’ve started up some pithy conversation about where we’re partying tonight and let it go, but I can’t help myself, asking him, “Won’t you be on duty with her tonight, anyway?” to which I get a stinging elbow to the side in response. Because I always have to have the last word, even as I’m trying to catch my breath.
And with that, he’s gone too, disappearing like he’s been disappearing since he started catching rides home with Ms. Benevo after track practice. Which isn’t uncommon at Balaam. Or for Ms. Benevo.
For a while, Pete and I were inseparable – sneaking into the back of the Playhouse to catch a movie on them, going to NOFX concerts at Radio City when we should’ve been studying, or even just meeting up in our secluded V.I.P. bathroom for a smoke. Whatever it was, we were constantly falling back on each other for the support neither of us got at home.
Not anymore, though. Not since he found himself a new shoulder to cry on, ditching our schoolyard meet-ups for trips to the MET – all with his older, more cultured teacher, our teacher, his girlfriend. It’s because of her, this spinster cut from the cloth of Miss Jean Brodie, that our relationship has become so damn dry and serious. Christ, one errant remark usually sparks an uncontrollable blaze of bickering and bitching and not speaking for days. And it starts and ends with Ms. Julie Benevo.
If I want her gone so badly, I wonder, why don’t I just call the cops? Sure, this seems like a logical solution, but it’ll destroy Pete. And, besides, I don’t want to get myself into their mess when I’m out of here in the fall. Then, it’ll be my mess again, dredging up a dubious past I thought I’d gotten over. Until she took him and reminded me of it all over again.
Sometimes, I actually think she taunts me, trying to exert her control by pitting him against me. Because for her, it’s always about control. And he and I have never been worse when we should be having the time of our lives. Together.
Copyright (C) 2018 Andrew Chapin