Saturday’s qualifying round for the bowling tournament is fun. Amy and I bowl our regular games to qualify. It is ‘Gator and Angie who really step it up. Gate’s enthusiasm and competitive mania sweep the poor girl away. They are the most improved with the best combined scores on the team. The cheerleaders outdo themselves, with constant pep rallies and cheers. Only the French club seems dispirited with no Jean Fil to lead them. They promise eclairs and chocolate croissants for the State Finals to complement the Cheer squad’s bake sale. ‘Gator and I have a big argument about the selection of the top five pairs for next Saturday’s State Championships. He insists we wait until John Boy has officially resigned from the team.
“We said he had to qualify today,” I argue to exclude him. I had threatened to breakup if he failed to show.
“It ain’t smart to kick him off. He’s always our top scorer. I wants ta win,” ‘Gator has his competitive hat on.
“He ain’t comin’.”
“How’d ya know that. When did you last speak with ‘im?’
“When we broke up.”
“Calls ‘im now,” he challenges me.
I call from Ames Lanes, but Mummy says he is out.
“I just need to confirm that Johnny’s not coming to the bowling finals next week.”
“Not to worry, dear, they’re coming. We had to pay for all the tickets.”
“He’s going to come?” I feel complete relief. Then I realize what she has said, “But who is ‘they?’”
“The high school bowling team. Regis High. You don’t think we’re about to send him alone into the heart of Baptist darkness, do you?”
“Oh, Mummy, you are so nice.”
“Of course, dear. You need to call later and talk with him.”
“Thank you, thank you.”
I get off the phone and shout at ‘Gator, “He’s coming. But he’s bringing his whole team from New York.”
‘Gator’s green eyes light up, loving the added competition. The twins see it my way and gave me a big hug, warily waiting for my tears. I am too elated that our breakup may be over. Smiles, no tears.
“What a traitor,” “Gator accuses John Boy. “He’ll bring in ringers to make us look bad. I’m gonna practice all week and kick his ass on the lanes.”
We all laugh at the sudden jock transformation. Competition revs his engines. He never was excited about bowling before. Now it’s life or death. Maybe being normal is okay. We announce the top five pairs who will compete in the next Saturday’s State Championship.
“You little rat. You’re bringing your own team?” I accuse him that night on the phone. I avoid mentioning that I assumed we had broken up the last time we talked. Who knew that bowling can cause so much emotional turmoil?
“I’m not on your team anymore?” he sounds distressed.
“You quit,” I accuse him, assuming he is only coming back for the tournament.
“Mummy only agreed if those Regis Catholic boys come to protect me from the Baptists.”
“Well, ‘Gator plans to kill you, on the lanes that is.”
“Why can’t I bowl for Ames?”
“’Cause yer a traitor. An’ ya don’ts go ta school here no more.”
“I wants ta,” he falls into drawl.
“Well, that’s yer lookout.”
“Yer mad at me?”
“Jist thoughts we’d broked up.”
“Never. I loves yer fer ever.”
“Jist so’s ya lives in New York and gits fucked ever month or so.”
That shuts him up.
“Listen, Jack. We’s doomed. Yer off ta college soon. I ain’t getting’ in ta Harvard from Podunk I-o-way. I jist wanna be with you’s the next few months ‘fore we graduate and gits old.”
I hear him gulp and start to sob.
“Stop yer whinin’. It’s life. We had our chance and now we’s jist older.”
“I ain’t givin’ ya up,” he declares. “We’ll settle this next weekend. I may not be on yer team but I still loves ya.”
“Good luck with that in New York City.”
“Yer so mean,” and he hangs up.
Upstairs everyone wants to know what John Boy is going to do.
“He’s coming for the bowling,” I half-shout, to much relief. “But he’s bringing his own high school’s team with him.”
‘Gator is beside himself. “That ain’t fair. They’s not from I-o-way.”
“Since the tournament’s unofficial, we kin make up our own rules.”
“What if they win?”
“Ya ‘fraid ya cain’t compete, ‘Gate?”
It makes him think. “Yer right. Bring ‘em on. No boy from New York City’s gonna come out here an’ show us up.”
“That’s the spirit. Anyway, John Boy’s French Club girls has ta pair up with them New Yorkers. Ain’t no girls at Catholic high school.”
“That’s retarded. They all fags like John Boy?”
“Jist socially inept.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Clueless when havin’ to talk with girls.”
‘Gator gets a crafty look in his eyes, “Our comfort girls on the cheer squad will make ‘em so confused they’ll fergit ‘bout bowlin’.”
“Between the French girls and the comfort ladies they might decide to move here. Won’t be bowlin’ they’s tryin’ to score big next weekend.”
The twins just shake their heads in dismay at how misogynistic we can be.
That night I decide to spend it with the moms while ‘Gator squires both twins to a football team party. I know ‘Gator will protect them.
“Still not comfortable with the football crowd?” Molly wonders.
“Naw. Just wantin’ ta be with my moms tonight.”
Mom looks surprised, while Molly beams. They put my dinner in the oven until after my Pizza Pit deliveries are done. The three of us sit at the table while I enjoy Kansas City ribs, fries and coleslaw. They laugh as I gobble up the special meal, with BBQ sauce covering my face and hands.
“Now, we know there’s some reason you’re staying in tonight. I can’t believe you’re afraid of being hazed by the football players.”
“No way. They’s all bein’ cool to me now. The New Year’s Eve fight made them like me, not hate me.”
“Boys are so strange,” Mom says.
“Group think has no basis in logic.”
The moms laugh when I tell them about my Harvard interview.
“Only you can make your sex life a positive for getting into Harvard,” Molly observes.
“Do you have to go so far away?” Mom complains. “We just got you back and now you’ll leave once you graduate.”
I’m not used to her being so open about her feelings. I squeeze her hand. “Mom, we’re really a family now. That can never change,” as I smile at both of them.
“It seems like everything’s changed since you showed up at the front door last Fall.”
“Just when everything seems normal, I come back from New York and my best friend is dating my two sisters.”
“Are you okay with that?” Molly seems glad we are discussing ‘Gator and the girls.
“Sure, but are you okay with it?”
They look at me, then at each other.
“We love ‘Gator as if he were your brother. We trust the twins to make their own decisions. We also know you will tell us if something is not going well.”
“John Boy and I had been predicting that ‘Gator would finally see the light. He’s too big a personality to love just one girl. The twins are so tight with each other; it may be the best way for them to really love a boy. Who knows what the future holds, though.”
I bite my tongue about ‘Gator leaving my bed for nightly visits to the girls’ room. So far everyone seems happy, even the moms. Is it okay to avoid the obvious. At least we are talking about it.
After a long dinner conversation, I decide to go to the party after all. The first thing to happen when I arrive is a drunk Noah rushes up and tries to kiss me. I shrug him off.
“I ain’t gay ‘less John Boy’s ‘round.” I let him down.
“That’s how I’s feelin’ about you, Andy,” he mumbles.
Gator comes over, puts an arm around his horse’s ass partner and leads him away. Since everyone saw his fumbling coming out and my rebuff, I am not bothered by any more gay flirting. Greatly encouraged, several girls make themselves available, willing to meet my every need, including running to get me a beer. I am ashamed to admit I oblige two of the comfort girls, so as to keep up with ‘Gator in the three-way department. Jace instantly returns from his Teen Jesus exploits and makes it an unofficial four-way. Afterwards, the girls both announce how amazing it feels to be pleasured both top and bottom by just a single boy. I am too smug to tell them the truth. Jace has his goofy grin on the remainder of the night. When I ask him how we had managed to satisfy two girls in multiple places at once, he states that Max helped. I hope he is only kidding.
In bed with me before his midnight tryst with the twins, ‘Gator relates all the gossip about my new conversion to hetero-land. My supposed skill at cunnilingus is overshadowed by the thought it was Max that earned that reputation. I decide that future comfort girl experiences would happen only if Max switches bodies with me so I can learn from his expertise without fully participating. I’m reluctant to tell ‘Gator the truth. Maybe Dr. Kam will find it amusing.
It seems appropriate to drag Mom to Catholic Mass the next morning. We introduce ourselves to the priest on the church steps after mass. I explain that we are hosting four of John Boy’s Catholic teammates the next weekend. He promises they all will be welcome to Ames. Mom is surprised that she is welcome. Her worries that having a female partner spells pariah-hood at the parish are alleviated. We pick up Molly and the twins plus one at Ames Baptist and have a fun Sunday dinner at our favorite restaurant. Jace’s place at the table is joined as well by a setting for John Boy. Naturally we gossip about both of them. I feel uncomfortable with behind-the-back gossiping about John Boy. It does not stop me from venting my anger and fear that he will leave again after the bowling tournament. They promise to work on him to remain in Ames. Jace and I start signing back and forth when the topic of the day turns to him. The moms ask if they can see Jace, too. I tell them the procedure is to first feel him, as the twins already did when he taught them to play guitar. ‘Gator asks if Jace could help him on the drums, but Jace notes he doesn’t know how to play drums. He doesn’t want ‘Gator turning into another Robby, which makes me laugh.
“What did he say?”
“He didn’t trust our old drummer and won’t teach you how to drum that way.”
“I wanna see ‘em,” he insists.
“We want to, as well.” Molly pipes up.
“Well, first you has ta feel him. Seeing comes later. You ready for that, being touched by a ghost?”
The moms look at each other and shrug. Jace immediately kisses them on their cheeks. They look at each other and smile.
“He kissed us,” they both explain.
‘Gator looks slightly uncomfortable. “Go ahead,” he grimaces and awaits his kiss. Then he looks startled. “He punched me.”
Everyone breaks up, especially Jace. Ol’ ‘Gator, touched by an angel.
Monday’s start of a new school week is well-organized on Mom’s scheduling board. I note that my weekly session with Dr. Kam is before John Boy’s arrival Friday. I add an extra session on Sunday afternoon, so both of us can meet with him. I hope he can talk John Boy into remaining in Ames. The Wednesday choir practice is an issue, as I’ve started going to Catholic mass. I agree to continue with the choir for special occasions, promising not to go ‘all Catholic’ on the other choir members. I laugh at how seriously the Baptists and Catholics take their ideological differences. It does not seem so funny when I remember how the Harlan preacher tried to kill John Boy. Religion takes the commandment to love one another and reverses it into hating anyone different from your own denomination.
Before classes start, the French Club fag hags corner me, desperate for news about their leader. They squeal and hug me when I announce that John Boy is coming. They promise special patisseries for the bake sale.
“Y’all is happy to git yer leader back,” I note. “But there’s a twist. He’s bringing his own high school’s bowlin’ team with him. And, y’all has to be their girl partners competing against us and all the other I-o-way teams.”
“What?” they are startled. “Why won’t he compete for Ames High?”
“He goes to school there now.”
“But we don’t want to compete against our own school.”
“It’s up to you, but his school is boys-only. I promised we’d provide girl partners from here.”
“Do we havta?” several girls whine.
“We all want him back here, right?” I ask.
All the girls shout, “Yes!”
“We havta convince him to stay. Helping his team will show him how much we want him back.”
“Okay,” they reluctantly agree.
Just like Baptists vs Catholics, high school loyalties create animosity between teens. I just want him back. The girls are my allies and the Regis boys are the enemy.
“’Gator plans to provide cheerleaders as ‘comfort’ girls to the New York boys,” I confide the plan to distract John Boy’s teammates, as our scheme to keep him in Ames. The French fag hags are uneasy partners with the sluts.
The school week flies by as I grow impatient for his arrival. ‘Gator laughs at me as we lay in bed, knowing my hormones are revving up.
“Yur like a cat scratching its claws at the blackboard. Y’all’s on edge ‘til John Boy’s back.”
“Ya got that right,” I laugh, giving him a tap on the arm. He responds with a big ‘Gator hug.
“Better save that fer later, ‘Gator.” I advise him.
“Ya ain’t getting’ none in the other room?” I am surprised.
He just smiles and shrugs.
“Wait. Y’all’s tellin’ me nothin’s happenin’ in there?”
“I ain’t sayin,’ but don’t ya worry ‘bout them girls losin’ their virginity a‘fore they’s ready.”
“Then, y’all still seein’ yer comfort cheerleader girlfriend.”
“Naw. I’s lettin’ the need build up so as to hurry the twins along. Seein’ me all frisky, makes ‘em right anxious.”
I laugh. Two 17-year-old boys laying in bed together with hard-ons not meant for each other. We look and shake our heads. Both of us exclaim, “No way anything is gonna happen between us.”
We hug, making sure sensitive parts stay far apart.
On Wednesday night I skip choir practice. Mrs. McCarthy scheduled me to take the SAT exams on Sunday morning. I have to worship at the altar of SAT-prep in the college admissions process. John Boy will take it as well, even though his admission to Harvard is secure.
“I want them to know how brilliant I am,” he eggs me on. Making it a personal competition is good motivation for me to do my best. Going to Harvard is barely on my radar screen. He believes it is important for our staying together the next few years. I even let the girls drill me with SAT-prep questions.
Every night, after farm chores and pizza delivery, our new band, Triplets plus 1, practices upstairs. We plan to perform at the Pizza Pit after the bowling tournament on Saturday evening. “Gator insists we have a set list of songs, rather than my preference of asking for requests. He needs to treat his drumming as a football drill, practicing every song in our set until he has his part down pat. What we gain in practiced perfection takes away from the spontaneity of performing songs we never planned on playing. I teach them all the False Gods’ band songs over the girls’ objection that they are boy-centric and misogynistic. The girls are fine with me singing solo on the ‘sex’ songs. ‘Gator is obviously getting out his suppressed hormones with energetic drum rolls and cymbal crashes. If he sounds more and more like Robby – so much the better.
My Thursday therapy with Dr. Kam arrives. I start out with overly enthusiastic expressions of my pent-up sex drive in anticipation of John Boy’s arrival. Dr. Kam counters with his own obsession with the New York art and celebrity scene. He even sings ‘Oh, Yoko,’ sounding passably like the Beatle who wrote it for his wife.
“Come to the party at the Pizza Pit. You can sing it with our band.”
“I’ll wear my grannie glasses.”
“I’ll play the kazoo on the harmonica part.”
I am so relaxed, I am able to tell him the dream scenario when I lay in that ditch in Dothan, Alabama.
“I swore I’d never let anyone ever take advantage of me or lock me up again. My crying was like none I’d ever felt – not just despair or loss. I hit rock bottom.”
“That’s important. Once you see you can go no lower, you’re on the way to recovery.”
“Except when I pass out all the time.”
“Those were times you couldn’t handle the trauma, either from the rape or from what was happening to you in the moment. You weren’t ready.”
“Well, don’t rush it. John Boy’s hysterical loss of his voice may be projection/transference on his part. He’s so in-tune with you, he’s acting out your trauma in his own indirect way.”
“Wow. That’s scary. It’s contagious.”
“You are contagious. People subconsciously want to feel what you feel.”
That idea seems unfair, but it does make sense. I need time to absorb his diagnosis. We end up singing another future hit, ‘Turning Japanese.” I love Dr. Kam.
Friday morning, I am so worked up, I cannot sleep. When I hear ‘Gator getting ready to leave for his farm chores, I insist I go with him. Mucking out the stalls, I understood Daddy’s abhorrence of farm chores in his youth. ‘Gator makes the time fly. Even my favorite cow, Bessie, seems happy when I hook her to the milking cups. I give her a quick kiss on the rump.
With chores done early, we grab breakfast with the twins before school. The school day flies by, with girls hugging me once they spot the gleam of anticipation in my eyes. Even Noah is over his unreciprocated kiss and slugs me on the arm.
“We’s all ready to help keep John Boy here fer good,” he promises. I am not tempted to give him a kiss back but grab his arms. We jump up and down like pre-teens.
The New Yorkers flight is due in at 6 pm. The twins agree to do my pizza route so I can meet the plane. It seems like half of Ames is there. John Boy and his four teammates walk across the tarmac, looking around and wondering who is so important to warrant a reception. They all are dressed in matching blazers and ties. Their nonchalance reflects New York City cool sophistication. When John-Boy sees me and ‘Gator waving, a big grin breaks out and he runs to hug me. The other four act like bodyguards. I have to push by them to get to John Boy. While we’re hugging, ‘Gator distracts everyone with a long-winded speech telling the city slickers they’re welcome here, “even though it weren’t New York City.”
The French Club has signs with ‘Bienvenue a Ames’ and “Bonne chance Nueve York.” They rush up to grab John Boy, to many ‘ow, la la’s” and ‘incroyable’s’ to their Jean Fil. The Regis boys look more at ease surrounded by the girls. Croissants are consumed.
Back at the house, the moms have prepared a welcome feast. The Regis boys ask if we’re having corn on the cob, their favorite. All the Ames kids think it’s hilarious, corn in April. ‘Ya kin take the boy outta the city….’
After dinner and showing the boys where they are sleeping on the second floor, the Regis kids take off their blazers and loosen their ties. We all go up to the third floor where we play some of the songs planned for Saturdays night’s gig. After we play ‘Rhinestone Cowboy,’ one of the Regis boys lets out a cowboy yell, ‘Woo eee.’ All his friends start hitting him for being a traitor to their New York ‘cool.’ It’s time to pair the Regis boys with John Boy’s French Club girls. Being Irish Catholics, the boys are too shy to initiate conversations with the girls. The comfort cheerleaders take charge, setting up ‘speed-dates,’ as each boy is given five minutes to see if there are sparks with the five girls who are bowlers. Each boy and girl ranks their favorites, one through five. Rich French cooking has ruined teen girl anorexia for several girls, resulting in low favorability rankings by the boys. One boy is universally disdained. A second round of ‘speed dating’ is initiated. The lowest ranked girls are all assigned to re-interview the rejected boy. The three ‘cool’ boys are paired with one of their top 2 choices on the second round. In fifteen minutes all Regis boys find a bowling partner. Jack already has his regular partner. He reminds his boys on proper bowling etiquette, suggesting the boys remember their partners are teammates and not ‘dates.’ As if on cue, the comfort cheerleaders take charge of the Regis boys with more flirtatious banter and play.
The French Club girls surround John Boy.
I get ‘Gator and the twins back on our instruments. We play the Bob Seger’s ‘Night Moves,’ to get John Boy’s attention.
He runs over when we start playing ‘Curfew,’ one of his originals from D&D days. John Boy jumps in and does the vocals; it is his song.
‘We’re still in our youth
But we have our ken
That these lives are ours
And they don’t belong to them
We’re having fun doing what we like
Then they come around and take away our rights
Makers of trouble
Wild and insane
Just because we’re young
We’re the ones to blame
The time has come
They’re telling us to leave
They’re pushing us around
So we gotta leave the streets
The streets are our domain
So they come and give us pain
But what gives you the right
To come blow out my light
But since I’m having fun
You’re gonna make me fight
And I just wanna say
Curfew must not ring tonight.’
Copyright: MIB; Songwriter: David Delgado
Everyone cheers the idea of violating their curfews. We play ‘Barefoot Boy’ next and do the monkeyshines until even the shy Irish boys are jumping around like idiots. The comfort girls make their moves and suddenly it’s a big make out party. I let John Boy loose on the fag hags and join ‘Gator and the twins to survey our handiwork.
“Our welcome party seems a success,” I observe forgetting my country boy accent.
“Well, let’s hope these here city boys stay up all night and are worse fer wear in the mornin’,” ‘Gator is not giving an inch.
“They seem so innocent,” Amy is wearing her rose-colored glasses.
“Don’t git too cozy. They’s still all from New York City.”
“Maybe we kin score John Boy on both teams. Cain’t rilly have a New York school be the I-o-way bowling champions,” I suggest.
“No way,” ‘Gator is right. “He goes to school there. Other I-o-way schools will protest, sayin’ we’s brought in a ringer.”
Everyone gathers in the main third floor room to end the evening.
“Say goodnight to yer bowlin’ partners. You’ll be together all day tomorra,” I have the French Club girls get ready to leave.
“Show these visitors where they’s sleepin’ tanite,” ‘Gator orchestrates the sleeping arrangement with the comfort girls.