Ardmore Pt. 02bySalamis©
This is part 2 of a 4 part story. There is virtually no sex in this story. Your comments, good or bad, are always welcome.
Chapter 5: The Fan
I was nine years old the summer my father moved us from Philadelphia to the nearby suburb of Ardmore. After many years as a secondary school teacher in Philadelphia, Papa had landed his first administrative position in the Lower Merion School district.
For all of my short life my father had worked two jobs. After his teaching day was over he worked another seven hours with United Parcel. He had been there thirteen years and was still a part-timer. This new administrative position meant he could afford to quit and spend more time with his family. It also meant that he and I would have an opportunity to get to know one another.
Our new home also offered a location a few miles from my mother's job at the hospital and within walking distance to Papa's at the High School. With four bedrooms and a finished basement, the house was a mansion compared to our apartment in the city. We also acquired three full bathrooms, a feature not lost on my four older sisters.
In a town of under twelve thousand people, we were guaranteed to know many of our neighbors. Mother, over the objections of my grand mother (who also lived with us), relaxed many of her rules for my sisters. For them it was their first taste of real freedom.
That same freedom however, was slow in coming in my case. Being the youngest, and the only boy, my parents decided I needed a more structured approach. Discipline was prescribed; so they enrolled me in a summer wrestling program at the local YMCA. That one small decision was to have major implications in my life.
We had been in our new home less than a week when Papa and I walked over to the local Y branch early Saturday morning. As we entered the building, Papa gave me my final instructions. "Your class is down the hall. Here is your admissions slip", he said as he handed me as paper. "Don't worry, I won't stay and embarrass you, Julia will be here to pick you up at eleven." His smile indicated he was waiting for my reaction. Of course, I took the bait.
"Aw Papa! Why does Julia have to come for me? I'm not a baby. I know my way home. I memorized how we got here. It's not very far."
My father gave me that look; the one that said he wasn't about to change his mind. Julia was meeting me and that was that. So there I stood in the gym, a bit apprehensive, taking in the scene of a couple dozen other boys around my age, mats arranged for the exercises and a few kids and parents sitting in the stands watching the practice.
The coach, needing to get a rough assessment of our abilities paired us off as a prelude to a few impromptu matches. Mimicking the others, I donned my head gear in preparation. My opponent was a dark haired boy about my size. We were crouched on the mat sizing each other up, waiting for the whistle to start the contest. I admit to being a little nervous. I didn't know any of these kids and my reputation might be set with this one challenge.
Almost as if prearranged, someone screamed "GARWEEE" a split second before the whistle was blown. As I turned towards the source the room started to spin. Seconds later I was looking up at the lights, a view which was suddenly blocked by the face of my opponent.
Laughter broke out throughout the gym. Several boys were doubled up pointing at me sprawled on the mat. Other than myself, there were only two people who were not amused: the coach, whose whistle silenced everyone, and my opponent who was staring up into the stands with a look I thought only my father had perfected.
"C'mon Lit, that wasn't fair and you know it", shouted the boy.
By now the coach had joined us, only his remarks were directed my opponent.
"Gary I've had it! Either you keep her quiet during practice or I'll have her removed from the gym. This is my last warning. Got it?"
"Sure, sorry coach."
Up in the stands was a girl, kind of chubby, with a head of the curliest brown hair I had ever seen. She had this dimpled smile of pure innocence. That smile lasted only until her brother reached her. Their conversation was short and mainly one-sided. The boy returned almost as soon as he left.
"Sorry about that. My little sister likes to cheer for me. Sometimes she forgets about coach's rules. Hey, I'm Gary Danas. I guess you're new around here?"
"David Martens, and yeah we just moved here from Philly. You know that was some throw. Who taught you that?"
Gary gave me this strange look. I realized then that I had said something wrong.
"You ever wrestled before?"
"No, first time"
"What? Hey coach; this isn't the kid from Narbeth!"
The coach came running over. After I answered a few questions he was beside himself. He had paired me up with one of his best wrestlers thinking I was a transfer from another team. His mistake could have gotten me seriously hurt.
Gary had seen me don the headgear and assumed I knew what I was doing. It was then that I learned that this was THE wrestling team, not merely a class for beginners. Papa had signed me up for the wrong instruction.
I was not all that concerned with the mix-up but they were certainly annoyed. For me, only my pride had taken a fall. Gary's move had captured my imagination. Could I too learn to move that quickly? And why had my body responded following my arm as I flipped over? I wanted to learn the shoulder throw. I wanted to become a wrestler.
Recognizing my enthusiasm, I was put in a group of novices and given instruction on the basic holds. Most of the kids were pretty cool about my first match and I was on my way to making quite a few friends.
When the practice ended I took a position outside the gym waiting for Julia. It was then that Gary and his sister (who's real name was Adrienne), approached me. They were going for pizza and asked if I wanted to join them.
In response to Gary's invitation I answered, "I can't. I've got to wait for my sister."
"You have a sister?" asked Lit, suddenly very interested.
"Actually I have four. They're all older though." Lit's smile faded a bit and I could tell this cut short her hope for new playmates.
It was then that Lit told me how sorry she was for interfering. She didn't know I might have gotten hurt. I remember her voice, the slight lisp as she apologized. I remember the sincere look in her large eyes. She was only seven years old, and yet she was one of the most empathetic people I would ever meet.
Gary too was upset, but more embarrassed that he had taken unfair advantage. The more we talked it turned out that he and I were the same age and shared many of the same likes. It was probably an odd way to meet my new best friend, but for us we became friends almost immediately.
We had gathered up our things and were moving down the hallway when I recognized my sister and her boyfriend coming towards us. Seeing them together I knew my chances of going to lunch with my new friends were suddenly looking up.
At the time my sister was sixteen and her boyfriend Chris, eighteen. They were a picture of contrasts: Julia, always smartly dressed, walking with an air of confidence as if she were a runway model, and Chris, whom the best way to describe was "scruffy", sporting long hair kept in a ponytail as well as a day old growth of a beard. I'd never seen him in anything other than torn faded jeans. They were the model and the hippy as Papa called them.
Julia was going against my parent's wishes by dating Chris. He was feared in our old neighborhood, though he kept to himself and never bothered anyone. Even so, it was rumored that he was in Philly as a result of having gotten into trouble in his home town somewhere in upstate Pennsylvania. My friends at the time thought he was an escaped criminal, though that was pure rumor.
Regardless, I liked Chris. He was always friendly to me and he made Julia laugh (which was no small fete). If Julia liked him then that was enough for me. My parents may not have trusted her judgment, but I did. I was counting on her judgment working in my favor that afternoon.
I introduced them to my new friends, and then pleaded with Julia to let us go to lunch with them before heading home. I knew she would balk, not wanting to upset my father; however, I counted on Chris siding with me. He could always influence my sister's decisions. As I knew he would, he broke into a huge smile when our eyes met.
"How much for a pizza?" I asked turning to Gary.
"Only three dollars for a medium", he stated as he began digging in his pockets. He looked disappointed as he withdrew several coins, so I started feeling around for my own money when Lit chimed in. "I have money. I'll treat."
At which point Julia leaned down towards her. "Adrienne is it? You don't have to do that, this will be our treat. What would you like?"
Lit moved in to whisper something to my sister and afterward Julia straightened up smiling. "Pepperoni and Sausage it is then" she announced turning to Chris.
Well I had my pizza. Lit talked with Julia the entire time while Gary and I discussed the team and my upcoming training; and every so often Gary would look over at my sister and get this sort of goofy look. I'd seen it all before, mainly how guys acted when they came around Julia, goofy.
Guys thought my sister was good looking. Why? Who knew? Surely they had never seen her shaving her legs on Saturday or saw caught sight of her before breakfast. She was just a girl. Of course in years of hindsight I know now that she was very pretty and did bear an uncanny resemblance to Catherine Zeta Jones. Of course, none of that mattered to me. She was the closest to me of all my sisters because I could always go to her for advice and she didn't treat me like a kid.
"I see we have another lefty", she remarked upon seeing Lit pick up her slice. The comment was made to me and I nodded as Lit understood her meaning. I was left handed too as was Julia. As a result, she and I always sat next to one another at the dinner table. She was fond of saying that this made us special. Now that designation extended to Lit.
For the rest of lunch, and even during the walk home, Lit stayed close to Julia. My sister might have been nine years older, but for Lit there was a serious case of hero worship developing. I don't know if Julia was flattered by the attention, but I do know she always made herself available when Lit came to visit.
That summer ended up being all about wrestling. I failed to make the team, but like Lit, I made it to all the local matches. Gary tutored me and I kept practicing. By the end of the following summer I had made the team. From then on, until I graduated high school, wrestling was my passion.
It didn't take long for me to figure out that Gary's current mission in life was 'to look after his sister'. That meant that if he was ever to have any fun Lit had to be with him. She was his constant companion, his shadow, the price he paid for having a life outside the house. The funny thing was, he did not seem to mind and neither did she.
It was an interesting accommodation those two had made. Gary would always talk to her as if he were the senior member of their partnership. He wasn't condescending; it was mainly away of shutting her up so he could get a word in while we were all together. Funny thing was that Lit was talkative to a fault, but only in front of us; otherwise she clamed up around people, self-conscious about her lisp.
We became friends in part because I too spoke to her like an equal. Our circumstances at home were similar. No one took us seriously. I had four sisters, the youngest of which was almost three years older than me.
I was used to being talked down to as the 'baby' of the family by everyone except Julia. Generally, my sisters barked orders and I obeyed. They tolerated having an undisciplined male around. To me it was a relief to talk to a girl and not have to wait for a correction after each sentence. Besides that, for a girl, Adrienne was pretty cool.
She might have been younger but she was more daring than some of our friends. She was better on skates than me, as good a swimmer, and she taught me how to bait a line; in fact, I learned most of what I know about fishing from her. I counted her among my two closest friends.
It wasn't surprising that I became a regular at Gary's house. In many respects it was more hospitable than my own. His parents were younger and seemed more understanding. With my folks I could expect constant reminders of what Maria, Julia, Gloria or Gina did when they were my age and how I was not conforming to their expectations.
I was fortunate to have gained permission to have gone to Gary's so often. For the next year the atmosphere at my house became strained as Julia left to marry Chris. It took a longer time for Papa to forgive her; but the appearance of his first grandchild did accelerate the process.
Eventually I did gain my freedom that first summer and it didn't take long for my folks to get accustomed to having the three of us rushing in and out of our house many times during the day. Nor did it take long for Lit to become their favorite amongst my playmates.
A week after school started Julia told me Lit confided she was being teased about her lisp by several older boys at recess. She was to the point of faking illness to avoid going to school. Julia wanted to make sure that I had never participated in any teasing of Lit. I think the expression on my face left little doubt what I thought of those who hurt my friend. Then Julia asked that I look out for her in school.
I had a conversation with Gary about the problem and then we had a 'talk' with the kids in question. They never bothered Lit after that.
We had been virtually inseparable up until then, but after classes commenced, our time together became more limited as my father dictated minimum study periods at home. Even with that imposition, we still found time on weekends to hang out.
Familiarity led to me to begin treating Lit as if she too was my sister. It was unconscious on my part, but eventually came to be accepted by both sets of parents. Affirmation of that status came in late October when Gary was sidelined with a cold.
During his illness he asked me to take Lit around the neighborhood on Halloween. To my surprise, his parents enthusiastically approved. Even my sisters thought the idea of me escorting her was 'cute', all except Julia who made sure to remind me what a heavy responsibility I had accepted. Of course my acceptance was a little selfish.
We lived in a community that made much fanfare of Halloween. For me, dressing up in costume and getting candy as a reward made Halloween my second favorite holiday, surpassed only by Christmas. We were to go out with about a dozen other kids. Of course, that plan was scrapped a few minutes after we left the house. We would fare better with less competition.
This year promised to be the best ever. I knew that grownups might be stingy with boys, but with little girls they were always overly generous. Traveling with Lit would ensure a very friendly audience and more candy than usual.
We started late because our folks just had to have pictures of us. Fortunately, the delay had little impact. Just as I hoped, we were having a great night, with each house bent on giving Lit a hefty supply of goodies. Her bag was almost full before we made it off her block. At the next stop I had begun speaking with a couple on their porch. Lit was patiently waiting at my side, when a loud noise from behind drew our attention.
Two older 'pirates' were standing near, and as if on cue, one snatched Lit's bag, jumped the railing and took off running with his partner. I turned as Lit screamed and began to cry.
I was outraged. I had never been so angry. The couple was just as irate, and shouted at the young thieves to come back. I threw down my hat, told Lit to wait for me and took off in hot pursuit. Something in me had snapped. All I could see was her crying.
Two blocks later I caught up with them. They looked to be a couple of years older but I didn't care as I barreled into the one with the bag from behind, knocking him to the ground. His friend turned to assist, but was a second too slow as I brought my heel up and jammed it into his belly. The boy under me punched me in my cheek as I began swinging wildly at his face and chest. I connected so often that he decided that defense was his best option.
I must have looked like a maniac to him. On my last volley, he managed to push me away and took to the street leaving his fallen comrade. I was so keyed-up that I started to chase him again. Then I remembered Lit's bag. A few steps later I turned back and found it lying on the ground, its contents strewn about.
Retrieving the items I ran back to house where I'd left her. She was waiting on the front steps with the same couple. They had wiped her tears and offered to take her home but she was adamant that she wait for me. I'll never forget how overjoyed she was when I returned with her candy.
That concluded the evening for us. I decided to take her home. The fun was out of it. For the first time since we met, she moved her hand into mine as we left together and my heart began to swell with pride.
Papa asked me what I thought I was doing by chasing those boys. I could have gotten seriously hurt. My only response was to look him square in the eye and say that Lit was crying. He repeated his question and I responded in the same fashion. I might have been upset, and he understood that, but that action cost me several weekends of house detention. I remembered Julia's words earlier and even the bruise on my cheek and my father's chastisement could not diminish my pride.
I never again substituted for Gary. We grew older and became more independent. I continued to see Lit since I was often a guest in her house. In fact, I probably had more Sunday dinners at their table than my own. Of course, as we entered our teens it was inevitable that our paths would diverge, although we would never be truly apart.
Chapter 6: Hormones and happenstance
Adrienne started budding at twelve. The chubby little girl I met at seven was developing curves, even if she still preferred jeans to dresses. And for the first time I'd known her she was self-conscious about her appearance around me, particularly her sprouting chest. It did not help that Gary and I were beginning to learn the art of chasing girls.
So much of our conversation those days revolved around the latest crush or the current 'squeeze'. We had always treated Adrienne like one of the guys so it wasn't unusual for us to talk freely with her nearby. I recall the first incident where I began to become more aware of our differences.
Gary and I were in a light-hearted discussion rating our female classmates. We forgot Adrienne was there. Our descriptions were blunt to point of being crude. That conversation got me some nasty looks that day and the cold shoulder for a few days thereafter. It was then I knew that something had changed between us. I became much more cautious around her after that. That caution was particularly helpful later when other boys started showing up at the house for her.
At fifteen Adrienne acquired a boyfriend, even though her folks held she was still too young to date. I knew about him, because like me, he sat almost every Sunday for dinner. His name was Ari Manos.
Ari's father and her father had been best friends since childhood. It was generally understood by both men that their offspring would marry. In what was as close to an arranged marriage as was possible, Ari was being prepped for Adrienne. That much I learned from Gary.
Ari was a nice kid and I personally liked him, even though his presence made me a little uncomfortable at first. Gradually I found that he was pretty funny and excelled at telling jokes. He seemed to have memorized hundreds. It was obvious that Adrienne liked him too since she went out of her way to make him feel like one of the family.