03 May Teenage Crush: Part One
On a Friday evening, after Riverview High School had let its students out for the day, half the graduating class was down by the river watching a fistfight.
This girl, Brittany, clenched her fists and aimed them at her childhood friend. Her knuckles glittered with heart-shaped rings as she pounded them into his face. She sat on top of him, childhood friend, pinning him down on the gravel road. She wailed on him.
They rolled around in the crusher dust covering the parking lot that all the local teens used as a place to park and make out.
He struggled under her, kicking up dust, and she laid another punch into him. Her white lace dress crusted with dirt in its stitched floral patterns as he squirmed under her.
She said to him, “I came to apologize, Travis.” Then she jabbed him in the ribs.
The two friends would horse around like this when they were kids, except this time she was laying into him, hard.
Her next punch struck blood as she knocked his tooth right through his lip.
Everyone on the varsity Football team stood around them, laughing. They snapped pictures. They streamed video on their phones, uploading it live onto the internet.
Travis, the boy getting his face pummeled, he swelled up with pink bruises where Brittany had punched him. He gave a few, final kicks then went limp. Once he quit lashing around, the dust cloud settled. And he grinned with a mouthful of blood the color of fruit punch filling the cracks between his teeth.
Brittany clutched a handful of his hair, holding his head an inch above the ground. She cocked her fist as if warning him to stay down. Her lips flattened as she said, “Now that you’re calm, we can talk.”
And she told him the story of the reason behind her apology.
She confessed she wanted to hurt him ever since the incident that happened between them five days ago, on the Monday.
The drama started when they were hanging out on the bleachers, at the Riverside High Halloween dance, it was when they were sipping from their red disposable cups. They sat on the gymnasium bleachers, sticking out their cherry-Kool-aid stained tongues at each other, seeing who could get the reddest one.
They did this as almost every girl and boy at Riverside High grinded against one another in the low-lit gymnasium.
All of them surrounded by loud thumping music.
When the song ended, a small thirsty crowd of people made their way to the punch bowl next to the bleachers. Everyone else in the gym kept dancing, except Brittany and Travis, the wallflowers blowing raspberries at each other.
Brittany stopped as she caught a glimpse of the popular students returning to the dance floor. She sighed as she looked on at the Football team and the cheerleaders laughing, kissing, and dancing together.
One of the cheerleaders stumbled drunk over to the edge of the bleachers, gazing at Travis. She waved at him as she shouted through the music, “Hey, Trav, come dance with us.”
He waved her off.
“Don’t you like women?” She said.
He said, “I don’t want to dance.”
And the cheerleader shrugged then she joined the dancing mob of students.
During the whole interaction, the cheerleader’s eyes had skipped over Brittany. It was clear she wasn’t invited to dance with the high school’s in-crowd.
Brittany rested her chin on her knees, in a sitting fetal position, gazing at the Football team with those glassy eyes people get when they daydream. She glanced over at Travis leaning across the bleachers next to her with his hands shoved into his letterman jacket pockets. And she said, “Sometimes I wish I could be accepted into that crowd.”
He shot her a smile, shrugging, “You are.”
She shook her head, saying, “They see you when they look at you. Because you play on the team.” She gazed out at the dancing crowd, her lips drooping, she said, “Their eyes skip across me whenever they look in my direction as if I’m just another invisible pleb. To them, I’m as interesting as a textbook.”
She whipped around, getting a look at Travis and she caught a glimpse of a fat kid sitting alone at the opposite end of the bleachers. She saw the fat kid push his glasses up his pug nose as he stared back at her. She gave him a polite smile but felt a sinking, queasy feeling in her stomach just looking at him.
A moment later another song picked up, students raided the punch bowl. With their bellies full of cherry Kool-aid, they returned to dry humping each other on the dance floor. It was something you might see on the Nature Channel.
The two friends sitting on the bleachers looked on at the dancing mob of students. They saw one of the Football team’s linebackers snuggled up with one of the cheerleaders. And when the cheerleader shoved her hand down the linebacker’s pants, Brittany and Travis giggled.
Travis nudged Brittany and he pointed at the dance-floor-hand-job as he shouted in her ear under the thumping of the music. Shout-whispering at her, he said, “I hope she doesn’t fumble his balls, not like he does on the Football field.”
She didn’t particularly think it was a funny joke but she laughed at it anyways. Because ever since she’d got her period in seventh grade, she’d started laughing at all of his jokes. It was a chance for her to gawk at him as he smiled. When they laughed together, he made her feel like she was the only person in the room.
She watched his pearly white grin as he chuckled with her. She smelled his breath infused with the aroma of peppermint mouthwash mingling with cherry punch.
Nodding at the couple fooling around in the crowd, Travis joked about something he’d never brought up before. He pointed at the couple locked in a handsy sex act as he said to Brittany, “Wanna see if we can get away with some full contact sports too?” He said it with a dip of sarcasm in his voice. “I mean, I’ve seen you handle balls on the court.”
She barely heard his perverted joke under the sound of the music and the feel of her teenage hormones pumping through her. By habit, she just laughed with him.
She squished up against him, feeling the heat coming off his body, it warmed her in the air-conditioned gym. She gawked at his six-pack abs, chiseled from all those nights they’d spent shooting hoops together. His muscles rippled through his sheer white shirt. His blue eyes glowed in the coloured lights. The same blue eyes he’d used to stare at her this morning in study hall when they’d passed little scrap paper notes between each other.
She felt her heart pace quicken, and the flush of her cheeks turn hot.
She tipped back the rest of her cup. Drinking the punch burned her throat a little. Then she leaned close into his neck, panting on him, she said, “You’ve got to kiss me first.” She grinned, “That is if you want us to play any kind of pick-up game.”
They shared a deep, long moment of looking into each other’s eyes.
They’d both never touched another person in a sexual manner unless you counted the time that he’d accidentally elbowed her in the boob during a platonic game of twenty-one.
At the dance, he’d shouted through the music, “Yeah, I’m joking.” And he nervously laughed.
But she couldn’t hear him at all through the rhythmic thumping of the music echoing through the gym. She could only hear the flumping of her heartbeat.
She moved in one fell swoop, advancing on him as the loud beat of the song around them changed into a slow, sombre one. The disco ball dropped from the ceiling, it shone glittering lights down on the friends huddled close in the dark. Before he could stop her from crawling over his lap, she had already slipped her fingers along his warm inner thigh, closing her eyes. She jutted her puckering lips towards him like she was falling into his face, chin-first.
Much of the crowd had stopped dancing as they made their way towards the punch bowl, with a front-row view of this attempt at a first kiss.
Brittany leaning forward, she kissed Travis’s sweaty palm. He had put his hand out, stopping her. Blocking her, he recoiled, pushing himself down the bench. He scooted away from where she sat with the sweaty imprint of his hand glistening on her chin.
She felt her heartbeat sink deep into her stomach as she sat out in plain view of the crowd she wanted to be accepted by. She fell forward onto her hands, reaching out with her face in the direction of her high school crush. She felt as if she were plummeting toward the hardwood floor of the gymnasium. Even though she was sitting still.
The Football team’s kicker jumped above the crowd, and through the din of whispering students, she shouted, “Awkward.”
A few people laughed. More people chuckled. Many of the students looked away and returned to dancing. But a small group of them joined in on calling out, “Awk-ward.” The tiny crowd chanted, “Awkward. Awk-ward. Awkward.”
In a small town such as this one, bored teenagers will mercilessly ridicule each other even when they’re suffering through a similar experience as the person they’re tormenting.
Travis scrunched his face, grimacing at the crowd, looking over at his friend Brittany hanging out on her own under the spotlight of the bleachers, as he said to her, “This place sucks. Let’s go shoot hoops.”
But she hadn’t heard him cause she had leapt off the spot where they were sitting and she was breaking into a running pace, dashing away from the jeering crowd, as she swallowed her tears.
Walking home through the cold, dead suburbs, she cried, and cried, until her throat swelled up, and all that came out of her were little, short squeals.
She cried about how the boy she wanted to lose her virginity to, didn’t think of her that way. She felt like her guts were emptying with each step she took forward.
When she got home, she darted through the living room where her drunk dad was sleeping in his barker lounger. She saw he’d fallen asleep with the TV on playing the usual recorded boxing match he watched. She slammed her bedroom door on the TV broadcasting the sounds of men hitting each other. But her dad hadn’t stirred when the door slammed. He kept snoring loud enough to be heard through her vibrating door. She flopped onto her bed, exhausted and she wrote in her diary a promise to herself that she’d make the boy who broke her heart flush red as much as he’d done to her that night at the dance.
The day after the Halloween dance, it’s Tuesday, three days before their first fight.
Brittany walked through the locker-lined halls with her head held high. Her chest puffed out as people whispered awkward at her as she passed them. After sharing eye contact with her, most of the other students looked away.
Then she saw Travis, propped up against her locker, smiling as if nothing embarrassing had happened between them. And her ears grew hot. Her shoulders slumped and she swallowed the little bit of saliva she had left in her sandpaper-dry-throat.
He came up to her, all smiles, as he said, “Want to hit the basketball court after first period?” His toothy grin widened with no trace of the embarrassing event at the dance the night before. Of the moment when he’d pulled away from her kiss like he’d seen a crusty, herpes sore on her lip. And now, leaning against her locker, he smiled and asked, “Do you still want to hang out?”
She looked at him, long and hard, and she said, “Did you bring your ball?”
After first period, they found each other on the basketball court. They bounced his ball back and forth across the half-court line, sometimes swiping it from each other before the other could shoot at the hoop. That game they sank basket after basket. A few points into the one-on-one game, they bent over, sweating, as they caught their breath. They looked over and they saw a group of girls sitting off on the sidelines watching them, giggling at them, whispering.
Travis shook his head then he chest-passed the ball to Brittany as he said, “Mind if I run in and fill my water bottle, real quick?” He glanced at the giggling girls then back to her.
She watched him run inside to the nearest water fountain as she clenched her teeth. She heard the girls continue their giggling and she felt her stomach twist. On that empty basketball court, she felt abandoned by her friend once again.
She thought of the promise she’d made to herself, scribbled in her diary, it said, “I’ll humiliate him so much that no one from this town will ever kiss him.”
She smiled at the whispering girls as she quickly jogged over to them, and she asked them, “Want to hear a secret?”
Josh Ackermann escapes his desk job by writing in his free time. One of his short stories, One Helluva Headache, was published in the English Bay Review. He’s currently revising two of his first novels. And he’s is the creator of the Falling For Stories podcast; among many other titles.