Michael Hughes and I were bored. By some stroke of bad luck, neither of us had to attend summer school, although not for lack of trying. If you had to take one summer school subject, they allowed you to take additional classes for free. We were planning to get into the wood or metal shop class, but the competitive nature of twelve-year-olds meant we eked by with a passing grade.
So there we sat, shooting rubber bands at the lazy grasshoppers, wondering what to do. We had two months of solid nothing to look forward to.
Michael made pew pew noises when he launched a rubber band. I preferred the more traditional ka-POW. It sounded manlier when we played Army Invaders on the big dirt mountain where they were building the new hospital.
"Pew pew!" Michael hit a grasshopper in mid-jump. He wasn't aiming for that particular one, but it was cool anyway. We laughed and recounted it six or eight times, suddenly immersed in how amazing the shot was. The bug wasn't impressed, and vacated Michael's back yard in three massive jumps.
Ten minutes later, we were back to our bored, morose selves.
"It's five hundred degrees out here. You wanna go in the pool?" Michael was so predictable. Once the temperature hit ninety, his family's pool beckoned with a watery siren's song. I couldn't swim, and he knew it. The script we followed called for Michael to speak those lines, then I said I couldn't swim, then he said so what, then I said sure, nothing else to do. We had it memorized four days after school ended.
Something was different this time.
Michael's older sister, Michelle, was on the splintering wooden deck. She usually left to smoke some cigarettes with her slutty friends, lying to her mother about going to the library or the matinee. While the girls she hung out with bared as much skin as they could without having the cops swarming over them, Michelle went with a preppy look. She didn't need to look like a hooker, she stood out anyway. Michelle, or Shell as she preferred, was adopted. The Hughes were typical Long Islanders back in the seventies -- white, middle-class, and blonde. Shell was Asian, with waist-length black hair that reflected the sunlight like a mirror. She had a starring role in my pre-teen dreams.
Michael was always a bit jealous of Shell. His parents thought they couldn't have kids, so they adopted a cute little girl. Ten months later, Michael popped out, followed by Mitchell. Mitchell was a jerk, so we avoided him, unless we had to watch him while his parents went out. He made better noises when we shot him with rubber bands.
"You wanna stay here with the crustacean, or you wanna go inside?" Michael did not like the change in the script, even though he whined about it daily.
"Shell is okay, I don't mind her." I'm sure I heard her snicker. She was prone on the chaise lounge, in a very appealing blue bikini. I'm glad she didn't see me staring at her butt.
Michael did, however. He got a disgusted look on his face and jumped in the pool. He popped up like a cork. "Stop looking at Crabby's ass. You've never smelled some of her nasty Chinese-food farts. You wouldn't go near it without a gas mask if you had."
Both Shell and I stared at Michael with our mouths open. I couldn't believe my best pal would say I looked at her butt, and Shell looked like she wanted to drown him.
"Shut up, wet dream boy," she countered. "Your sheets smell like a squid died on your bed."
I couldn't help myself. I burst out laughing, tears clouded my vision. Served him right to get one-upped by a girl. He pulled himself out of the pool, splashed a handful of water on her back, and stormed off to the house. I heard his mother exploding when she saw the trail of chlorinated pool water across their new orange shag carpeting.
Shell looked over at me, one eyebrow arched. "You're not too bad, as far as Michael's friends go. Your name's Tony, right?"
Holy moly, she was talking to me! I had to play it cool. "Um, yeah, that's my name. I like your nickname."
God, I was such a dork.
"Yeah, I like it too. Better than Michelle, anyway. You want a drink?"
I was iron-clad guaranteed to have two wet dreams tonight. "Sure."
She rolled off the lounge, and watched me out of the corner of her dark eyes. I couldn't help myself. My brain shut down, and the automatic boob-watching radar kicked in. She smirked as I watched her barely-contained chest jiggle as she hopped down the stairs. She knew she had complete control of me. If she directed me to eat dog poop, I would've realized it only after seven or eight mouthfuls.
We headed to the kitchen. Mrs. Hughes said, "Hello, Tony," in her best Stepford Wife-tone. When she looked up from slicing a cucumber, she saw me staring at her daughter's chest. "Michael is upstairs, Tony, why don't you go on up?"
"He's hanging out with me, Mom," said Shell. "We're talking about astronomy."
I could tell by the look on Mrs. Hughes' face that this wasn't going to end well. Shell broke the tension by pushing a glass of lemonade into my hand and dragging me back outside.
"Sorry about that. Mom lives in the stone age, back when they would club you if you looked at a girl."
"S'no problem. Sorry about staring at you, but I didn't realize until today how good-looking you are." Hot damn! High-five for my brainpan for coming up with that line without drooling, stuttering, or having things fly out of my nostrils.
She put her hands on her hips, pursed her lips, and stared at me like I was a steak. She seemed to be fighting an internal conflict. One eyebrow went up, and her decision was made.
"Come with me, let's go to the treehouse."
To be continued