I didn't expect to get much sleep that night with all the stuff that was going through my head. Why did I feel so strange around Cole? What did it mean? Was I gay? Surprisingly, I managed to fall asleep rather quickly. I had little rest however. I had one of those dreams that leaves you feeling more unsettled than you were before you went to sleep.
No, it wasn't a kinky sex dream. I have already mentioned that I have those too, but I didn't that night. I dreamed about my mother. I was looking for her in the house and I couldn't find her anywhere, and I started panicking like a little kid. She was supposed to be there, but she wasn't. In the dream I opened the front door to look for her and discovered a black wreath on the door. I awoke calling out for her and just as she had when I was little, Mom came running into my room to tell me that everything would be all right.
"Do you want to talk about the dream, son?" she asked gently. "It helps sometimes."
"I felt like a little kid," I told her. "I couldn't find you anywhere in the house. I looked everywhere. When I opened the front door to see if you were in the front yard, I found a mourning wreath on the door."
"Don't you worry, my little cotton top," she soothed. "I have no intentions of dying off just yet. There's too much of your life left for me to interfere in to leave just yet," she added with a smile. "I have to embarrass you in front of your dates by bringing out the baby album, and I get to watch for their reactions to the bathtub pictures and the butt shots on the carpet…."
"Well, you just made up my mind," I cut her off. "I am never dating." We both laughed and she ruffled my hair.
It suddenly struck me that she had stopped talking to me about her future grandchildren. She had picked on me for years saying that for every time I got into trouble, I would be revisited by the memory three times over by my children. I know; it was corny, and it never really persuaded me to behave either. I still wondered why she had stopped saying over the last couple of months. I would catch her doing weird things too, like staring at me when I went to the public pool with her, or even out to the mall. I would be minding my own business and looking around when I would catch her staring at me. She would always smile in a funny way like she was amused but sad at the same time.
"Goodnight, Ralph dear," she whispered as she turned to leave the room. "Try to get back to sleep now. You have school in the morning."
The next day went a little easier than the first. The teachers got into the subjects and off the students more or less. The routine was set for the rest of the year. There were high points of course. I got a speaking part in the theatre production that year.
It was a play about a little girl who gets separated from her parents somehow while going through the mountains. She grows up on the farm of her adopted family never realizing that she was an heiress, until her true family's lawyer comes along and finds her. I played the part of the mountain family's hired hand.
My character was the comedy relief of the play. The character I portrayed was in love with the hired girl at the next farm over. The problem was that her daughter had married my father. I had a big scene near the middle of the play where I was alone on stage as I tried to reason my way back out of the wedding. My funniest line in the whole play was where I described the family relationships and said that it all had to be against the law in some way.
As usual, my parents were sitting right at the front of the auditorium. They called themselves my cheering section. I was more excited that Cole came to see the play one performance than I was over my folks being there for every one. I told myself that was because he was my best friend and didn't stand up cheering like I was a rock star every time I came on stage.
I was given an award at the honors ceremony at the end of the school year for Best Supporting Actor. I blushed a little when I was called forward to accept it, but when I realized that this time Cole was standing up and whistling and shouting for me, I turned even redder.
School finally let out for the summer and for the first time in my life, I was a little disappointed. I had actually made a few acquaintances, friend would be too strong a word for them, but they were people I would miss seeing everyday. The one I would miss the most of course was Cole. I didn't need to worry about that, though. Our parents had by this time become great friends. Cole and I picked on them about it being due to their redneck heritage. They seemed to think we had complimented them. Parents can be so slow sometimes.
Cole had the brilliant idea that we could make some extra spending money over the summer by mowing our neighbors' lawns. I thought he was crazy at first. Halfway through the first yard, I knew he was. I was hot and miserable and it was just ten o' clock in the morning.
I looked over to tell Cole something, and saw that he had taken his shirt off. I could see beads of sweat all over his exposed chest and his black hair was plastered to his forehead. I suddenly noticed that I was getting hard around him again.
Boy was I glad to be wearing baggy short pants, and an oversized shirt. I didn't understand what was happening to me. I was supposed to have that reaction to girls, not boys. I guess I must have zoned out because the next thing I know, Cole is standing next to me with an expectant look on his face.
"What?" I asked hesitantly. He looked a little annoyed for a moment, but then started grinning.
"I asked if you were ready to take a break," he answered. "I guess your brain must already be on one though."
"I was just…. Ummm…."
"It doesn't matter," he told me quickly. "Let's just grab a quick drink and then get back to work." As he walked away, he added, "I have a date tonight, so I want to get this done quickly."
"Who do you have a date with?" I asked, hopefully a little less suspiciously than I suddenly felt.
"Sharon somebody," he answered. "My parents arranged it. Her folks are friends of my folks, and we are all going out tonight."
"Oh, I thought you meant that you had a date date," I said, wondering why I suddenly felt so relieved.
"Well, I get the impression that they hope this will work out long term," he shrugged. "We'll see."
"Cole's got a girlfriend, Cole's got a girlfriend," I sang out while he glared at me.
"I haven't even met the girl yet," he protested. "Don't marry us off just yet."
"Marriage….YUCK!!" I blurted. "I plan to be a bachelor my whole life. I don't need some girl to spend all my money."
"Yeah, well I want to have sex some day before I die," Cole responded. "I guess it's a trade off, money for sex."
"I'm such a stud, they will be paying me for sex," I announced. We both cracked up after that comment, and then got back to work. I couldn't help thinking about what had just happened, though.
I had practically panicked when Cole told me that he had a date. Why should it bother me that my best friend has a date? It was as if I were jealous or something. I couldn't be, though. He's a guy. I'm a guy. I can't be feeling the way I am. Suddenly the answer came to me.
"I need a date," I said, realizing too late that I was speaking aloud.
"Ask Sara Jenkins, she thinks you're the hottest guy on the planet," Cole called out to me.
"What?" I asked.
"Sara Jenkins has been following your every move like a little puppy since the first week of school," Cole explained. "I thought you would have noticed by now."
"Sara Jenkins?" I questioned. "She's one of the most popular girls in the whole school."
"Sure is," Cole agreed. "If you start dating her, you're set socially. You'll be going to all the parties."
"I don't have time to party," I announced. "I have to keep studying."
"What are you talking about?" Cole cornered me. "You make straight A's in everything except Math and Science and you can do it without ever even opening the books. The two weakest classes you have are solid C courses."
"Well, C's aren't good enough to get a good college to give me a scholarship," I told him.
"Man, first of all, its summer," Cole pointed out. "Second, college is still three years away."
"You know as well as I do that we have to work for college now if we want the really good ones to notice us," I reminded him. "I want to be a writer and teach English," I added. "That means that I am always studying. Writers study human nature when they aren't researching their stories."
"Are you going to write about me someday?" Cole asked me. "Something brave and heroic where I save the world from certain destruction?"
"How about something more like this?" I asked. "Cole Miller, lawn boy to the geriatric, stood in Old Lady Hoffman's yard. The heat of the day had finally gotten to him and scrambled the poor boy's brain."
"You dork," he laughed. "Don't forget us little people, when you're a rich and famous Hollywood screen writer."
"What makes you think that's what I want to do?" I asked him. "I told you I want to teach English."
"Well, can't you do both?" he queried. I thought about it for a minute.
"Why not?" I grinned. "I will write a seething tell all biography that will be made into a movie. Who should I get to play me?"
"Casper the Ghost would be my first choice, blondie," Cole teased. "Now can we finish up here?" He laughed as I fumed playfully.
We finished the lawn in plenty of time for him to go home and get ready for his date. I sat at home knowing I should call Sara Jenkins, but thinking of Cole. I finally did call and she and I did go out. In fact, we went out for several weeks. She was pretty cool the first couple of dates. The longer we were together, however, the more pressure I was under. She wanted a regular romantic relationship. She wanted to kiss all the time, which I was able to handle. It was rather disappointing to me, though. I didn't feel a thing for her when we kissed. I tried to be as pleasing to her as possible, but I just couldn't make my own feelings stir.
It got to a point where I was making up things my parents had said as excuses for not going out with her. Of course that meant that I was stuck in my house for hours on end with no company but my parents. I reasoned at the beginning that it was a small price to pay when compared to the discomfort I endured when I was with Sarah. My mother seemed to like the fact that I was around more, but my father was curious.
"Son, why aren't you outside on a beautiful day like this?" he asked one day. "Take that pretty girl of yours down to the city pool and show her off."
"Sarah has her own pool, so she won't go to the city one," I replied honestly.
"Your girlfriend has a pool and you're here in your room?" he continued, rather surprised.
"Her little sister is having some kind of party over there," I lied. I hated doing it, but I couldn't tell him the truth. He was so proud of me dating the prettiest girl in town. I couldn't make myself tell him that I was miserable when I was with her. I definitely wouldn't say that I couldn't stop thinking about my best friend and what he was doing every minute of the day. Dad would never understand.
"Well, in that case, why don't you come to the den and keep your mother and I company?" he prodded. "We could break out the old Monopoly board."
That had been my main source of entertainment growing up since we had moved too often for me to develop friendships. It wasn't quite as bad as it sounds, though. My parents loved playing board games. Monopoly was always one of the favorites. I would bankrupt out of the game fairly early when I was younger, but I would stay there beside the table to watch them play. My parents always managed somehow to turn the game into a rematch of the Civil War. North vs. South became an aggressive and brutal trial of endurance for the two of them and a source of never ending laughs for me.
"What do you mean you own that railroad? I didn't see you buy it."
"Are you accusing me of something?"
"You know I would never do that, but I am saying I didn't see you buy it. It's just like a Yankee to go snatching up all the railroads."
"Oh so now I'm a Yankee again?"
"Oh, honey you never stopped being one, but it's not like your fault. You didn't ask to be born in the wrong place."
"I liked my hometown."
"Dad, if you liked your hometown, how come we've never been there?" I had to ask.
"Well, you haven't been there," Dad corrected. "Your mother has been there."
"Those snobs laughed at me," Mother said icily. It was very rare indeed for my mother to show a negative emotion. She was always upbeat. She had to have been a cheerleader when she was in school.
"They thought your accent was adorable, just as I do," Dad tried to explain.
"I told them, and I'll tell you," Mother stated firmly. "I do not have an accent. Y'all have the accent. I talk like normal folks."
"I think you both have accents," I pointed out. I got death glares from both parents. "Well, you do," I defended myself weakly.
"You've been corrupted, my child," Mother told me. "The shame of marrying a Yankee has forced me to raise you away from your heritage. You poor deprived child." My father rolled his eyes as I giggled. Mother sat there fanning herself with her stack of Monopoly money, giving her best Scarlett O'Hara impersonation. "Fiddle-dee-dee."
"Well, I'm getting tired folks," I told them. I couldn't resist a little hamming for my mother. "Tomorrow is another day!" I declared with all of the melodrama I could muster.
"Now you're talking like people!" Mother exclaimed happily.
"What's that supposed to mean? I'm not people?" Dad asked her. "So, pray tell, Miss Scarlett, just what am I?"
"You sir, are a Yankee carpet-bagging love god," she said softly.
"Oh really?" Dad responded with that weird husky sound to his voice.
"Hello! Child present!" I called out just as I had when I was younger and they would get "mushy" in front of me. "This is me going to bed with nightmares now, thank you very much."
"Oh come now, Ralph," my mother fussed sweetly. "You know perfectly well that at your age, any dream about sex is a good dream."
"MOTHER!!!" I gasped as I felt my face begin to burn. I turned and hurried from the room as my loving (yeah, right) parents laughed at me. I waited until I was in my room before I admitted that she was right. Sex was sex as far as a dream went, so it was all good. Of course it was better if the dream was about Cole.
WHOA! Did I just say that? I didn't mean it. No, I couldn't have. It was just a slip of the tongue. Ok why did that phrase just give me a mental image of Cole licking his lips in the cafeteria? What is wrong with me? I can't think this way. I just can't.