I had always thought that there was nothing better than having a best friend, someone to grow up with, to share everything with, to joke with, to cry with, to be there for; to count on when you needed them. The problem was I had never had one, not even close. Every time I would start making friends at school, or in my neighborhood, my Dad's job would require us to move again. It was a good thing I loved him and he loved me.
My Dad was a civilian employee of the military, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They fix what Mother Nature did wrong. They reroute rivers in some places to create more dry land and build dams in others to create lakes. They will spend thirty thousand dollars extra and cut down 50 pine trees to save one old oak. Being a military kid whose Dad was not actually in the army meant two things to me as I grew up. One, I didn't have to deal with the impossible, drill sergeant strict discipline of most army fathers. This was a good thing. He and I got along very well most of the time. As I stated earlier, the problem was that we moved a lot. In that respect, we were a typical military family. We relocated eighteen times in the first fifteen years of my life. I hated it every single time, but I got used to it. I did get to see a lot of the country. I went to school in six different states. That made me the perpetual new kid in school.
That's how I came to be alone, again, in a new school, again, in a new town, again, on the first day of high school. I looked around the hall for some clue to the location of my first class. I had learned from my Dad that there were certain factors involved in designing a school building. A small school would usually keep the science labs, the restrooms, and the cafeteria close together. That kept the cost of plumbing down by having all of the rooms needing water near each other. A large school did not have that concern, so the labs were usually as far away from the cafeteria as possible. This prevented one nauseating aroma from overpowering the other.
Unfortunately I had two things going against me. First, this was a medium sized school, so it could be laid out either way. Second, I was looking for a math class, not a science class. What I did discover in looking around was that I was not as alone as I had thought. Ten feet away from me was another boy holding a schedule card in his hand and looking rather like a lost puppy. It was almost as if I were looking into a mirror. The only difference was our hair and eye color.
I was born with a full head of hair, so I was told. You certainly couldn't tell it from any of my baby pictures, though. My hair was so fine and blonde, unless the light caught it just right, you couldn't see it. Fifteen years later, it had darkened only enough to be visible. In summer, the sun still bleached it out almost transparent again.
The boy I saw before me was as dark headed, as I was blonde; as black as coal. He had an incredible tan too. He was wearing a sleeveless shirt with extra large openings for the arms. I could see only the first traces of growth under his arms. When he shifted, I caught sight of the soft brown nipple gracing his already impressive chest. He glanced around and I got a good view of his eyes. They were absolutely beautiful. There was no other word to describe them. They were a deep hazel green with gold flecks that sparkled as the light played off them. He had the longest, blackest eyelashes I had ever seen. That's when it hit me. I had never paid any attention to a guy's tan or his eyes before. I'd never really noticed anyone in that way. I had certainly never paid any attention to anyone's nipples before, unless maybe it was my mother's when she fed me as a baby. EEWWW!!! That was a mental image I didn't need now.
"Wow." The word startled me out of my self-contemplation. I blinked as I realized that the boy I had been staring at was now staring at me. He had walked up to me and spoken as well.
"What?" I asked. My intelligence astounded me. I had never felt nervous like this around anyone before.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to stare," the boy said quickly. "I've just never seen a guy with such blonde hair before." He blushed a little as he paused and then added, "I guess you hear that a lot, huh?"
"Well, yeah, but it's ok," I replied. It was my standard response.
"I figured as much. You rolled your eyes kind of like my Pop does when Mom wants to buy a new dress," he said with a little hint of a smile.
"I'm sorry," I said quickly. "It's just that I really get picked on about it a lot."
"You probably do hear a lot of blonde jokes," he admitted with a laugh.
"I know them all by heart," I confirmed. "I even know one about a blonde guy."
"I don't think I've ever heard one of those," he confessed. "I have to get to class, though."
"Where are you headed?" I asked. I don't know why, but for some reason I didn't want this boy to leave yet.
"Algebra, wherever that is," he sighed in frustration.
"Me too," I told him. "Who wants to do Math first thing in the morning? YUCK!"
"I don't mind," he stated. "It's my best subject. By the way, I'm Cole Miller."
"Cool name," I responded.
"Are you kidding? Do you know how many times a day I hear the words "cole slaw?" he moaned.
"It beats mine," I answered him. "I answer to Cotton, but that's a nickname. My real name is Ralph Lauder."
"Ouch! Geeze man, what were your folks on?" he sympathized. "You're right. My name's not that bad." He laughed again. I really liked the sound. We started down the hall following a girl with an armload of Algebra books. We offered to carry the books if she showed us the way to the room. Needless to say, it worked. Girls can be talked into anything if they think you are giving them the best end of the deal. "So let's hear that joke," Cole said as we walked down the hall carrying the books.
"Blonde guy is pacing back and forth in the hospital waiting room," I began. "The nurse walks in and says 'Congratulations, sir. Your wife just delivered twins.' The guy flies into a rage. He knocks the nurse out of the way and tears into the delivery room. He grabs his wife by the shoulders and shakes her. He screams at her, 'Alright, who's the father of the other one?'"
"That's dumb," Cole said, shaking his head. The girl laughed hysterically. Girls laugh at just about everything.
The teacher turned out to be the type I like best. She asked if we had a nickname we preferred over our given names. My hand was the first one raised. I wasn't that fond of the nickname my Dad had given me, but it was better than Ralph. I told the instructor my nickname and Cole leaned over from the seat beside me.
"Would that be short for Cotton-top?" he whispered. I rolled my eyes again.
Halfway through class, Cole started snickering. He tried to control it, but couldn't. Within minutes the snickers had graduated to giggles. At that point the teacher could no longer ignore him. She walked back to his desk and stood facing him.
"Would you be so kind as to inform me whether it is the subject, or my teaching that you find so amusing?" Mrs. Baker asked.
"It was a joke, ma'am," Cole answered.
"Might I ask with whom you shared this joke," Mrs. Baker prodded. This did not bode well. I certainly didn't want my first class on my first day to include my first trip to the principal's office.
"Cotton told me," Cole answered, and then dissolved into giggles again. He would pay for this. His torture would be slow and painful.
"Cotton, would you please go to the front of the room and entertain us all with your humor?" It was worded as a question, but there were no choices. I went. "Class, you will respond appropriately. If the anecdote is as funny as Cole seems to think it is, then you are free to laugh. Should it bomb, we let him have it," the teacher said with a grin. I knew then that I wasn't in as much trouble as I had thought.
I repeated the story with a little more embellishment this time since my hands were free to use for emphasis. The only two people who did not find the joke funny were both blonde girls. Cole and Mrs. Baker laughed loudest and longest. She returned to her desk as I did to mine.
"I compliment you on your wit, Cotton. I will be sure and tell that one to my husband. His hair is almost as light as yours," Mrs. Baker told me. "I do ask that in the future you save your routine for the hallways before or after class."
"That's when he told me," Cole asserted.
Mrs. Baker looked at me, and I assured her that I had not been talking in class. The book girl confirmed my story. Mrs. Baker looked back at Cole and shook her head.
"You heard the joke before class and you just got it?" she asked. "I thought he was the blonde." The entire class laughed this time. The rest of the lesson was uninterrupted, but Mrs. Baker stopped me on the way out of the room. "Perhaps you should wait until after school to tell him any other jokes. Not all the teachers here have my sense of humor."
"Yes, ma'am," I replied. I knew I should have been angry with Cole. I wanted to be furious. I felt I had good reason not to like him, but I found that I couldn't. He was very apologetic after class. We compared schedules and found that we had four classes together. We would meet again just before lunch for English class. Cole insisted that we go to lunch together so that he could make up for embarrassing me.