Author note: This story alone was what convinced John Hunt to publish this collection of short stories.
It was the spring when I first met him, after two weeks of unseasonably warm weather that had coaxed leaves from trees and grass from the earth. In my parents’ backyard flowers were curiously poking their heads above the dirt around them, as if unable to quite believe it was safe enough to show their faces. The memory of winter, only two weeks past, and of clouds that grew between the earth and the sun like a stubborn moss, seemed already long past.
The doorbell rang sometime in the early afternoon, and I heard my mother plodding through the kitchen and foyer to answer it. A moment later she called my name. “Peter,” her voice reached through the house, “Come here, honey.” I wiped some dirt off my pants, and came up the steps from our small yard and onto the enclosed porch. Now half-blinded by the sun, I struggled to see through the double sliding glass doors that lead into the house. I heard my mother’s heavy frame coming into the den, adjacent to me. “Don’t even think of coming in here with those shoes on,” she warned, just as her silhouette appeared in the sliding doors. “He has bad eyes,” she explained to someone else, and I squinted into the house.
“No I don’t, mom!” I protested, “It’s just bright out.” I saw a smaller shape step out around her, and lightly hop out onto the porch.
“Peter, this is Troy,” my mother said. “His parents just moved into the Carmichael’s place. He’s going to be starting eighth grade next year – you’ll be in the same class.” She paused significantly. “Troy is going around introducing himself to everyone.”
I looked past Troy at my mother, a bit wide-eyed, I imagine. That sort of extroversion seemed nothing short of extraordinary to me, a nearly incomprehensible display of confidence. Like a small adult, Troy offered his hand, and then squeezed mine painfully when I took it.
“It’s nice to meet you, Peter,” he said crisply. Even though he was around the same age as me, Troy was almost four inches taller. He had symmetrical features that hinted strongly of a budding masculinity, and blonde hair styled back away from his face. His skin was bronze and clear, handsome far beyond the beauty innate in youth, beauty that so often burns off as the heat of puberty consumes it. Troy, it was obvious, would only be complimented by the passage of time. Blue eyes, large and round, sought mine. “Troy Stevens,” he stated with another squeeze. “So you go to Rivers?” he asked, referring to the middle school. He finally let go of my hand.
“I’m starting there in the fall. Got the rest of this year off.” There was a moment of silence. “You like sports?”
“He likes computers,” my mother offered hopefully.
“Mom!” I hissed, “Shouldn’t you be doing something?” Her bulk quivered for a moment at the edge of the porch, and then silently withdrew.
“I like sports,” I lied.
“Awesome,” Troy said, sounding more casual now that my mother wasn’t standing behind him. “I like ‘em lots. Maybe we could play basketball or baseball or something soon – my dad’s putting up a hoop in my driveway.”
“Sure,” I said, “Anytime.” I was terrible at sports, especially at basketball, and almost instantly terrified the idea of demonstrating my inabilities.
“Well,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck, “Gimmie your number. I’m gonna get everybody’s number around here so I can start a league or something.” We went inside and I wrote it down. To my amazement, he pulled a wallet from his back pocket, something I’d never even thought to have, but suddenly knew I could not live without.
After high school Troy went on to Georgetown law, following in his father’s footsteps. I understand that he’s now, at a pretty young age, a managing partner at a law firm in Philadelphia. As he went through high school, his looks, family money, athleticism, and magnetic personality made him popular and well liked. He was on the varsity basketball team – the captain, of course. But back then, on that first day in our development, he seemed just a fairly normal12-year-old boy, if one whose confidence I envied.
Troy had no sooner stepped out our front door before my mother crowded me for information.
“So he seemed very nice,” she pushed.
“He was okay.”
“And very polite, very handsome,” she continued, looking out the window after him. “Do you think the two of you might be friends?” Her hands were held, expectantly, in front of her chest.
“I dunno,” I mumbled, feigning disinterest.
“But Peter…” I turned my back defiantly and went back outside to my army men. As soon as I knelt down, though, I felt childish and stupid. I went back inside.
“Mom,” I called, “Will you take me to buy a basketball?” I thought at moment. “And a wallet?”
Wilmington Delaware, where I grew up, is a bland town with a long corporate history. The downtown, especially in those days, consisted of squat, square buildings that hunched together across a few blocks, their backs turned away from the crumbling row homes that surrounded them. The offices, and the luncheonettes and restaurants that fed them, quickly shuttered themselves after sundown when the workers funneled back out to the suburbs. And what suburbs Wilmington had. They sprawled westward from the city for mile after mile after mile, remarkable only in their relentless uniformity. Tucked into the houses were the college-educated implants from two-bit towns and country farms, men lucky enough to have ridden the post-War boom into a new way of life, living their version of the American dream. My family, like most of my friends and neighbors, had a working dad and a stay-at-home mom, the last generation to be raised this way.