New Boy at the Academy
Sam Hawk © 2019
All Rights Reserved
One: Unanswered Prayers
Edgewood, South Carolina
God didn’t answer my prayers and bring the Rapture on Labor Day, so I had to start tenth grade after all. I stepped in front of the mirror to assess my new back-to-school outfit. I hated it. I’d begged Momma to buy me the alligator shirt from Belk’s, which really cost her a lot, but did it have to hug my body so much? I tried stretching it out, but it would only stretch so far. I thought I’d look like Tom Selleck with his big veiny arms. Instead, I looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy. I was trying to flex my chest when Momma walked in.
“Honey, get a move on. We have to be out the door in fifteen minutes, and you haven’t even touched your Pop-Tarts.”
“Momma, I think I need to change clothes.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked as she pulled and tugged on my shirt. “This is what you wanted. You look very handsome.”
“But it fits so close.”
“Timmy, I have told you time and again you’re not fat. It’s all in your head. You are absolutely average on the height and weight scale and exactly where you need to be at fifteen.” She patted my tummy, causing me to suck in. “You’ll lose that little bit of pudge in no time in gym class.”
My heart sank at the thought of gym class, and I almost lost my appetite for Pop-Tarts. Almost. Momma smoothed down my cowlick at the kitchen table as I bit into the brown sugar cinnamon pastry.
“Thank goodness you inherited the Ashburn hair,” she said. “Such a beautiful chestnut brown and such a noble hairline. It’s a sign of your aristocratic heritage, you know, on my side of the family. All the Ashburn men had beautiful hairlines. Thank goodness you take after me and don’t have your daddy’s stringy mess.”
I guessed my hairline was okay, but my new haircut was way too short. Daddy had taken me to get it cut only after Momma called him ten times to remind him. He and Momma got divorced when I was two, and it was always weird when he came by, which wasn’t often. Naturally, he took me to the awful old barbershop next to the pool hall instead of the new unisex salon in the Augusta Mall I was secretly hoping for. He told the barber to “buzz it” and then went next door for a beer. I managed to talk the barber into keeping a little length, but not much.
“Now go brush your teeth quick as a bunny rabbit,” said Momma. “Carleen’s mother called this morning and said her car’s not running and could I run by and pick her up for school. So, we have no time.”
Carleen’s house was across the tracks, and I knew Momma didn’t like going over there, but Carleen had been my best friend since kindergarten. Actually, you could say she was my only friend. She was the only one I talked to for hours on the phone at night; the only one I hung out with after school; the only one to ever invite me to a sleepover, which Momma had never allowed me to do since boy-girl sleepovers just weren’t done. I hadn’t seen her all summer because she’d been working at her grandparents’ peach farm. I was glad we’d be going to school together on the first day. I needed my friend with me.
We pulled in front of the house, and Carleen came right out.
“Good Lord, Carleen’s put on even more weight this summer,” said Momma.
Momma was right. Carleen had always been the biggest girl in class, and she wasn’t getting any smaller. I recognized her smock top from last year. A smock top was supposed to fit loose, but hers pulled in all the wrong places.
“Hey, Carleen,” said Momma as Carleen got in the car. “You sure do look pretty for your first day of school.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Thompson,” said Carleen. I waited for an eye roll, but she just smiled at Momma like she really believed it. I looked at her more closely, and there was something different about her. Was it confidence? If so, it was new. Was that lip gloss she was wearing?
“Hey, Timmy, did you hear we’re getting a new boy in our class this year?”
“No,” I said, dreading the addition of another redneck bubba to the roster.
“They say he’s from California and he’s real cute.”
“Really? California?” said Momma. “What’s he doing here?”
“I think his momma’s people are here. He’s related to all those Herlongs.”
“Does that explain the lip gloss?”
“Timmy, don’t be rude,” said Momma.
“I just wanted to look pretty for the first day of school,” replied Carleen.
“And you do,” said Momma.
When Momma pulled up in front of Patriot Christian, Carleen looked me square in the eye and gave me a big smile and a thumbs-up.
“Come on, Timmy. We’re gonna rule the school in tenth grade. Let’s do it.”
As soon as she drove off, Carleen pulled me behind the crepe myrtles.
“I gotta tell you what happened to me this summer. You’re the only one I’m telling, so you gotta swear to keep it secret.”
“You know I don’t swear, but I won’t tell. What is it?”
“Brace yourself. Are you braced? This is big. Real big.”
I put my hand on the tree trunk. “I’m braced. Carleen, what on earth happened?”
“I lost it. With a guy. We did the nasty.”
“The nasty what?”
“The nasty. You know.” She made a thrusting motion with her hips.
“You went dancing?”
“Jesus, Timmy, you are so dense. We bumped boots. Played hide the sausage. Made the beast with two backs. Ya get it?”
I shook my head in confusion. The bell was ringing, so we needed to go. “You shouldn’t use the Lord’s name in vain, and no, I don’t get it. Just say it in plain English.”
“I got screwed; now do you understand? S-E-X. His name is Juan.”
Thank goodness I was braced because I almost fell over. Was that why she was suddenly so confident? Did that explain the lip gloss? Who was Juan? I didn’t know any Juan.
“Carleen,” I whispered. “Do you mean intercourse? We’re too young for that stuff.”
“We didn’t have intercourse. I had intercourse, and it was great.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Just then, Mrs. Morgan came striding down the walk toward us.
“Children— Why aren’t you in assembly? It starts in thirty seconds. March!”