I think I have the title, but I’m going to wait until I’m 50,000 words in before revealing it. Still needs editing, of course, but here’s how it starts:
There were eleven residences on half-acre lots lining Doheny Drive, a dead-end street with a large cul-de-sac. Eucalyptus trees towered above many of the rambling single-story homes, and the waving of feathery fronds atop myriad palm trees evoked a sense of the laid-back lifestyle California was renowned for. Majestic oaks and sweet-smelling pine trees with four-inch needles added dimension and identity to the neighborhood. Flowering lantanas, birds of paradise, bougainvillea, and rose gardens presented colors and distinct fragrances that mixed with their indigenous counterparts from the surrounding hills, soothing the senses in special ways. The adults realized they were blessed to live in a uniquely picturesque part of the country, but most youngsters lived obliviously and focused on more important matters.
At twelve years old, Peter Birch could pee further from a standing position than any boy in the neighborhood, regardless of age. He told his friends he was blessed with quick-twitch stomach and johnson muscles that were stronger than every guy living on Doheny Drive. He also claimed that he had perfected the unbeatable technique, which included pinching the end of his unit with a thumb and finger, pulling his hips far back before thrusting them forward aggressively, and then letting it all go at just the right moment and precisely at 60°. No one could argue with him because he was undefeated. The high schoolers that he’d regularly beaten nicknamed him Pistol Pete.
But was the champion really sharing all his secrets of success?
“I’m doing everything you said to do, Peter. It just doesn’t work, and there’s no way your pee muscles are stronger than mine,” said Andy Crenshaw. “I can throw an orange further, beat you in every Ice Cream Social race, and kick your butt at any other competition. None of your muscles are stronger than mine, so you must be holding something back.”
“Geez, don’t get mad at me. It’s always like this after I beat you. You insist I’m not telling you every step, but I am!” argued Peter. “You need to chill, man. You sound like you’re super pissed off.”
“Pissed off!” laughed Tommy Kawasaki. “Andy’s pissed because Pistol Pete dwizzed further than him once again! That’s funny as hell.”
“Shut your pie hole, Tommy,” said Andy. “It’s true. Anything Peter can do, I can do better. Everyone knows that. You know that.”
Tommy laughed so hard it was hard to breathe. He struggled to release what he knew would be an inciting volley. “Sorry, but I don’t know that! Peter can pee eleven feet, four inches! You barely reached seven feet. Not even close!”
“Moron!” said Andy. “If you don’t stop laughing, Tommy, I’ll drench you in my special urine cocktail!”
Tommy laughed even harder while grabbing his stomach, which spasmed tightly and was in pain. He rolled onto the ground, barely able to speak, caking himself in dirt and on the verge of wetting his Levi’s. “No problem, I’ll just make sure I’m seven feet one inch away!”
And that was the final word. Andy furrowed his brows and wrinkled his forehead, glaring intensely at Tommy, his face flushed, but he couldn’t sustain the scowl. His expression morphed from anger to disapproval before, finally, amusement and reflection of their special camaraderie. Then he howled like the others while buckling over. “I can’t believe we just argued over who could pee furthest!”
“You can’t? It happens every few months,” said Peter. “It’s the only thing I can beat you at, Andy. You’re the best athlete on the street by far. Maybe the best in Orange County. My dad says he’s never seen a twelve-year-old jock as good as you.” After pulling out a stick of Wrigley’s Spearmint using his teeth, he added, “I’d much rather be able to throw a baseball a million miles an hour than pee a solid stream eleven feet.”
“And four inches,” Tommy added gleefully, a comment triggering another bout of pain-inducing laughter. After things settled, he asked Peter, “Can I have a stick of your gum?”
“Me too?” said Andy. “Hey, I wasn’t really going to drench you with my special urine cocktail. I don’t know why I said that, but it is a stellar threat.”
“I’ll never forget it,” replied Peter as he extended his Wrigley’s. “Andy, the funniest part is you’re so competitive you can’t handle the fact that I can pee further than you. Dude, you don’t like to lose at anything, and you hardly ever do. Just let me be Pistol Pete the pissing king for a while because I know you’ll eventually figure out how to beat me at this, too.” A large grasshopper helicoptered around them, landing in the short weeds a few feet away. Peter shot spearmint-flavored saliva at him, missing a target who promptly flew away.
They agreed it was time to relieve themselves yet again, so they stood facing a six-foot-tall fence and drained their A&W root beer and lemonade onto redwood panels. Tommy said, “Hey, the stains on the fence remind me of the cover of the Who’s Next album.” Andy agreed, then placed an arm over Peter and Tommy’s shoulders and said, “Cheers, young American blokes, my name is Roger Daltrey, and I piss on English countryside monuments with my bandmates.” They chuckled and stepped from the corner of Andy’s backyard. After hearing the high-pitched squealing of school bus brakes, they raced to the sideyard that provided a camouflaged view of the bus and the incredible creature sitting aboard it. Their hearts raced in ways they thought might only be appropriate for adults.
Due to band practice, the special passenger took the later bus home this time of year. As she stepped off the big yellow and black vehicle that spewed a cloud of putrid exhaust, they watched her shrug her backpack for comfort, and then they considered their good fortune of living on Doheny Drive, the only street in Orange County graced by Laurie Penrose, the prettiest, nicest, and most incredible girl who ever lived. Thick yellow-golden hair that fell to her waist. Green eyes that one had to see to believe. A fellow twelve-year-old who dominated their psyches most days and every night.
“Hi, Peter, Andy, and Tommy. Isn’t this a beautiful day? I counted nineteen large butterflies on the way home. Eleven monarchs and eight Western tiger swallowtails.” She ambled slowly toward her home but kept speaking. “Do you boys like butterflies?”
Andy whispered to his buddies, “I like to feed the small ones to praying mantises. They eat the heads first.” Tommy punched him in the ribs, and Peter flashed the intense stare of an assassin. Andy glared back at them.
“I’m sorry, Andy, I couldn’t hear you.” Laurie stopped and turned to face them, and the strands of her long locks shifted gently amid a slight breeze. Even her elongated shadow was attractive. They remained mesmerized, but someone needed to respond.
Peter spoke haltingly, “I think butterflies are some of the most incredible creatures on earth. I think God put them here to remind us of the beauty surrounding us every day and to be thankful for it. There is nothing more gorgeous than a butterfly,” Peter said before turning to each of his friends and nodding with a big smile, impressed by his impromptu skills at answering a tricky question from the most amazing girl on earth.
In a low monotone voice, Andy muttered, “Gorgeous? Who the heck says gorgeous?”
Tommy then stepped forward purposefully. “Except you, Laurie. You are even more beautiful and prettier and gorgeous than butterflies. And nicer than butterflies, too.” He was suddenly filled with dread; had he actually spoken those words, some of which were incredibly lame and would probably lead to a lifetime of ridicule and isolation? He stuttered loudly, “I mean. I mean. . .”
“Why, Tommy Kawasaki, I don’t think I’ll ever forget you saying something so kind to me. And you too, Peter. Lovely words. I must get home, boys. My dad doesn’t like it when I’m even a little bit late. Have a wonderful rest of your day.”
She turned and walked toward her rambling classic California ranch house in the cul-de-sac. The three best friends tracked every graceful step until she was halfway home.
Andy peered at Tommy. “You can’t be nicer than a butterfly. That was so lame, I think I got dumber just hearing the words. I hope my brain isn’t permanently messed up.”
Peter said, “Andy, no one cares if you do or don’t forget it. Laurie said they were ‘lovely words,’ and that’s the only thing that matters. Wow, Tommy, what the heck gave you the guts to speak so sincerely? It was like a movie. I might be jealous for the rest of my life.”
“I don’t know,” said Tommy, slowly shaking his head in awe. “Something inside told me to just do it. And after I did, I couldn’t believe it. But I really said those things, didn’t I?”
Andy put his arm around Tommy’s shoulders. “Dude, you said Laurie is more beautiful and prettier and gorgeous than a butterfly. And nicer, too. You were like Ryan O’Neal in Love Story. To be honest, I’m super jealous, too.”
Peter spoke, and his gum shot out of his mouth onto the hot asphalt. He picked it up and popped it back in as if nothing had happened. “Andy, you were going to tell Laurie that you like to feed small butterflies to praying mantises who eat their heads first. You are so, so lucky she didn’t hear you. She probably would have cried.”
“Oh, come on, I’m not the only one who feeds butterflies to praying mantises. You guys have done that, right?”
Tommy said, “I didn’t even know praying mantises ate butterflies. I doubt they taste good.”
“Dude, coyotes eat all the small animals in the neighborhood – do you think skunk or roadkill possum meat tastes good? Nature isn’t all about gourmet dining on Big Macs and chocolate shakes. Insects and animals just eat what’s available. So what if I hold butterflies close to hungry praying mantises so they can clutch and eat them? I’m sure you’ve done it, too.”
“Eaten butterflies?” asked Peter.
Andy shook his head vigorously. “No, nimrod. I bet you guys have also fed other bugs to praying mantises. There’s no way I’m the only one doing it–no way.”
“Let’s talk about something else,” said Tommy. “What place are the Angels in?”
They walked down the street in their jeans, T-shirts, and Vans discussing Nolan Ryan’s fastball, tarantula hawk wasps, and what their moms might serve for dinner. But later, their private contemplations returned to the human being they each considered the most incredible person alive: Laurie Penrose.
Cheers from the Sonoran Desert,
#fiction #nostalgia #1970s #70s #friendship #younglove #novel #bibliophile #books #bookstragram