The Mandrakes: Volume II One Clear Day

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One Clear Day

April, 2000

“Go, big Cal! Make us proud!” The pretty cheerleader’s pom-poms bounced in rhythm to the marching band’s drum cadence. Other cheerleaders picked up the chorus and in seconds, the surrounding send-off crowd picked up the chant. If Cal could have, he would’ve blushed. Deeply. Liking attention as much as any eighteen-year-old boy, especially adoration, the good-looking youth nevertheless had deeper emotions than desire for being singled out in the current scenario.

The senior class valedictorian, student body president, All-State wide receiver, cleanup-hitting center-fielder and self-deprecating class clown stayed in line behind the wrestling team captain, Josh Reynolds, his good friend Melvin Watson, and younger brother Doy. Only one of the close group of wrestling team partners. In the middle of the pack.

No acknowledgment of the elevated regard rendered by the shout-out over his teammates escaped Cal. Rather, he was ill at ease by the chant. Teammates and coaches couldn’t miss the chant, but also noticed the non-response. And the modesty. They were accustomed to his innate humility.

The whole wrestling team had qualified for regionals two weeks before, after all, and he was but one member. The six-foot-three growing teenager was ever mindful of his friends’ and teammates’ sensibilities, disdaining personal illumination. Not that he lacked pride in himself, simply that there was plenty of attention to share. He was anything but a limelight hog.

Yes, had his dark complexion allowed for it, the blush would’ve been noticeable. As it was, a faint head-down toothless smile provided the sole acknowledgment of Jenny’s declaration. That and rib punches delivered on the bus registering good-natured envy at attention from the class beauty. Almost any boy in school would be bowled over by the compliment. Calumet was not one of them. More, he remained the single unattached team member. He wasn’t let to forget that fact, either.

On the bus, the boys absorbed new-found popularity afforded a typically lackluster sport by advancement to state wrestling competition. Coach Costner bounded up entry steps after a few moments delay by a brief address to the throng. Scanning now-seated occupants, the mentor let them all know in clearly certain terms where they stood.

“Ain’t a single thing been accomplished yet, men. Keep your eyes on the prize. You are all aware of what we talked about first week of school last fall. The state finals. As a team. No one carries us alone. All-for-one and one-for-all! Hup, hup! Let’s focus on what’s important. Drag your eyes back into all of those swollen heads--- the upstairs ones--- and think. OK?” The lifelong teacher was strictly authoritarian. And highly respected.

He was consummate coach and mentor to the team, having ushered them into the sport years before, grooming each one along the way. Community followed the man’s career and family like a celebrity. Accolades were but fluff to him. He intended to mold these young men until they were graduated and away from his guidance. Like teams preceding this one. And those to follow.

Cal contemplated the coming meet on the way into Rome Civic Auditorium where regional finals were to be staged. Others failed to draw him out. They were used to his trances. When he was open to it, the boy was ultra-gregarious. But when like this, all knew to let him have space.

Through the bus ride, unpacking and locker room change into red and gold jump suits, Cal Al introspected. He had a method before meets and this was it. Focus was the aim. Today, though, there existed an added reason for the zoned effect. His competition. Namely, Billy Westfall. It struck a chord in Cal’s mind. For several reasons. Not least was the fact that the blond Atlanta-area senior was the last opponent to take Cal down. Though a technical take down, a take down, nonetheless. Three months before. A split decision, it was a losing one. Leaving him lacking. The challenge to rectify that loss was overpowering this day, yet Cal felt other, more private reasons just as strongly.

He found himself strangely drawn to the boy. Golden boy. The blonde bombshell in no way mirrored Cal and his approach to sports or life: loving and basking in every bit of attention he could point toward himself. Billy Westfall had nurtured a name in the metropolitan area and meant to harvest rave reviews any way possible. Multiple girls revolved through his world, even college co-eds. An entourage tagged him as lead dog in every venue the young sports star chose. He played to the hilt all manner of attention-grabbing ploys and knew full well the effect reckoned by the mantra.

The string of successes in every sport undertaken had made the high schooler a prime target for multiple college programs bent on recruiting the cream of the crop for collegiate stardom. Billy was anything but half-and-half. One had only to ask him, if there were any doubt. The senior wasn’t shy.

So, he was on Cal’s mind. There were other things nagging in the background, too, like his erstwhile twin, Coy Al, who had ditched the team months before. He approached life differently than Cal. As well, upcoming SAT’s for college entrance placement had him concerned. Not to mention final exams and the niggling question of a prom date. But those things were all secondary now.

A bop to the short-cropped head brought him to reality. “Met-Man, you gonna pout the whole damn day, now?” Mel grinned as he alternately poked and pushed on his close buddy, ready to interact before the meet. Melvin styled himself a lady’s man and wanted to drag his virgin buddy along on the trail he traveled, sampling wares of a growing stable of options he found looking back at most every turn. As tall as Calumet, five pounds heftier and sporting a retro ’fro, the buff schoolboy knew his own strengths and pushed limits exploring them. He was commonly frustrated by an introverted personality intermittent to his best friend.

“Nah, Mel, just zonin’ the warm-up. I plan to burn some bridges today, what’s up? You ready for what’s comin’ down at us?” Cal was quietly laying out the approach he was tracking and not easily distracted, even by Melvin’s ebullience. Mel took a friendly hint, brushing his friend off and turning to seek other stimuli. He knew better than to try prying Cal loose when he sensed the mood now evident. Cal went back inward.

The meet began with weigh-in and med checks followed by bracket settings. Due to the fact the regional meet included no female entrants and no female meet officials this year, coaches agreed on an easier uniform-less set-up phase, relegated to privacy of the communal locker room. Entrants catcalled and teased incessantly throughout this naked prelude, what with high school mentalities involved. Then each member tacked his strategy and huddled with coach or trainers for last minute advice. Pep talks were over.

Matches proceeded throughout morning. By merit of a strong showing from the Floyd County school, culminating matches came down to half a dozen which pitted Cal against several foes he had met before. Running his bracket, like the entire team, it came down to Central High against Floyd County High in the finals. Cal wondered if he would meet Billy Westfall in the final singles match.

Plenty of extracurricular crowd interaction by the flamboyant team had most definitely enlivened the meet. Billy brought his typical hangers-on, a mish-mash of mixed sexes, genders and lifestyles, all intent on being close to the star factor Billy radiated. Catching up to Cal and Mel at one point, Billy razzed the two on their lonesome selves, sans acolytes.

“Dudes, ya’ll done been blackballed, or what? No bitches followin’ ya’ll, huh? No homies’ keepin’ you relevant? Wassup with that, boys? You thinkin’ we done knuckled down outta fear up against ya’lls’ podunk school, or you just got a heavy thumb a’pressin’ on ya, yo?” He head-flicked toward Coach Costner, knowing full well the strictness Floyd coaching demanded. They were, indeed, ‘under the thumb’. Like all matches.

Billy’s coach, Whitaker Daniels, was a free-spirit himself, allowing latitude to his team, and especially Billy Westfall, in recognizance of market play it gave him with media. Billy had it good. Or so Mel thought, jealously taking exception to freedoms boasted across the arena.

“Damn that dude. He be gettin’ on my last nerve with all that trash, Met Man. Ain’t no sense in not wipin’ his pale ass out ’da door when we gets to do it, now… what you say?” The rivalry was good, even with talk going on, and the two knew it. But as luck would have it, Simon Graeber ended up matching with Billy in the final, by rote of unusually allocated team points rather than wins, pins or take downs. Technical falls determined matchups this day.

In the end, despite a sizeable team lead Floyd took to the final match, Billy managed to pin Graeber, in shut-out style, resulting in narrow victory. For Central High.

Downcast, the team still knew State Invitational was just that: invitational. Due to point accumulation, Floyd County CHS’s passage on to the state meet was automatic, pushing Floyd vs Central into contention yet one more time. A boisterous crowd accompanied the team home in jubilance even though they were runners-up instead of regional champions. After all, Coach Costner stressed, the team would see another day by their chance at State Meet, in Atlanta, two weeks ahead. They took heart in that fact and would buckle down for the readying interim.

“Ewwwww…” Cal Al winked open one squinty eye to envision Billy Westfall’s flaxen dutchboy haircut framing the exclaiming visage in throes of rapture. The ‘O’ shape of the blond hunk’s lips evinced the expression in coordination with his aroused state, presently bobbing up and down on Cal’s smeared stomach--- the blonde’s stuff still roping copiously from the one-eyed prong jutting from sexy paleness. Cal’s wrestling nemesis grinned down at him from saddle position, astride Cal’s straining pelvis.

Cal lay still, feeling pulse after pulse gush the boy’s innards to exclamatory welcome. “Ewwwww…” He was loving this, Cal exulted to himself. If this was losing, it wasn’t so bad after all, he supposed, on this early Saturday morning after the team’s second place bridesmaid finish. Matching hues with towhead blondeness upstairs, bouncing around an animated face, a curly encircling patch downstairs seemed to bridle the buoyant thing draining onto the flat hairlessness of Cal’s ebony stomach. He reveled in that color contrast. Coffee and cream.

Disappointingly, the angelic face faded into a blur when Cal’s second eye peaked through the murk, giving dimension. Even so, Cal’s pulsing continued and as the blurring pale face phased into a ceiling fan, Cal’s consciousness joined with his pipedream.

The sound blended its multisyllabic elongation with rising ebony features of his twin. “Ewwwww…,” and the two fixed their stare on one another. Coy grinned lewdly, licking his lips as he stared into Cal’s eyes, then rotated downward to his brother’s midsection. Following Coy’s ocular move, he found the presence of yet another brother.

Doy Al’s sleeping face lay in repose on Cal’s stomach. His face slathered in a flight-of-fancy’s beaming ten-inch arch of satisfaction. Satisfaction for the subconscious success at nocturnal transmissions. Cal delighted in the release even as he hearkened on reality. Truth be damned. Spasming teemed.

Coy’s grinning visage passed from Cal’s face to Doy’s. He reached a tentative finger down to the third brother’s slimed cheek. Tipping one pearly glob dripping slowly downward, he deliberately raised it back to his nose, inhaling the smell of it. All the while drawing Cal’s eyes like a hypnotized moth to light. Cracking his own matching ear-to-ear grin, Cal jostled his pelvis, rousing the sleeping Doy.

Over a slow-motion few-second time lapse, the twins spied together as Doy’s eyes fluttered open, causing a sticky string to spread with the wavering lids. Mindfulness gripped the younger boy only incrementally, in typical teenage emergence from deep REM sleep stage. Doy engaged. Fuzzily. Then puzzlingly. His own fingers came up to test the foreign gel. His tongue tentatively licked smudged lips, smacking lightly.

Mirthful waves of laughing fits consumed Cal and Coy. They whooped at the crass male-centric joke, studying younger bro’s recognition of the situation.

In a fit of repugnance, Doy Al darted upward from his big brother’s brownness, ricocheting the biggie among the six Broadhearst boys by the abrupt action. Up and down off a taut belly. A few final pulses strung from Doy’s face to cyclopean eye. The corona nodded independently, plainly glad to have enjoined as it had done.

But, the fiddler had left the roof. Ensuing howls of laughter engulfed the twins. Infecting Doy, the third brother gradually commingled into his older siblings’ joviality, abashed perception melting into acceptance of the unexpected and involuntary display. Sticky fingers attempted wiping slimed cheeks but succeeded in only authoring a finger-painting tour de force by the moves. In curious teenage crudeness.

“Whoa, Bro,” Coy broke into the wordless awakening, “What was that all about? You lose like that very often and we may all drown. Maybe we’ll sleep somewhere else.” He finger-plunked the turgid arch and sat back against the headboard. “Doy, you need to clean that off, boy. Really. Before someone comes in.”

Getting the message, Doy jumped up to retrieve a t-shirt slung haphazardly across a chair. Turning, wiping his face and ruining the organic chef-d’œuvre just wrought, he posed the obvious, “Cal was that ‘cause I fell asleep there, or were you dreamin’ somethin’ hot?” The two youngers burst out, now heckling their big brother. But the noticeable non-response by their example-setting sibling pulled both up short.

“Who was it, Cal?” Doy had to know. His oldest brother was the most transparent member of the family. Coy and he knew without doubt a fantasy had set the eruption off. They just didn’t know who triggered it. “Come on, bro, tell us…was it Jenny?” His nosiness couldn’t be quelled. “She’s gonna be hurting bro, if it is--- that junk isn’t going in easy, for sure, when she gives it up,” the poke to the subsiding volcano accented what he was picturing.

At that, one too many undesired references signaled a next move. Cal pulled the sheet up over the thing, finally removing the trigger for the uncomfortable turn talk had taken. “Guys, I’m hungry. Let’s get up, ’K?” Disappointed, the third-degree men backed off, lightening Cal’s load. He sighed in relief as Doy headed out to the shower across the hall. Rustlings of morning routines were filtering up from the first floor.

With Doy gone, Cal sat back. He gathered thoughts, recalling the mounted fantasy ride of a while before, eyes glazing over at the recall. Coy, observing quietly, introspected in the peculiar manner his twinship status allowed. Bridging the mental gap as only he could do regarding Cal. After a moment, elucidation flooded his features. The surprise deduction left the younger of the two both perplexed and clarified.

Whether his brother would find confidence to open up to him, of all people, was a question only time would tell. Yet, by data now figured through, Coy had the enigma solved. And, it was not alien to his own feelings. Cal and he were on one more plane of parallel. Now that he, Coy, knew of it, he simply had to help Cal come to peace with the sticky situation.

Two weeks had passed too quickly. And not nearly fast enough.

Cal’s prom question still confounded him. He realized the expectations but felt ambivalence over a recent lightning bolt of self-discovery. Did he admit to himself the emerging truth and deal with it? Or fall in line with everyone’s anticipations?

On another subject, SAT’s were not particularly study-able; what had been accumulated over twelve years of school would have to suffice. The tests would not adequately address the life’s pursuit he meant for himself. Computer programming and software development. Yet the way to his future traveled certain unavoidable paths, therefore the necessity for college admittance. Angst over their approach persisted.

Senioritis was prevalent amongst the class. His friends all tugged him different directions. Pandora’s Box was pressuring more than one cohort and even Cal was feeling a call to explore expanding boundaries.

His parents sat back, content in the preparation of their eldest, knowingly confident Cal would navigate things with good sense. Little pressure came from that quarter. Cassandra and the Professor remained the quasi-graduate’s biggest fans, looking forward to commencement speeches as much as State Meet. Now, Coy, that boy was a different story altogether, Mammay considered. Somewhere along the line, his tracks had shifted. She worried because the new ones appeared founded on sand.

Amidst thoughts on all this hubbub, Cal found himself and the team bussing into Atlanta the month before graduation. Zoned, per usual, in preparation for coming challenges. He could sense change in the wind but was mystified by just what was niggling inside his gut and brain. Extrasensory perceptions were tangled in too many layers. Deep introspection on the trip was called up in order to cope.

Atlanta Convention Center Arena was boisterously loud on entry, mounting energies infectious to the team. Even Coach Costner’s iron will found itself hard-pressed to constrain his team amidst the infused atmosphere. After prelims of weigh-in, bracket settings, meet rules and the like, entrant teams were sectioned off on the arena floor.

Excess of dynamism slammed Floyd County’s small town entourage. The packed house roiled in rival expressions of spirit and competitive displays. Uniformed pep bands and drill team squads mingled in camaraderie only manifested at this time each year. Cal and Mel sized up opponents. The two huddled in joint effort to strategize for the coming onslaught. Mel, the coolest of heads, was flashing nerves under the current venue conditions.

“Damn, Met Man, you catchin’ all this craziness?” The duo was seeing the full panoply of a carnival-like environment but having trouble absorbing it all. “Hey, yo, look over there--- see who just came in? Looks like the big man is lettin’ everyone know who has arrived. Puttin’ us all on notice… the asshole.”

Cal followed his finger point, coming to rest on an extravagantly decked-out team across the floor, marching in a big spiral toward the center spot. Central High’s top-seeded team cavorted into the ruckus flanked by vaulting cheerleaders and perfect drumline. Billy Westfall’s unmistakable supremacy reined front and center. The large group flaunted frenetic activity around his blue and silver robed personage. The athlete lacked only a crown to proclaim suzerainty before which all might dutifully genuflect.

Several mobile-cam teams from local Metroplex TV stations flanked the group. All pointing Billy’s direction. The arresting blonde wallowed in the center of attention, projecting justifiable desert by his swagger. Smugness oozed from the consummate showman. Undefeated gladiator had taken the stage.

Coronation was written all over him, Cal reflected. Mel was disgusted.

“Can you believe all that shit, my man? That’s just over-the-top wrong. He needs to be taken down a notch. A full helpin’ o’ some ole’ fashion humble pie whoop-ass. And, it’s gonna have to be one of us that feeds it to him… you know that, right, Met Man? No one else here hefting balls big enough to do it, but us.”

Cal observed the comparatively reserved display from Floyd County’s side of the floor. In partly mesmerized awe, he nodded in almost dubious agreement. Conflicting emotions and urges flooded over him. Cal was weirdly drawn and consciously repelled at the same time. He felt his junk lurch as the golden boy turned, granting a glimpse of the ripped physique partially visible under the Rocky-esque robe.

The champ’s eyes, sweeping the arena, caught and linked with Cal’s at that moment. The normally confident boy-man found odd comfort, one more time, by the dark complexion into which he had been born. It saved an embarrassing betrayal by the full body flush enveloping him. A snarky smirk filled the face of his archrival. As Mel and he watched, their nemesis purposefully strode across the floor toward the two.

In audible proximity, he greeted them. The eyes were only on Cal. “Dudes! Ya’ll ready to rumble?” The braggadocio carried him close. With several sycophants trailing, he came within smell range. “Good day for a competition, huh, boys? If you call it that. Hope ya’ll ready for the big finale. I’m looking forward to lookin’--- down--- at you chumps. From the winner’s stand.” The boy’s chutzpah was enthralling. Even Mel was rendered speechless.

Catching a whiff of erogenous musk exuding from him, Cal stood hypnotized. Puppet-like. Leaning even closer, Billy whispered into Cal’s ear, “Dude, you behave good today and I just might let you have a lick o’ all this. Your mouth outta be just about at the right level when we finish up. Mind yo’ manners, now, hear?” And with that, he deliberately reached down to cup the sizeable mound tenting the jumpsuit inside the gaping robe. Intentionally brushing Cal’s crotch on the way.

Another lurch of the junk brought Cal back to reality, freeing him. The smarmy grin remained. Cal recoiled at the obviously disrespectful move, fists balling instinctively. But the autonomous junk yawed of its own accord. Billy glanced downward perceptively, adding, “Sure seems to me like you needin’ a prom date, dude. Bad. Lizard is takin’ note, looks like. Happens most times when I get this close. See ya’ soon… girlfriend.”

Mel came out of his freeze at that. Small town wrestler pushed hard against the overly close invasion. The alpha male flailed backward in mock exaggeration. Like he had been struck. “That is plain uncalled for, boy. Just teasin’ a little, now. Only a friendly rivalry here. Get hold o’ yourself…chump number two.”

Cal barely snagged Mel’s balled fist before forward trajectory began, but the damage was done. TV cams were focused and recording. Three angles caught the mini altercation in full-blown audio-visual detail.

Just then, a strong arm wrapped each boy around the chest, pulling forcefully. Coach Costner yanked Cal and Mel away and out of camera range, “What is this going on here, men?” He was livid. “That is NOT the way either of you have been taught. Get a grip and fall in.” Disgustedly whipping around, he stalked away from the scene, not totally sure his charges would follow. Gesturing to the remaining members, all huddled around the tall German. Looking from one to the next, the seasoned mentor re-established command.

A booming laugh behind them dug deep as the loose cannon named Billy Westfall assured rolling cameras that there was no problem to be seen here. Knowing full well all would play out on 6 pm news. He snorted in condescension as he and his followers retreated to their own wedge of allotted arena floor. Their own coach was still nowhere to be seen. The party continued there.

“OK. Now, I get what just went down. We all saw it. But, the optics are bad, boys, very bad. This is no way to conduct ourselves on the very first trip to State. Everyone, into the locker room.” Heads down, tails tucked, all high-tailed it out of the fishbowl. Ten minutes and a thorough drubbing later, the cream of Floyd High’s wrestling program reentered the competition arena.

Color guard made the call-to-order and matches were underway.

Being in opposite brackets, Floyd and Central didn’t match up in early rounds. The team settled down and methodically carried on with wiping away competition, head and shoulders above the rest. Their confidence returned. Cal’s parents beamed at him and his younger brother Doy from across the floor in third row seats. Coy’s seat remained empty. He caught Jenny studying him wistfully--- what’s up with that, he wondered--- for the first time through the day.

Match points flashed running tallies up on the jumbotron scoreboards around the center and Mel commented periodically to Cal on the collision course setting up between the arch-rival schools. Floyd County Consolidated and Central High. Country yokels vs Metro urbanites.

It was during a semi-final match between Mel and Macon High’s Charles Gatti when calamity hit. In the third and unnecessary set--- Mel had swiped the first two with simple ease--- Gatti posted an illegal takedown on Melvin, flipping to his offside in a brazenly dangerous move. Frustration finally got the better of the opponent by the mastery Mel had imposed over him through the first rounds. A hard landing dealt by an illicit maneuver resulted in a head blow to hardwood. Off mat.

Meet officials threw the book at the competitor. He was escorted from the arena, forcing a forfeit by the whole team. A resultant concussion left Mel dazed and confused. Officials remanded him to treatment and observation in the medical area. Though points went to Floyd County, the team was bordering on demoralized. Mel was their psychic leader, revving everyone else to top form by his enthusiasm. The loss of him stunned the group. Luckily, their captain, Josh Reynolds, filled the vacancy in the final match of the semis, allowing for maintenance of a comfortable bracket lead.

An interim between semis and finals allowed Coach Costner and his assistants to rally their troops. Rehydration by IV’s and rubdowns by trainers helped. Pulling Cal aside, Coach informed him of match-ups now set. Calumet--- Met Man--- would take Mel’s lead, matching against Billy Westfall in the final of the state meet.

Floyd County’s boys performed in stellar fashion for staging Cal’s finale. Gratified at the way they had coalesced in the face of Mel’s loss, he observed the positioning giving Floyd County a chance at something special. He could see the Westfall boy on the opposing sideline off-handedly joking with reporters intent on inevitability of a third straight state wrestling title.

Though holding but a slim lead, Central High team members were already gunning up for imminent jubilation. Billy Westfall, reigning individual champion two years running was pitted against Cal Broadhearst, a previously defeated and outmatched opponent who didn’t stand a chance in the eyes of odds-makers.

The team bolstered Cal as he was rubbed down a final time. His eyes hardened on Billy. The champ was focused back on him, too. The zone of tension was a feeling typically invigorating for Cal. If not for this particular opponent, and a creeping self-doubt, it would have been the same this time, as well. Instead, Cal evinced a beleaguered visage as he stepped onto the mat.

The state final singles match mandated a neutral start. Both competitors faced off in standing position. Billy wryly alluded to an unavoidable outcome as the two stood together. Cal may as well just give it up, he was told.

Indeed, the first of three rounds ended almost as quickly as it began. A nimble takedown move surprised Cal. It was a professional maneuver and one which high schoolers rarely employed. Or encountered. Cal escaped before a pin could be scored, but just barely. The two faced off twice more when a sudden pivot allowed Billy to revive another takedown. A near fall scored for him. Cal was stunned. No one had succeeded so adroitly and so quickly against him in years. Even in the most recent loss against Billy, to which Cal was now hearkening. He wavered. Round one ended in a significant point disadvantage.

With sound but hurried advice, Coach Costner righted Cal’s balance, instructing him on a countermove for the pro-maneuver shocker. The second round began in referee’s stance, Cal allotted the bottom position. He had lost the first round. Whispering under his breath, Billy wrapped over Cal in the opening grip, “Get used to it, girlfriend. This’ll be your assumed position from now on when you’re with me. Bitch.” He spat the last word.

At the bell, he attempted an unusual pro-maneuver of yet a different sort, again catching an unsuspecting Cal. A takedown and near fall resulted, but by quick reaction and agile defensive response, an escape and smoothly athletic reversal caught the defending champ unawares. Rather than by an alien move, Cal managed to surprise Billy in his own right by sheer extraordinary athleticism. Scoring his own takedown, he flipped the champ and the tide.

A near fall was recorded, and along with an escape and reversal points, the score disparity evened out. Billy was not pleased. No one took him down. In two years, it hadn’t happened. Though still outwardly confident, Billy couldn’t quite keep the barest wisp of concern from his features by the turn of events in the round. Three minutes belled out with the two in a dead heat.

The crowd was fanatical all around them. Though far distant from the two on the mat. They existed on an alternate plane: one dominated by a suspension of time and space. In full view of everyone, all eyes locked and loaded on two center-stagers. Neither competitor was aware of anything except one other person. Zoned.

Third round began in role reversal. Referee’s stance with Cal now top. Billy in unheard-of bottom position. He was more than miffed. It was demeaning, exposing a chink in an impervious aura of invincibility carefully constructed through three seasons. Not since a first title three years before, as an untested underdog sophomore, had he endured an over-arching body enwrap him the way Cal did now.

Subservient was the term that flitted through the champ’s mind. Cal remained stoically mute. His code. Never let ‘em see you blink. Billy puffed up in indignity at feeling the ebony hand girdle his lower belly. “Don’t get comfortable, now, choker,” he whispered upward, “You ain’t fit to scratch my nuts, bitch. Get ready now, I can feel your black dick fillin’ up, girlfriend. Touchin’ yo’ Daddy like this gots yo’ uppity-ass self all ‘bout to fail. Big time. Watch that your big old giveaway boner don’t tell everyone what be happenin’ down here close and heavy, boy. Don’t lose your cool, now. Nigger.”

Patronizing as hell and intentionally racist, Cal heard every word from his inner zone. The distant roar could’ve been the crowd surrounding them or it could have been blood coursing through his brain. Whichever, Calumet called to a place deep inside himself. Summoning up a reserve never known to be. The debasing words were impelling.

Upon registering the third-round bell, he felt the escape move take shape from below him as Billy exerted every ounce of ability and strength for affording himself a technical reversal, a takedown, and a quick pin. How dare this colored upstart challenge him.

In response, Cal reacted rather than strategized. He expertly blocked a leg maneuver capable of taking down any other wrestler in the state. Unleashing a ploy he had never used, let alone contemplated, he incorporated a superbly toned, honed body in hoisting the maddening blond fantasy beneath him.

Rising up in gargantuan effort of will, and a fluid movement, Cal twirled Billy Westfall over in a slow-motion ballet of rippling musculature, slapping the champ decisively to the mat. One fell swoop.

Falling on him, Cal pinned the stunned boy, holding creamy shoulders against sweat-soaked surface for a full five second count. His entire torso covered the dumbfounded state champion. Faces immobile, within millimeters of one another. Eyes wide shut. Noses tipping. An almost erotic embrace.

As the referee called pin and match, Cal opened his dark, smoldering eyes to the baby blues of a dream fuck fantasized multiple times over preceding weeks. The shock reflecting in them was priceless. “Need a date? Bitch?” So softly, Cal wasn’t certain he had uttered the words. But Billy heard them.

Then the moment was past.

The official referee hauled Cal up from Billy’s defeated form, intimate contact broken. A sinewy ebony bicep was hoisted above his head and skyward in verification of the victorious full pin securing Floyd County Consolidated High School its inaugural state wrestling championship.

Cal stood proudly erect, straddling the vanquished blowhard. The crowd of thousands had fallen silent in collective disbelief. A diminutive whisper wafted through the convention center, gradually rumbling to a giant crescendo of reverberating proportion in acclamation of the dethroning.

It wasn’t until thirty seconds into it, when Cal hazarded a glance downward at poor Billy Westfall, that he noticed what everybody else had already seen. The entirety of the ten-inch black anaconda, so denigrated by the crestfallen loser presently peering up at him, arched in fully engorged glory before his eyes, lazily drooling a long, roping string of precum on to a just-pinned shoulder. Very happily sharing in the celebration.

Leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination.

“You just have to be the most difficult person in school to talk with,” Jenny was smiling prettily, but her sparkling gray-green eyes were saying something different.

“Gosh, Jenny, I can’t believe you think that,” Cal Al abashedly fished two books from his locker, trying to come across friendly with this popular girl. While they spoke commonly, and shared several classes, he had never felt he was avoiding her before this. “If I’ve been rude, or something, I am so sorry. It was sure not intentional.”

“No, silly, that’s not what I meant. It’s that there is always a dozen people around you.” As she said this, Cal was side-swiped by a beaming Mel stalking past. Out of Jenny’s vision, his bud turned to hook a double thumbs-up. Coming the other direction, Coy and Doy slapped their brother’s butt, teasing him too. Noticing who he was talking to, they sped past instead of stopping. “See what I mean?” She practically winked at him inside of the wide smile and he wondered for a second.

“Oh. Wow. I didn’t get you. Sorry again, Jenny.” This, as two catcalls from across the hallway yelled his name. Truthfully a little nervous in her presence, it wasn’t for reasons anybody had induced.

“Well, if you can spare the time, I’d like to talk with you after biology review. Big Boy…” she was teasing him and it simply raised the anxiety level in Cal’s brain. He didn’t like being anything but straightforward with people. Yet, around Jenny, he found himself reticent to allow much to open between them. He felt like a total coward sometimes; a complete jerk at others. A little of both at the moment. Besides, the recent dichotomy of pride and mortification besieging his psyche and life was plaguing him. The term ‘Big Boy’ implicated way too much innuendo to allow decipher as good or bad right now.

"Sure, I’d like that. Meet you after, then?” He felt awkward as hell, wanting to get away to collect himself. And make a plan. Like that was a new concept…dealing with the quandary had been ever present in his mind recently. He just couldn’t come up with a practical solution.

Excusing himself to hit the bathroom, he succeeded in escaping. But only in getting free of the ‘Jenny dilemma’. The bathroom was filled with students. Ever since state meet, the previous safe place would never again serve as either a quiet spot or a waste disposal area. Anybody present evidenced either inordinate curiosity--- aka: getting a look at the infamous snake--- or harangued him lewdly for the unique victory pose exhibition. He got out fast, brooding the ever-present ‘other dilemma’...

…Written accounts were obtuse, of course, and pictures plastered on every form of public media in business sported a smudged circle around his pelvic region. But the fact remained of several thousand firsthand accounts circulating to the stratosphere and back since the unveiling.

There existed obscenity laws on the books in the state of Georgia, Cal had chewed over. The past week, he felt as if at any moment, the morality police were going to descend and haul him away in cuffs. He even dreamt one time of a triple cuffing: wrists and big piece together. All because of the public act of indecency playing out at the very moment of his biggest triumph. Sportscasters and writers statewide--- probably farther, he reflected--- had had a field day over the whole affair. To the point that Cal had avoided school, church and social settings for four days after the meet. Holed up at home; mostly in his room. Under both his father’s and mother’s benevolent tending.

His Dad had taken him aside in the study. Father and son sat quietly commiserating for a long period. Letting the tension wear off. Then, he’d related a fractionally similar episode he, himself, had endured at about the same age of eighteen. The scenario wasn’t all that unique, the wiser man had let him know. Cal had just suffered ill luck for it to happen in front of such a large audience, was all.

And lest Cal forget, Senior reminded Junior, by jiggedy, his eldest son had just completed the biggest upset in schoolboy history on the way to cornering the title of State Champ. He couldn’t be more proud. The Professor assured Cal that the present furor would wear off with time; annals of history would have only his top head in the picture for sake of posterity. The two spent an hour relishing more glorious parts of the day.

Feeling the edge had lifted, Professor Dad finally deemed it best to get the monkey off his son’s back. He forged a clearer perspective for the item he knew to be peculiarly pertinent to the teenager. The axiomatic nightmare of finding oneself exposed in front of a multitude with nowhere to hide. Addressing the fragment darkening the day for Cal right then, he broke things down to the vernacular, man-to-man.

As it spilled out, the two were gradually reduced to hoots and hiccups in reliving the ‘close-up’ from the vanquished boy’s vantage. They had finally agreed that the look of unmitigated horror and falsetto shriek passing Billy Westfall’s lips as some mighty viscous juice had made its way in a slow-motion trail to his body had to be the absolute best of the bad part. That boy would never be quite right in the head again.

If Cal had been mortified, the Professor chortled, think what the ex-champ must be undergoing. The jackass--- Cal had never heard that word from his Dad’s mouth--- had not only guaranteed a victory in front of a packed house, he celebrated prematurely and insulted anybody and everybody on the way. And then, ‘The Pin’ had happened. Yes, the phrase ‘just comeuppance’ had never been so aptly imposed, by his daddy’s reckoning. Cal was going to survive, he realized, after that talk.

Mammay had taken a different tack. She would refuse to let anybody denigrate her son over the matter. If pushed too far, she had explained, she would not fail to tell any busybodies bold enough to bring it up that there was not a person in sight that day who hadn’t felt some level of envy at the ‘unmasking’. Male, female, student, adult, parent, fan. Nobody, she emphasized. “And don’t you ever let anyone tell you different, my son,” adding that she had already done so. Twice. That was how she framed it. It blew him away.

His brothers were the unqualified worst. Not giving him a second’s peace, Mammay had finally banned all talk of wrestling meets, then included almost every conversational subject known to teen boys as the days progressed. It seemed anything at all could cause a segue way to the subject. That kind of worked, except for nights in bed with Coy. Other brothers were exiled from their room after the first two days.

It grew old for Coy in only a short time. First, he had quit the wrestling team for reasons unknown the previous fall. Just not feeling the team thing, he had pretended to Cal. But, as a twin, in this situation, he could very much relate. They shared almost everything. Second, the sight of the big boner was not new to him and since Cal didn’t surpass him but by a bare fraction in the meat department, anyway, what was the deal? If you got it then show it, Coy had already deduced... and he did, Cal was to later learn. That premise made Cal think, too. Things that make you go ‘hmmmm.’

Teachers had been understanding, mostly. The principal had even set back the normal celebratory pep rally considering Cal’s ‘situation’. What with end of semester and graduation in less than two weeks, however, the calendar date had been rather forced into the schedule for the coming Monday. A schoolwide assembly would supersede homeroom period. Cal was pretty certain he could feel a cold coming on by the knowledge.

This forced link between highest and lowest points in his life was plain galling, Cal railed inwardly. On the other hand, the whole thing did set a future for a much-lowered bar in the modesty department. He figured that no possible embarrassment could…ever…rival this. What the hell? Why be shy of something he was discovering to be a definite asset… full-scale pun intended. He matured some in the moment.

“In summary, natural processes do occur and proceed in a direction toward equilibrium. This is the basic conclusion for the second law of thermodynamics. Entropy. All interacting entities seek an equilibrium state…. OK, everybody, material discussed today should be all that is necessary as far as the comprehensive exam goes. Know these principles and you should be well-enough prepared. Thank you, class, and good luck to you all.” As Mr. Salvano finished, the bell rang. The man was an illusion of perfection, Cal thought. How did he always do that? No one could end a lecture at the exact moment the bell rang like this. Yet, he couldn’t remember a single time that anything else had resulted the entire semester. Remarkable.

A tap on the right shoulder pushed his neck to turn left. Par for the course, he glanced that way as Willim Jennerle snickered at Cal’s adroitness, “How do you do that, dude? I can’t ever fool your ass. You are like my mom. Eyes in the back of her head.” Changing subjects, he went on, “Can you believe this is the last lecture? Ever? Hot damn, never could believe this day’d get here.”

“Yeah, hard to believe, huh?” Cal liked this geeky guy, his lab partner. More so because the boy never knew local gossip and didn’t follow sports. He must be the only person in the tristate area who didn’t know the story of Cal’s debacle. And couldn’t care less. The best person in school to hang out with right now, Cal figured.

“But, just so you know, Will, the shoulder tap thing? You’ve only done the same thing every single class this semester…OK? It wasn’t too hard to figure out. I even know your touch by now.” The smile made sure Willim understood Cal’s friendliness was sincere. As if his lab partner would think any different regardless. The guy was guileless. Another good thing from Cal’s standpoint. What you saw was what you got. He was disarmed by the virtue.

“Oh. Yeah. I guess that’s true… you know my touch? That’s amazing, dude.” Again, the genuineness factor. He pushed his wire rims up his nose and looked over Cal’s shoulder. “Hey, Calumet, there’s somebody tryin’ to signal you, I think.” It was always ‘Calumet’ with Will. As Cal looked up, Will pointed behind him.

Turning to look, Cal caught sight of Jenny. She was at the door, books in hand, wide-eying him. Her forefinger crooked up and inward. He smiled, remembering his promise from earlier to get together, raising his own finger up in arched eyebrow acknowledgement to hold on. Turning back again to Willim, “How’d you know she was signaling me, Will? She could have been waving at you, y’know.”

“Right, Calumet. Fat chance. Girls don’t wave at me. Especially ones like Jenny Sampras. Yeah, she’s signaling you, all right. Well, dude, you gonna be good? I mean, for the final? I think I’m ready, but if you wanna hook up to study, you know where I am. Call, ’K?” And he sidled off, pointing one more time toward Jenny. Cal grinned a ‘see you later’.

The moment the geek turned away, smiling as usual, Cal was bounced sideways and over the desk just vacated. The push knocked off his backpack and he stumbled back into his seat. “Met Man. Bra, you be done, right? Let’s scat to the gym, how ‘bout? We got plans to make.” Mel was stoked. Ever since the end of high school had crystallized in his mind, the usual hyped energy level had skyrocketed. “There’s a dread plan goin’ down with some of the team for prom…we gotta get on it. It’s secret. So, let’s hit it.” He head-rubbed Cal, one arm around his neck, the other knuckle-nuggyin’ the nap. Always handsy. Cal resisted, ineffectually. It was nice to be treated normal.

“Mel, bro. Hey, yes. I’m finished. But I‘ve---“before he could get the sentence out, the dropped backpack swung in on the edge of his peripheral vision, lambasting him in a dull ‘thwunkk’. A surprised Mel grabbed the missile, too late. Yanking it back, Cal’s friend tossed it away again, and Cal saw it skid three rows distant, the open top spilling contents.

“Josh, that wasn’t funny, bud,” Cal focused on the newest assailant, shaking his head to clear it.

“Well then, champ, get your wild ass up and let’s get going. Mel and me want in on this and you be holdin’ us up. Now, get up,” the toothy grin from his worthless team captain reminded Cal of the value of these teammates. He suddenly wanted to go with them. Next second, he remembered--- cutting a look to the door, he viewed an empty archway. Jenny wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

“C’mon, Met Man, let’s go,” Mel was adamant.

Cal sagged in the chair. “Guys, I can’t right now…really. I can meet you later, but I made a promise I can’t break. How about I catch up with you in a while, after I finish? I may already be in trouble--- give me a little space, OK?” Both friends groaned together. But they backed off.

Watching his friends depart, he heaved a sigh of relief…or maybe regret. He wasn’t sure which. Stooping to retrieve the spilled pack, Cal wondered if he had caused a problem with Jenny. He needed to go look for her. Stuffing books and things back into the bag, he spied a piece of folded red paper. Not his. Unfolding it, he read, ‘Varsity field, visitor’s dugout’. Whoa. What was coming down here, he cringed?

Zipping it closed, he deliberated only a second, slung the pack over his shoulder and headed out.

The afternoon outside was dark. An approaching front pushed thunderheads ahead of it; roiling clouds pitched and swirled overhead. Varsity field was away from the rest of the old school, separated by a railroad track. Sequestered with other sports fields, the complex stood silently foreboding. Angst level ratcheted up as he rounded the end of first base side dugout. Peering into shadowy depth, he was hit by a blast of cool, rain-rich wind, hindering his view momentarily.

A female voice cut through, “Hi, Cal. I’m glad you found the note. I didn’t think you’d want me to butt in so I left it. I’m down here. At the end.” Jenny’s gray form silhouetted against the darker anchored bench where she sat. A flash of lightning slashed from a billowing cloud over left field. “You look worried, Cal, come on down. Everything is fine. It’s not going to get wet in here, I don’t think.”

Cal descended the steps and headed toward her. “I owe you another apology it looks like, Jenny. Hope I didn’t insult you. How you doing?” His nerves were on display. He could hear it and kicked himself inside. What is up, idiot? You got this. Settle the heck down. All this passed through his mind as he stopped before the sitting girl. Rain drops began pattering the corrugated metal roof. Cal plopped down beside her.

“No, you don’t, Cal. I think I owe you one. The spy movie stuff here. I’m probably freaking you out. I didn’t mean to. You don’t need to be worried at all. I’m not going to come on to you or anything. So, relax.” The soothing tone and words did take the edge off a bit.

“I’ve wanted to talk with you for a while, Cal, and got it in my head it should be private because of how everyone is into everybody’s business. I know you get that. My friends have been driving me nuts to get all up in your face and that’s… well, I just don’t do that.” Her earnestness lowered the tension level further. Cal did relax. Then, it spiked to astronomical levels again when she blurted, “Cal, I wanted to know if you would go to prom with me.”

Shocked, Cal stammered a reply, “Wha-what?” He inadvertently scooted back down a little to create space.

An impish grin spread over Jenny’s face. “Thought I might get that response. Look at me, Cal. I am smiling. But I am not joking. And, I am not trying to rock your world, boy. I want to go to the prom and no one has asked me. Nobody has asked you, either. Both of us could have a great time and without any strings attached. It might just take some of the pressure off us. Don’t you think?” Cal stared in mystified disbelief at all this. His mind was screeching in maxed-out mode. His mouth wasn’t even close to functional.

So, the two sat, listening to the rain increasing in intensity and volume, the thunder rolls rousting above them and periodic lightning strikes flashing over them in bright relief. The seconds passed. Then minutes. The musings were out-shouting the storm.

Finally, Jenny broke into the building maelstrom, “Oh, boy. I do think I’ve really put my foot in my mouth. Maybe I should just go…” her voice trailed off.

Cal cornered his dark eyes at the girl and sized her up. His voice came cautiously, unsure and certain simultaneously. “Jenny Sampras. I have been noticing you a long time. There is something about you that makes me look… and wonder. For some reason, we haven’t ever gotten to know each other. My friends have sure been bugging the heck out of me, too. They are convinced we are destined to be together. There’s only one problem in the equation. And it’s bothering me more now. Especially since I just figured out why it bothers me… I’d like to know you, Jenny. But there’s a situation that I should let you know about because most likely, it is a deal breaker, girl. You see… umm… you should know…”

“You mean the part about you being gay?” Impatience made her blurt it out. As she said it, Jenny watched Cal’s jaw drop. His eyes went dull and his shoulders sagged.

“You know that…how? Damn, am I that bad at hiding it?” Jenny saw a devastated face.

“Cal. No. No, it isn’t at all like that. Oh, I am so sorry. I’m making a mess of this. Haven’t you ever heard of Gaydar before? Well, it doesn’t work for just boy-on-boy, or girl-on-girl. I’ve noticed it because I am too. Please don’t feel like that.”

An ear-shattering peel of thunder blasted them at that moment. Cal looked up at Jenny. They stared back and forth through several ensuing lightning strikes. Facial changes exhibiting stark serial fluctuations flared before them both. Like a Freudian mime show. When the series ended, Cal cracked a smile with his head down, knowing somehow that she was doing the same.

In a second, he heard her giggle. He followed suit. Before the next round of thunder rolled over them, they were themselves rolling. Breaking down the ridiculous walls so carefully erected. Raindrops and tears of laughter mixed and the two fell together in a hug that met the second law of thermodynamics. Equilibrium happened by their connected embrace. Entropy reigned.

Backing off after a minute, Cal peered shyly down into Jenny’s huge gray-green eyes, “Yes, I will go with you. To the prom. If you’ll have me, Jenny Sampras.”

Sweet release.

Giddy now, Jenny took Cal’s hand and drew him up the dugout steps to the grass, then the muddy first base path. Cal followed, absorbing pelting rain amid growing feelings of twenty-first century emancipatory freedom. Head tilted upward to face the rain, Jenny stopped at first base. Then, she walked the baseline out to second. Head straight up. Turning around, the pretty senior reached up and abruptly kissed Cal smack on the lips. Not in an erogenous way. More like a glorified peck. From a cousin. Then, they stood next to each other and studied the sky, soaking up the wetness.

The rain came down so hard, it filled their grinning open mouths and then their pockets. It was that hard. And oh, so cleansing.

Cal took Jenny’s hand this time, crooking her into him. Still cloud watching. “Why are we here, getting soaked?”

“So that you can tell your friends you got me to second base.”

“Bro, I told you that thing at State would end up bein’ a plus. No damn wonder you didn’t want to come with us yesterday. Now, we can double to prom. Aliea is going to love this, my boy. She’s been non-stop yakkin’ at me to get you hooked up. I’ma call her now.” Melvin was ecstatic. Cal had a hard time getting him to focus.

“You need to chill, Mel. It’s not that big a deal. We hardly know each other and it’s a first date. Don’t blow this all up.” Didn’t have the slightest effect. Mel was recording a message sure to go viral within fractions of seconds. Cal commented wryly, “Well, you may as well tell her we’re engaged and the date is July 4th, as long as you’re doing it.” The look coming back could’ve melted rock.

“Seriously Cal, Aliea is all into this stuff. You are lettin’ me off da’ hook. You’re not foggin’ me, right? Because if you are, I be the one ain’t getting nuttin-nuttin’ else until after July 4th. At least. Don’t be shadin’, a’ight?

"I am not shadin’, Mel. Just don’t want more attention. Can’t you just wait until you see her and let her know that? Please?” Cal really didn’t want to see the references to State in relation to this sudden prom date with Jenny. It couldn’t end well for Jenny, what with the wagging tongues network as coordinated as it was. And for an interracial couple, the air was already tainted by white-girl man-napping and size queen allusions, as it was. This kind of put the lurid details into another class entirely.

Cal extracted the promise and headed home.

Traipsing the gravel lane to the house thirty minutes later, Cal was broadsided by the imp, Sophie. The nine-year-old ball of energy tumbled from a hidden alcove in the bushes, almost succeeding in tackling her big brother. She climbed his leg, up into his accepting arms, clinging around his neck. Girly breath was pfuffing into Cal’s face in her exhilaration.

The tiny tornado couldn’t get her words out fast enough, “Are you gettin’ married, Cal? I heard you already bought a ring and that you’re in love with Jenny Sampras, and your rehearsal dinner is on the night of the prom. Are you gonna wear your wrestling uniform or are we buying you a… tennessee tuxedo with tails? …Well, are you?” The precocious only little sis was always full of information and forever adding to her collection.

“Whoa, there, Senorita Sophonsiba Rill, just take a breath and chill a second. Where did you hear all that mess of disinformation, little missy?” An indulgent big bro was blindsided by the massive gossip dump. If this little thing had hold of it, what else was circulating? That was just the tip of his consternation… the worst of his bad feelings were suddenly materializing before his apprehensive eyes. Already. What the…? “You’ve been to Aunt Maizie’s today, haven’t you? All right, spill the beans, Soph.”

Nodding, shaking her head, opening and closing her mouth like a cod fish, gulping breaths in between--- all combined to make both of their heads spin. Cal couldn’t help but laugh in her face. It didn’t slow her down a bit. “Jocelyn said that you were just about married and that when you graduate, ya’ll are packing up and moving to Barbados--- where’s Barbados? --- and that Jenny was gonna have striped qua-dripple-palets because Mr. Johnson is the biggest guppy donor---what’s that? --- in the county… and everybody knows that. What does it all mean, Cal?”

Red flags were sailing full mast through Cal’s head now. Alarm bells signaled ‘danger’ and ‘tread lightly’ and a million other suddenly fearsome warnings. He tousled the pig-tailed urchin in his arms while sizing up the explosion on the horizon. “Soph, you know very well that Jocelyn never gets anything right, and what’s more, Aunt Maizie’s mouth is one conduit shy of the gutter…nothing at all that you have just bombarded me with holds one single shred of truth. You need to talk to Mammay about all of this and I think the two of us should do that right now.”

The ensuing wiggles aimed at extrication made plain the fact that his little sis knew full well the sources from which she was spewing tripe was more than questionable. But Cal wouldn’t put her down. He nuzzled and tickled the whole trip in distractive effort. Unsuccessfully.

They trudged in tandem to the front verandah and proceeded directly to the kitchen where their Mammay was stirring a pot of beef stew for dinner. The wise woman turned upon their entry, perused both faces for a total of one-half second, and then turned back to replace the kettle lid.

“Well, now. It would appear that my bookend chillun’s” --- she only used the colloquialism when a teaching moment was coming on--- “have been parlaying together and may have things a little topsy-turvy, by the stories painting their faces.” Cal stood Sophie down on the floor and took a seat at the kitchen table. Sophie eyed both doors deciding which way to run. “Sophonsiba, please do sit down with your brother.” Cassandra knew the effect of four syllables versus two when intoning her only daughter’s name. The method saved many breaths. Sure enough, Sophie huffed to the table, scowled up at the big Brother so blameworthy and sat. Opposite him. The farthest seat away.

Spending a little more time checking stove top and utensils, Mammay allowed the stretch of the silence to marinate. Four eyes watched the back of the head, and neck, so busily dedicated to ignoring the duo before finally rounding once more, seating herself between them. “What, pray tell, might be scurrying through my two most astutely attuned offspring’s brains?”

From Cal, a simple nod toward Soph engendered reprising kicks to his shins under the table. It also opened dialogue. The three proceeded to sift the blunderbuss of information fiddling in a little girl’s brain as the older two soaked in words, nuances and flatly hilarious details that she had gleaned while at Aunt Maizie’s an hour before. Mammay’s eyes widened a tad at mention of ‘Mr. Johnson’s guppy factory’. A miniscule upturn to her lips was only read by Cal, who had a like response.

Sophie was genuinely desirous of information in plain terms. Between the trio, a détente of partial blank-filling and ‘splainin’ played out. When Roy and Loy busted through the back door, immersed in some hieroglyphic sign language conversation of immense import, the little twister tied herself to their wake. Having accumulated enough information to satisfy her curiosity for the time being, she received Mammay’s nod and vanished.

Cal and Cassie continued a while longer in the soothing percolating stew. Another brewing summer squall rattled through, swaying trees outside. Blustering thunderheads invaded the sky past curtained windows. “Mammay, you do believe me when I say that none of the stuff those scuttlebutts are spreading is even remotely true…right?”

“Oh, please, Child of Mine. You are talking about the younger sister who once spread the word that her Uncle Charlie had taken up with Marilyn Monroe. In the White House. With JFK. Lord, that girl could whip a dog dead with a snake and never see or touch either. So, yes.” She smiled and covered his huge dark hand as she said this, continuing, “However, I am a mite perplexed at the news of the prom coming up. You were adamant about not going up to three days ago. Care to fill me in?” Mammay never minced words despite her diplomatic shrewdness.

Cal told her of his new inclusion in the coming high school social event of the year. Explaining the date with Jenny as he had to Mel fell flat, though. He should have seen that coming. “Might I know who asked whom, dear?” Sometimes the woman’s clairvoyance made Cal tingle. It did so now. Deciding how to frame it, he fairly stammered his way through the stormy interlude at the baseball field.

“So, my son is going on a first date with an unfamiliar white girl who asked him at second base on a stormy baseball infield. Calumet. You know I have absolutely no qualms about where, who, how or when. Yet, the why continues to pose a puzzle. You know I know you better than anybody in this world, now, correct? Even your father and Coy Alfrederic. And, there is not a single thing in this wide world that could change my love for you. Again correct?” Cal’s curt nod allowed her to go on. “Well, then, what say we two just clear out the cottony blather filling up this kitchen and make a bit of room for to maneuver…?” Her arched eyebrows brooked no dissent. The finger-tapping to the back of his hand spoke volumes. So, Cal took a deep breath and let it all out.

The next minutes were a mish-mash of disjointed half-stories, memories and meditations, all of which lent cogent thought process to a total of no one at all. After several minutes of beating a 360-degree circle around the kitchen mulberry bush, Mammay held up her hand. “Enough, my child.” The blinking shut of her violet eyes and dipping of her head cut him off abruptly.

When she raised up, opening them again, the look there pulled Cal back to a forgotten time. A time when visions of those eyes and the two breasts below filled the totality of the world where, as a baby, he throve in safe haven. Long tucked away to a lost place. An overwhelming sense of love enveloped him in a velvety pillow of reminiscence. The emotion almost scared Cal, such was its overpowering aura. This woman, his mother, did indeed know him as no other being could. Including himself.

“My love child. We two were one for nine long months. Just like Coy and myself. Your beginning washed through me in a rush of awareness. I bore you. I nurtured you. The bond between a mother and her firstborn is like no other. Keep in mind that the old carol, ‘Silent Night’ was not originally written in honor of a virgin birth.”

“I have been awaiting the day you come to fulfillment of your true spirit. Having watched the years pass as you grew into this intelligent, strong, handsome specimen of a man, I have known the vantage you command from where any other man would be envious to view the world. I have seen the inner strife over which the selves vying for your soul have fought. I feel the turmoil, Calumet, and have cried in the deep dark hours of many nights, controlling the desire to offer guidance through the storm that has been brewing. You needed to find inner guidance on your sojourn to manhood. It was not my role to do so.”

“Not until now. When I see that you may be forcing an alien aura into your spirit. My boy, you must be aware of what I have known since you were suckling. I cannot simply stand by now and let you walk a path which might require years, even a lifetime, to retrace.”

“We needn’t say the words, Calumet Alfrederic. We both know what exists here,” her warm hand raised to his chest, “and I think you know the tale you shall tell. With one other. It is not by the present path you travel, by mistake, that will find the sanctuary sundered upon your weaning. Now, think on this some, my dearest. You will infer I am right. It may be a harder and more burdensome road. But, it is the true one.” Their tears mingled in the ensuing embrace.

After the timeless share of emotion, thunder again bowled around the Broadhearst Estate, matching the intensity in Cal’s heart and head. He pulled back a smidgen, absorbing ‘the look’ one more moment. “Mammay, you are my shining star. I will never be able to thank you. And neither will he, when he shows himself.”

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