Monday, April 8, 2013

Starters (a new series at this blog)

The Horace Chronicles, #1

August 20

Dear Maya,

I guess the first time I remember thinking much about Mr. Smith was at the end of last summer when I ran into Sean Catalano at the pool. My shift at the front desk had just ended and I headed over to the snack bar for a cheeseburger when I saw him drinking a coke by himself at one of the tables. Even though we’d been on the baseball team together I wasn’t sure I should say hello – he was a senior and a star of the team, and I was just a benchwarmer second-base sophomore (I’m not going to play again next year). Actually, I wasn’t sure he even knew who I was until he said, “Hey, Theo,” in that kind of flat way he has – he knew who I was but he wasn’t exactly excited about it.

“Hey Sean,” I said, trying to match him. “What you doing here?”

“Waiting for Annie,” he said, motioning with his head over to the far end of the pool. I remembered then that Annie Nunez was his girlfriend. All summer long the guys at the pool had been talking how great she looked in her Speedo. Gotta admit, Maya, they were right. I said so once myself so I sounded like I fit it, but it sounded so fake I was surprised that nobody made fun of me. I avoided doing anything but saying yeah after that.

I looked up at the clock, even though I knew what time it was. “She should be done any minute,” I said. I walked over to the grill and ordered my burger from Max. But then I had to wait. Max was busy with other customers, so I couldn’t talk with him. I didn’t feel like I could just go sit next to Sean, but didn’t know where else to go, fearing that sitting at another table would be even more awkward. I just stood there, feeling stupid.

We were quiet for a minute, but it was getting weird. “So how’s it going?” he asked.

“It’s cool,” I said. “One more week, then I take a week off and then it’s back to school.”

“I leave on Thursday,” he said.

 “Oh yeah – right. You’re going off to school. Where, again?”           

“University of New Mexico.” Then I remembered: he got a scholarship. “You must be excited.  You playing left field?”

“Yeah. And yeah, I’m pumped. It’s primarily a spring sport but we do have fall ball. The starter fucked up his knee so I might get some playing time. I'm actually only here for a few days. My dad's birthday is tomorrow.
I felt like I should ask a follow-up question, but I didn’t know what it should be. Actually, Maya, I always felt like an imposter on the baseball team. I feel like an imposter a lot of time about a lot of things. I don’t think Sean is any great conversationalist either, but he was better than me, and when the silence got awkward again he tried once more. I give him credit for that.

“So,” he asked, “Who do you have this year?”

 “Well, “I said, “I’ve got Celli for math. And Sipowicz for physics. And Guzman for English.”

“Good luck with Guzman,” he said. “What about history?”


 Sean nodded, as if I’d made a good choice. 

“You’ll do alright with Smith,” he said. “He isn’t a prick like Clark.”

Sean’s eyes focused over my shoulder and he smiled, so I turned around. Annie had a beach towel with some kind of aquatic pattern wrapped around her waist and was wearing plain red flip-flops and dark glasses. She had a backpack slung over her bare shoulder. Gorgeous. Like staring into the sun.

 “Hey,” she said to me, for what felt like the first time all summer. 

“Hey,” I said back.

“You ready?” Sean asked her.

 “Yup,” she responded at exactly the same moment Max said “Cheeseburger!”

“Hey, good seein’ ya,” Sean said as if that was his signal, sliding his arm around Annie’s back. “You’re going to do fine with Smith,” he said like he was giving me a blessing. “I mean, I never gave a shit about history, but that guy was all right.”

“Good luck at school,” I said.

 “Yeah, you too.”

“Bye,” Annie said, her voice rising a bit in a singsong kind of way. She was being nice. What’s it like for those girls, Maya?

While I put ketchup on my burger, I thought about Sean and Annie, wondering if they were going to have sex that night and wondering where. But as I headed out to the parking lot, I found myself thinking about Mr. Smith.  I knew when I got my schedule back in July that I’d lucked out because I heard he was a good teacher. But I had no real idea what the guy was like in the classroom. I’d see him around school – khakis, plain shirts in dark flat colors, the scuffed brown boots – and I kinda liked the look of him.

I remember walking down H wing one day when he was coming toward me from the other direction. As he walked past a group of seniors one of them asked him in a jokey way, “Mr. C, what’s with the uniform? You think maybe you could wear stripes one day? Polka dots, maybe? How about a new pair of shoes?”
“Naaa,” he said, without stopping. “Bought a new pair of boots once, but they felt awkward when I got  into bed. So I switched back.”

He caught my eye as we passed each other and he winked at me, as if I was in on the joke. I hoped I’d have him one day. Because, unlike Sean, I always liked history. Whatever that meant.