Chapter 1 Meet the Players

 

BRODY’S NOTEBOOK

Monday, September 15

Before I bare my soul on paper, I’d like to set the record straight.

1. I’m not a ten-year-old girl.

2. My journal isn’t pink and fuzzy with a heart-shaped lock.

3. I don’t make daily entries with a magenta gel pen.

4. There’s nothing simple about bromance.

I feel better after getting that off my chest—my flat chest, and I’m not in the market for a training bra. See #1, above.

 

MY END goal is to create a user manual for my relationship with Henry and Danny, because I’m seriously confused about where we go from here—wherever here is—and how we get past everything that stands in our way to make it there. In theory, if I write down what goes on with us, I’ll be able to read it back to myself and make sense of things before I do something stupid and/or dangerous.

To get back to my original point, I am not keeping a diary. It’s just the third section of my AP Physics notebook, which I consider a safe place to record my most top-secret thoughts about life, as nobody on earth gives a shit about my half-assed notes.

Maybe I’m not the creative one, but I can write stuff down as well as the next guy. And everybody knows that getting started is the hardest part, so I won’t obsess over it… too much.

I’ll start here, about Henry.

Mostly Henry Perkins strives to live life by the book—it makes it easier to deal with his parents’ rules and expectations. The problem is that the smaller, more insistent—and much hornier—part of Henry wants to do whatever the hell he wants to do. But the thing is, Henry can’t get any of the stuff he wants if he lives by the book, which his mom and dad wrote.

I nailed that summary, so I’ll move on to Danny.

Next there’s Danny Denisco, who is the creative one. He can do stuff like write poetry and paint pictures and still not come off as lame. I can sum up what he wants in a couple of simple sentences. Danny wants only one thing out of life and, more specifically, from the guys he goes out with. And no, it’s not sex. Danny’s looking for the L word, but his problem is that he’ll settle for any liar’s promise of affection, and lie is the wrong L word.

Then there’s me. It’s tough to look objectively at the big picture of yourself, conclude that “Brody Decker’s main objective is to _____,” and then fill in the blank with something profound. Because all kinds of shit comes to mind when I think about what I want—to feel the wind in my face and to find the highest adrenaline rush of all time are on the top of the list. But there’s this other guy in me. He gets freaked out easily, so he lives life by the “don’t ask, don’t tell” code. I’m starting to think he wants some of the stuff Henry and Danny want too.

Wind and adrenaline don’t take much effort to find where there’s speed, and I’ve got that part covered. But maybe I want the stuff Henry and Danny want more.

 

 

HENRY: MY LIFE

Brody’s not even a member of the Thomas Bailey Aldrich High School Cross-Country Team, but he’s always the first one to get to practice. The dude can run—he’s the fastest runner not on the team. And he has more endurance than even I have, and that’s saying something, since he’s vegan. Over the years, whenever I suggest he officially join the team, Brody refuses. “I’m not the joiner type,” he said again, just yesterday. Honestly I give up. Brody wouldn’t listen to reason if his life depended on it, which it sometimes does.

When I get to the field today he’s in his usual spot behind the dugout, simultaneously fastening a bandana around his spiky bleach-blond hair, doing walking lunges to stretch his quads and hamstrings, and chatting it up with Coach.

“Hey, Henry, you’re late. Coach and I wondered if you were going to grace us with your presence today,” he quips.

And Coach Wentworth appreciates his humor. He smiles and says, “Yeah, Perkins. Drop and give me one hundred sit-ups, ten for every minute you were late.”

“But I had to talk to Mr. Duke about a European Civ quiz I messed up on.” I let go of my gym bag and squat down to change my sneakers. Coach mumbles something like “stop whining,” so I hit the ground and pay the price for being late.

Brody flops down on the grass at my side and does sideways sit-ups in time with mine. “Did he make you beg?” he asks.

“Did who do what?” I’m short with him because he’s responsible for the burn in my belly.

“Duke—did you have to kiss his ass so he’d let you retake the quiz?”

“Basically, yeah,” I grunt.

“Duke’s the king of assholes.” Brody chuckles. “Did you catch that? I put two kinds of royalty in one short sentence.”

I shake my head because Brody’s mind wanders a lot, even while churning out sit-ups. “My folks won’t let me go to the corn maze next weekend if Mr. Duke calls home about a bad quiz grade.”

Brody stops doing sit-ups and stares at me. “I’ll help you study, Henry, because you and Danny and me, we’re going to the dang corn maze next Saturday night, and then you guys are sleeping at my house. We planned it eons ago.”

As soon as I finish the hundredth sit-up, I open my legs and bend forward to stretch out my calves. “We tentatively planned it.” I always need to correct Brody on stuff like that, seeing as he tends to forget shit he doesn’t want to remember. “Mom and Dad haven’t technically given me the all clear on the sleepover yet but—”

“You said we were going to have a sleepover. You said,” Brody whines and then jumps to his feet, sprints across the field, and does some kind of a crazy backflip in the air. The whole cross-country team gawks at him, and then they look at me, ’cause I’m known as Brody Decker’s keeper.

“Control your boy.” The remark comes from number two on the team, Lionel Wagner. He’d love to see me and Brody long gone. He hates competition when he’s not the guy set to win.

“I’m on it,” I say to nobody in particular. “Decker. Get over here and stretch with me so you don’t get cramps in your calves when you’re whoopin’ Wagner’s ass out there on the trail!”

 

 

LIKE ALWAYS we’re the first two to hit the road, and the rest of the team follows behind. Lionel always makes a point to be the last to leave the field so it isn’t obvious how much faster I am. Brody’s faster than him too, even if he’s not officially a Golden Eagle, a fact that stomps on Wagner’s overgrown ego. But Brody lingers behind.

“Let’s go, dude.”

“You said I could whoop his ass,” he argues. “So I need to hang back.”

I counter, “Nah, run with me instead.” I’m team captain, and even if Brody’s just there for the hell of it, he has to do what I say. And I’m selfish. “You’re running with me.”

We talk and jog for the first mile, knowing we’ll get down to the serious business of running for the next four miles. Truthfully the talking part is more of a challenge for me than the running part, but I do it because he’s Brody. He sucks at discussing serious shit, but he’s good at small talk and talking Danny and me down off ledges.

“So you’re sending in the early admission application to Prospect University, right?” Brody asks as we start down School Street.

I expect that question. “I wrote the essay and filled out most of the online forms, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Have you requested your recommendations yet?”

“I’m… working… on… it.” The way I say it—slow and cautious—makes me sound reluctant. But I don’t feel reluctant. I just feel worried. One of my teachers might mention something about it to my parents at church or a cross-country meet.

“And remember, you can use my credit card so your parents don’t find out you’re applying,” Brody said. “My parents won’t care. They don’t even look at my credit card statement before they write the check.”

We all know that my dad won’t like it if I so much as consider a school that isn’t Division 1 in men’s track. But since Prospect University is D2, I can still get a big enough scholarship to make it totally doable, if not as glamorous. Dad hasn’t yet figured out that I’m eighteen years old and can do what I want, and I haven’t figured out how to inform him.

“Has Danny been working on his application?” I ask. That part is critical.

“He says he’s got everything finished but insists he’s not going to get accepted to Prospect because his grades suck.”

“They’re gonna see his paintings, right?” I need to be reassured that Danny stands a chance of getting in, because Prospect University is our only chance of sticking together after high school. The academic requirements aren’t too tough, so Danny and Brody will most likely get accepted, and there’s the big and necessary scholarship possibility for me. If it isn’t all three of us, the plan is null and void. I’ll be off to a NCAA Division I Christian college, Danny will get a job at Walmart or some other place where they won’t give him enough hours to get benefits, and Brody will be God-knows-where, chasing storms.

“Yeah. He emailed his portfolio to them.”

“Cool. Then he’s gonna get accepted.” Danny’s art is amazing, if not a little bit unusual. Once they see it, Prospect U will want him. Feeling lighter I pick up speed and say, “Stop being such a lardass, Decker. You’re holding me back.”

Brody is the one who specializes in dishing out humorous harassment. But he has a hard time taking it, even from me. “Get your dang recommendations, Perky,” he yells as he sprints past.

 

 

BRODY’S NOTEBOOK

Wednesday, September 17

I’ve decided that this journal needs a title for maximum impact on future readers. And choosing a title is serious business. It’s like making a commitment to tone and style.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Brody

So this happened today:

Lionel Wagner again proved that he has mastered the art of being an asshole. His mommy would be so proud.

 

“FOR THE record, Danielle, which do you like better—white meat or dark?” That was how he started.

You can find the Jocks“R”Us lunch table right next to the “Island of Misfit Toys” table, and, in my opinion, it’s no coincidence. Although the close proximity provides the jocks ease of messing with our heads, there is a bright side. Lionel doesn’t have to shout his slander—usually directed at Danny, a.k.a. Danielle—across a cafeteria packed full of students with big ears and bigger mouths. Yay.

“I’m putting my money on the dark.” That little gem came from the lips of “No-neck” Ned Nelson. Not all the jocks are assholes, but at Thomas Bailey Aldrich High School, those who are don’t hold back.

Wagner’s smirk nearly pushed me over the edge, but his friends were entertained, which was the whole point. Three of them hooted, four of them literally howled, and they all exchanged high fives, which brought to mind the mating call of the North American Grouse. I can thank Mom and Dad for my extensive knowledge of bird calls—since they retired they’ve become big fans of the National Geographic Channel, and we have a television in virtually every room of our house.

I was just about to inform Lionel Wagner that he’s the perfect image of an asshole—not that I’ve ever closely examined one—when Henry got up from our table and stalked over to Lionel, looking like he wanted to kick ass and take names. He stuck a finger in Lionel’s face and asked, “You got a fuckin’ problem, Wagner? I mean, other than the obvious….”

Have you ever cheered silently inside your head at the same time you mumbled, “Oh shit,” aloud in a crowded cafeteria? Well, I did today.

When Lionel stood up, I knew that all hell was likely to break loose. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What do you think it means?” Henry asked, on his game.

Seeing as poultry was not on the day’s hot-lunch menu, I was confident the question Lionel asked, which had started the whole confrontation, clearly pertained to Danny Denisco’s preferences regarding an entirely different sort of meat. Henry and Lionel—and everybody else within spitting distance—knew that someone had to step up and protect Danny’s honor or he was going to take matters into his own hands, which is not a pretty sight. Normally we tag team on shit like that, but seeing as Henry was already on his feet, it fell to him, or as Lionel suggested, “dark meat.”

And at that point, Henry’s eyes lit up in a bad way. Not that there’s a good way for eyes to pop out of someone’s head.

Here’s a little background info, in the event somebody finds this notebook in a box buried in the attic in a hundred years, when I’m nothing more than dust and a bad memory. Thomas Bailey Aldrich High School is not a playground of diversity in terms of sexuality, gender identity, or ethnicity. In addition to Danny, the school’s only out gay kid, there are zero transgender students—or at least none willing to reveal it to our vicious student body. Exactly five African American kids, three Asian girls who happen to be sisters, and one dark-skinned guy who refuses to pay the cash to Ancestry.com so he can account for his ethnic origins are the only minorities that attend our “straight as an arrow,” white-bread high school.

And yes, I’m aware I mixed metaphors, but hello, as Danny would say—it’s my notebook, and I’ll do as I please. So sue me! Danny would also say that.

The two black seniors are Henry and Lionel. They find themselves thrown together all the time because they’re both strong students and above-average athletes, but everybody knows that they’re compared because Henry and Lionel are the only black guys in the senior class. They’re also fierce competitors. But they don’t hit it off because Henry is cool, and Lionel, as I mentioned before, is a complete and total asshole.

Jamie Carson, a basketball player who attends the Perkins family’s holy-roller church and sits at Lionel’s “all the jocks in lunch block B except Henry Perkins” lunch table, stepped up and pushed them apart. “You guys have a meet today. Do you really want to get suspended for fighting?”

Henry retreated with the parting words, “Lay off Denisco. You got that, Wagner?” I was certain that Perky’s mind had wandered to the potential ugly confrontation he would have with his parents were he forced to explain a suspension during cross-country season.

Lionel muttered loud enough for everybody to hear, “Yup. Danielle’s gonna be sucking down dark meat tonight,” which made the jocks snicker. All in all Wagner got what he wanted. He got under Henry’s skin before an important cross-country meet, increasing his own chances at individual victory. Harassing the school’s token gay kid was just a bonus.

Whatever happened to “there’s no I in team”?

Here’s the confidential shit I won’t say to Henry’s face.

I don’t know many jocks who like to be accused of being light in their cross-trainers, and Henry’s no exception. But I’m no jock, and my parents are completely out of touch. They couldn’t give a shit if I came out as gay or if I got suspended, or if I did both center stage in the TBA High School auditorium while wearing a clown suit, so I don’t much care what the wrathful peanut gallery thinks of me. They can’t touch me, and they know it.

I should have been the one to speak up in the caf today.

After the near confrontation, Henry returned to the table, somehow looking both pissed off and guilty. “Those assholes had better not fuck with him again,” he said to me across the table.

Which naturally pissed Danny off. “Um… hello!” He shouted like he usually does when we talk about him right in front of his face, and he waved at Henry from his seat beside me. “I’m right here and—news flash—I have ears. They work too. So, don’t pretend like I can’t hear what you’re saying.” He made claws with his dark purple fingernails, growled, and then finished telling Henry off with, “If you’d give me a chance, I could take care of that ass-wipe all by my lonesome.”

Danny can be intimidating. I’ve seen him put a kid in his place with just the use of his sharp tongue, but sharp fingernails provide an added deterrent.

Still, times like this make me wish I were 6’3” and made of muscle, like Henry. I’d take Lionel Wagner down, suspension or not. Then I’d take down all the jerk-offs at that testosterone-loaded lunch table, because if those guys aren’t asking Danny whether he prefers his “meat” white or dark, they’re asking him what it’s like to be the filling in a Henry-Brody sandwich cookie—which hits a little too close to home because it sounds so dang sweet—or if he’s going to a funeral, seeing as all his clothes are black. And since Danny dates older guys from outside the school, everybody thinks he’s somebody’s boy toy.

But it’s not like that. Danny’s sweet in a “rough around the edges” way. Seems only Henry and I are aware of that.

It was so satisfying when Mother Nature shut them all up. I couldn’t have planned it any better myself. In the courtyard behind the cafeteria, the wind snapped a long branch off the shade tree. Most of the kids in the cafeteria screamed when it crashed into the window. Even the tough guys dropped their spoons onto their lunch trays.

I just smiled, but even now, lying on my bed and writing in my notebook, I get goose bumps on my arms when I think of the collective shock and awe.

 

 

FREE VERSE poetry by Danny D

“Sand”

specks too tiny to see just one

but bound together by the wind

it can

chafe the skin from my face,

crunch like rocks between my teeth,

form pebbles in the corners of my watering eyes,

invade my nose and sting my ears….

it cannot

be missed….

we are like sand in wind

 

 

BRODY’S NOTEBOOK

Friday, September 19

The Bromance Bible Um… no.

 

TODAY WAS epic. I never want to forget it.

Here’s what happened:

Henry started to yell before my Jeep even came to a full stop on the street in front of Danny’s building. “Hurry up, Danny—get your ass in!”

 

HENRY’S NOT a guy to yell. In fact he doesn’t say too much at all. But he’s usually pretty direct with Danny and me. I figure he has to bend and stretch the truth so much when he talks to his parents that he completely lets go in our company.

I take a different approach when dealing with my friends, mostly because I like to bust on them. It keeps things light.

So when it was my turn, I went with, “What are you staring at, Danny? Haven’t you ever seen two hot guys in a lime-green Jeep Wrangler before?” I rolled my hips and winked, knowing it would get a rise out of him. Danny wrinkled his nose and flipped me the bird, as though my teasing pissed him off, but I know he loved it.

“You said hot guys, Brody?” Danny looked all around the Jeep and then asked me, “Well, where the hell are they?”

For the record, Danny will dish out shit to pretty much anybody, but he’ll take it lying down only from Henry and me. His usual response to harassment is shriveling the offender’s soul with a look to kill. He’s also been known to scratch when pushed too far—and he has seven suspensions to prove it.

Staying true to his nonconformist soul, Danny didn’t step in the direction of the Jeep, as instructed. Instead he remained glued to the sidewalk and looked bored. And as always Danny was an eyeful. The first of the fall leaves blew around his knobby knees, which were easy to see in his skintight black jeans. And with a sudden gust, his black-velvet tunic—Danny’s word—blew up high enough to give us a nice view of his pale, boney chest. Even then Danny didn’t make a move toward the Jeep. All he did was fold his arms across his chest to sort of control the parachuting of his… his tunic.

“Any time now, Danny….” Henry was more impatient than usual. “Today’s away cross-country meet was cancelled, and my parents don’t have a clue. I think I might be free until seven o’clock tonight.”

“Henry, you are so by the book.” Danny shook his head, but he took a step toward the Jeep.

“That’s because his parents wrote the book,” I added, trying not to laugh.

“Where are we going? ’Cause I’ve got to be home at seven too. This guy I’m into at the restaurant is gonna come by when he gets off work.” When Danny said that, he wouldn’t look at us.

When it comes to shit like that, Henry’s never too subtle. He said something like “Better not be that thug fry cook, Jared,” but he still leaned over and grabbed Danny’s hand.

“What if it is Jared?” Danny asked as he teetered on the Jeep’s side step like he hadn’t yet decided if he was going to come along.

“Just get your ass in” were Henry’s exact words as he climbed from the passenger seat into the backseat.

Moments of freedom are few and far between in Henry’s life. Danny and I are aware of that. So when Danny said, “Okay, I’m in,” I knew we were on the same page.

Danny climbed up, dropped into the passenger seat, and buckled. I never start driving until I hear two seat belts click.

I drive too fast. Henry and Danny don’t like it, but they don’t get on my case unless I’m completely out of control. When I’m going eighty in the Jeep with the top down and the sides off, and wind is whipping through my hair, there’s only one word for how I feel—Alive.

As I sped along, the wind blew patterns in Danny’s silky dark hair and made it stick out in every direction, but it also smoothed out the angry lines on his face. I glanced back at Henry. I already knew his curls wouldn’t be blowing around because he wears them tight to his head, but his eyes were squeezed shut like he was fighting the wind. I think he would have been better off if he just let the wind do its job and blow away all the worries about cross-country times, stellar grades, and religious-fanatic parents who want to control his every move. But nobody asked me.

That was when Danny yelled at me across the center console, “Where are we going?”

I refused to tell him the specifics because I knew he’d try to change my mind. “Into the wind,” I yelled back, and when I burst into laughter, a glob of spit escaped the corner of my mouth.

I hope like hell it didn’t fly back and hit Henry in the face.

And so we headed east out of Cullfield, toward the coast.

 

 

WHEN WE got to Branton Beach, I could hardly hear Henry’s voice over the roar of the wind. He shouted something along the line of, “Shit, dude. The wind’s fuckin’ fierce here. You sure it’s safe? Shit, dude.” And then a crushed-up paper bag blew past my nose, but it was gone before I could bat it away. The wind was seriously out of control. It was so cool.

“Don’t worry. Winifred’s been downgraded to a tropical storm,” I yelled back. It was fact, but Henry still looked worried.

We parked in the Branton Beach public lot, in the spot closest to the water. When I first pulled into the parking space, Henry protested because it had one of those blue handicapped signs cemented into the sidewalk in front of it, but I reasoned with him and said, “Look around, Perky. Nobody but us is at the beach today, so stop being such a Boy Scout and shut up.”

By that point all three of us had managed to crowd together in the front seat of the Jeep. Danny’s the smallest, so he had to straddle the console. One heavy black boot was pressed onto my thigh, the other on Henry’s. We all squinted as we studied the waves in the distance, because the sand stung our eyes.

Danny covered his face with his hands and made a comment like “The sand is exfoliating my skin.”

The way I see it, Danny doesn’t need that kind of beauty treatment. The kid’s like a male, Goth Snow White with his pale skin and dark hair and red lips. The way he looked right then—all pink-cheeked and pretty—almost distracted me. And whenever I don’t want to deal with how I feel, I change things up. So I shouted, “Let’s go down to the water and check out the waves.” I grabbed my camera, and we all got out of the Jeep.

I couldn’t stop myself from running to the boardwalk. Like always Henry and Danny lingered behind. Once I was on the white sandy beach, I stopped, lifted my face to the sky, and took it all in. The clouds were a threatening gray, but it was dry, and the air seemed strangely warm. And even though the tide wasn’t high, it wasn’t disappointing. I got to see the best wave display ever at Branton Beach. Each huge wave rolled over the one before it, and the white water at the peaks must have reached twenty feet from the ocean’s surface. There was mist where the waves crashed together. I could taste the salt in the air. Sand stung my eyes, stuck in between my teeth, and filled my ears.

I remember thinking it was better than sex. Not that I had any way of knowing that.

Henry came up from behind me. “Shit! Like, holy shit!”

“Epic,” I corrected him, but since I didn’t yell, my word blew away in the wind.

We took a few steps back and grabbed Danny’s skinny wrists to pull him up between us. Then we stood close together in a line, as though three boys could form a wall against Winifred’s fury. Between the wind and the sand and the waves and my friends, my senses were full.

But the full feeling only lasted a few seconds.

A tug in my heart I didn’t want to feel pulled me away from my wall of friends. I sprinted toward the water. As I ran toward the crashing waves, I lifted the camera to my face and snapped the most amazing shots since the ones I took during the thunderstorm on Pierce Hill in July, when I felt certain I was going to be zapped by a bolt of lightning.

At that point I was on autopilot. I kicked off my hiking boots, which I always wear untied, and yanked my T-shirt over my head. Then I wrapped up my camera in my shirt and ran down to the water.

That’s not exactly the full story. It really went more like this:

I could hear Danny and Henry shouting my name, but I tuned them out and tuned Mother Nature in. I ran straight into the water and got knocked right down. A wave—the Hulk Hogan of waves—pushed and pulled me like a ragdoll. I should have been scared, but I wasn’t. Not at all.

I was energized because I was part of Nature’s fury. I didn’t have to think or feel or worry anymore. When I finally managed to stand up, my heart pounded as though I’d run a 5K. My adrenaline spiked to legendary levels, and my lungs screamed for oxygen. My brain kept asking, “What comes next?” But then I felt big hands on the back of my shorts. They pulled me away from the wildness and the exhilaration.

Oh… and the danger.

Once we were on the dry sand, Henry yelled into my ear, “What the fuck are you thinking, dude?”

I stuttered something like, “I’m just… it’s just….” I had no idea how to explain what I was thinking when I decided it would be a good idea to take a swim in the churning ocean. I decided to go with distraction instead of a lame explanation, so I said, “Let’s lie on top of the snack hut, huh? We can climb up there and be one with the wind.”

This is a major reason why I love Henry. He almost never lectures me about how I take unnecessary risks with my life, because he knows me. And he knows that the chances I take are very necessary. Without them I’d probably shrivel up and blow away like that paper bag in the wind.

He just said, “Cool. Go get your shirt and camera and boots, and I’ll grab Danny.”

Within five minutes Henry knelt on top of the Branton Beach Snack Shack’s metal roof and pulled up Danny, who kept on calling me “a major dipshit.” I helped out by pushing up on his biker boots. Once he was on the roof, I grabbed on to both Henry and Danny’s dangling hands, and they hoisted me up. Then we lay flat on our backs in a tight row on top of the gritty metal roof—Henry and Danny on either side of me—so close I could feel the sand on their arms grinding against the sand on mine. And once my heart stopped pounding, I grabbed Danny’s small hand and Henry’s big one. They squeezed my palms enough to hurt—both of them—but I knew I deserved the pain. It was fair punishment and so much better than a lecture.

“Dipshit—you’re a dipshit!” Danny yelled the word into the sky. He must have been mad at me too, because his voice was louder than the roar of the waves and wind combined.

After about the tenth time, I shouted back, “Maybe so, but I’m your dipshit.” And I squeezed their hands, but not too hard.

It was epic.