Making Friends — Finding It: Chapter 30

Finally, we pulled into the high school parking lot, I found an empty slot, a fair distance from the school, but it was about as close as we could get. I parked and shut off the engine. “Are you ready?” I asked before opening my door.

“You really aren’t afraid?” Pam asked.

“Apprehensive is the right word.” I exited the car and walked around to open her door and offered her my hand so she could step up and out. “Afraid has too many other connotations. I’m not afraid of anyone but respectful of the unknown. So, I’ll proceed with caution.”

“I don’t think Tommy has ever lost a fight.” She continued to hold my hand as we walked toward the school.

“That’s probably because he’s never fought me.”

“You seem so self-assured. I guess you’ve had a lot of fights.”

“Not many. I avoid fights. I was bullied a lot when I was younger.”

“You were?”

I nodded. “But when I’ve been forced to fight, I do. I think most guys have been in a few scraps.”

“I’ve never understood that.”

“It establishes the pecking order or something. I don’t know.”

“And you are at the top of that order in your school?”

I chuckled. “No, far from it. At the top of any pecking order are the bullies. Unlike them, I don’t pick fights. I won’t back down, though. The bullies at my school underestimated me a few times, mistaking me for a coward. But after a couple of embarrassing episodes, none of them bother me much anymore.”

“I see.”

“Does Tommy know karate?”

“No. He says he can kick anyone’s ass, regardless. He prides himself on doing it the good ol’ fashioned American way.”

“I’m not sure what that means. If it doesn’t involve a gun, then I’m not concerned.”

“He has a knife.”

“A knife I can handle,” I said, not choosing to elaborate.

“So, you’ve studied martial arts?”

“Not officially. In grade school, one of my friends was taking lessons. He taught me a lot of things so he could practice against someone his own size before his tournaments. He usually won his competitions, so I guess it helped.”

“You’re good then?”

“I’m okay — better than someone who knows nothing.”

“Tommy’s bulkier than you are,” she warned as she paused, visually sizing me up.

“That doesn’t matter to me.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re used to that, wrestling guys who are a lot bigger than you.”

“I doubt Tommy would choose to wrestle me.”

“Probably not,” she said as we reached the school entrance. I held the door for her to enter the lobby. Once inside, I followed her down the short corridor to the gymnasium where the dance was being held.

Compared to Countryside, Tipp City High School was huge, a vast sprawling complex of wings perhaps three times the size of mine. In Springfield, there were two major high schools, each one of them being Tipp City’s size or larger. There was also Springfield Catholic Central, a parochial school, which was about the same size as my high school but drew students from all over the city and suburbs. My school was technically in the suburbs although surrounding it was farmland. Tipp City had only one high school centrally located.

Suddenly, Pam pulled me toward her and whispered in my ear, “I cannot stand this girl who is taking the tickets.” Then she pressed the tickets into my hand. “You do it.”

“Okay,” I said and then stepped forward to present the tickets. I offered my hand to be stamped ‘PAID’ for any exit and return. Pam offered her hand as well and received a stamp that was upside down.

“Oops. I’m so sorry Pam. Let me stamp over it.”

“No, it’s fine. I can do this,” she contorted her arm to present it as an upright stamp.

As we continued inside the gym, Pam spoke through clenched teeth low enough so that only I could hear, “She did that on purpose.”

“Yeah, I think so, too, but why?”

“She’s been jealous of me since freshman year. It’s Tommy’s fault.”

“Terrible Tommy gets around.”

“You never expected you were getting into a mess like this.”

“No, but I’m here, and so far, it’s been entertaining.”

“You don’t think I’m exaggerating or imagining things, do you?”

“Someone has accused you of that?”

“My own mother!”

“Wow!”

“Yeah.” She turned halfway to face me, her eyes meeting mine. “That’s what I mean.”

“From what you told me; I think you had good reason to cut Tommy boy loose.”

“It was like I told you. I didn’t exaggerate one thing.”

“I take everything at face value until I know differently.”

“You believe me, don’t you?”

“I’m putting all the pieces together, okay? I believe everything I’m told until I have time to see things for myself.”

“So, you don’t believe me.”

“Did I say that?”

“You’re avoiding answering the question.”

“I do that a lot.”

“I’ve noticed.”

Fortunately, a crowd of her friends to which we were walking acknowledged our approach — or at least hers — and distracted her enough to get me off the hook, temporarily. The large group was predominately female. Pam introduced me to each of her friends, expecting that I was going to remember everyone’s name, and then she explained they were cheerleaders, and the few escorts present were athletes. As she specified which sports were involved, I noted that Tipp City had cheerleaders for every major sport, including wrestling and baseball. The concept of a baseball cheerleader was a bit difficult for me to comprehend, though.

Although I still had trouble considering myself the athletic sort, I guessed I fit the role, enough to be on Pam’s arm, anyway. Also, I learned that not only was Pam the head wrestling cheerleader but also, for the coming season, she would be the head baseball cheerleader.

So far, there was no sign of Tommy and peace prevailed as she introduced me to everyone she knew in the gymnasium. With a high school population that exceeded 3000 students, I guess I was lucky that not everyone had shown up for the dance. Even with my memory, recalling all the new names and associating them with faces was a stretch. Some of the cheerleaders she introduced I recognized from the wrestling squad and already they referred to me as Giant Killer. Until then I assumed Pam started that moniker, but soon enough I realized the source was Tipp City’s wrestling team, specifically Shane Gooding, their unlimited class wrestler.

As I began to feel comfortable around everyone, there were a couple of brief side conversations with a couple of the wrestlers who were in the group as escorts for wrestling cheerleaders. One of them asked me, particularly about Ralph, my school’s ninety-eight-pound wrestler currently ranked in the state. The query was how anyone could remain ninety-eight pounds throughout high school. So far, Ralph had done it for three years. In truth, when Ralph began wrestling as a freshman, he was more like 80 pounds.

After a while, Pam and I walked over to another group. While she talked, I watched the band that was hired for the event. I glanced at my watch to confirm it was well past eight o’clock when the dance should have begun. I wondered why they were still setting up.

They appeared to have good equipment, so I assumed they made decent money playing gigs. But they were obviously struggling to get set.

Pam noticed where my eyes were drawn.

“Is their stuff better than yours?”

“No, not really. It’s good stuff, though.”

“But you want to talk to them?”

“Maybe not talk so much as to find out why they are not playing yet,” I said.

“If you think you can hurry them along about playing, go on.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m among friends.”

“I’ll be right back.”

Having granted me permission to leave her side, I approached the stage and asked the guys if they needed any help.

“We got it, but thanks,” one of the band members said to me.

“Just offering. I’m in a band, too. It just looked like you’re struggling a bit.”

“We are down our lead guy for set up,” he said. “And we didn’t find out until we got here. What do you play?”

“Bass and I sing.”

“Really?” he said as he extended his hand over the lip of the stage. “So, do I. Well, I sing harmony when I need to.” He laughed.

“You guys have all Marshall heads and cabinets?”

“Yeah, we wanted everything to be the same, appearances and all that. What sort of equipment do you have?”

“All Traynor and I play a Rick.”

“Nice. You use the Rick-o-Sound feature?”

“Yeah.”

“Great! I always wanted to try that. You know what, if you really don’t mind helping, we could probably use a hand or two.”

“Let me tell my date,” I said, and then I returned to Pam who had been talking to a couple of her friends several dozen feet from where I was.

“Hey,” I said even as I approached.

“I suppose they need your help,” Pam said.

“Actually, they do.”

“Does it require you to wear your superhero cape?”

“Naw, which is a good thing, ’cause the cleaners lost it,” I flashed a smile. “Don’t really need it, though. It’s only for show.”

She laughed, and then pecked my cheek. “Be quick.”

“I will, I promise.”

When I returned to the stage and surveyed the situation it really looked like they had an hour of work that needed to be done in fifteen minutes or less. They realized that, but the guy that knew where everything went and why was not there for them.

After a solid twenty minutes of sweat-provoking effort, hauling, toting, rearranging, and then making the necessary electronic connections, the band set up for a brief soundcheck before they were ready for the performance to begin.

“If you ever want a job, call me,” Jeff, the stage manager, said to me as he offered me a soggy business card. I proceeded to brush off my overalls and searched the crowd to find Pam. Fortunately, for the sake of finding her quickly, she was just about where I left her. As I approached her, someone called out and her attention, and she was drawn away, leaving me in the awkward position of reaching out for someone who had just turned and walked away.

One of her friends saw me and called out, “Hey, Giant Killer!” as that seemed to be my nickname. “My name’s Sandra,” she offered with an outstretched hand. “And this is Dennis.”

“Pleased to meet you, both,” I said as we exchanged handshakes. “Giant Killer is just my stage name. My real name is Brent.”

“I saw you with the band. Do you know them?” Dennis asked.

“I do now. All musicians have a common bond, I guess.”

“You’re a musician as well as a wrestler?”

“Yeah.”

“Interesting.”

“So, where’d Pam go?”

“She’ll be right back,” Sandra promised. “There’re a lot of people here from last year’s cheerleading squad. They came home from college for the weekend.”

“I see.”

“So, you are the famous first-year heavyweight who defeated Mark Heath,” Dennis said.

“There was a good deal of luck involved, I assure you.”

“There always is. But guys don’t win tournaments unless they’re good.”

“Do you wrestle, Dennis?” I asked attempting to deflect the subject away from me.

“I graduated last year. I’m the 167-pound wrestler that your Jim Baylor pinned in merely ten seconds two years ago at the Lake Invitational.”

“Jim’s a very good wrestler,” I said.

“He’s wrestling for Iowa, now, if I’m not wrong.”

“Yes, he is, at a heavier weight class.”

“They have a great team.”

“That’s what I hear.”

“I would expect him to do well in the NCAA. He had the speed, which I learned all too well.”

“He placed fourth in the state tournament last year.”

“So, even though this is your first-year wrestling you followed the other weight classes.”

“Last year, I was an equipment manager. I messed up my knee playing football, so I had to sit out the season. Because of my size, the coach worked on me all season about moving up to heavyweight this year.”

“So, you’re one of those guys that’s done it all.”

“I don’t know about that.”

Pam returned, apologizing for deserting everyone as she laced her arm through the crook of my elbow and whispered that she was thirsty. We excused ourselves to find the punch bowl.

When we were away from the others she posed, “What do you think of Dennis?”

“He’s a nice guy. Says he wrestled here.”

“Yes, he’s sort of like another brother to me. He was always friends with both of my brothers, and I guess he feels like he has to watch out for me or something.”

“So, he was checking me out.”

“An old habit, I guess.”

“I hope I passed the audition.”

“You did, otherwise he’d be talking to me already.”

“You have good friends.”

“Thank you. My best friends would be there for me, regardless,” she said. “I have always enjoyed going to school because of my friends, not so much the subjects. I do well in school, though.”

“I think high school is less about subjects and more about the people we know and associate with as well as the people we choose not to.”

She smiled at me, saying nothing but I could tell from her expression that she was either impressed or a little bit taken aback by what I just said. When we reached the table with the refreshments, I drew a ladle of punch, filled a cup, offered it to her, and then filled my own.

“So, what else do you do in school besides cheerleading?” I asked as we remained standing off to one side of the table.

“I’m pretty active in a lot of clubs like Future Teachers, Varsity Club, Junior Council on World Affairs, National Thespians, National Honor Society, and I’m the Recording Secretary for the Student Council.”

“You’re an actress?”

“Yes.”

“I’m impressed.”

“You?”

“Never liked being on a stage — without my bass guitar, that is.”

“But you wrestle. You’re alone then.”

“Except for my opponent. But that’s different. I don’t have to say lines or anything, just remember the moves. I assume you play lead roles.”

“I have sometimes. We did a musical last spring; I played the lead role.”

“And you sing as well.”

She smiled. “I do okay.”

“You must be popular to be elected to the student council.”

“Yeah. At least I was when I was Tommy’s girl. I think he strong-armed the vote in my favor.”

“I don’t know. You might have won it on your own merits.”

“Before I met Tommy, the only things I was ever chosen to do was being a football cheerleader for the freshman squad and playing tennis.”

“You obviously had the ability and talent all along. So, you never needed anyone else.”

She shrugged. “What about you? What else keeps you busy at school, besides writing Rock operas?”

“There’s only one Rock opera, and that’s enough. But besides that, I’ve been busy with lots of things, too many, actually. The club thing at my school seems like a joke. It’s mainly an excuse to get out of a first-period study hall a couple of times a week.”

“It’s kind of the same way here. What clubs are you in?”

“Well, I was in Future Teachers like you, until this year. I didn’t have the time for it this year, because I use that time for editing the school newspaper. I liked it though.”

“You must have been one of the few guys in the club.”

“Yeah, but that’s one of the things I liked about it.”

She chuckled. “Your true motive is revealed.”

“I like girls. I’m not going to lie.”

“What else do you do?”

“I’m in a lot of the same clubs as you are, but I’m also on the yearbook staff and I’m co-editor of the newspaper.”

“All that…and you wrestle and are in a Rock band.”

“I joined Thrush because they needed a bassist. I ended up being their lead singer for most songs as well. I’m in acapella choir.”

“Do you ever sleep?”

“Sleep’s overrated. From time to time, I keel over from exhaustion. When I come to, I continue with life’s adventure.”

“Well, I really appreciate you fitting this dance into your hectic schedule.”

“I felt like I needed to make room for it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I know we’re still learning about each other, but this is a dance.”

“Are you asking me to dance?”

“Yeah, but you need to be gentle with me, I really suck at it.”

She laughed. “I’m not all that good either,” she admitted.

“You have to be better than me. I’m sure there was some dancing in that musical you were in, not to mention your cheerleading routines.”

“That’s different. That’s all choreographed.” She smiled, and her eyes met mine.

“Well, just dance like you were trained.”

She laughed. “I can do that, I guess.”

“I’m glad because if we both sucked really bad at it, we might make fools of ourselves.”

“As long as we have a great time in the process, who cares?”

Taking her cup, I set hers next to mine on the table and I led her toward the presumptive dance floor in front of the band. Only a few other couples were dancing.

As we were heading in that direction the band began to play their cover of a song that my band also did. I swept Pam up in my arms and improvised a personalized physical interpretation of the melody. By the time the song ended, and I disengaged from holding her, Pam was nearly breathless. “What that was?”

“Did you like it?”

“I don’t know yet. I think so. It was intense, whatever it was.”

We were standing near the lead guitarist for the band. As I looked up at him, he signaled me with a thumb up, “You have any request?” he asked.

“How about Led Zep’s Rock and Roll?”

“We can do that,” he said with a broad smile. He turned to the other band members and shouted out the instructions. In a few moments, they erupted just as the song was intended, the thunderous backbeat of the bass and drums forming a solid foundation for the traditional Rock’n’roll chords. Even if Pam and I were only one of five couples dancing, we were having fun.

“You know how to play this?” She shouted over the music.

“Yeah. I love this song.”

“You can sing it, too?”

“Darren usually does the vocals on this one. But I can manage it an octave lower than Robert Plant does it. Do you want to hear?”

“Yeah.”

As I started to sing along, she began laughing. But then, as I directed the lyrics to her, she began to follow the verbalized direction, as in ‘open your arms’.

At the song’s conclusion, she hugged me. “That was fun… and different.”

I looked to the band giving thumbs-up to the lead guitarist. The band’s lead vocalist pointed to me and waved me to come closer. I reached for his hand, and we exchanged the sort of handshake that musicians do. He smiled broadly, “What does your lady want to hear?”

“After that, something slow,” Pam requested breathlessly.

“Do you know The Stone’s Angie?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said then turned and got everyone on the same page. The lead guitarist swapped to an acoustic and then began to play.

Suddenly, other dancing couples surrounded us. The dance floor was not yet congested, but there were three or four dozen couples that had taken to the gymnasium’s hardwood floor.

“This is a good song,” Pam said into my ear as I held her close.

“I love The Stones.”

“Me too.”

When the song ended, I asked her what other bands she liked.

“I have diverse tastes,” she said.

“So do I.”

“Then don’t laugh because the bands probably do not connect well with usual expectations, I absolutely love Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon.”

“Me too,” I confirmed.

“I listen to it over and over.”

“Best album ever! But definitely not dance music.”

She laughed. “It would be a challenge.”

“The song Money has a couple of tempo changes in it. That’s rare for a hit song, probably because it would be hard to dance to.”

“Well, I still like it.”

As the band finished playing The Beatles’ Michelle, the immediate impetus for us to dance subsided. Pam and I returned to the refreshment table to partake of more punch to replenish the perspiration we expended while on the dance floor.

We refilled our cups twice before turning back to the group of her friends that was still located in the same general vicinity. Dennis and Sandra were there to welcome us. The four of us retired to a table where we could sit and talk, but more importantly, Pam and I could catch our breaths.

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ElgonWilliams Author

ElgonWilliams Author

Professional Author & Publicist @Pandamoonpub #FriedWindows #BecomingThuperman #TheWolfcatChronicles