Regarding parental support for my athletic endeavors, officially, Mom claimed her presence would jinx me. Dad was usually too exhausted by the time he finished work, so he never attended either. In truth, neither wanted to see me get injured. When my participation was sitting on the bench, that didn’t matter much to anyone, including me. I had become accustomed to the lack of fanfare for my efforts and any direct support from family was unimportant.
Although I was excited to get home and show my folks the tournament trophy. I didn’t expect much of a reaction. In fact, because of the time — it was dark — I figured they would be in the bed already.
The roads had been slippery from the frozen rain, so I took my time. It was past ten-thirty when I arrived. To my surprise, Mom and Dad were sitting in the family room watching TV. They never did that, not past eight — or nine at the latest.
“You want me to put it on the TV?” I asked as I set the trophy on the floor beside my father’s recliner.
“You won a trophy?”
“I won the tournament in my weight class,” I said.
“It’s so big,” Mom commented.
“’Cause it’s a big deal,” Dad said as he brought his recliner to the upright position and stood. “That means you beat everyone you wrestled.”
“Yeah, even the top seed, the defending State Champion.”
Dad grinned from ear to ear, offering me a hug, which I gladly shared. “I’m very proud of you, son.”
“I suppose you can put it on top of the TV for now,” Mom suggested as she removed an artificial flower arrangement to make room.
“Jason seems to think it will be mentioned in the sports section of tomorrow’s paper.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it.” Dad continued beaming with pride.
“I guess we’ll see in the morning,” Mom added. “Are you hungry?”
“Maybe later. I’m tired. I need to call Renée first before it gets too late.”
I went directly to the kitchen to use the phone. I called her number, but there was no answer. I called her parents’ number. Her mother answered the phone. After greetings, I asked, “Is Renée there?”
“She’s not back from the tennis club yet.”
“She asked me to call this evening when I got home.”
“I’ll tell her you called.”
I returned the receiver to its cradle and went to take a hot shower.
With the stream of water as hot as I could take it, I let the steamy heat strike a sore spot between the shoulder blades, allowing it to cascade down my back to my hips. With the stiffness of pain in my strained muscles, I recognized I’d been in a couple of battles. With the victory, it was much easier to deal with the aches and pains. By morning most of the soreness would be gone. That was what I expected. It was a wolfcat thing that I was growing to depend on.
When I finished toweling dry, I stepped into fresh boxers and put on my bathrobe. I could smell cornbread baking as I contemplated crumbling it up into a bowl and pouring cold buttermilk over it, one of my favorite things to eat before going to bed.
I heard the phone ring, so I assumed it was Renée. I opened the bathroom door and headed down the hallway to the kitchen. Mom had already answered it and handed the receiver to me as I arrived.
“Finally, we catch each other.”
“Yeah, this must be blind luck.”
“Your mom told me you had a wrestling tournament.”
“Yeah, Lake Invitational.”
“How’d you do?”
“Our team won the tournament.”
“Really? That’s great!”
“Yeah, first time ever.”
“Where did you place?”
“No, I mean you personally.”
“Yeah, me. I took first place.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“No, my first opponent of the day had to forfeit. He was in a car accident. So, I advanced by forfeit and then I beat Mike Smith, the district runner-up from last year in the semifinals, and Mark Heath the defending state champion in the finals.”
“Are you serious?” Renée asked excitedly.
“I pinned Mike, won on points against Mark.”
“Oh my God! You really did it, didn’t you?”
“I took your advice, sort of. At least I thought about what you told me.”
“What I told you?”
“Last summer, when you told me about your tennis match against the defending state champion.”
“You dinked him?”
“Sort of. I nearly lost because of it, but I fought back and because of what I did, I had him off his feet supporting all three hundred pounds of him on my back. So, I dropped him on his back and held on until the match was over.”
“I’m so proud of you. This is really exciting! We have to celebrate.”
“When’s that gonna happen?”
“I don’t know. You tell me. That’s always the problem, isn’t it? We’ll make the time, though. We have to.”
“I promise,” Renée confirmed. “What about next weekend?”
“We’re recording One Thane.”
“That’s finally happening?”
“Yep. You could come to watch us. The guys would enjoy seeing you again.”
“I only have time on Sunday night.”
“We’ll be done by then — I hope. Maybe tomorrow night?”
“I won’t be home until late.”
“Yeah, same here, more than likely. So, you had a tournament too, right?”
“You won, of course.”
She laughed. “You make it sound far more routine than it felt.”
“Hopefully winning becomes the routine for me now.”
“I’ll call you later in the week. You have a match this week, right?”
“On Wednesday,” I said.
“The usual time?”
“I’ll see if I can be there.”
“That would be excellent.”
“Only if you promise to win.”
“Oh, I’ll win.”
She laughed. “So, now you have all the confidence in the world.”
“Not all of it. I think you still have most of it. You know?”
“Well, we can share it, then.”
“That doesn’t leave anything for anyone else.”
“And that just breaks my heart.”
“I hate to cut this short, but I just got home.”
“Yeah, I was pretty sore when I got home, but I showered again and everything, so I smell all pretty. If you’re as tired as I am…”
“I probably am,” she said with a laugh. “Congratulations, again, Champ!”
“Take care, Brent.”
“I will, Renée.”
When I hung up the phone, Mom was staring at me.
“You two are good for each other, the way you talk and all.”
“She wants to go somewhere and celebrate,” I replied. “We can’t even arrange for that. We’re both too busy.”
“You’re too young to be so busy.”
“Well, it’s too late to change things.”
“I baked cornbread for you,” she set a big bowl on the breakfast bar, then opened the refrigerator and brought out a carton of buttermilk.
“It smells good.”
“I figured you’d be hungry and tired.”
“It’s exactly what I want before bed.”
* * *
When I woke, it was almost nine. I wasn’t used to sleeping in. My shoulders and back were stiff from lifting a three-hundred-pound guy onto my shoulders. Unfortunately, the pain confirmed the difficulty of my matches from the prior day.
As was my routine, I suited up in my running clothes and sat down on the bedroom floor to stretch out. When I was as loose as I could possibly get, I jogged down the hall to the front door and opened it. I called out to Mom, “I’m going for a run.”
At first, I took the usual route, toward South Charleston. But when I reached the railroad tracks at the edge of town, instead of turning back for home, I continued into town to Shoemaker’s Grocery. I went inside to buy the Sunday paper. As I stood second in line at the checkout, I recognized the cashier. I went steady with her in the seventh grade, before I was supposed to be allowed to go steady, but only for a few days. Her name was Carlotta, but everyone called her Carly.
When it was my turn, I stepped ahead. She looked up as I handed her the money for the paper. “Mr. Woods.”
She smiled. “It’s been a while.”
“Yes, it has.”
“I thought you moved to Springfield?”
“I’m back home with my folks. I’m still in school there, though.”
“You’re looking good.”
“Thanks, you too.”
“Not this morning. I was late getting here. I didn’t have time to put on makeup.”
“I couldn’t tell. You don’t really need it.”
“I gotta run, literally.”
“Okay. It was good seeing you again.”
“Same here,” I pushed through the exit, glancing back before the door closed. Carly had changed a lot since we were kids. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I ever saw in her, but then, my interest in her was short-lived and maybe more tied to her being interested in me than me being interested in her. We were kids, after all — kids trying to grow up too quickly.
I continued outside, stuffed the folded newspaper under my arm, and turned back toward home.
By the time I opened the front door, the outside of the Sunday Springfield Sun was a bit damp from my sweat and a little worse for wear. I dropped it on the coffee table in the family room before returning to my room to finish my morning exercises. Once completed, I took a shower and then dressed.
On my way to the kitchen, I snatched up the paper, leaving it on the breakfast bar while I prepared a bowl of cereal. I sat on a stool and opened the paper to the sports section. As Jason predicted, there was an article about the tournament, but it was mainly about Countryside winning as a team. There was mention in the article about the five wrestlers, including me, who placed first in the tournament.
Folding the sports section back into something close to its original state, I set it aside. I opened the comics and read my favorites while I finished eating my cereal.
When Dad returned from his morning outing, he also had a Sunday paper. “Did you see it?” he asked.
“Yeah, it was mostly about Countryside winning our first ever tournament.”
“No, the other one.”
“What other one?”
Dad opened his paper to an article on the third page of sports, where I had not looked.
As I read it, the sportswriter posed a question about Lake Invitational: “Was Brent Woods’ defeat of Mark Heath the result of skill or just dumb luck?”
It was a fair query, I suppose. He questioned whether I deserved the victory. He cited the fact it was my first season wrestling as a heavyweight and my past, less than stellar record. He also mentioned I’d been injured in December and hadn’t wrestled much until the tournament. Then he went on to detail Mark’s record, including three consecutive state titles and an amazing win streak spanning three and half seasons. For whatever reason, I broke his winning streak last night.
It was hard to argue against the points he made. Maybe Mark should have won the match. On paper — according to the writer — it was all but a foregone conclusion. That didn’t happen, though.
As the column pointed out, the truth would be tested in how many matches I won after. He predicted there would be few. All I could do was continue what I had been doing, being determined to prove him wrong.
“I don’t know why the paper has to do that,” Dad said as I looked up from the paper. “They make it out like it was an accident that you won. They took away what you accomplished. They make it sound like the Heath boy just had a bad day and…”
“And I had the best day I’ll ever have. Yeah, I read it. But you know what, Dad? I know what happened. And so does Heath.”
“And there will be another match, eventually.”
“His school is in our league. So, yeah, we will wrestle again, multiple times.”
* * *
As rehearsals go, the one on Sunday was about as good as Thrush had ever played. We performed the Rock opera several times from start to finish with very few mistakes. I was hoping we’d have a couple of good nights of practice during the week to polish some things a bit before we committed the music to tape, but I was beginning to agree with Bart. We had arrived at a point where we were as good as we would ever be at playing it.
It was already seven-thirty when I dropped Bart off at his place. He asked if I wanted to come in.
“I need to get home to make a phone call, so I have to go.”
“You can use my phone.”
“Naw, it’s long distance.”
“Actually, Dawn is getting married.”
“Yeah. She told me last night. She came to Lake.”
“So, let me get this straight. She comes all the way from Pittsburgh to watch you wrestle just to tell you she’s getting married to someone else?”
Bart shook his head.
“I don’t even begin to understand that, Brent. Your life, especially with girls, makes no sense at all.”
“It’s not like I’m juggling plates,” I said, and then laughed.
“Lately, it seems like it… sometimes.”
“Well, I hope nothing drops and breaks.”
“See ya tomorrow,” I said.
“Yeah, see ya.”
On the drive home, I listened to The Moody Blues’ Seventh Sojourn. As you might expect, no one else in my band, except for me, was into that group. I’d been a fan for a while. In fact, the Days of Future Passed album was the inspiration for writing the Rock opera One Thane. I envisioned eventually scoring orchestral interludes between the songs. It was ambitious, but I was young enough to still believe there was nothing I couldn’t do. It was something my dad always told me, just never give up. In truth, that was about half of the requirement. The rest of it depended a lot on contacts — who you know.
When I returned home, I needed some gasoline. So, I pulled around the back of the garage and filled my tank. While there, I petted my dog, Rusty. Since Mom didn’t like having Rusty in the basement when it was cold, she had Dad install a heat lamp in the shed where my dog slept. It seemed to be working out well. Rusty appeared eager to get back inside for the warmth.
As busy as I had been, it had been a long time since I’d played with him. It was probably one of those miracles of nature that he still remembered me. I need to put him on my schedule, but short of inventing a new day to include in the week, where would I find the time?
Once my car was parked in the garage, I entered the house. It was eight-twenty. I decided to take a quick shower and get dressed for bed before calling Pam.
After, while waiting for 9 o’clock, I sat by the phone in the kitchen going over my notes for an American Government quiz we were scheduled to have in the morning.
“There’s still some cornbread left,” Mom offered.
“Yeah, that sounds good.”
“Are you waiting for Renée or Dawn to call?”
“No, I’m waiting to call someone else.”
“Someone I met Friday at the tournament.”
“A cheerleader, Mom.”
Mom shook her head but said nothing. She didn’t have to. I knew what she was thinking.
She set an empty bowl in front of me. Then she delivered the carton of buttermilk and the remainder of the cornbread she’d made last night.
“You’re keeping a lot of girls on the line.”
“It’s not like that, Mom.”
“What’s it like, then?”
“Well, Pam, the girl I’m calling, wants me to finish a story I was telling her.”
“You met a cheerleader from another school, and you’re calling her, but that’s not anything to be concerned about?”
“It’s not like I have anything serious going on with her or anyone else.”
“I don’t know about you. But I do know that you should only be with one girl at a time.”
“It would be different if I was dating anyone seriously, Mom. I’m not. Anyway, everyone I’ve dated for what seems like forever also talks to others.”
“Well, they shouldn’t, not if they are dating you.”
“If it was dating, yeah, maybe. But I haven’t had that kind of relationship.”
“Not even Dawn?”
“Not even her, Mom.”
“It just seems odd.”
“There’s nothing odd about it.”
It was nine, and I motioned for Mom to be quiet as I picked up the receiver, and using the torn slip of paper I’d retrieved from my wallet, I dialed Pam’s number. “Hello,” she answered as Mom left me alone in the kitchen.
“Brent. How was your day?”
“What part of it?”
“Overall assessment, I guess.”
“It was pretty good, I think.”
“Good,” she said.
“How was yours?”
“It was alright, I guess. Like always, I went to church this morning with my mom and my aunt. Afterward, I cleaned the house and my room, and I just finished studying.”
“Did you bother to eat anything anywhere in there?”
She laughed. “Yes, I ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner — somewhere along the way.”
“I wouldn’t want my newest friend to starve to death.”
“Not a chance of that happening around my mom. So, how about you?”
“When I got up, I ran into town. We live on a farm.”
“Yeah, and then I came home, finished exercising…”
“Oh, when you said, ‘ran into town’, you meant ‘ran into town’.”
“Yeah, it’s about two miles to town.”
“I thought last night you said it was fifteen miles.”
“That’s to my school in Springfield. I live two miles from South Charleston. South Charleston is fifteen miles from my school, more or less.”
“Oh, okay. I get it, now.”
“Then I took a shower, got dressed, ate breakfast, went to my friend Bart’s house, picked him up so we could go to my band’s rehearsal at Darren and Rich’s house. That took the rest of the afternoon. I just got home a little while ago.”
“So, getting to the conclusion of your story — since this is long distance and all…”
“Yeah, why did I have my own apartment. I could tell you they don’t have wrestling at the high school close to where my folks live, which is true, but really, my folks wanted me to get out of a bad situation.” I went on to explain in detail what happened between eighth grade and the fall when I was a freshman, the fights I had with a couple of bullies for which I was punished but not the bullies. That led to my moving into an apartment to live in the school district, and how I came to move back home with my folks.
“That must have been an adjustment.”
“There’ve been some moments.”
“I can’t imagine being on my own and then moving back in.”
“Well, it wasn’t like I was completely on my own. I still had to check in at a certain time for a phone call from Mom and that sort of thing.”
“Not as interesting as it sounds before you have all the facts.”
“Well, no.” She laughed. “But your parents must trust you a lot.”
“They usually do.”
“My parents would never let me have my own place, not yet anyway.”
“I think they’d be worried about your safety.”
“Yeah, that would be one thing for sure, that and having parties all the time.”
“Well, I didn’t make a point of telling anyone I had my own place.”
“Are you serious? I bet you would have been the most popular guy in school.”
“Until the neighbors complained, and I got evicted and… I didn’t need the trouble,” I explained. “Of course, eventually the word got out. I had a date, and she wanted to see my place and so, she told a couple of people, and they told a couple of people…”
“And it spread all over the school.”
“Yep. It took less than a day. The kids were upset that I didn’t have wild parties, but I didn’t care. It worked out the way it needed to.”
“Look, I don’t want you to get into trouble with the long-distance charges–”
“It’s fine. Mom knows.”
“As long as you’re sure.”
“I’ll return the favor. Next time, I’ll call you.”
“Okay.” It kind of surprised me that she envisioned a next time. I mean, yeah, I had her number and she had mine. Maybe Jason was right. Maybe she did consider this a date. Not that I was averse to something more evolving from this. I liked her. I liked her a lot.
“I told my father I know the guy who beat Mark Heath,” she said.
“Your dad’s big on wrestling, is he?”
“Both my brothers wrestled at my school. I think I told you that. They graduated last year.”
“They’re twins or one is just smarter than the other?”
“Now that you mention it, it could be both ways.” She chuckled. “But yeah, they’re twins. Dad went to almost all of their matches last year.”
“So, he’s seen Heath in action.”
“Yeah, and he doesn’t like him at all.”
“A lot of people share that feeling.”
“He said he’d like to shake your hand if you’re ever over this way.”
“Sure. We’ll have to figure out when that might be.”
“You know, we have a triangular meet at Springfield North in a couple of weeks, on Valentine’s Day. It’s a Thursday. I was thinking if you were free…”
“My schedule is really awful, Pam. Maybe I can if I’m not wrestling that night. I’ll have to check. Usually, when I have a Thursday off my band has a rehearsal night. After we finish recording my Rock opera, we’ll be back to a more normal schedule. So, I can’t promise anything. But if I can make it, I’ll be there.”
“You have my number.”
“Yeah, I’ll make sure to keep it in my wallet. You have mine, too?”
“Yeah. I’ll give you a call sometime, okay?”
“Sure. Maybe we can meet up, do dinner and a movie.”
“I’d like that. If my dad gives me permission.”
“You can’t imagine. Like right now, my mom is giving me the evil eye about it being so late on a Sunday night with school tomorrow.”
“Yeah, so, I guess I should be going.”
“I’m glad we could talk,” I said. “I really enjoyed it.”
“We’ll talk again soon.”