It had been so hot that day.
The sun beat down so hard it almost had a rhythm to it. I mean, the sun's rays pounded against the top of my head like the bass track on a gangsta-rap single, boom-boom, boom-boom,boom-boom,boom-boom, and I could almost believe that the angelic visions in front of my eyes were being forced out of my brain by the relentless heat: acres and acres of barely covered baking flesh, virtually motionless in the foreground but undulating in the distance, where thousands upon thousands of swimmers rolled in the surf like potatoes floating to the surface in a pot of boiling water. I hit freeze-frame just as Ace Ferucci stuck his naked white ass in front of the camera, and, at the same time, my mom called my name. And I mean Ace's ass in freeze-frame was bad enough, but then my mom too.
"Fuck off!" I yelled at the TV in general and at Ace's ass in particular, but with the video paused and the television suddenly silent--there had been a bass track, courtesy of these two like totally obnoxious dudes who'd been next to us on the beach, but it disappeared when I paused the video--I could almost see my words carry past the television to my door, and then push on through to my mom at the top of the stairs.
"Boo?" she called again, a funny, half-worried, half-peeved sort of undertone to her voice, and then she knocked on my door. It must've been about five, I guess, sometime after school but before their bridge game, and thank god--I mean thank god!--I hadn't really had a chance to get into the video yet. "Boo, I wondered if I might . . ."
She eased the door open, but by then I'd composed myself and was staring at the TV and trying to make my face look like, Ah, summer--which "summer" was a shot of Ace's ass I barely had time to fast-forward past before my mom's head appeared in the doorway. She held the doorknob in one hand and a drink in the other, and for a long time she just looked at the TV. Ace was gone, but in his place was this like totally stacked brunette, or, really, just her chest, which in context was even more incriminating than Ace's ass. My mom looked at the TV, and then she looked at me on the bed with the pillow on my lap, and when I followed her eyes down I saw that I was holding the remote so hard my knuckles were white, and I dropped it as if it had burned me. "Boo," my mom said. "Boo, could you come downstairs for a moment? Your father and I have something we'd like to discuss with you."
I was so relieved I practically thanked her. They were in the living room when I came downstairs. Even I have to admit we've got a pretty fantastic living room, which is centered around these two absolutely amazing Chippendale sofas facing each other. I mean, my dad restores furniture for a living, and he'd done nothing but the best job on those sofas. In particular, the leather on them was like butter, which on the one hand feels especially soft but on the other hand means you sort of have to watch yourself when you sit on them, or else you'll just like slide right off them. But anyway, my mom and dad were sitting on the one sofa and I sat down on the other one. In between the two sofas is this coffee table, which my dad always calls contemporary to the sofas--which means it was made at the same time they were, but he's not sure who made it--and like right on top of the coffee table was a pair of underwear, and the fly was facing up, and like right on the fly were these stains. The underwear was mine, the stains were mine, too, and if I mention that I was fourteen then I don't think I have to say anything else.
"Have a seat, Boo," my dad said, even though I was already sitting down.
I guess right off I should mention that my parents more or less never called me Book, ever, unless they were mad at me or introducing me to their friends.
And I guess, saying that, that I should also say how it is I ended up with such a dumb name. See, my parents aren't just bridge players: they're fanatics. They've played bridge every Tuesday against Angela and Tony Ferucci since like way before I was born. I don't really play bridge myself--I've watched them a lot, but the one time I asked them to teach me they laughed and said I should call them again when I'm like thirty--so if any of you play bridge I apologize if I'm getting this all wrong. Anyway, what happens in bridge is that you make your bid by taking six tricks on top of the number of tricks you bid for, so to take a bid of, say, five clubs, what you really have to do is take eleven tricks, which is actually a hard thing to do, and, I mean, whatever, if you don't get it it's not really important. What's important is that those first six tricks are called book, and when you take these tricks it's called making book.
Supposedly it was my mom who was struck by the phrase. Like I said, my dad's a furniture restorer but my mom's an editor, so I guess it makes sense that she was the one. I mean, my dad's not particularly articulate if you know what I mean: Have a seat, Boo, when I'm already sitting down, and like that. Making book. It was the second word that they used for my name, my real name--I didn't start using Booker until last summer--but I bet it was the first word that really got them. See, my mom edits this food magazine you've probably heard of even if you've never read it, but the only reason she edits it, she once told me, is because she can't write a decent sentence to save her life, and she can't cook either. What she does have is great taste, in food and writing both, which is why her magazine's so famous. My dad's got kind of the same relationship to furniture. I've seen him take what looks like a bundle of wood and turn it back into a two-hundred-year-old Louis Quatorze dining chair--which he then sells for like an amazing amount of money--but whenever he tries to make something himself it's a total disaster. I guess what I'm trying to say is that my parents have never been able to make anything, except me.
"How's school, Boo?" my mom started things off, and she reached for her drink. My mom always allows herself two drinks before dinner--she calls them "aperitifs"--and I was guessing from the little wobble in her hand as she picked up the glass that she was already on her second one. The glass was sitting right next to the underwear on the table, but she just picked it up and drank from it and put it back down on the table as though the underwear wasn't there.
"You want to put a coaster under that?" my dad said. He himself was holding his beer in his lap. "I mean, the wood."
"I'm sure it'll be fine," my mom said.
"It'll leave rings. That table was a lot of work, I could sell it for a mint."
"Well, okay," she said then, and then she sort of looked around for a coaster but there wasn't one, and I guess she didn't want to get up or something, and so what she did was, she picked the drink up and put it down on my underwear.
No one said anything for what seemed like a long time.
"Boo," my mom finally said.
"Look, Mom, we talked about it already. In school. Health class. I know all about it. Everything's fine, really." And then I remembered: Tuesday. "Hey, won't the Feruccis be here soon?" By which I didn't actually mean Mr. and Mrs., but Ace, who always came over with them.
That summer the Puerto Rican girls had straightened their hair like Mariah Carey but the white girls were still frizzing their hair out with big perms like, I don't know, like the women on the 700 Club or something. What can I say, Long Island. But straight or frizzy they were all in bikinis--the one-piece was definitely out--and one of the two brunettes sunbathing in front of us was lying on her back, sucking in her stomach and making these like fingerpaint-type designs in the baby oil and sweat that puddled around her belly button, and her friend was on her stomach and doing this thing where she hooked a finger through the string that ran around her hip and pulled up on it to cover the top of her ass, after which she'd slide a finger under the seat of her suit and pull it down to cover the bottom of her ass, and I tell you what, I could've watched her do that all day long. But instead Ace came running up from the dunes and said he'd got an idea, come quick and bring the camera and tripod, hurry up Booker, we haven't got all day, and what could I do? Ace saw me looking back at the two brunettes and just sort of smiled and said what he had in mind was way better than that. What he had in mind, he said, would keep me warm all winter long.
"Boo," my mom said now, like I hadn't said anything. She smiled, and took a drink, and when the glass was in her hand you could see that it had left a little hollow ring on the front of my underwear, and when she put it down I could see that she was careful to put it down in exactly the same spot. "I'm sure that your health teacher was able to give you a perfectly adequate technical explanation for the changes occurring in your body."
"Technical," my dad sort of threw in.
"No, really, Mom, I mean, thanks, I appreciate it, but you should get ready for your game."
"Nevertheless," my mom went right on, "your father and I feel it is our duty to provide you with a warmer, more emotional rationale for what's going on."
"Emotional." My dad's beer was empty but he took a little pull from it anyway. He looked at his watch. "The Feruccis are due in about an hour."
My mom picked up her glass again. "I found this in your hamper," she said, and I guess it must've been that I didn't really want to focus on the underwear or whatever, but I was kind of confused for a minute.
"Your glass?" I said.
My mom tittered then, which is what she calls it, which when I asked my dad what she meant he said it was sort of the sophisticated way to chuckle.
"No, no, the glass was in the cabinet," she said. She hadn't put her glass down and she took another sip. "I mean your underpants."
"The underwear," my dad tossed in, trying to be helpful.
All three of us kind of looked down at them. The front was pretty much wet from my mom's drink, which unfortunately brought out the stains all the more, and my mom, I guess since we were all looking at the underwear, she didn't put her glass back down but instead took another sip, and then, when nobody said anything, another, but by that point her glass was empty and she just looked over at the bar. She didn't get up though, just looked back at me.
"I'm sure it must seem a bit overwhelming to you," she said finally. "I mean, the changes. But your father and I are here to assure you that the things that are happening to you are perfectly natural, and that these processes, which must seem a bit"--she paused long enough to look down into her empty glass, and then she settled for a word she'd already used--"overwhelming," she said, and kind of shrugged, "they'll all work themselves out in time, and come to seem perfectly natural."
"Perfectly natural," my dad threw in at that point, I'm not sure if he meant to clarify what my mom was saying or if he was just repeating her. He looked at his watch again. "Forty-five minutes, really." He spoke to my mom this time, and I knew that he wanted to get this over as much as I did.
My mom was looking at her drink again, and then she looked at my dad, and then she said, "Maybe just this once. Another aperitif."
"I could go for a beer myself," my dad said. "Boo, what about you?"
I'd've loved a drink, but whatever.
My dad went over to the bar to fix new drinks, and while he was up my mom and I just kind of smiled at each other. I mean, she kind of smiled a little bit, and then I kind of smiled back at her, which made her smile a little more, and so I felt like I had to smile even more back at her, which of course only made her smile even wider, and so on, until by the time my dad came back we were both grinning like circus monkeys.
"Ho ho ho," my dad said. "What's the big joke, huh?" He sat down and then he set the drinks on the table, but right off the sound of the glass on the wood must've made him realize that he'd forgotten to bring coasters because he immediately picked them up, and he sort of held them for a moment, kind of half getting up and then sitting back down again and getting up and sitting back down and then finally just handing my mom her drink and putting his beer in his lap.
At that point it was starting to look like this was going to take all night, and the thought of Ace Ferucci walking in and seeing my underwear on the table was making me kind of panicky. But the new drinks seemed to speed things up, and I guess, well, the long and short of it was that the books my mom had read were all about making sure your pubescent adolescent takes responsibility for his or her new feelings, by which I'm pretty sure they meant being careful when you have sex, but my mom and dad, you know, being more practical people, kind of reduced it all to would I please make sure that if I had any further "accidents" as the stains had come to be referred to then would I please make sure I soaked my underwear in a sink filled with water-- cold water, hot would only set the stains, cold water with a capful of bleach in it--so that this wouldn't happen again, by which I think they meant the stains and not the conversation, but whatever. I was all ready to get up and grab my undies and go back to my room--it must've been well after six by then--when my dad kind of put his beer down.
"Boo," he said. "There is one more thing."
Well. I guess I should've realized that the whole setup was a bit much for a laundry tip. I mean.
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