Being a Man

[Not a sex story. Maybe a little sexy, but not a sex story. It is as true as a fifty-year-old memory could make it. It is based on events that happened.

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The powers that decide how things will be must work really hard. Almost everyone I’ve talked to who has been out of high school for more than five years can tell me who she was. She? The girl everyone knew was a tease. Not a little bit of a tease but the one on a career path to a lifelong vocation as a tease.

In my class it was Carol Houghlett. On the first day of high school she flounced onto campus in jeans tight enough they increased her blood pressure and the blood pressure of ever boy who saw her. Her blouse was what we called an angel blouse, thin white material gathered about her pert breasts and loose from just under them to almost her waist. A square neckline and a pendant hanging in the expanse of skin, a pendant of a heart. She smiled and flounced her blond hair whenever someone spoke to her.

She never had a class with me. Not once in four years. I saw her sometimes at lunch, at a game or at one of the teen hang-outs we all found our way to. She didn’t see me. I got a car when I was a senior, but it was old and ugly. Sometimes I saw her in Bill’s Mustang or Wally’s Celica, but not my ten year old Taurus.

In May of our senior year I overheard four guys, football players, talking in the locker room on Friday afternoon. They were talking about Carol.

“I’ve asked around. No one has so much as seen her tits!” Bob Hamilton said.

“I took her out three times and finally got one kiss. I’ve had better kisses from my Aunt! I’m done with her.” Alex White said.

“She advertises like she’d be so much fun, but she isn’t! We went to Disneyland and she didn’t want to go on anything that might muss her hair!” Jack King said.

All four of the guys were wearing their jerseys, so everyone would know they were numbers, 66, 68, 75 and 77. In my head I joked they wore there jerseys so they knew what their names were.

“We ought to teach the tease a lesson!” Bob said.

“How?” Jack asked.

“I heard she’s going to the beach party tomorrow. She’ll wear a sexy suit and flaunt that body all over the place!”

“And, no one will get a look or a touch!”

“Just before time to get on the buses to come home, we’ll get her in the water and strip her!” Bob said.

“She’ll have to come out of the water naked to get a towel and get on the bus!” Alex said.

“I’m taking a camera! I’ll put her picture on the internet!” Wally was nearly jumping with glee. I wanted to see her naked too. I made up my mind to go on the beach party. I was going to skip it.

I went shopping after school and bought a new suit. I’d been wearing the same suit since seventh grade. At home I got everything ready for the next day, including my camera.

The next morning my Mom woke me and was crying. “Son, Mr. Bernard pulled out of his driveway and ran over Buster. We need to take Buster to the vet. Get dressed quickly and we’ll go.”

In less than two minutes I had Buster, my black lab, in the back of my car and Mom and I up front. We got him to the vet and were told he needed an operation. He would have a leg in a cast for weeks and he had to stay at the vets for three days. It was sad seeing him in pain but when the vet said he’d be Ok I felt relief.

On the way taking Mom home I realized I’d missed the bus. I told Mom what I had realized and she said, “The high school always goes to Huntington State beach, lifeguard stand ten. If you go and park at number fifteen no one will see your car and they’ll assume you were on the bus.” She slipped me twenty dollars and when I dropped her off she smiled and waved good-bye to me.

I parked at number fifteen, between a panel truck and a van. I wrapped my stuff in a towel and carried it back to where all the kids from the high school were playing. I had a pair of binoculars and my camera wrapped in the towel. I sat on my towel and acted like I’d been there for a while. Two guys I knew came walking by and asked why I was sitting off by myself.

“I’ve seen all our girls. With my binoculars I can see some fresh meat.”

They camped with me and we shared the glasses. While I had them I scanned the crowd and found Carol and the four horsemen. I asked one of my buddies, “What time did they say we had to be back on the bus?”

“Two. Mrs. McConnell wants to get all of us home before the vampires come out.”

“Right!” We joked, played in the surf and watched girls until about one thirty. Then they started gathering things together for the trip home. I noticed that Alex, Bob and Wally were following Carol and three other girls into the water. I realized the three girls with Carol were not her friends. They were friends of Alex, Bob and Wally. Jack was hanging back with two cameras.

I stopped. Something made me realize that the three girls would get Carol out into the water and Alex, Bob and Wally would take her suit. The three girls would laugh and so would the boys. Jack would stand on the beach waiting to snap the pictures. Carol would be faced with having nude pictures of herself all over the internet or missing the bus home.

Unless she rode home with me! Suddenly I hoped she wouldn’t come out of the water.

When they got Carol out chest deep Alex and Bob waded out to her and Bob grabbed to top of her suit and Alex bent down and they both came up with flashes of the yellow cloth that had been hiding Carol’s parts. She screamed and reached for the suit but they quickly moved towards shore and she realized that to follow her suit would give Jack all the pictures he was waiting for.

She turned to the three girls with her in the water and they laughed at her. They made jokes about her tits and how the boys wanted to see the ice tits. She faced out towards Catalina Island, not towards Jack and the camera.

The horns on the busses honked and everyone scampered out of the water, except Carol. They yelled to her to hurry or miss the bus. She never turned. Jack was the last to go. He ran hard and got on the bus.

I watched the busses drive away. I looked back at Carol and she hadn’t moved. I picked up my towel and held it high as I waded out to Carol.

“Carol, It’s Pete. They’re gone.”

“It doesn’t matter. I can’t get out.”

“I brought you a towel. You can wrap up in it. Then we can both get out.”

“I can’t walk home barefoot and naked.”

“I have a car.”

“We weren’t allowed to bring cars.”

“I broke the rules.”

She looked over at me and said, “I’ve seen you around.”

“Yeah. I’m nothing special. Wanna get out?”

She accepted the towel and wrapped it around her body. As we worked our way out of the surf she kept adjusting the towel so she was covered. We walked the two hundred yards along the surf line to my car and she didn’t say much along the way.

I had another towel in the trunk, and a t-shirt. I held the wet towel so that she had a little privacy and she wiped herself dry and put on the t-shirt and wrapped the drier towel around her waist. When she was sitting in my car I rinsed the wet towel in the shower and put it in a bucket I used when I washed my car.

I sat in the driver’s seat and started the car. “I can get you close to home, but when we get close you need to give me directions, Ok?”

She nodded and stayed quiet. Forty minutes later we were near home and I said, “Where do I go?”

“I can’t tell you.” I pulled to the curb and stopped. I faced her and saw the tears on her cheeks.

“I won’t let you out. You can’t walk home from here dressed like you are.”

“I should have stayed in the water and died.”

“No! Why can’t you go home?”

She looked at me for a long time and finally said, “If you take me home you’ll know and everyone will know. I won’t graduate. I won’t get into college and I’ll end up like her!”

“I won’t tell anyone anything you don’t want me to.”

Her eyes never left mine. She was searching for something and she decided it was there.

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“My Mom is a hooker. If you take me home you’ll probably see her. I know I’m a tease. So is she, until someone ponies up the money and then she’ll do anything they want. She doesn’t have any idea who my Dad might be.”

“If you don’t like who she is and what she does, why tease?”

“Some guy will like me for me. Not my tits, my cute ass or blond hair.”

“And, you won’t let him anywhere near you.”

“Yes! I will!”

“If I hadn’t been there today and known what they were going to do to you, you never would have said three words to me. I don’t drive a flashy car. I don’t dress like I have money. I don’t wear a football, baseball or basketball jersey. I don’t rate a second look. I’ve seen who you date.”

“I date who asks. Otherwise I’m stuck at home watching my Mom boff her boy-friends of the moment and fighting for my life!”

“I’m askin. I want to take you home, come back in an hour and we’ll go out for dinner and a movie. I pick dinner, you pick movie.”

“One hour?”

“Yes. And, don’t dress to tease me. Dress like you and I are friends.”

She gave me directions and I got her home. As she started to get out she said, “I don’t know how to dress. I don’t have any friends.”

“Bring my towel with you, I do want it back.”

She walked to the door and went in. I drove home. I showered, shaved and dressed for a date. No problem. It was my third actual date. I totaled my cash and discovered things were going to be close. I paid a visit to the Bank of Mom and asked about an unsecured loan.

She wanted to know what was up. She also wanted to know how much of a loan I wanted. I wanted fifty dollars. She wanted to know if we were going to Las Vegas. I said no. Just a dinner and a movie.

She gave me the loan. She got both bathrooms painted the weekend after school let out.

When my Taurus stopped in front of her house I was three minutes early. I started to head for the door when it opened and she came out. Loose jeans, a shirt with a sweatshirt over it and a baseball cap that said, “Cubs” on it. Her hair was in a pony tail threaded through the hole at the back of the cap. She had no make-up on, that I could tell. A little soft pink lipstick. No earrings.

I opened the car door and said, “Your disguise is perfect.”

When I sat behind the wheel she said, “Disguise?”

“You don’t look like the Carol I’ve seen every day for four years.”

“Maybe I should change my name.”

“Ok. What shall I call you?”

“Barbara, or Barb.”

“Ok.

I drove us to a small pizza place my cousin works at about four miles away. My cousin goes to a different high school. He have us great service and gave me a thumbs up twice when he thought Barb didn’t see. She saw. He’d forgotten about the mirrors in the restaurant.

She gave me directions to a theatre where thirteen different movies were playing. I had her order the tickets and I paid. She picked a chick flick. We sat in the center of the theatre and as soon as we situated the popcorn and drink between us she took my hand. She held it through the entire movie. When the movie was over I carried the empty popcorn container and pop cup with us and threw them away.

“They have people to pick up the trash.” She said.

“They have people to sweep the streets too, but that doesn’t mean it’s Ok to dump trash in the street. Mom taught me to clean up after myself. I don’t think about it. I just do it.”

“I think I’ve been out with a hundred boys in four years and you’re the first gentleman.”

“From where I sit it seems most girls want to date the bad boys. Rough, crude and mean.”

“You mean like the ones who stripped me today?”

“Yeah. Good examples. Think of all the popular girls at our school. All of them have gone out with those four guys, the basketball players, Sam, because he drives the Miata and Hector because he dances the salsa so well.”

“What’s wrong with all of them?”

“Hector is a pig. He took Maria Gonzales to the prom. I took her sister, Francesca. When he brought her home the dress was ripped and ruined, she had a bite mark on her breast and he took her bra as a souvenir. Sam has a sign in the Miata. It says, “Cash, gas or ass, no one rides for free.”

“I saw the sign. I gave him five bucks and he took me home.”

“Maybe I should get a sign like that for my car. Maybe I should treat girls like trash. Maybe I’d be ready to graduate this week and have more than three dates in my memory.”

“I see your point.”

“Then, do me a favor. See me and the other hundred nice guys on campus.”

“I think I’ve seen enough.”

I headed for my car. She held my hand all the way there. She’d been holding my hand since the trailers showed right after we sat down. With her comment about having seen enough I was confused. Why was she still holding my hand?

When we got near the car she asked, “What’s next on our agenda?”

I opened the car door and she got in. I closed her door and went around. When I sat I said, “I got the feeling you wanted to go home.”

She twisted around and faced me. “No! I don’t want to go home. I’m having a great time! I don’t want our date to end.”

“But you said, I think I’ve seen enough.”

She smiled. “You asked me to see the other hundred good guys. I’ve seen enough. I found the one I like. Why look at the rest when the best one is already here?”

“That’s not what I heard.”

“I think we may both hear things that aren’t what was said.”

“Then, may I take you somewhere that’s special for me?”

“Do you take lots of people there?”

“I’ve taken one other person there. We went there three times.”

“Then I’d be honored that you want to take me.”

I drove. I headed north along the beach in Santa Monica and then drove up on a bluff overlooking the beach and the ocean. Someone had built a bench there where people could sit and watch and be quiet. I got a blanket out of the trunk and wrapped us in it as we sat together on the bench.

I wrapped my right arm around her shoulders and held the blanket around her. My left hand held hers. We sat and watched the night.

She turned slowly to me and asked, “Who did you bring here?”

“My mom. The day of Dad’s funeral we came here after dark. I held her, sort of like I’m holding you. We cried and hurt and held on. When it got light we went home. We came three nights in a row.”

“Would you like to kiss me?”

“Yes.” I didn’t move. A few seconds passed and she asked, “Well?”

“You didn’t say it was Ok. You just asked if I wanted to.”

“If you’d like to kiss me, please do.”

I did. I liked it a lot so I did it again, without asking. She liked it so she did it again. We sort of forgot about the ocean, the dark sky and the traffic noises. Sometime in there she quit sitting beside me and sat on my lap. We wrapped tighter in the blanket and each other.

When we finally came up for air I looked at my watch and jumped.

“What time were you supposed to be home?”

“Mom would prefer it if I came home Monday morning. So would I.”

“We need to go. If a cop sees us they could get unpleasant.”

We got in my car and I drove home. It was three thirty. I parked in the driveway and Barb asked, “Is this where you live?”

“Yes. Come on.”

“I’m not going to sleep with you!”

“Not in the same bed! Come on.”

I took her hand and led her into the house. I closed the door and like clockwork I counted to thirty and Mom walked into the living room. She stopped when she saw I’d brought a girl home.

“Mom, this is Barb. She shouldn’t go home. Can she sleep here? I’ll take the couch, she can have my bed.”

“Can’t go home?”

“My Mom has company and I’m pretty sure they don’t want an audience.”

Mom wrapped her arm around Barb and led her down the hall. Over her shoulder she said, “Sleep in your own bed.”

I did. I wondered how late they stayed up. I wondered a lot of other things too before I fell asleep.

I woke when someone touched me. My eyes snapped open and I saw it was Mom.

“Get up and dressed. You need breakfast and then take Barb home. Wait for her, then bring her back.”

I ate breakfast with Barb and Mom. Seems they stayed up a long time and talked. Barb was moving in. Mom knew it all, probably even more than I knew. When I drove her home there wasn’t a second car in the driveway so I stopped in the driveway. She told me not to come in. She was gone twenty minutes.

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When the door opened she put three suitcases and two cardboard boxes on the porch. I gathered them and stashed them in the trunk of my car. She came out one more time and brought another box. She got in and said, “We can go now.” Her voice was at the edge of tears.

“Talk to me please,” I said.

“I’m glad you didn’t go in with me. She was passed out in the living room. It must have been an orgy. There were women’s clothes there that aren’t hers. She was bloody. I woke her and she’s sore but says she’s Ok. I left her a note and said I’d call her later today.”

“Is this a visit for a few days?”

“I hope it’s at least that. It would be nice to be Barbara until Graduation.”

“What did Mom say?”

“Go get your things. Then when we were on the way to your car she said, “All your things.”

“You live with us.”

“I’m sorry.” Barb whispered.

“For what?”

“Moving in on you both. You don’t need me there, getting in the way.”

“You’re right! I know what to do about it!”

“So do I. I’ll find somewhere else.”

“No! We don’t need you there, getting in the way. So, don’t get in the way. Fit in.”

She was quiet until we got home. Mom met us at the door. She helped us bring in Barb’s stuff and she gave Barb a key to the house. We sat down over lunch and talked over the rules. Even I was surprised.

“Long ago when I was married we talked about graduation. Our goal was to have Pete be ready to be an adult by graduation. After his Dad died I kept wondering how I was doing. He needed a man. I kept forgetting until early this morning, Pete had a man to teach him how to be a man. His Dad taught him. From what I know of yesterday and last night, Matt did a great job. I’m proud of how you behaved and who you are, Pete. Here are the rules. They are the same for all three of us. No sex without birth control and STD prevention. If you’re going to be out really late, call, not for permission but so we won’t worry as much. If you get arrested, call. We may not bail you out, but we want to know. The Bank of Mom is open to both of you. At the moment Pete has a bigger credit line, but you have one, it’s just smaller. Any questions?”

“Yes. Mrs. Nelson, what should I call you?”

“Mom has a nice ring to it. I know you already have one, so Beth will do just fine.”

“Last night I told you my name was Barbara. Pete gave me that name. My real name is Carol Houghlett.”

“Do you like Barb or Barbara?”

“Either.”

“Then here you are either, but not Carol. Should I talk to your Mom?”

“Why?”

“She would probably like to know where you are and that you’re safe.”

“You can call her if you want but I’m not so sure she’s interested,”

“You did tell her where you’re living?”

“Not really. I left her a note this morning and I thought I’d call this afternoon.”

“We can call together, if you’d like.”

“Ok, but don’t get your hopes up.”

Mom got her phone and handed it to Barb. She punched the numbers and when someone answered she said, “Mom?”

“Mom, I’m moving in with a friend from school’s family. The Mom in the new family wants to talk to you.” She waited thirty seconds and handed the phone to Mom.

“Mrs. Hughlett, this is Beth Nelson. I invited your daughter to move in with us for a while.”
“No, what she said was that she felt cramped in her space there and I offered to let her use a spare bedroom I have.”

“Have you got a pen? I can give you the number here and you can call her anytime. Well, let me amend that. Please don’t call after ten in the evening. A call after then will wake the dog and he’ll cry for a couple hours. He’s starting to get old.”

Mom gave her the number and the call ended.

“Speaking of the spare bedroom you mentioned, Mom. Where is it?”

“What do you mean where is it? You’ve been sleeping in it for years.”

“You’re putting Barb in my room?”

“And, in your bed. Either of you can sleep on the couch any night you want. I’m not saying you need to have sex. Barb and I slept together last night and we didn’t have sex. You are adults. Make adult decisions.”

Barb and I looked at each other and didn’t say anything. Mom got up and went to work getting all of Barb’s things moved in. All her bathroom stuff went into our shared bathroom.

I got sent to run errands and they did things and talked. At about five I was installing two new hooks on the back of the bathroom door when the phone rang. Mom answered and asked Barb to bring me the phone.

“Pete!”

“Ron. Did you see the excitement at the beach yesterday?”

“What excitement?” Barb was leaving the bathroom but stopped.

“Alex and Bob stripped Carol Hugelett in the ocean! They were showing everyone her suit on the bus.”

“Where was Carol?”

“She stayed in the water. When the bus pulled out she was all alone in the water.”

“You sound happy about it.”

“Well, she teased everyone.”

“Ron, When did she tease you?”

“You know what I mean!”

“She never teased me. She didn’t tease you. Who did she tease?”

“All the guys she dated, Pete.”

“And, of course, they never lie.”

“You mean like Hector?”

“Yeah. I saw that. I believe that. But, listen to Alex or Jack? Their jersey numbers are also their IQ’s. They went to the zoo and thought an ape was hot for them because she was naked.”

“I saw her suit!”

“Or one like it.” I said.

“Oh.”

“What if next time all of us go swimming she shows up in that suit? What would that mean?”

“That Alex, Jack, Bob and Wally and whoever else said they were part of it lied. If we see her at school tomorrow, how did she get home naked from the beach?”

“The football brothers didn’t think very far ahead. Did you see about the seventeen year old naked girl seen at the beach? It was on the news, pictures in the L.A. Times. I’ll bet people got pictures with their cell phones.”

“None of that.”

“You want to spread rumors? Here’s one. Those guys lied.”

“I don’t think that’s a rumor.”

“Hell, call the beach police. Ask if a teen was found on the beach yesterday naked. They would know.”

He was gone. I hit the button and Barb sat on my lap. “Thanks. Those guys will catch it tomorrow.”

“Do you remember where you got that suit?”

“I do. A little shop in Seal Beach. I got it last week.”

“Call them see if they have another one. If they do we’ll go get it and you can take it to school tomorrow.”

She called and they had one left. We drove down and bought it.

On Monday morning I drove us to school. I parked on a side street behind the school. She walked one direction and I walked a different way. She walked right to the quad where all the popular people hang out. She walked up to a group and asked if they had heard the gossip being spread by Alex, Wally, Jack and Bob. They nodded. She asked, remember the suit I wore?”

More nods. She lifted her shirt and showed the bikini top worn in place of her bra.

“I think they lied. What do you think?” She lowered the shirt. I was far enough away I didn’t hear what was said, but I saw the reaction. The crowd scattered. In the fifteen minutes before classes started she showed the bikini top five times. Then she went to the office and complained. An announcement was made clarifying that Carol was on the bus coming home. They would have had to admit liability for leaving her behind if she wasn’t on the bus.

The four football players and the three girls who had said they participated found out that the administration didn’t care if they graduated. They were bared from the ceremony. Carol-Barbara graduated. I graduated.

When we got home from graduation Barb showed me everything. I showed her things no one but Mom had seen, and she hadn’t seen those things in years. That night we slept in our bed. Together. She didn’t tease me at all. Well, maybe just a little. In the middle of the night she gave me my graduation present and I gave her mine.

At breakfast Mom said we might try to be a little quieter.

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Updated: December 20, 2016 — 7:00 PM

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