Subject: NEW STORY:"Center of Attention-I" (Oilbuckle)
From: oilbuckle@aol.com (Oilbuckle)
Date: 24 Sep 1998 21:19:51 -0700

Center of Attention

by Gordon X. Oilbuckle

Football at Albert Einstein School, as one might expect at a private school whose primary emphasis was on academics, was always a relatively informal affair. The school did provide balls and equipment, but left it up to individual eighth-graders to organize a team and work out schedules with other similarly-inclined schools. In retrospect, I realize that was probably the only way a kid like Porky Judson could have gotten to be quarterback, never mind captain. Or that, especially in the fall of 1958, when most children were encouraged to fit themselves into rigidly defined sex roles, Cynthia Benedetto could have even been on it, especially as center.

But both had set their goals early, and achieved them by sheer force of will. I never liked Porky Judson much, and he'd just barely squeaked into Einstein School in the first place (though he'd beat up anyone he caught spreading the rumor that his dad had got another boy to take the admission test for him-a rumor I never believed; he'd have hired someone who'd get a better score). Big, strong, and used to pushing his weight around, he'd drifted into athletics as a field in which he could shine, and in his seventh-grade year he'd been one of the stars of the football team. He'd also paid plenty of attention to how the team and its schedule were organized, and when he got to the eighth grade-the highest class as Einstein School-he assumed its captaincy almost by default. His own choice of eighth- and a few seventh-graders to replace the departing graduates, especially Cynthia, drew a few initial protests, but they quickly quieted down as his team went on to take an unprecedented lead in our extremely amateur league.

I'd never been much interested in football-at least not in playing it, never having been athletically inclined myself. And watching it generally struck me as even more boring than playing, especially in the absence of pep rallies and other trappings of more conventional schools. But the Einstein team's unexpected success had led to an increasing number of spectators lining the sides of the playground where its home games were played. Besides, Cynthia was my best friend, so when I didn't have anything else to do I thought I should come and cheer her on. At least, that's what I told myself.

"19! 25! 39! HIKE!" snapped Porky.

He reached forward between Cynthia's legs as she passed him the ball. She promptly straightened up and raced forward, reaching out her arms for the ball as the opposing team... I think it was from Washington Irving School, which was several miles to the north of ours... clustered around her. But Porky instead plunged forward, doubled back, and tossed the ball to Tim Sherman, who easily scored the game's fourth touchdown to Irving's one.

A few minutes later the team was in position again, and Cynthia bent over once more to pass the ball. As she tossed up the back of her dress and prepared to pass the ball, there were the usual rude wolf-whistles and a couple of taunts from the Irving side of "Nice underpants, Benedetto!" but a lot fewer than in her earliest games. In truth, everyone was beginning to respect her for her playing ability and stamina, especially when she'd plunge through an opposing team that had made the entirely erroneous assumption that a girl, and a seventh-grade girl at that, would be easy to tackle. This time she did receive the ball, and carried it over the goal line in what seemed record time. And nobody respected her more than I did.

And yet...

I seemed to find myself getting more and more excited every time Cynthia bent over in the lineup. Her thin panties, caked with mud by now from the stress of the game, would stretch across her tight bottom as she'd pass the ball, and I wondered if the excitement I felt at such moments had more to it than the thrill of another potentially winning play for her team. I also was beginning to feel surge of resentment when Porky would reach between her bare legs, often goose-pimpled now in the increasingly chilly fall weather, as she passed him the ball.

It was all ridiculous, of course. Cynthia wasn't a modest girl; I'd seen her panties innumerable times when we'd climb trees or play on the monkey bars together. So had everyone else on the playground, and she never thought anything of it, apart from occasional grumbling about school rules requiring girls to wear dresses or skirts. On occasion I'd even seen more of her: occasional glimpses when we'd share a room, skinnydipping together once or twice, and several occasions when her dad, a Mafia don even Cynthia wasn't about to trifle with, had taken her panties down for a spanking. Cynthia would just shrug such things off and stuff an icebag into her panties for half an hour or so; I'd pretty much learned not to pay too much attention to such things.

So why was I so excited... and at the same time so uncomfortable... now?

Cynthia had just scored the sixth... and last... touchdown of the game, winning it for Einstein with a score of 45 to 9. Her skirt flew in the wind as Porky and Red Evans swung her up to their shoulders and carried her off the field in triumph. She waved at me, and I forced down the pang of jealousy I felt. We'd be walking home together soon enough, after all.

"Oh, bloody hell!" said Cynthia. "I've got to practice those plays more, Lou!"

"What do you mean?" I replied. "You won..."

"Against Irving. Second worst team in the whole state. We're playing Babe Ruth School tomorrow, and they're tough. Won the league championship four out of the last six years."

We were biking home, as we increasingly did these days when the football games would often end only a short time before supper at the Benedetto home. We also had the advantage we hadn't had as sixth-graders that the limited space on the school's bike racks was, by unwritten rule, given out to the higher grades first. "I don't know. I've got to get home myself..."

"So call your dad and see if you can stay for dinner." Since Mrs. Scalia, the Benedettos' cook, was much better than my own father, who was inclined to heat up TV dinners or send out for cold Chinese food, I eagerly accepted. "Now we've got about 45 minutes to practice," Cynthia went on, stopping by her room to grab her own football. "12-3-88 is a fake pass to Joe and a real one to me, remember?"

She bent over and spread her legs, waiting for me to get in position. I'd helped her practice a few times before, but usually she changed her clothes right after school; something she hadn't bothered to do today. It had been slightly unnerving even to approach and watch Cynthia's tight bottom straining the seat of her frayed and faded blue jeans, but such a close view of the seat of her underpants, stretched so tight I could see the darker crack of her bottom through the thin cloth, made me shiver in excitement.

"What are you waiting for?" snapped Cynthia. "You know the drill... I haven't got all day!"

Trying to ignore the tightening I felt inside my own underpants as I stretched myself over Cynthia's back, I put my hands between her legs. I shivered a bit as I actually brushed against her panties, and hastily moved my arms down as I received the ball. She straightened up so fast that I had to step back, but I managed to pass her the ball.

"Now try to tackle me!"

I ran after her, trying to grab her by some less unnerving part of her body. I threw my arms around Cynthia's chest, and had to reach to do so. She'd just recently turned twelve, after all, and I wouldn't even be eleven for another couple of weeks. Her chest had been flat as an ironing board all through the summer, when she'd generally gone swimming in trunks and nothing more without drawing many comments. Was it my imagination, or did it bulge out more now? Forcing such thoughts from my mind as she struggled in my grasp, I let my hands slip down and threw myself to the ground, bringing Cynthia with me. The ball flew out of her arms and bounced.

"Very good!" exulted Cynthia in surprise. "You're actually getting better! Maybe you should try out for the team yourself!"

I shook my head, which I suddenly realized had been resting square on Cynthia's bottom, vigorously and got up. "Why'd Porky make you center?" I suddenly blurted out.

"What do you mean? Because I'm good at it, of course! And I work my butt off every game! A girl has to be twice as good as a boy even to get a fair shake in a game like this!"

I took my position behind her again, wishing she hadn't mentioned her butt. At least she was facing away from me and couldn't see the erection I couldn't hold down. Of course she had to be right. Porky didn't even like girls, after all, and was constantly teasing Cynthia about the condition of her underpants. If anything, there was something wrong with me for being so obsessed with my best friend's underwear instead of trying to help her win the game.

As Cynthia tossed up her dress again, I reached down to receive the ball, concentrating on it rather than the panties that, even from my angle, I could see were beginning to ride up between her tight buttocks.

* * *

The game with Babe Ruth was an "away" game, far enough away so we had to rely on our families for transportation. Fortunately, several of the kids had mothers who showed up at the right time with their cars and station wagons. Gino Benedetto's chauffeur, Ferranti came this time with Don Benedetto's Rolls-Royce, into which Cynthia and I and as many of the other team members as could fit squeezed.

Even for kids in our income bracket, the chance to ride in a Rolls didn't come every day, so there were a lot more takers than there were spaces. "Hey, move over, Grogan!" yelled Bob Driscoll. "Benedetto can sit on my lap!"

"Not a chance!" retorted Cynthia. Much to my discomfiture, she swung herself over until she was sitting on mine. I was excited, but almost squashed. When had she gotten so much bigger and taller than me?

There were a few wolf whistles, and Walt Grogan started chanting, "Lou 'n' Cynthia sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!" Cynthia rolled her eyes and glared at him, shifting on my lap. I tried to ignore the feel of her buttocks as she shifted, frightened beyond belief that she'd feel my erection through my school pants.

"Hey, why can't I ride in the Rolls?" protested Porky, coming up to us. "The captain deserves to ride in the good car!"

"No way you're sittin' on my lap!" said Bob. "I'd be flatter than Benedetto's chest!" (I guessed it had been my imagination when I'd grabbed her before.)

"Aren't you riding in your car?" added Walt. Indeed, William Judson was the only father who showed up at the games, pleased as punch that his son was the captain of a winning football team. He was waiting by the family's Cadillac, and Porky reluctantly sauntered over in his direction.

Babe Ruth School's team was one of the three in our league whose players had actual uniforms, in the school colors of brown and white. It was also the only team besides ours with a girl on it: a burly eighth-grade end named Lynette Wells. Several more girls in cheerleaders' uniforms swung pom-poms when the Ruth team had the ball; an unfortunate contrast to the few sporadic cheers from the visiting Einstein fans like myself and Mr. Judson. Despite our best efforts, we lost to them 37-29.

I tagged along as Porky, and several other Einstein players walked over to congratulate the victors. Much to my surprise, Porky mumbled his own congratulations without his usual venom toward anyone who got in his way. Maybe taking charge of a team was actually maturing him.

Or maybe not. "Hey, Benedetto! Get your scrawny butt over here and meet a real girl player!" He began to put his arm around Lynette's chest, which was anything but flat.

Lynette shoved him away. "Buzz off!" She turned as Cynthia came up and congratulated her.

"You weren't bad yourself, kid!" Lynette told her. "But how can you play in that dress? Especially center! I'd die if all the guys saw my underwear like that!"

Cynthia shrugged. "You get used to it. Einstein School has this thing about girls wearing dresses."

"So does Ruth, but if you play on a team you get to wear the uniform. Can't your school afford uniforms?"

"Not after what they pay their faculty," Cynthia explained. "It's not cheap to get a Nobel Prize winner to teach chemistry to kids. That's the kind of thing they're big on." She watched as the rest of the team started to head for the Ruth gym. "'Sides, at least I don't have to go into the shower with them."

Lynette shuddered. "I don't do that! I change alone in the girls' locker room, and shower there. And believe me, after a game I get really..." she suddenly broke off as she caught a glimpse of me listening to their conversation.

Cynthia grinned. "Oh, Lou's OK. He's my #1 fan, and tags along to most of our games. Hey, we've got girl players, why not boy cheerleaders?" I winced. She hastily added, "Then again, he's still young. Maybe he'll get to play next year."

Lynette smiled. "It's so dumb the way a lot of boys think! But Tom's behind me all the way." At Cynthia's questioning look, she added, "My boyfriend. Tom Russell, our center. Say, we're having a dance tomorrow night. Maybe you and Lou..."

Cynthia reddened. "He's not my boyfriend! I'm not into that stuff yet. And after last spring, I've had my fill of dances for awhile." Seeing Lynette's hurt expression, she said, "But we have really good food at our place. I'll see if you can come by some time. And bring Tom, too."

As they drifted into a conversation about Elvis and Nat King Cole, I wandered off to call Ferranti to come and get Cynthia and me. The other Einstein players were beginning to congregate at the parents' cars, and I caught a fragment of Porky's conversation with his dad.

"Hey, they're the best team in the league! No disgrace to lose to them... you're still ahead in total games, and won all but, what, three?" Mr. Judson's eyes surveyed the well-kept Babe Ruth field. "And they obviously pour a lot more money into athletics. Say, I think I can talk Colonial--" (Porky's dad was a vice-president of the Colonial Insurance Company) "into springing for some improvements. Maybe some uniforms for your team?"

Porky shot a furtive glimpse at Lynette in her padded uniform, sprawled on the ground as she talked with Cynthia in her rumpled dress. "I... uh, don't think we really need them."

"But surely it'd help, at least. You've worn out two pairs of pants already, and it's not even October. I'm sure you're not the only one." He looked over at Cynthia. "And that girl you have as center..."

Porky gulped, and his face seemed amazingly red for someone who'd never to my knowledge thought of Cynthia as anyone except as someone to tease, and occasionally use to bring up his team's performance. "But what we really need are some new bleachers for our field. The ones we've got have been there since 1933, and we can't even use them any more because they're falling down."

This was quite true, and Mr. Judson, who'd watched several of the home games, knew it. "Well, all right. I'll run it by the President next week, and see what happens."

Tom Russell, changed into his regular clothes, had joined Lynette, and the two of them walked over with Cynthia as she headed for her arriving car. "Don't forget, now!" she said as she waved farewell. "Next Wednesday at 6:00 sharp!"

"Want me to come, too?" I asked.

Cynthia gave me an incredulous look. "Whatever for? You'd just be bored. But Tom plays the same position I do. Think of all the pointers I can pick up from him!"

* * *

Mr. Judson was as good as his word. Within the week he'd spoken to the president of Einstein School, and a construction crew had moved in to demolish what was left of the bleachers and start building new ones. This meant that all our games that week had to be rescheduled as "away" games.

I knew something was different the day we were scheduled to play Gaxton Junior High, one of four public schools in our league. It was within bike distance, but a few mothers showed up after school anyway, as did Ferranti. Several boys including Porky immediately rushed up to the Rolls, but Cynthia waved them away.

"Maybe I'd just like to have some space for a change!" she snapped at them.

"It's not fair!" grumbled Porky. "I still haven't had a chance to ride in it!" But he and the rest drifted away. But Cynthia's tense expression still didn't vanish; surely she didn't mean to exclude me as well...? I looked up and she sighed in resignation. "Oh, come on, Lou! Let's get going!"

Cynthia looked around in the back seat and began to look agitated again. She tapped on the glass, and Ferranti opened the window between the front seat and the back. "Didn't you bring my bag?"

Ferranti looked abashed. "Yes, Miss Benedetto. But it's still up here!"

"Can I get it at the next traffic light?"

Ferranti looked dubious, but nodded. At the next light, Cynthia opened her door and received a duffel bag from the chauffeur as the light changed. She rejoined me in back and slammed the door, glaring at the car behind her as he leaned on his horn. For a moment I wondered if she was going to moon him, as was her frequent practice when trailed by impatient tailgaters, then realized it would have been pointless in a car whose windows were made of one-way glass. In any case, she was busy rummaging in her bag.

Much to my surprise, she pulled out a pair of blue jeans... not even the faded, ratty ones she usually wore after school, but a much newer pair. Removing her shoes, she pulled them on under her dress, giving me a brief glimpse of the mud-streaked seat of her panties before she pulled her jeans over them.

"What's that for?" I asked.

"Just getting a bit tired of skinning my knees all the time," Cynthia replied as she pulled her dress over her head. I tried not to stare as she bent over again to rummage for a red T-shirt, but soon realized there was no point... Bob Driscoll had been right; she was every bit as flat as I was and had nothing to hide. But it still seemed to me she pulled the shirt on over her bare chest as quickly as she could.

Next she took a pair of sneakers from the bag and tied them on. As the car pulled into the Gaxton Junior High lot, she tossed her dress and shoes into the duffel and zipped it up. "Leave it in my room, Ferranti!" she said as we got out. "I'll get home by myself!"

Porky looked across at Cynthia in what almost looked like shock, before his face twisted into a sneer. "Hey, watch out, Benedetto!" he said. "I don't think Gaxton allows pants for girls either!"

"But we're not in their school!" she retorted. "And it's getting a bit cold to play football in a dress!"

As the Gaxton team in their blue and gold uniforms came on the field, I suddenly heard a delighted, changing voice yell out, "Cy!" I looked over as the grinning figure of Doug McMurdo arrived.

"So how's everything been?" asked Doug as the three of us sat on a grassy embankment as we waited for the rest of the Einstein team to arrive. "You told me you might be going to camp?"

"Never made it," Cynthia told him. The actual story of what we had done during the summer was a bit long to sum up, so she quickly added, "Just hung around. What about you?"

"Couldn't get to camp, either, with my paper route. Tried to call you a few times, but nobody answered, so I gave up. I figured your whole family was away."

"It... was." Cynthia brightened, and gave him a look I'd never seen anyone before. "But what about you? You're quarterback of the Gaxton team, right? And captain?"

"Quarterback, yes. Willie Kass is captain. But I might have figured *you'd* end up on the team. Have any trouble? Lynette Wells told me she had to get her parents to *scream at the coach before they'd let her* play!"

Cynthia shrugged. "Guess there are *some* advantages to a school that rates football somewhere between Chess Club and Bird Watchers' Club. Nobody cared."

Doug smiled at her, and then looked up at me. "Almost forgot you, Lou! What position do you play?"

My face reddened as I admitted I was only there to spectate, but Doug gave me a reassuring grin. "Hey, if you play as well as you play baseball, you'll be on it for sure next year. Too bad I'll be too old for Little League next spring, but the Gaxton Dodgers can really use you." He looked regretfully at Cynthia. "Too bad Cy can't join, too. Maybe someday they'll let girls play in Little League, like you and Lynette do now with football."

He suddenly looked up; the rest of our team had arrived and they were taking their places. "Time to go now. May the best team win!"

* * *

Porky leered at Cynthia as she bent over to pass him the ball. "Hey, look!" I heard his ringing voice boom out. "The Civic Improvement League must've finally taken action! We don't have to look at Benedetto's grungy panties any more!" He gave her a resounding slap on the seat of her jeans.

Doug's eyes narrowed and he began to step forward from the other side, but Cynthia stopped him with a look. She whirled around and snapped at Porky, "Any more of that and I'll rip your pants off right here! Let people see your undies for a change!"

"Jeez, can't you take a joke, Benedetto?" whined Porky. Ignoring him, Cynthia bent over again, tossed her skirt so high it caught Porky in the face, and prepared to pass him the ball.

Bob Driscoll scored a touchdown that quarter, and we got one more by halftime to Gaxton's three. During the third quarter Cynthia raced toward the Gaxton goal with the ball, only to be tackled by Doug McMurdo. They struggled for a minute or so, before she wriggled free enough to pass the ball to Tom and tie the game. We ended up beating Gaxton, 24-22.

"Great game, Cy!" said Doug as his team came over to congratulate us. "I was afraid you'd be one of those dreadful girls who'd go limp as soon as I came near her!"

Cynthia gave him a playful jab in the chest. "No bloody way! Sorry to disappoint you!"

Doug put his arm around her and, apparently as an afterthought, put his other one around me. "I'll give you a call tonight!"

There were more wolf-whistles from both teams, and Walt Grogan burst out, "Doug 'n' Cynthia sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!" I'd always considered that an idiotic song, even when (as was usually the case), it was about someone else. So why was I so upset at being left out of it now?

* * *

"But why can't we just camp out by ourselves?" I asked Cynthia two days later. My father was away on a business trip and had arranged for me to stay with the Benedettos while he was away, and the two of us were searching the wooded area on their property for a suitable spot. I'd been looking forward to our campout for weeks, and Cynthia had announced the day before that she'd invited Doug along, too.

Cynthia sighed. "I told you, Lou. Doug's never had a chance to camp out before, and you have. It's something a kid should get a chance to experience at least once before he turns fourteen. Haven't you ever camped out before?

"Yeah, but only once with my dad when I was seven. This might be good."

"Not with that stump in the middle, Lou. Maybe over there."

Finding a good place to set up a tent and sleeping bags had proved a lot more difficult than we'd thought. Just camping in the yard in sight of the house seemed too tame, but the forest, cleared away from the lawn area decades before but otherwise left alone, was very thick indeed and there were no places clear of trees. At length we returned to the mostly clear patch, and Cynthia pondered the situation.

"This would be perfect if only that stump weren't right in the middle."

I looked at it dubiously. "That's a pretty big stump."

"Yeah," Cynthia admitted, "but it looks like the tree fell down long ago. It's half rotted away. Maybe we could dig it up."

Making sure to get permission from Scalia the gardener, we got him to open up the toolshed so we could borrow spades and shovels. But getting rid of the stump proved to be easier said than done. No matter how we jammed it with our shovels, it remained stubbornly in place.

"Damn, these roots are deep!" Cynthia raged as both of us ramming the stump at once failed to budge it.

"Maybe we'd better camp in the yard after all."

Cynthia pounded her fist into her palm. "No way! We'll just have to dig deeper. Give me that shovel."

In a short time she'd dug a hole several feet deep right alongside the stump. Then she bent down and crawled headfirst into it. "Hand me the flashlight, Lou."

I passed the light down, and she exclaimed in delight. "Just a little bit more on this side, and maybe we can get it out!" She lifted her dress a bit more, so she could dig with her hands and toss the dirt out between her legs. I could see her buttocks clench under her panties as she hastened her excavation, all else forgotten.

"Yo, Cy!"

The visible half of Cynthia gave a sudden jerk as I replied "Over here!" As Doug's heavy footsteps approached, I heard Cynthia's low but steely voice emerge from her hole. "Not yet* Lou."

"But... why not? With him helping us..."

"Too late, here he comes! I'd better... no, I'm almost there! Cover me up!"

"Cover... what?" I started to pick up some of the pile of dead branches I'd cleared away.

"No! Cover up my undies!" I was nonplussed for a minute, and she added impatiently, "You've seen how I do it! Pull my dress down and tuck it in!"

With hands that seemed to have trouble doing my bidding, I started to tuck the back of Cynthia's dress into the waistband of her panties. "NO!" she said, as I took a step back to avoid the flying dirt. "Into the legs! Pull it down first!"

Which was much easier said than done as her muscles continued to flex. Trying to ignore the sensation as I pulled her dress across the crevice between Cynthia's buttocks and tucked the edges in all around her leg openings, I settled back in relief as Doug came through into the clearing.

"Just in time, Doug!" she said as he took the two of us in, Cynthia with her head and shoulders underground and her bottom newly covered by her bunched-up skirt, and me, collapsed against the stump in my sweaty school clothes. "We need your strength here."

She emerged from the hole and handed Doug a spade. "If you'll just take this spade and shove it here, this stump should come up, And then we'll have a nice, clear space to camp out."

Doug raised the spade, brandished it for a minute, and shoved it deep into the ground, right into the hole where Cynthia had been crouched a minute before. As it went in, Cynthia picked up one of the medium-sized rocks we'd cleared away, and inserted it under the spade's handle. Doug placed his foot on the makeshift lever and pushed.

For a few seconds nothing happened. I stepped forward to help, but Cynthia gestured me away. Doug pushed harder, and the stump began to move...

And then, with a roar of falling dirt, it came loose from its mooring and began to tilt. Cynthia began to applaud, and after a minute I joined her. Then she and I grabbed the stump and pulled it in the other direction, and then all three of us pulled it out, shook it vigorously to allow as much of the dirt to fall back into the gaping hole, and wrestled it over between the trees at the edge of the clearing.

Cynthia beamed at Doug. "Great job! We couldn't have gotten it out without you!"

"Yeah," I added in genuine gratitude. "We worked all aft--" Cynthia kicked my leg and, startled, I shut up.

Doug looked around. "We've still got that hole to fill. Want me to level it out? I... uh, don't have a sleeping bag..."

Cynthia grinned. "I've got an extra one. I'll bring it along while you fill in the hole. Lou and I need to change, anyway."

As the two of us walked back toward her house, I asked, "Hey, what was that kick for? And why did you want me to cover you up like that? Since when do you mind people seeing your undies?"

Cynthia glared at me. "Why do you think? You saw the condition they were in! Do you think I want a guy I really like to see those grungy things?"

And, seemingly oblivious of the implication of her words, she pulled her dress out of her panties, shook it out, and raced toward her house.

* * *

Not until many years later did it even occur to me that many, perhaps most, fathers of the day might have had misgivings about a twelve-year-old daughter of theirs camping out overnight, even in her own back yard, with two unrelated boys. But if Cynthia had had to do any persuading, I never heard about it. Probably Mr. Benedetto just knew that his daughter knew how to take care of herself.

Doug swallowed the last bite of the hot dog Mrs. Scalia had thoughtfully provided, newly toasted at our campfire. (Much to our regret, the stump we'd uprooted was still too damp to burn for firewood, so we'd had to do a bit more scrounging.) His voice deepened. "And when they got back home and opened a door, there was the hitchhiker's arm, dangling by its hook on the door handle!"

We both gasped. I'd never heard the story before, and if Cynthia had she kept it to herself. (I wonder if today's kids still tell that story, now that both hook prosthetics and any sort of door handle they could catch on have gone the way of the slide rule and the vacuum tube?) Cynthia told a story of her own, and I tried to make up one. Both Doug and Cynthia smiled, and I tried to overlook the arm he placed around her shoulders. If it had been Porky doing that I'd have hated him, but Doug was so hard to hate. I was so frazzled, I found myself thinking irritated thoughts even of Cynthia.

But they'd gone on to another subject. Doug was saying, "But if you want something really scary, there's always an Alfred Hitchcock movie. In fact, there's one playing at the Bijou now. 'North by Northwest.' Ever see it, Cy?"

Cynthia hadn't, and I'd never seen any Hitchcock movie. Doug beamed at us. "Well, then, we've got to rectify that! Cy, neither of us has a game tomorrow. Why don't we go after school? I'll pick you up after my paper route!"

"Sounds good!" said Cynthia.

Doug must have seen my disappointed look, because he added, "Why don't you come too, Lou? I'll take you both out for dinner, and then we can catch the movie? I'm sure you'll like it."

I beamed back. Doug was impossible to hate. We put out the fire, climbed into our sleeping bags, and went to sleep. Even waking up once at night to find Doug's hand lying across Cynthia's bag wasn't enough to shake my mood.

* * *

I raced home on wings the following afternoon, all set for the movie. In seventh grade the classes were broken up by subject, so I hadn't had much of a chance to talk to Cynthia. "When is Doug picking us up?" I asked her, as we put our bikes away in their toolshed.

Her eyes narrowed. "Um, actually I meant to talk to you about that."

"What do you mean?" I asked as we headed up the hill toward their house. Had something gone wrong?

"I... uh, told him you couldn't make it. He's picking me up at 7 this evening. You can catch it later."

I couldn't believe the girl I thought was my best friend was shuffling me off like this. "But why?" To my shock, tears were beginning to well up in my eyes. "Doug invited *me,* too!"

"Just to be polite, Lou. The fact is, sometimes we'd like to do something by ourselves, *without* having you tag along all the time. Didn't you realize he only asked you to be polite? When a guy asks a girl out, he doesn't *really* want to share her with another guy!"

The tears were running down my face now, but I was too upset to care. "But you've always said you were too young for boyfriends!"

Cynthia glared at me. "Or maybe I'm just too old for you. I'm twelve years old now, and I might not want a little kid tagging along all the time!" I choked and reached up for her.

She slapped my hand away. "Especially a little crybaby like you!"

Something snapped inside me, and I lunged at her. Cynthia overbalanced and the two of us began rolling down the hill, wrestling with each other as we'd done so many times over the last few years. But there seemed to be a furious determination in her face all of a sudden, and it aroused an equal fury in mine. After all we'd been through together, how dare she treat me like this?

I struggled to get up as we rolled to a stop, but she held on firmly. She was lying across me, face-down, her dress around her waist, and I was suddenly reminded of the times her father had had her in a similar position, ready to be spanked. And usually she hadn't done nearly as much to him as she just had to me...

I raised my hand and took in the muddy seat of her panties, outlining her cheeks perfectly due to a fold of cloth caught between them. A surge of -- yes -- desire went through me, and for an instant I thought of pulling them down and spanking her bare bottom as her father often did. But then, as the realization struck me that our relationship was not -- could never be -- the same as it had been, I knew it wasn't my place. But I could at least pay her back for the pain she'd callously given me, not physically but emotionally. I brought my hand down as hard as I could on the back of Cynthia's panties.

She gasped in shock and indignation. "Don't you dare hit me, Louis Remarra!"

If she'd cried or begged for mercy, I'd have stopped at once, but that wasn't Cynthia's way. She struggled and tried to get up. But she underestimated how fit I'd quite unintentionally become, after all those months of playing baseball with her, climbing trees with her, just doing things with an athletic girl. Holding her down firmly, I spanked her again.

Cynthia only became more furious, promising to do hideous things to me when she became free, all of which I knew she'd do. Being taller and older than me, she almost broke free, but I managed to pin her by wrapping my left arm completely around her waist. In her upended position, it was easy to swat her down low, where her cheeks were thickest—and her panties dirtiest, but I was feeling far from fastidious now. Holding Cynthia across my lap also suppressed the erection I feared would explode me... in a way I still didn't understand... otherwise. There had to be something dreadfully wrong with me, to feel such delight at giving such pain to someone who, two minutes before, had been my best friend in the world.

But, then again, maybe there wasn't. Most boys my age didn't like girls, but some did, right? And most older boys did, and so did most men. Even Porky, who professed to despise the entire sex, had once brought a magazine to school and shown several of us pictures of nothing but girls. Older than Cynthia, of course. Their chests bulged where Cynthia's was flat, they had hair in front where (as I'd noticed on rare occasions) Cynthia had virtually none, they had big, fleshy butts instead of the small, tight one I was slapping away at. And some of the shots had shown them in their underwear, but it was filmy, frilly, exciting, and clean underwear. Not the plain white cotton undies Cynthia wore, smeared with mud and grass stains and blood...


I stopped spanking Cynthia and looked down. There was a dark red stain on my hand... and a dark red stain on Cynthia's panties, right where I'd been hitting her.

I must have let my muscles relax, for in the very next instant Cynthia broke my grasp and surged up like a wave. She grabbed my shoulders and yelled, "You're not going to believe how sorry you'll be for that!"

I couldn't help bursting into renewed tears. "I already am! But never mind that now! We've got to get you to the hospital!"

Something in my tone must have stopped her fist in mid-swing, only inches from my face. "What do you MEAN, the hospital?"

"I hit you too hard! You're bleeding! On your... uh, where I hit you, that is! I never meant..."

Cynthia gaped at me as she struggled to her feet, with what seemed to me much more effort than usual. I scrambled up myself and offered an arm, which she began to grasp before shaking it away in fury. As she tottered to her feet, she reached under her skirt with her right hand. She briefly rubbed the seat of her panties, and I felt an instant surge of satisfaction... I had made an impression on her... that dissolved into utter shock and remorse.

As Cynthia looked at her hand and the drops of blood on it, her mouth dropped open and she staggered. This time I seized her shoulder and got myself under her, and, with a sigh of resignation, she rested part of her weight on me.

"I... I'd better get you to the house where we can call a doctor," I said. "No, maybe I'd better leave you here and get help..."

"I'll walk," she said, in a firm, flat voice that brooked no opposition. We struggled up the hill for several minutes in silence, as the full horror of the situation began to dawn on me.

It wasn't just that I'd hurt Cynthia. I'd deliberately hurt her, and repeatedly. With sudden force, the memories of a story she'd once told me came back. She'd once fallen out of a tree onto a broken beer bottle and required a number of stitches afterwards. Her father, the unforgiving Mafia don, had tracked down the teenage boy who'd left the bottle there and had his arms and legs broken. Last I'd heard, he was still in the hospital and the doctors weren't sure he'd walk again. And this was a boy whose only crime had been thoughtlessness. He'd never wanted to hurt Cynthia or anyone else. Whereas I had...

As if reading my mind, Cynthia turned her head and hissed at me, "You realize how much trouble you're going to be in now? With my Dad, when he finds out what you've done to me?"

A part of me wanted to drop her there and run, but I suppressed it ruthlessly. My best friend... well, my former best friend, but I still cared very much for her... was critically injured, and there was nobody else to help. I looked toward the garage as we passed it, but Ferranti wasn't there. Nor was the Rolls, so my thoughts of breaking into it to use its phone wouldn't work. I struggled under Cynthia's weight as I staggered on, for endless yards toward the house.

What would my punishment be? Maybe I'd be lucky and I'd get what Cynthia's father had several times threatened her with but never delivered, a whipping on my bare bottom with his thick belt. But I remembered the broken bottle and knew that wouldn't be enough. Even broken arms and legs wouldn't be enough. The only punishment severe enough would have to be...


I faced the issue in my mind and only struggled on, up that hill I had climbed so often in happier times. The birds were singing, a pleasant breeze was blowing, and I desperately wanted to roll back my life to the way things had been a mere half hour ago, walking home from school with my best friend. Well, it had been a better life than most people in this world lived. I only wished I'd had the chance to live more than eleven years of it...

Cynthia looked up as I reached the top of the hill, and a thoughtful expression came into her eye. "You know, Lou," she said almost gently, "...I don't think there's anyone here. You can just take me inside and put me down near a phone. I'll call the doctor and tell him I fell out of a tree. You know I'd never tell on you."

No, she'd never tell on me. She'd never inform on anyone; that was the code of honor by which her family lived. My spirits brightened immensely. I didn't have to die! I'd leave Cynthia there and go...


Not home; there was nobody there. I knew for a fact that if I walked off the Benedetto grounds, I could never come back there again as long as either Cynthia or her father was alive. But I could call my aunt and uncle in Indiana; stay with them a few days, then go home. It was all my own stupid fault for hurting Cynthia. When she got better...

IF she got better.

She'd never tell the doctor what really happened. He might get the secret out of her, and then I'd be doomed more thoroughly than even now, having run out on the Don's daughter when she most needed me. But he probably wouldn't. Knowing Cynthia as well as I did, I *knew* he wouldn't. But would he know how to treat her injury?

The injury, of whatever kind, *I'd* inflicted on her?

I didn't even realize I'd made up my mind until I found myself standing up straight. "I know you wouldn't tell. So I've got to. Make sure the doctor...and your dad... know what happened. AND who did it to you. And then..." I tried to keep the tears from running down my face as I took what I knew would be my last look at the pleasant fall day... "he can do with me as he will."

Cynthia looked into my eyes, and shuddered as she herself realized what must be going through my mind. Her expression was still furious... but at the same time almost respectful, as if I'd passed a test of some kind. Again she shook my hand away, stood back and stared at me...

And then she threw her head back and began to laugh. A giggle quickly rose into a wild belly-laugh, and I was sure she was hysterical. My thought of slapping her face quickly suppressed... I was not going to hit her, EVER again!... I grabbed her shoulders and said, "It's all right! Really! I'll never leave you... not for the rest of my..."

Cynthia seemed to be forcing herself to stop laughing. She finally managed to force out, "NO, Lou! Don't you realize what's happening? I DON'T have to go to any hospital. I'm NOT dying!"

I stared. "But how can you know? You're not a doctor..."

"You can be sure I know about this! I can't believe you don't... surely you know what periods are!"

What kind of question was that? "Of course I do. They're the dots at the end of sentences." She looked exasperated, and I dredged my memory: "No, wait! From science class. The Triassic and the Jurassic..."

She glared at me. "Not those periods! You've never heard of menstruation?" I looked at her in total ignorance.

"Then you really don't know? You told me you knew about the facts of life... but then, maybe they did skip it. Figured it was irrelevant. And you don't have a mother or sisters... But all it did was throw a scare into you. For NO reason."

I began to see a glimmer of hope. Maybe this wouldn't be the last day of my life? "What do you mean? What is this?"

Cynthia's face began to redden. "How can I...oh, hell, it's really simple. It's something that happens to... to all girls my age, or around there. We start bleeding... just naturally... and it keeps up for several days. Then it stops. And then it starts again, usually around the same time the next month. And the month after that. And so on."

I was staggered. "For the rest of your life?"

"Not quite. Just for 30 or 40 years."

She shrugged it off as if it weren't several lifetimes to both of us. "But the fact is, it happens to all of us. It's perfectly natural."

I inhaled a deep breath of relief. "You... you mean I didn't make you bleed?"

She glared at me again. "Oh, you probably did. No doubt you shook something loose. But the point is, it would've happened anyway. Hell, Jessica started six months ago, and she's younger than I am. And you know nobody's ever laid a hand on her butt. Except Diana that time, and she didn't hit her at all hard."

I vividly remembered the time Cynthia's best girlfriend had been spanked by her eighteen-year-old cousin. So had both of us, and it had seemed pretty hard to me. "And it's not something you need a doctor for?"

She looked genuinely astonished. "Shit, no! Otherwise every girl in the world would be rushing to a doctor once a month! No, it means you haven't injured me at all. But you know what it does mean?"

I could see the fury rising in her face once more. "N-No..." I stammered.

"It means I'm a woman now. And I will not be punished like a little girl any longer! Not by Dad, not by Diana, and ESPECIALLY not by you! Is -- that--clear?"

"Y... yes," I tried to say, as she lunged forward and grabbed me.

"YOU, on the other hand, are still a boy... a very LITTLE boy... who's gotten WAY too big for his britches. So I think I'll relieve you of them, here and now!"

I was so racked with guilt feelings that I didn't struggle as Cynthia forced me to the ground and unbuckled my belt. She pulled my school pants down to my knees and I knew my white briefs would be next... so I gasped in sudden, unexpected shock as Cynthia brought her hard right hand down on the seat of my underpants.

"Are you ever going to hit me again?" fumed Cynthia between swats. Her hand came down again and again on my underpants, and I let the tears flow freely, promising her I'd never do such a thing. Before I knew it, she was saying, "For God's sake, Lou, GET UP! Just because you're a crybaby doesn't mean you have to water the damned lawn!"

I began to struggle to my feet. "You mean you're not going to pull my underpants down, too?"

Cynthia looked at me in genuine amazement. "Whatever for? You spanked me on my undies, I spanked you on yours. We're square." She suddenly whirled on me as I stood up. "But if you EVER lay a hand on me again, your undies will come down and you'll get Dad's belt across your butt! Clear?"

I nodded in acknowledgement, relieved that I'd gotten off so lightly. I rubbed my bottom... it still seemed to hurt me more than it had hurt her, menstruation or no... and tried to laugh. "At least it'll probably be another year before I start bleeding!" She looked at me in amazement. "I..I mean, since you're a year older than me...?"

Cynthia sighed. "I thought I explained it! You're not going to start bleeding!"

I looked at her in utter amazement. "But you said everyone..."

She shook her head. "Not everyone. And certainly not you. Boys don't have menstrual periods. Just girls."

I stared at her in disbelief, and suddenly all my fears began to surge back in an overwhelming wave. I remembered how good Cynthia was at prevarication-she'd once (temporarily) convinced Diana and her cousins that I was Jessica Harrington, and she'd first met Doug while pretending to be a boy Little Leaguer named Cy. And then there was... no, it'd be just like her to come up with a wild story like this. Monthly bleeding? And only for girls, so it'd never happen to me?

Had she come up with a story to lead me to my doom?

Even as I realized she'd never do that, she must have read my reaction from the expression on my face. Cynthia looked at me intently. "Look, it's true whether you believe it or not. I swear it on my mother's grave! Ask anyone! Ask your dad..."

My dad was on an airplane to Hong Kong, and would be for the next seven hours. And she knew it. "Well..."

Cynthia threw up her hands and set her chin. "Look, I can see there's only one way to convince you. But I'm only gonna show you this once, so pay attention."

She stepped back, and suddenly lifted her skirt up above her waist as she faced me. I gasped as she pulled down her panties with her other hand, all the way to her knees. "See where I'm bleeding? There's no way you-or any boy-can bleed out of a place he hasn't got!"

"I-I s'pose not." I stammered.

She pulled her panties up with a snap as she let her dress fall. "What else can I do? Well, maybe if it's in the encyclopedia I can show it to you, and then you'll believe me." (As it turned out, it was. And I did.) "But, take my word for it, it's something only girls do. You couldn't menstruate, any more than you can have a baby. You do know that only women can have babies, don't you?"

Of course I did, so I nodded. Cynthia went on, "It's all tied in together, in fact. It's what women do every month when they don't have babies. So if I ever stop, I'll know I'm pregnant."

I stared in amazement as, slightly sick, but she plowed remorselessly on. "Oh, yes, I could get pregnant. Now. And that's why you don't need to worry about my going too far with Doug. Or with anyone. I'm not even going to go steady with anyone for another four years, and probably not then. I may be a woman physically, but I want to stay a kid a *ot longer!"

Her mentioning the name brought back an emotional pang. "But what about Doug? Why did you tell him I couldn't go?"

Cynthia looked at me hard. "Lou, sometimes you're so naive I completely lose patience with you. Suppose you were taking me to the movie, and to dinner. Where would you get the money?"

"From my allowance. Where else?"

"But suppose you didn't have enough. Suppose you really wanted to take some girl to Paris, or Hawaii, and didn't have enough in your bank account. What then?"

"I'd ask Dad, I suppose. Why?"

"And he'd give it to you. But your Dad has a lot of money, right?"

"Not anything like yours has. I think it's $20 million or so."

Cynthia glared at me once more. Maybe $20 million. And that means, when you grow up, you'll never have any trouble getting a job with his company. If you even want one. You might not, and you won't really need one. Your Dad's set up a trust fund for you, right? I know mine has. We'll both have as much money as we ever need, as long as we live."

"Even after you stop menstruating?"

"Never mind the damned menstruating! The point is, you don't have to worry about money, not now, not ever. Neither do I. But most people do."

"I know. Grownups do, even if they have it... I know my dad does. But Doug's still a kid, too!"

"From a family that probably makes less than $10,000 a year. Lou, you know people expect a boy to pay when he asks a girl out. How do you think it feels when you ask out a girl who gets more in her weekly allowance than your dad brings home in his paycheck?"

It suddenly hit me, and only with great difficulty was I able to stop the tears from flowing again. "But if he asked me...?"

"Only because you're my friend, and I was the one he really wanted to go with. I could tell, even if you couldn't. He simply can't afford to take you along. He can hardly afford even to take me! See?"

I saw. "Maybe if you paid for dinner?"

Cynthia snorted. "In twenty or thirty years that might be acceptable. But not now. Especially not on a first date. He wouldn't take it. He has too much pride. Even now, he earns all the money he spends. Why do you think he couldn't go to camp? His family needs what he brings in on his paper route."

And I hadn't done much in the way of earning money myself, and possibly never would. Except, of course, for the little company Cynthia and I had put together..."Say, what about the Benedetto & Remarra Lawn Care Service? Maybe we could see if Doug wants to get into that! If he wants to earn money...?"

Cynthia beamed. "That's a great idea! I'll bring it up tonight and see if he bites. And if the movie's any good... and everyone says it is... I'll take you there tomorrow night. My treat."

"No," I burst out, suddenly determined to at least retain as much pride as Doug had. "I'll pay for it."

Cynthia glared. "No, you won't. Doug's a date. You're just a friend, and I asked you."

But then she put her hand around her shoulders. "But my very best friend. A girl's first period is a very important occasion, and I..." (was there a tear in Cynthia's eye? Nonsense...) "I don't think I'll ever miss my mother again as much as I do today." She bent down and gave me an impulsive kiss on the cheek. "But thanks for being here for me."

Suddenly she whirled and began to head for the house. "Right now, I'm going to call Diana. And see if I can scrounge up a napkin before Doug picks me up." At my stare, she added, "To stop the bleeding, you know."

I was doubtful. "Your dad's napkins are pretty nice. You're sure he won't mind if you stuff one down your underpants?"

Cynthia laughed. "Not a table napkin, idiot! A sanitary napkin. Something they make just for the purpose. And then I'm going to get these clothes off and soak in the tub for a bit."

She seemed to stagger a bit as we walked through the living room and over to the stairs. I reached out, but once more she waved me away. "No, Lou. I'll simply have to get used to this just like I have everything else."

I grinned at her. "And you will!"

Cynthia shrugged. "Well, I'd better. Don't forget, we're playing the Babe Ruth team again tomorrow. And if Einstein's team loses the game because its center's having her period, Porky will positively never let me hear the end of it."

* * *

Dedicated with much gratitude to Hope, for her invaluable support, suggestions, and help with certain subjects with which I have no direct experience... -G.X.O.