The following is an excerpt of:
The Boy Who Dreamed and the Big Bad Wolf Which He Became
By Tex Batmart
If you haven’t been with us from the start, check out Chapter One here
Chapter Seven: On Love and Kisses
He was eight years old when he first kissed a girl. It was perhaps the single most wonderful moment of his entire life, and no matter what came after, and no matter how hard his inner demons tried, that memory remained true and pure throughout his life. If his grandparents were the basis for what he felt constituted the perfect marriage, then what he had with Heather Hopkins was what he based his expectations of true love upon. That their love lasted mere months never bothered him, aside from the feeling that his chance at lasting happiness had been taken from him. Years later, after he had been through hell and back, he found out that Heather had carried a torch for him until adulthood. He knew that there was no way that he could have made it out to see her before her love for him had finally faded, but he felt that perhaps if he had tried, he might have staved off all of the pain which he borne over those past several years. It was the one event in his life he might have been tempted to go back in time to fix, were he given the opportunity.
Her family had moved into the house at the top of the hill that summer before the start of school. Tex was just about to enter into the second grade, and was pleased to discover someone with whim to spend the wait for the morning bus aside from the weird girl in the mobile home across from the bus stop and the bully who lived just down the road from her. School that year was nowhere near as engaging as had been the year before, and soon Tex found that the best part of his day was the time when he was walking up the hill and past Heather’s house on his way to the giant stump at the corner of Manitou Beach Drive and Mountain View Road. His weekends were dedicated to Arthur, as they’d been going to different elementary schools since the end of Kindergarten, and his weekday afternoons were still spent at the daycare he had been attending, but every morning was set aside for Heather Hopkins.
After having assembled his backpack, and dodged the affection of his mother, he ran out the front door and up the hill. Well, more specifically, he ran out the door and ran up half the hill, while walking quickly up the rest because the hill was quite steep, and he usually ran out of breath before he could reach the top. He would then pause once he had reached the summit, and compose himself before casually striding up to wait in front of Heather’s house. At that point, her brother would, more often than not, burst out of his front door and past young Batmart, squealing, “Race you!” as he bolted toward the bus stop. At first, Tex had run after him immediately, unsure if he could beat him, but as the months passed, he’d learned that he could take the other boy, and began giving him a healthy head start. He usually had enough time to wave to Heather as she stepped outside before he had to take off after John in order to beat him across the finish line.
Then, victory his, he would jog back to meet Heather, who was waiting for him just outside her house, and the pair would walk calmly to the giant stump and talk about whatever elementary school couples talk about. In all honesty, Tex had no idea what was going on, as girls were, in his experience, just strange creatures who seemed incapable of grasping the simple nuances of the latest action figures. And aside from his friendship with her, he had never really spent all that much time in the company of the fairer sex. They were most likely to be found in packs, and, having recently discovered his introverted nature, Tex tended to avoid such groups. He had no training in psychology, and not a clue what was meant by the term “mob mentality”, but he’d found that things usually went better for him in significantly smaller groups. If you were to have asked him that year if he had fallen in love with her, he would have made a face and blurted out some sort of denial, as she was a girl, and the only people that he loved were his family and his friend. But if you had asked him that same question at the end of summer vacation, in the days before he was to enter the third grade, he would have had a different answer entirely.
That school year passed slowly for him, and when it had finally run its course, he breathed a sigh of relief to be free of it. The first few weeks of his vacation were dedicated to winding down, and washing the stink of education from him, but in the first part of July, he made a truly startling discovery. It all began one Saturday, when Arthur had made other plans, and he suddenly had nothing to do that day. He sat sullenly in front of the television and watched the lineup of cartoons, fuming that he wasn’t going to have any fun at all. And then the weird girl from the mobile home just across from the big stump came down and knocked upon his door. She had cotton balls in her ears, and spoke entirely too quickly. Tex soon discovered that she was asking if he’d like to come and play. He was about to gently refuse her offer, as one can never be too careful with little girls wearing cotton balls in their ears, when he saw John and Heather walking up behind her.
His mother gave the go-ahead, and Tex raced outside to join the other children. His mother’s rules had been fairly clear. They could play in the yard, or in the woods behind the house, and if they were going to walk down to the beach, they had to be extremely careful about traffic. Also, they weren’t to go in the water. Other than that, the four children were left to their own devices. Had his mother any clue about what was to transpire that afternoon, perhaps she might have reconsidered granting her permission, but in her mind, there was no way to foresee what would come to pass, for her son was only eight years old, and it was far too early to have worry about that sort of thing. Mostly, her fears involved a car driving down to the beach too quickly and clipping him as he made his way out of the woods. But she also knew that there was safety in numbers, and that her son, for whatever faults he may have possessed, was also actually quite cautious where his physical well-being was concerned. As she watched them run off into that warm and inviting summer mid-morning, she allowed a smile to cross her face, pleased that her son had managed to make at least one other friend.
The children sprinted into the woods. There were overgrown trails and an old building which had burned to the ground around the turn of the century. It was the perfect place for make-believe. There were dragons flying overhead, and Stormtroopers chasing them. They were explorers discovering lost civilizations. They followed the trail down through the woods, and exited onto the road leading down to the beach, but instead of continuing on to frolic on those rocky shores, they crossed the road and worked their way through the vegetation on the other side which concealed yet another overgrown ruin. Just yards away from the road, yet in a place almost entirely untouched by the daylight all around, there was a staircase which must have, one day, led up to another long-forgotten building. This forested area was entirely different than the woods which they had just left behind: dark and closed in, more tangled underbrush than trees.
They might have tarried longer, but John began to grow afraid, and they made their way back out and up through the other woods once more. He hadn’t noticed it at the time, but Tex had not been at all afraid upon that staircase. Normally he would have been almost paralyzed at the claustrophobic closeness of the vegetation, and the lack of light, but he had felt only a grand sense of adventure, and a small pang of disappointment when he’d had to leave that place. Justine and John had raced ahead, eager to get back to the safety of the lawn in front of Tex’s house, while Heather and young Batmart strolled along in pleasant silence, taking in the beauty of the forest, and breathing in the richness of the saltwater air mingled with the scent of pines. As they exited the forest, and the sun spilled down upon them, they were both filled with a happiness and exultation which neither of them could have explained.
The four of them played Freeze tag on the lawn until they could run no more, and then collapsed down beside one another, lost somewhere in the giggles. It had been a perfect afternoon. And then Justine sat up and threw a glance toward Heather (which Tex neither noticed nor which he could have understood), and asked if anyone wanted to play spin the bottle. Our hero had only heard of that game in passing, but was entirely unfamiliar with the rules, and John, it appeared, did not possess even Tex’s limited knowledge on that subject, but Heather was quick to respond with her assent, and Tex jumped in right after, not wanting to be left out. At that point, all eyes fell upon the younger boy, who knew that even if he were to dissent, would still be overruled by the majority. With the small sound of someone who has no clue what is going on and isn’t sure how he feels about it, John said, “Okay.”
They sat cross-legged in a circle and Justine placed an empty can of Shasta Lemon-Lime in the very center, before laying down the rules. They would take turns spinning the can, and whoever the open side was pointing at when it ceased its spin would be kissed by the person who had done the spinning. It seemed fairly straightforward, and Tex felt certain that he wouldn’t mess it up. Justine spun first, and the can came to rest pointing at Heather, who sat beside her. “Re-spin” she said, to which we all agreed, because neither of the girls seemed to want to kiss the other. In later years, Tex wondered what would have happened if the can had come to point at him, for, in truth, he didn’t really want to get all that close to Justine. As fate would have it, the can stopped in front of John, and the two of them locked lips like one might do with a distant relative. In retrospect, Tex realized that this game must have been played for he and Heather’s benefit, as neither Justine nor John seemed terribly thrilled about playing. “Your turn!” Justine said, as she sat back down again.
Tex had never kissed a girl before, at least never in this context. He felt strange as he placed his hand upon the can and gave it a spin. It was like the sensation which he felt on Christmas morning as soon as he woke up. The can stopped halfway between Heather and Justine. “Spin again,” the girl with cotton in her ears implored him. He took hold and gave it another spin, only to see it stop this time on the boy who sat behind him. Frustration was setting in, and he heard a sigh from across the circle. He grabbed the can again, and spun it as hard as he could muster, only to have it pointing back at him. Justine then reached into the circle and rotated it until it was facing Heather. No one pointed out the obvious violation of the rules, as all four children were just happy that Tex wouldn’t have to spin again. Tex nervously rose to his knees as Heather did the same, and they waddled toward one another until they met up in the center of the circle.
“Hey,” said Tex, unsure of what to do, for, as was mentioned earlier, he had never actually kissed a girl before. Heather then leaned in and kissed him.
As their lips met, he felt the very center of his being explode in white hot channels of electricity. If he had known that kissing was as cool as this, he might have done it sooner. So entranced with this new sensation was he, that he almost didn’t notice when Heather’s tongue somehow found its way into his mouth. In all reality, it wasn’t the most romantic kiss, for neither of them truly knew what they were doing, and instead of the sensual caress which has come to have been known as a French Kiss, it was more a matter of stabbing tongues at one another. When they finally fell away from one another, young Batmart was in a state of shock. He looked again at Heather Hopkins, and thought, for the first time in his life, that he wished to know what love was, and wouldn’t be opposed to the notion that she showed him. He was also surprised to discover that her mouth tasted quite similar to how her house smelled.
Over the course of the summer, the four children got together several more times, though no more games of Spin The Bottle were ever played. And, after a while, it would just be Heather who would walk down the hill to visit Tex. The two would go on walks through the woods and down into their secret hiding spot upon the staircase hidden beneath brambles, where they would embrace one another, and teach each other how to kiss.
It was the single happiest time in Tex Batmart’s life, and when that summer came to a close, he knew that he had fallen helplessly in love. He began to envision a life for he and his bride-to-be, as they would walk arm-in-arm to the bus stop in the mornings after he had raced his brother-in-law and then come back to her. He knew that he wanted nothing more than to hold her in his arms and watch cartoons as if every morning were a Saturday. There was nothing which could have stopped him at that point, which is why, it seems, that the universe was forced to intervene.
In the week before he was to enter the third grade, Heather came to say goodbye to him. He thought it strange, at first, for it was only a week until school was set to start again, but then she broke the news to him. Her father had just gotten a new job, and the family would be moving to Moses Lake, which was somewhere in Eastern Washington (though, for all his ability to travel, it might as well have been New York). They made plans to stay in touch, neither of them realizing that it never works out that way. For an afternoon, they sat together, holding hands, and trying to reassure each other that this wasn’t going to be forever, that they would see each other again someday. And he walked her up the hill and to her front door, giving her a hug before she went inside, he felt an emptiness begin to grow inside of him. By the time he had walked ten feet, tears had begun to stream silently down his cheeks.
He didn’t know it at the time (although, perhaps he did), but that was to be the last time in which he would ever lay eyes upon her. His mother wasn’t sure what was going on, and when he explained the facts to her (for he knew that she would never understand a concept as vibrant and confusing as True Love), she thought that he was just sad to lose a friend. The reality, though, was that his heart was breaking, and had no idea what he was going to do.