THOSE SUMMER NIGHTS - Sneaking Around With Badboys at Dusk
Updated: Nov 9
Can I tell you how often in my life that I have felt like Hannah Baker from 13 Reasons Why? The earliest examples in the show come from her attempts to flirt with Justin Foley, the hotshot badboy “jock-crack”, as his ex-girlfriend calls him.
Walking into school on the first day:
Justin: Hey. Hannah, right?
Justin: *gawky & awkward grin* Justin…Foley. We…I saw you at the party the other night?
Hannah: Yeah, I…I saw you, too. *giving him the once-over* You’re drier now.
Justin: Yeah, well…we went home and changed.
Hannah: Was it profound?
Justin: *stare* Huh?
Hannah: Your change.
Justin: Oh, yeah-yeah-yeah. Heh, totally.
When she lures him onto the bus in a prank and he plops down beside her:
Hannah: You clearly don’t lack confidence.
Justin: You clearly don’t have geometry with Mr. Bates fifth period.
Hannah: You did research.
Justin: *squirm* Yes. I-I mean…I dunno, maybe? Is it—?
Hannah: I like it. It shows initiative.
Justin: *the smile* So could I, like...uh, maybe…get your number or something?
Hannah: Or something? So I could give you my number or I could just give you some fake nuclear launch codes?
Justin: I-I’ll just take your number.
Hannah: I’ll just take your phone.
Justin: *stare* Huh?
Hannah: One—you give me your phone. Two—I put my number into it. Three…
Justin: Okay, yeah-yeah-yeah, right-right-right…
Intellectual, interested, with a propensity for sparring as my favorite flirtation activity? Yup, that’s me when I dig somebody. Always has been, even decades before I became a martial artist. As a budding adolescent first discovering the Wonders of Boys, this is how I constantly felt. Like I was verbally drowning them. (Alas, I still often do.)
Because do you think I could have a thing for equally nerdy Debate Team champs who love to verbally throw down with cryptic references and overly literal scientific postulation as a form of foreplay? Oh, heck no. I, like Hannah, have always been predisposed to the kryptonian lure of jock-crack badboys.
Since my earliest days interacting with the cub versions of such creatures, I had been labeled a stuck-up brainiac asshole. I wasn’t. (Okay, I wasn’t only an asshole.)
When I threw down this way with a boy, I wasn’t trying to make him feel stupid. I was inviting him to play. To stand toe-to-toe with me and see what we were made of. I also liked to race and wrestle and duke it out in a good game of volleyball or floor hockey. I wanted his blood up like mine was. I wanted to spar.
Alas, in the moments when we were not engaged in a physical contest, I was met all too often with the glaze-eyed, “Huh?” On the rare occasions a boy had wanted to flirt with me (almost nonexistent in my hometown), I don’t imagine that feeling like a deer mired in a swamp with hunters closing in was a good way to elicit their attraction to me.
Which meant that the only hotshot jocks who ever went toe-to-toe with me this way were much older than I was, always from other schools where my reject-rep didn’t override my blessedly retreating pubescent gawkiness, and my little cheerleading skirt gave the illusion that I was woo-worthy. My ability to verbally throw down with them and even challenge them often came as a welcome surprise that they dug into with gusto. If I still spanked them into a good, “Huh?” they tended to simply ghost me, rather than lash back like the hometown boys my own age.
The others who did like to spar or at least admired that quality in me…
Well, if they didn’t ask how old I was, I didn’t freely divulge that information. Quite universally, they assumed I was in ninth or tenth grade, especially if they’d seen the way I could move. (By winter of seventh grade, I was already choreographing for the senior high cheerleaders.) Once they did finally ask my age, we were usually having such a good time together that intrigue (or hormones) overrode intelligence, prompting them to delve a little deeper and see what made me tick.
Unfortunately, when it came to the reality of flirting with these older boys, *I* was the one who found myself drowning. Because unlike Hannah Baker, I was not a sophomore when I met my first kryptonite.
And let me assure you, there is a significant difference between a naive, sheltered, thirteen-year-old bookworm-dancer-girl and a sixteen-year-old badboy.
13 years old
I lie on my back on the living room carpet, one foot bouncing off the opposite knee, winding the coils of the ten-foot phone cord around and around my finger. Trent is on the other end of the line, telling me about his day at the lake with his family. I could listen to him talk for hours—and I do, as often as I can.
We call each other several times every week, sometimes every day. Of course, I only talk to him when my parents aren’t around, or else while they’re out in the living room watching TV. On those nights, I creep into their bedroom and sneak the cordless roam-phone into my room. When I hear them coming down the hallway, I quickly hide the phone under the blanket and bury my nose in a book until they leave. They would very much disapprove of me flirting with older boys, whether or not my homework is done.
Trent is three years older than I am, from a bigger city twenty minutes away. I have only seen him once when I went to the fair with Becky. He was with his family that day, too, so we didn’t get much of a chance to interact. Every other time, we’ve talked on the phone.
I “met” him while I was at Becky’s house a few months ago. Summer is always different from the school year. With everybody’s friends stuck out in the country and no buses running, I actually get called and invited to hang out like anybody else in the class. Sometimes I get told secrets like everybody else, too. Becky was telling me which guys she thinks are cute and she mentioned Trent Nyquist, then gave him a call. When she passed the phone to me, I almost freaked, but we hit it off really quickly. He asked me for my phone number and we’ve been talking ever since.
More like flirting. I’m not used to boys flirting with me. I’ve only ever had a couple “boyfriends,” if you can call them that. I mean, Aaron and I used to play with Star Wars men and he kissed me on the playground once in second grade, but then he moved away the next year. Another time, I played “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” with Micky Northrup when we were camping. Neither one of us really had much to show, since we were ten and nine.
Other than that, there was only Tim in fifth grade. Although he’s in my class, he’s a year older than me and he smells of cigarette smoke. The few times he kissed me, he tasted like it too, and I always hated that. He was constantly in trouble—and I really hated that. He swears and gets bad grades, gets into fights. He told me that he loved me a few times. I said it back because he really was sweet to me, but I just couldn’t stand all the swearing and fighting and getting in trouble, so I “broke up” with him, if you can call it that either.
But Trent is a very different type of boy.
He’ll be a junior next year. He’s daring and funny and bold and he doesn’t smoke. He can drive a car, even though he doesn’t have one yet. He knows how to drive his big brother’s motorcycle, too, and says he wants to show me the tricks he can do on waterskis—slalom, even. I want to see him do those tricks. I want to see him do everything he loves to do.
Maybe I’ll finally get that chance, because I’m different now, too. This summer, I permed my hair and my parents have said I might be able to get contacts soon. I still have braces, but I don’t have to wear the headgear all day long anymore. Mom and I just went school clothes shopping last week and I got new jeans and some cool tops. I even get to wear a little makeup now, so I’m hoping that when I get to meet Trent for real, he won’t react to me the way that cute boys in my school have always reacted to me—like they want to barf at the thought of kissing me.
After the fair, Trent said I was “really hot” and “super pretty” so I am flying high.
Because Trent is very cute. Becky had sworn that he was, and his voice is super sexy, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if she had set me up with somebody ugly just for the laugh. Nope. Trent is tall and lean with long, curly blonde hair and ice-blue eyes. He makes me feel like Sandy with Danny Zuko, and I have been dancing and singing to songs from Grease since I met him.
“Do you like Tootsie Pops?” Trent asks out of nowhere.
I blink hard and give the phone a look like, “What? Where did that come from?” even though he can’t see me. “Um…yeah. I guess. I don’t eat a lot of candy. Why?”
“Oh, I was just thinking about that commercial. You know, the one with the owl?”
“Oh, yeah,” I say, laughing. In my best spectacle-wearing owl voice, I ask, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?”
In perfect synchronicity, we say, “A-one…two-hoooo…thrrreeeee—” We both make crunching noises and then laugh again.
“Wow,” he says. “You can really roll that tongue.”
I grin with the Garfield cool-eyes I’ve been perfecting since elementary, along with my well-honed cat-purr, which I demonstrate.
“Yeah, my mom can’t purr at all. But I’ve always been able to.”
“Well, that’s a good skill to have.”
“I think so. I am the Sound Effect Queen. I can also lift only one eyebrow at a time like Spock, but I can do it on either side.”
“You’re such a nerd.”
“Yes, I am,” I crow with a head-waggle, because when Trent calls me that, it’s not an insult. His laughter is full of delight and echoes how many times he’s said my intelligence is also “hot.”
“So, my smart-aleck little owl with the skilled tongue?” he asks with a hint of challenge like he’s revving a motorcycle. “If you can keep from biting, how many licks does it take, do you think? You know, to get to the sweet, gooey center?”
My heart races. He’s just switched to that devious flirty-voice that makes my belly do flip-flops and my knees go weak. Thankfully, I’m already lying down when I shoot back, “Well, I don’t know. I suppose that probably depends on the dimensions of the tongue and how much saliva is present.”
He guffaws like he just choked on his own tongue, then chuckles. “Yeah. I suppose that would make all the difference. So what’s your favorite flavor?”
One of my brows quirks up. I’m surprised at how interested he is in this subject, seeing that he’s sixteen, not a ten-year-old kid wishing every day was Halloween. But I guess some guys really like their candy, so I answer, “Cherry. What’s yours?”
This time, his laugh rolls out like a long, low carpet, and I can tell he is very pleased with my answer. I don’t fully understand why he’s so happy about that, or why his voice carries such heavy meaning when he purrs back, “Oh, trust me. Cherry is my favorite flavor, too.”
He does that sometimes. Says things that make it clear that his mind is wandering around in the gutter, but I don’t get it.
The last thing I’m going to do is let him know how much of a clueless reject I really am. I so want to meet him. I especially want the chance to kiss him, so I echo his laugh and hope it’s the right response to keep him flirting with me.
Three weeks later
I really shouldn’t be here. This is rare for me. I hardly ever do things I’m not supposed to do. It’s not that I shouldn’t be at the school playground. The sun is still out. It’s not past my curfew. What I shouldn’t be doing is sitting here on the swings waiting for a boy to show up. Especially not a sixteen-year-old boy my parents have never met.
But Trent is moving to Indiana on Monday. Although that really bums me out, I am super thrilled that he wants to see me once more before he leaves—wants to meet me for real this time. He offered to make the trip all the way out here on his bike. It takes twenty minutes by car, so he must really want to see me.
It’s late evening when he arrives, and the sunset behind him only adds to the moment. He rides up to the playground, looking like he could be in a metal band with his jean jacket, AC/DC t-shirt and ripped jeans—truly a modern-day Danny Zuko. He flashes off a grin as he coasts into the parking lot, then slides off the seat and flips the kickstand down with a big, black boot.
My eyes go huge. He is even better looking than I remembered, and taller. I didn’t get to stand face-to-face with him at the fair. He has to be six feet at least. I only come up to his shoulder.
“Hey,” he says with a smile and a little head-toss that makes me lightheaded.
“Hey,” I say, trying to be cool. My heart is hammering in my chest. I can barely breathe. I certainly don’t know what to say, what to do with my hands. It's almost fall and there's a nip in the air, so I leave them in the pockets of my jean jacket, fiddling with my keys.
He looks like he’s not quite sure what to say either. That surprises me, and sets my mind at ease to see him burst into an awkward grins, look at the ground, kick at the pavement. “So…h-how are ya?”
“I’m good. You?”
I nod. “That’s good.”
We grin again, share a giggle, decide to fill the clumsiness with a walk around the playground. Finally, we start talking about his move. He’s not happy about it. That leads into a conversation about the start of school and a bunch of other meaningless stuff. I’m pretty sure we’re just killing time as we try to figure out the angle of approach. I get the feeling he wants to kiss me.
I want him to kiss me. Really badly.
The shadows grow longer as we stand under the trees that line the playground. Our toes nearly touch, but we both stare at the ground. When I feel him shift to look at me—feel that he’s waiting for me to tilt my head up and look at him—my cheeks catch fire. I’m about to hyperventilate. I jam my thumbnail between the rings of my keychain.
“What is that?” he asks. “You keep on jingling something.”
“Just my keys.”
“Oh, yeah? Let me see.”
As I pull them out to show him, I’m surprised my blush doesn’t illuminate the playground better than the streetlamp that just came on near the front of the school. My keychain has a puffy, glittery heart charm and another shaped like a rainbow. They look so childlike in his big hands. Thank God I took the Garfield one off.
I duck away and begin walking again, hoping he doesn’t think I’m too young.
Now that I’m here with him, I feel as childish as my keychains. Kim and Suze would know what to do. They would get all his dirty jokes and know exactly how to reply. Probably Becky, too.
But we don’t have cable TV in our house, so I hardly ever get to see all the stuff on MTV that everyone’s always talking about. I’m not allowed to watch Rated-R movies. I’ve only ever seen one from start to finish in my whole life—that first time I went to Kim’s house with Suzy and we watched Purple Rain. I got grounded for a week when my mom found out I’d watched that. Not that I understood half of it. Talk about sexy comments I don’t get.
But when I finally get the guts to look up at Trent, I find that I know exactly what to do. It is as clear as the Big Dipper in the night sky. He is about to kiss me and I’m going to let him. Right there by the merry-go-round, he leans down and presses his lips to mine.
My breath catches at how soft he is with me. He doesn’t taste of cigarettes. He smells incredible. I’ve never smelled anything like that before. Sharp and spicy and I want to thrust my nose into his long curls. Mostly because I want to hide my face in his chest. I’m about to burst into a crazy fit of giggles, and that would be soooo uncool, so I don’t, but I’m almost shaking and I can’t help my huge grin.
He grins too, then kisses me again. This time I kiss him back. We kiss for quite awhile, until I can finally relax into it, and yet I feel like my body is going to burst straight out of my skin!
But it’s getting dark. He got here so late. The clouds are all going deep blue with the last golden glow of the day. To the east, the blue has already faded into dark gray. I give a regretful sigh and now I do bury my face against his chest as I tell him that I should be getting home. He makes a pouty noise and hugs me closer.
I feel exactly the same way. I don’t want this night to end. I want to keep kissing him until the sun goes down. Until it turns the sky from black back into gold. I want to kiss him on this playground every night and I wish it could always be summer.
But school is about to start and he has to move away and I have to get home before I’m in trouble. Heaving another sigh, I give him one long kiss on the side of his chin and ask him for my keys back.
He looks down at me. His eyes shutter closed really slowly and then open back up. They are slitted. One side of his mouth lifts as he pushes his chin forward and whispers, “Go get ‘em.”
I blink and stare. “Huh?”
He drapes his hands on his hips with his thumbs hooked through his belt loops. His feet are braced wide apart. His voice and eyes are all superheated challenge as he says more clearly, “Go get ‘em.”
A boulder thuds into my guts.
I suddenly know exactly where he has put them.
The giggle bursts from my throat and this time I can’t stop it. It's high-pitched and fluttery. Almost a whinny. I have no idea why I’m laughing, because I’m suddenly horrified and terrified and I don’t know what to do, but that laughter rockets out of me. Once I can wrangle sounds into words again, I say, “C-come on, Trent. Please? Can’t I have them back? I really have to go home.”
“Sure. You can have ‘em back. Anytime you want. You know where they are.” He leans back on his heels with his hips pushed forward.
I flinch away. I can’t even think about that, much less look…
Over and over, I try to convince him to give my keys back. He won’t budge. He just stands there with his elbows jutting out, so unswayable in his ripped jeans and his big boots that make him even taller than he is.
I glance at the sky. It's even darker now. I should have been home fifteen minutes ago. I have to have those keys, so I scrunch up my eyes, hunch up my shoulders, and wedge my hand down the front of his pants. The skin there is smooth and extra soft with a layer of wiry hair. His abdomen is tight, like his painted-on jeans. Feeling metal, I loop my pinky finger through the first keychain I find and give a yank.
The keys pop out with a ZWOOP and a loud jingle.
He catches ahold of my wrist, laughing. “Hey now! You little tease. Damn, you’re fast.” Within seconds, he wrestles the keys away from me and shoves them back down his pants.
“Trent, please! I have to go home. Just please give them back.”
“Get ‘em yourself, honey.” His hands land on his hips again. His hips push forward and his smirk broadens.
No matter how much I plead and beg, he refuses to return them. The word “tease” loses its incredulous laughter. Now he says it in scorn with his lips curled back from his teeth. He is no longer flirty, no longer nice. He’s just frustrated. He looks down his nose at me like I’m a stupid little kid, and I suppose he’s right. I mean, I’ve never even French-kissed a boy, much less—
My gaze sneaks lower again.
Those jeans are really tight. It took some cramming to get my hand down there the first time. The color of his pants has gone as blue-black as the night sky. The first stars are way too bright. My parents will be out of their minds with worry. There are no two ways about it. I’m going to have to do it. I have stick my fingers back down there.
I slide my hand in flat and hook my pinky through the key ring as fast as I can. But he clamps onto my forearm, pinning me there. I gasp and try to pull away. He shoves my hand deeper.
And there it is.
It’s sort of spongy with even softer skin than his belly, surrounded by scratchy hair. A shudder goes up my spine. Vomit almost comes up with it. I don’t understand why anybody would ever want to do this! His penis feels ickier than lake-slime in August. Grosser than moldy leftovers or Florida cockroaches or Walter’s raspberry-pink barf all over his desk that day during Iowa Basics testing.
“Stop being such a fuckin’ tease," Trent growls. "You either want it and you’re playing shitty games, or you’re a lying little bitch! Which is it?”
I cry out and thrash harder against him.
Trent’s grip locks down, shoves my hand lower, forces me where he wants me, and it hits me like a cannon blast--a surge of blinding white fire. My fingers clench the keychain. My arm gives a reflexive shove at his belly—the powerful hunker before the launch. My whole body whips up and back with a guttural screech.
My hand pops free from both his pants and his grasp.
He lunges. I bolt. He chases me, cursing and roaring out threats. I know they’re promises. But I’m a medal-winning sprinter. Even with his long legs he can’t catch me in those heavy boots. His footsteps finally slow. Stutter. Die off. I keep barreling down the sidewalk. Bull-barreling. Head lowered. Arms pumping. Waiting to hear the too-familiar whirrrr of a pursuing bicycle looming behind me. I cut the shortest diagonal across the road. The crickets chirp. My hard breaths are louder. My tennis shoes pound out the steady, driving drum in time with my sledgehammer heart. The jank! of my keys hits every other note.
I don’t stop running until my feet fly over the outside steps of my house and slam onto the concrete patio.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE:
--UP NEXT: WHAT HAPPENED AFTER I REACHED MY DOOR, including the conversation between Trent, my infuriated father and his best friend, the big, bad football coach. Historically, this would become known as The Killer Bronco Incident, and it would one day lead me to tie a white belt around my waist in a karate dojo changing room. There I would learn what all those Beasts inside me were made for.
But there were many more incidents between that day and this one, each one a pounding footfall on this path.