8th Grade by Cole Parker

Sometimes the kids don’t like a teacher.
Sometimes a teacher doesn’t like the kids.
That could be. . . awkward.

Chapter 6

He held me in the hug that few seconds, then dropped his arm, looking just a little embarrassed, and my world returned to a semblance of normal.

As it was heading towards dinnertime, I asked Brad if he wanted to stay. He looked at me a second, then responded, “You said something about you doing all the cooking. Is it safe to eat here?” A grin slowly grew on his face. To me, his really amazing face. All at once, the whole mood in the room lightened.

“You dumbass,” I said, punching him in the arm. “First you tell me I’m smart. Now you don’t think I’m smart enough to figure out how to cook. Which is it? Besides, even the village idiot can figure out how to cook hot dogs. I only burned them the first three times I cooked them, and this’ll be the fourth, so I’m just sure I’ll get it right.”

“Well, actually, I’d love to stay, but only if I can help.” His voice lost its bantering tone and became serious. “If I’m your friend, I help you. You might have to tell me how to do things because I don’t know how to even boil water, but if I can help, then I’ll stay.”

“Great,” I said with enthusiasm. I really felt good, and I smiled happily. I was going to get to hang around him a little longer, and this time, it finally felt like he wasn’t with me only because we were being punished, or because he had to be. I certainly liked him. My little casual crush on him had become a big, specific, life-altering crush. Did he have any feelings for me? That was crazy thinking. But, he was with me because he wanted us to be friends. I guessed he did like me enough for that. It seemed so strange to think even that, because, after all, he was Brad Decker and had a hundred friends and maybe even more admirers, but he seemed to really like me.

“Actually, we’re having meat loaf,” I said. “I don’t do hot dogs. Do you need to call your folks?”

--- --- {} --- ---

While he was using the phone, I told my dad he was going to stay. My dad was really happy about that. He keeps telling me I need friends. Usually, I just sort of ignore that, blow it off, although I guess I do know he’s right. And from the feeling in my chest right then, I knew he was right. I could tell by how my body, even my soul, was reacting. I couldn’t remember ever being so happy; happy and excited, really. What I wasn’t sure of was, how much of this happiness was just from having a friend I really liked, and how much was from it being a boy I had strong feelings for? And in the back of my mind there was this little niggling feeling I didn’t even want to acknowledge but that kept nudging me when I wasn’t looking. That thought was: what if he shared some of those special feelings? Whoa! I was getting way, way ahead of myself. Still. . . .

When he’d hugged me after my pathetic, soul-baring speech, I’d finally looked up at him, and the look in his eyes, while not totally readable, seemed to be compassionate and empathetic, sure, but maybe there’d even been something more. I’d looked at him for a moment, and finally I’d reached up and sort of lightly, awkwardly, briefly returned the hug. Then we’d both dropped our arms and were silent for a moment. That was when I invited him to dinner.

As Brad was hanging up, Mom walked in the back door. As usual, she came over and hugged Dad and me, looking very tired. I hated her looking that way, I hated it, which was one reason I tried so hard to leave nothing for her to do around the house. Brad walked over and I introduced him to my mother, and told her he was eating with us. She started questioning him, as parents have to do—embarrassing their kids is part of their official handbook, I’m sure—and I slipped briefly into the kitchen. I popped the meatloaf I’d made—I’d mixed it together while I was waiting for Brad to finish practice—into the oven along with some baking potatoes I’d washed and pricked (I’d learned the hard way about pricking the skins before baking them; the hard way means cleaning exploded potato guts off the sides of an oven where they’ve baked themselves into an industrial-grade cement after exploding.) Then I went back and rescued Brad and took him into the kitchen.

“We have a little over an hour while the meat and potatoes cook. We still have to throw together a salad, make the dressing and do the veggies. What do you want to do?”

“I’ve never even thought about doing any of those things, let alone actually trying to do them. You’ll have to show me how.”

“OK,” I said, laughing. “We can both work together and do all of them, and then next time—” I paused, wondering if there would actually be a next time but feeling much more confident than I probably should have that there would be. I think he did that to me just with his presence— “if you don’t kill my parents and me with your feeble attempts at cooking this time, you’ll be able to do it on your own.”

So I showed him how to make salad dressing. I had him mix together about twice the amount of oil as vinegar and then showed him which dried spices, like garlic, fennel seed, thyme, basil, onion powder and of course salt and pepper, went well in Italian dressing and about how much to use, and told him by varying the amounts of each and omitting some or adding one or two others of his choice it would be his dressing, uniquely his, which he seemed to really like. His enthusiasm was funny and catching; I could easily picture him as an 8-year-old, a very cute 8-year-old. I let him do the dressing while I washed my hands and then broke up lettuce into the salad bowls. Then I had him watch as I broke up a head of broccoli into little florets after finding out he preferred that to green beans, added it to a covered bowl with just a little water and a sprinkling of salt and told him that, when everything else was ready, we’d microwave it for four minutes.

When everything was about ready, we both set the table and called my parents. My mom had fallen asleep, as she frequently did, but got herself up and we all sat down. The conversation was about school, the news Dad had listened to throughout the day, Mom’s work, and as everyone held up his end, it went very well. I was impressed with Brad as he wasn’t shy and spoke up and answered all questions pointed in his direction very easily and comfortably. I know if I’m with strange adults and get asked questions, I’m very uncomfortable and end up giving two or three word answers, giving the overall impression that I’m a dork. Brad didn’t seem to suffer from that ailment. The conversation was bright and spirited and fun. The dinner went really well. And everyone complimented Brad on his dressing. He actually blushed!

After dinner, he helped me clear the table and wash the dishes. I was sort of hoping he wouldn’t as I was afraid he’d very quickly see how boring all this was, but I didn’t get the impression from him that he felt that way at all. In fact, he made games out of what we were doing, and with the kidding, the insulting and bumping and general goofing, it was really fun and we were done in almost no time, or it seemed that way. It seemed, too, that by the time we were done, we really were friends.

“Danny, I’ve got to go,” he said as we were finishing. “I told my dad to pick me up at 8:30 and he should be in the driveway now.” Then he looked me in the eyes and said, “This was really, really great, and I want to keep doing things like this. With you. I want you for my friend, and not just any old casual friend.” He paused while he thought briefly. “You know, with this test we’re having next Monday, we should review everything we’ve done. If I get a good grade, my father will see how great it is we’re working together, and it’ll be much easier to spend more time like this. If I get another D, he’ll want to lock me in my room for the next four years. So, why don’t you plan on coming over Friday night after you’ve done all you have to do here, staying the night, and we’ll both do a little studying and a lot of just hanging out and goofing on Saturday until you have to go. I know your parents need you here, but, Danny, I want some of you, too.” And after saying that, he surprised me by hugging me again, so quickly I couldn’t respond, and then went out into the living room, thanked my parents for their hospitality, sounding like he really meant it and wasn’t doing so from necessity, grabbed his book bag and was gone.


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