Howie and Rich walked together toward their bikes after the second day of baseball tryouts. Howie was the only black boy trying-out. He had a muscular build and his hair was short with a distinctive shaved part on the side. His eyes darted busily to observe everything that went on around him and others.
Rich knew a secret about Howie and today he was going to confront him with it.
“You gonna be playin’ for the Blues,” Howie said reaching down as if catching a low throw. “The way you diggin’ ’em low throws outta the dirt.”
Rich bashfully smiled, hoping he was right. Only the best or prominent played for the Blues and everybody else played for the Reds.
“Ya want a pop?” Rich asked. “Let’s go to Carpenter’s.”
“I don’t think I can make it there and home before dark,” Howie said nervously.
“My mom is going to pick me up at Carpenter’s on her way home from work. We’ll throw your bike in the back of the car and she’ll drive you home. Come on, I’m buying,” Rich said motioning him with his head in the direction of Carpenter’s Store.
“No, man,” Howie smiled. “I got to get home.” He feigned disappointment.
“You sure?” Rich said.
“I’m sure,” Howie said.
They sat on the grass next to their bikes and removed their cleats and slipped on street shoes. They talked about baseball and Rich quickly changed it to girls. Howie was reluctant to talk about girls.
One by one, the other players rode off on their bikes or picked up by parents until Rich and Howie were the only ones left at the field.
“Come on Howie, I’ve seen the way you look at Lori Carpenter,” Rich said nudging him.
He grinned at Rich and held his head back, “Devil done got my soul. Lightning’ gonna strike me dead.”
They laughed like boys having naughty thoughts.
“Ain’t no colored girls ta look on at this school, man,” Howie said. “Only two of ’em and they in grade school.”
“The school carnival will be in two weeks. There’s a dance. Ask Lori to dance,” Rich said.
“You must want to get me strung up,” Howie said, stood abruptly, and grabbed his bike.
Rich stood and said, “This is crazy. Everybody in this school can dance with a girl but you.”
“That’s the way it is,” Howie said and flung his leg over the bike.
“Wait a minute,” Rich said, “would you like to dance with her?”
“What do you think?” Howie said.
“Ask her to fast dance,” Rich urged. “That way you don’t have to hold her, touch her, or feel her hair. Ain’t none of those things gonna make her have your baby.”
“That’s playin’ with fire, man,” Howie said indignantly. “Black boys have been horsewhipped and hung for less.”
“She knows you’re looking at her,” Rich said.
Howie looked at Rich angrily. “No such thing,” he said emphatically and stood on his pedals to prepare a fast getaway.
“Before you get all bent out of shape,” Rich said. “I know.”
“You know what?” Howie said and sat on the seat.
“You two kissed,” Rich said.
“No such thing,” Howie said with dread and fright bursting on his face. He appeared as if ill and looked far away. “Don’t go spreading lies like that. Nobody will ever touch that girl again and I’ll get my butt kicked and throat slit.” He ran his thumb across his neck.
“She told me,” Rich said abruptly.
“I didn’t kiss that white girl,” Howie said as though it disgusted him.
“I know that,” Rich said.
“Then don’t go talkin’ that way, man,” Howie said as if relieved.
“She kissed you,” Rich said. “She told me she took your history book and put it behind the stage. Then she told you that she saw it there when she took gym and took you there after the final bell. She pulled you behind the curtain and planted one on you.”
“Does anyone else know?” Howie asked biting his lip.
“I’m it,” Rich said.
“How long have you known?” Howie asked.
“About a month or so,” Rich said.
“Why’d she tell you that for?” Howie asked.
“I was talking to her at Carpenter’s,” Rich said. “I just asked her if she liked you. She kinda avoided the question, like you just did,” Rich said pointing at Howie. “And I said I thought you two liked each other. I mean come on man, her smile lights up the room when you walk into class.”
“Nobody can know about this,” Howie said as if he didn’t want anybody to hear, but there was nobody around anyway. “I gotta put it in a jar and put a lid on it, down tight. I can‘t be around her. Things like this can get out of control.”
“I’m not saying a word,” Rich said, “nobody will find out from me.”
They rode their bikes to a T in the road and parted. Rich rode to Slabtown, where Carpenter’s Market was and Howie rode home.