A Short Story from the novel BOOK OF O’KELLS: NATURE OF THE BEAST
Sex was not only in the air but all over the furniture in my family: I could smell it: from childhood I knew something odious was in the air.
Eleanor, Diana, and Rebecca were not only wounded but visibly scarred; as I learned the details, I became aghast at what each had born before I was old enough to know all three had lived through the hell my half-brother had curated. Their suffering came alongside the widening distance between Mother and Father as I came of age, when any touch between them was either by accident or an act of God.
Where was love within the strange circus tent of my family, with Father marrying a woman—freshly raped by John Patrick Cushing, her own half-brother—the mother of a repugnant freak who abused his beautiful sisters for years with impunity?
In the end I knew nothing of love in any form. As the youngest child, I had experienced at most a smidge of parental affection, but the models in front of me made sex even less of a draw: Father with his infidelity, Mother with her indifference; Tom with his serial rapes and conquests; Eleanor with her carnal thirst slaked by various nuns; Diana with her homosexual husband and libertine bent; even Rebecca with the first husband who washed up on shore.
What was a boy to do in such a world?
In my case I escaped to Kent Abbey, an all-boys Catholic boarding school in Connecticut, and perhaps the worst place in the world to learn about love. I knew nothing about girls at this point—I had never kissed a girl before I went to The Abbey. I had never even been on a date. With 300 boys and no female students, boarding school was designed to make sure I would never find out about sex or love. Even so I treasured the magic of our hair turning to icicles in winter after swimming; the illusion of Chapel making the right path seem momentarily righteous; the beauty of knowing I was safe and away from home.
And I learned too much about women from Miss Pamela Scully.
She was waiting for me the first time I walked into the dining hall at The Abbey as a freshman. I had no idea how she knew my name but she was relentlessly cheerful, as if her calibrated smile were bright enough to blind you to the crutches on the bench beside her.
“Will O’Kell,” she was saying. “The new Third Former from New York. From St. David’s.”
I had never seen this woman before in my life.
“I am Miss Scully and I know all about you. They call me ‘Crip’ behind my back—you can see why—but I don’t mind. It’s just a name and you will call me Miss Scully. I will teach you what you need to know and help you get into the best possible college. I will teach you about life. All you have to do is be the boy you’re capable of being. And be happy for goodness sake. You’re not so very happy now, are you?”
“Happy enough,” I lied.
“Don’t make it so hard, Mr. O’Kell. It’s hard enough to be happy when you’re rich.”
“I’ll try,” I said.
“No you won’t!” Miss Scully slapped down so hard on the arm of the bench I thought she might break her hand. “We don’t just try here at Kent Abbey. We succeed. You will succeed in all things, Will O’Kell, especially your own happiness. You understand?”
“I think so,” I said.
“I don’t think you do. But you can be taught. You are a teenager and you are mall-e-able. I will show you myself if you leave me no choice.”
The polio left her useless legs withering away within straps and steel braces hinged into sensible brown boots, but otherwise Miss Scully was young and vibrant, almost breathless, her round face scarlet with enthusiasm. Atop a long torso her magnificent breasts made every boy at Kent Abbey stare like we were stricken.
Above the waist, she had a body a boy could only dream about—and dream we did.
My memory and I were now overserved.
I left The Carlyle and staggered downtown to The Yale Club. I had been thrown off-course by gale force winds that began to blow decades ago. I knew my evening of personal misbehavior in Tom’s townhouse would leave Farrar, Straus and Giroux unable and unwilling to print my book: I would find out firsthand the next morning from Roger Straus in no uncertain terms. In the waning moments of my colossal hangover, George Plimpton would gracefully deliver the thumbs-down to SINS OF THE FLESH for The Paris Review.
My literary career was over before it started—and my aborning friendship with the First Lady of the United States of America was officially kaput. I had no doubt the Secret Service now had my name on a very short list.
I’m sure Tom could not have been happier when he learned my fate. I had fallen into his trap like a lobster without claws.
I was still too drunk to worry about my instant descent into authorial obscurity. Weaving my way down the sidewalk to The Yale Club that night, I was more than drunk enough to call upon my memories of Miss Pamela Scully, known in every corner of The Abbey by her cruel and unforgiving nickname. I would learn more than I ever wanted to know about Crip—that day would come—but when I went back to my dorm room after that first dinner, I met the one person from boarding school I would never forget. Bo Dotson stuck out his hand and squeezed my dead fish the way only a grown man could.
“I’m Bo,” he said. “And I know who you are.”
Bo Dotson already had that thing all prep school kids require—a nickname—and he wore it without any remorse or undue claims. I would learn Bo was like that about everything—not to the manner born but living a life shorn of pretense. It was a gift. Like me he had come from great wealth, with his luck (and his love of ketchup and grape jelly) emanating from the Dotson Industries family condiment business in Lowell, Massachusetts. Everyone had come to The Abbey for the start of classes by car or bus—or, like me, by limousine—but I found out later Bo had flown in on the Dotson Industries plane, as he always would before and after vacations. I would also learn he was a prodigy at tennis, able to beat faster and more powerful opponents with the consistency of his ground strokes and a ridiculous spin serve—a miracle of physics, really, because Bo was one of the smallest kids in the freshman class.
“Wonder why they put us together,” Bo said.
“I have no idea.”
“They must have some kind of formula. You plus me equals something.”
“Or it’s completely random.”
“It’s good to know you either way,” Bo said.
I knew right away Bo was going to succeed, as Miss Scully would put it—and he was going to be happy. Some people were like that, born happy or at least with luck jingling in their pockets like quarters. By this time I had also heard some people made their own luck.
The next thing I knew Bo was on his knees blessing himself.
“Get down here,” he said.
I bent down and bowed my head.
“On your knees,” Bo said. “This is God we’re talking to, not some amateur.”
I fell to my knees upon his command.
“Dear Lord,” Bo said. “Please bless me and my new friend Wilbur today and every day as we start off on this new adventure at The Abbey. Please guide us and love us as truly as we love you. Amen.”
“Amen,” I said.
“Good,” Bo said—as if I’d been baptized.
Soon he would be known as the most devout kid at The Abbey—altar boy, Sacristan, head of the choir. Bo would have been elected Pope if the students had a vote.
I got up off of my knees. Bo popped up onto his tip-toes like he was waiting for me to serve.
“My name’s not Wilbur.”
“It is now,” Bo said.
I had never done any work in school at St. David’s and my grades always stank to high heaven. What did it matter? Neither Mother nor Father noticed or cared: without adult supervision I was more than willing to do just enough not to be left back. I liked to read so I read. It was not like I was going to starve or lose my scholarship.
Miss Pamela Scully was as good as her word. Halfway through the first semester she called me into a meeting in her tiny office at the far end of the Old School Building. Aside from her desk and rolling desk chair, the rest of the space was taken by a chair with no arms and a narrow overflowing bookcase stocked and stacked with college brochures. Her desk had nothing on it, as if it were up to me to fill in the blanks.
I was in serious trouble, flunking Biology and History—stinking up the joint—and just barely keeping my nose above water in my other classes at The Abbey. I sat down in the chair without arms and tried not to look her in the eye across the desk.
“College is like a distant shore starting to drift away from sight,” she said. “Am I right, Mr. O’Kell?”
“No. Exactly that. You don’t care how you appear before God, do you? In fact, you never even think about it.”
“My first night here I got down on my knees in my dorm room and prayed to God!”
“Because of Bo Dotson.”
“I thought it was a good idea, too.”
“That’s why I put you two together—because I hoped some of Bo would rub off on you. Because you are pretty on the outside but bereft of any substance inside. No amount of money can hide that fact—certainly not from God.”
“That’s not true. Or fair.”
“I don’t care if you are an O’Kell. Your life is a wasteland and my time is too precious to waste, Mr. O’Kell. So I have some very good news for you—I have some paddles for your boat.”
She had big beautiful brown eyes with lots of white in them. I was so busy trying not to look at her breasts I noticed her eyes were always lit up.
“Every year I select a freshman heading for the dung heap as my pet project. I make sure that student, no matter the odds against, does not fail at Kent Abbey. Some years I help a rich student and other years it’s someone on a full or partial. I don’t care about that. I don’t care if you or your O’Kells ever give a nickel to The Abbey. And I don’t ever fail.”
“Because you are very smart yet very stupid about how you are living your life.”
“I’m not the only one like that at The Abbey.”
“Because God sees something special in you and so do I. Because you are cute and one day you might even become a handsome man. Are you willing to succeed at Kent Abbey, Mr. O’Kell, before it’s too late? Are you willing to be the man you should be?”
“I think so.”
“Then lock the door and pull your chair over here.”
Miss Scully sat with her perfectly aligned breasts, round and soft, pressing against a red cashmere turtleneck covering her long torso and neck but coming up short of her worthless legs. I lifted the chair without the arms behind the desk next to her, the first time I noticed her back was flat as a diving board. Before I could sit down she rolled her chair until it banged into mine with both her legs swinging loose and lifeless above the old wood floor of the Old School Building, like she was sitting on the Senior Terrace looking out over the Berkshires. I sat down and felt the heavy steel braces on her left leg pressing against my right knee through her tartan skirt. The braces felt weird to me—the locked door felt weird, too, like I was trapped, at her mercy.
Miss Scully took a blank piece of paper and a #2 pencil sharpened to a point from a drawer and put them on her immaculate desk. She picked up the pencil with her right hand and leaned into me sitting to her left. She kept right on pressing until I could actually feel the smoosh of her amazing breast shaping itself around my arm, and the hard point of her left nipple on my bicep through her soft cashmere sweater. Spinning in the chair as she leaned forward, Miss Scully turned her torso so I could enjoy the full benefit of both her breasts pressing into my defenseless arm.
As a boy, even as an O’Kell, I had never touched a woman’s breasts, let alone her nipples. My sisters had nothing to say to me about being a girl, but the boys in my class at The Abbey were already starting to talk, and I was hearing lots of loose chatter about nipples. In the shower I heard Lonnie Orndorff say when a girl got excited her nipples got hard, and that girls feel just as excited when you touch their nipples no matter how big their breasts. (That made no sense to me whatsoever.) I had never seen a nipple change shape with my own eyes before my first meeting at Kent Abbey with Miss Pamela Scully, AKA Crip.
I have never felt anything so soft and wonderful and surprising in my entire life. She smelled so good I would forever associate her fruity scent with everything that happened next at The Abbey.
I could tell she liked me. A lot. And not just because of her nipples pointing at me through her red cashmere sweater like ack-ack guns. Something else was going on.
Within seconds of sitting beside her, with her breasts rolling against my arm, I felt a brutish monster fighting to be free against my wrinkled khakis. This too was new frontier for the 13-year-old me, with only a handful of confusing wet dreams to prepare for the moment.
I was ready to explode.
Miss Scully was no fool. She looked down at the agitation longer than she should have—she actually smiled—and she did not stop looking until I slapped my notebook over my lap and shied away from her in the chair to discourage ignition. Now she knew I liked her too, if that’s the right word. I was in real trouble but not of the academic kind.
She wrote the word Biology on the top of the page with the #2 pencil and underlined it twice.
“Let’s start with Biology,” Miss Scully said. “There’s nothing like it.”
Without Maul Ball, Bo never would have stopped seniors from peeing on freshmen on the Senior Terrace. That might not sound like much to you but it was monumental to all of us at Kent Abbey at the time. What he did to the seniors—the way he did it—made him a hero to every freshman.
“You’re playing Maul Ball today, Wilbur,” Bo said to me in the fall after the time changed. “I need you out there. We’re a team, you and me.”
Maul Ball was pure boarding-school violence: seniors against freshmen in a game of keepaway—one ball on a big field with no boundaries and no score and no clock—like tackle football with no helmets and no pads.
“I don’t want to play. I don’t like team sports.”
“You’re big, Wilbur. And you’re a good athlete even if you try to hide it.”
“I don’t like teams. I don’t like teammates. That’s why I swim.”
“That’s the beauty of Maul Ball!” Bo boomed. “No rules and no refs. Just a ball and a field and the future.”
“We’re going to get butchered, Bo. It’s going to be a slaughter.”
“Here’s the plan,” Bo said.
After dinner Bo and I went back to our dorm room to change out of Chapel Dress—boring tie, white shirt, blue blazer or dark suit, dark shoes and dark socks. We put on our play clothes and got ready to meet Billy Dridge and the senior class on the field below the Senior Terrace.
The Dridges had been coming to Kent Abbey for decades: Dridges made for great linemen on The Abbey football team but normal conversation left them fumbling for something to say. They had thick heads and thick black hair grown for the sole purpose of saying no to a comb. From what I heard, all Dridges were belligerent, bellicose, and bent on violence. At The Abbey they were famous for all three.
Billy Dridge might have been the biggest and meanest of them all, historically speaking. He kicked the ball off the Senior Terrace and the seniors started zipping it around so fast the freshmen, including me, were lost at sea and scared out of our wits. In the first five minutes Maul Ball looked like a washout, a wimped-out disaster for the frosh—until Billy Dridge cruised past me with the ball. We were afraid to death of him, but he was so slow it took me about two seconds to catch up and push him down from behind.
Billy Dridge landed on the ball so hard he stopped breathing.
“You knocked the wind out of him!” Bo yelled. “You knocked the wind out of Billy Dridge!”
Lonnie Orndorff ran with the ball the best he could until he fumbled in front of me when his horn-rims fell off.
I scooped up the ball, a pigskin so old it was almost round: that old ball felt like it belonged to me and no one was going to tell me different. I broke one tackle and then another. I stiff-armed a senior with pimples I had never seen before. Somebody from the football team tried to grab me up high but I just shrugged my shoulders and he went flying like a flying saucer spinning to earth.
Just like that I was no longer afraid.
Bo was right about me—I was a good athlete, not fast but big and strong, able to turn on the gas or hit the brakes as needed. I felt invincible as I zig-zagged back across the field, right up to the moment Billy Dridge knocked me into next week.
The ball went one way and I went another. Some of the freshmen thought I was dead.
When I landed the back of my head clunked against the ground at the foot of the Senior Terrace and stars came out of nowhere though there were no stars in the sky. I had never seen stars magically appear before Billy Dridge knocked me silly. By the time I lifted my head another senior was sprinting untouched across the field with the ball, swatting my classmates away like flies.
“You okay, Wilbur?” Bo kneeled down on the ground beside me. “Billy Dridge creamed you. Wow! What a hit!”
“Never saw him coming.”
“Stay down until you can think straight. I’ll take care of this.”
To that point Bo Dotson had not touched the ball or made a tackle. His plan called for everyone to get a little tired, to blow off some steam, to let their guards down—and then Bo would go.
His moment had come.
Small as he was, he sprinted across the field and jumped on the back of the senior with the ball, stripping his arms from behind to make him fumble. Bo had the ball in his hands quick as you like, and he was running around the seniors like they were traffic cones. Tackling him was out of the question—he was too fast and so quick he left seniors waving at ghosts. Bo never got cornered or tired. He just took the ball and ran every which way across the field and back, dodging seniors until they were so beat they could barely move, like punch-drunk fighters who can’t answer the bell. Billy Dridge missed him three times alone and the third time was not even close.
Bo started skipping across the field below the Senior Terrace, holding the ball over his head like he was dancing in the end zone.
“Give it up,” Billy Dridge commanded from one knee.
“Is that a new rule?” Bo said.
“Give it up or we’ll kill you!” Billy Dridge barely had enough strength to get to his feet. “Give us the ball!”
“Maybe seniors need a game they can win,” Bo shouted. “Like backgammon.”
Thoughts formed so slowly in Billy Dridge’s head he could think of nothing more to say.
“Whoo-hoo!” Bo shouted. “Freshmen rule!”
Bo led us giggling back to the freshman dorm, stopping only to punt a perfect spiral that rolled to a stop on the Senior Terrace, like a big fat grenade with the pin still in.
We were done with World War I the week before Thanksgiving but Miss Scully was not done with me.
“I’ve been hard on you,” she said. “Maybe too hard.”
Instead of leaning into me she was leaning back into the squeaky office chair. Instead of staring at her breasts, I was doing everything in my power to concentrate on the pictures of the Maginot Line on the desk in front of me so I could make it out of her office without another hard-on. I was concentrating so hard I could see the Line going up across the countryside despite the many protestations about the French fighting the last war instead of the next one.
I was afraid to look at Miss Scully but her work with me was working. My grades were way up and I always had my homework done on time or even early. I was not going to flunk Biology or History or anything else. If I kept it up I was going to get into Yale without Father endowing another chair.
I was still dreaming of her every night after Bo turned off the lights—after we stopped talking about the Senior Terrace and torturing Billy Dridge. In my waking hours I was thinking about Miss Scully from the waist up with all her clothes off. My dreams always told the same story about Miss Scully, except for the wet ones with their happy endings.
“I heard about what happened at Maul Ball, Mr. O’Kell,” Miss Scully said in her office. “I hear we are finally making a man of you.”
I locked the door behind me without being told to this time.
“Any monkey can do homework. Monkey see, monkey do. But taking on the seniors—that takes nuts.”
She rolled the word around in her mouth like a special treat.
“You think I have nuts?”
“I know you do.”
Like I said, for some reason I still don’t understand Miss Scully really liked me. Maybe that’s why she took off her yellow sweater then when the heat in the Old School Building got hot enough to start making noises about winter. A long wool skirt covered most of her lifeless legs and her braces, but up top she wore only a sleeveless white silk blouse so sheer it might as well have been skin. She had muscles on her arms from using the crutches, more than I had ever seen on a girl or a woman, before or since. I could see the outline of her nipples through the silk and the lacy white of her bra. For the first time I could see the slope of her actual breasts and the yawning crevasse between them: they were bigger and even more beautiful than I had imagined—billowy, like pillows or clouds, the kind angels lay on as they play their harps.
“I love your writing,” she said out of nowhere. “You’re a natural. All you have to do is show some heart.”
“I’ve got heart,” I said.
I think that’s what I said but my mouth was so dry I could barely talk. Though I had no idea what orgasms were like for a woman, when Miss Scully talked about my writing she sounded like she was going to have one if only I pressed the right button.
Her chair squeaked again and boom-boom she leaned into me with both her breasts. Her nipples got harder and pointier through the sheerness of her silk shirt. From my vantage point, looking down her shirt, she might as well have been naked from the waist up.
I knew the Maginot Line was not going to hold against Miss Scully so I tried to think of something else the way Bo told me to. I tried to make a list in my head of the people I trusted at Kent Abbey. I had some friends in the freshman class like Lonnie Orndorff, AKA The Dork, but I was not ready to put him or them on the list. I could not think of anyone to put on that list under the circumstances except Bo Dotson.
Trust me: trying to think of anything but Miss Scully’s nipples and her breasts in her office with the door locked was a total waste of time. She was pressing her left leg brace against my right knee again and pressing both her perfect (bigger-than-I-thought) breasts into my arm. The angle of her torso put the weight of her breasts against me, the way I had seen girls do walking arm-in-arm with boys on the beach. She put her arm behind me and started to rub my back up and down and then in a circle. As she rubbed the space between her breasts opened and closed like a mouth with something to say. She was all business now, pressing one nipple into my arm and then another, back and forth, as she leaned into my arm. She made a little grunting noise like a grrrrrr every time a nipple touched me.
Miss Scully was starting to have trouble breathing—and she was not the only one.
I had nuts and she had breasts.
Boy, did she.
That moment was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me—even though nothing much had happened yet.
From the top drawer Miss Scully took a jar of Pond’s moisturizing cream and three tissues from a box of Kleenex: she lined them up on the desk for future reference without further comment. Then she looked down at my little secret. With her left hand she tried to move the black-and-white notebook away from my lap—but I pushed it right back for my own protection.
“You don’t have to hide, Mr. O’Kell. Not from me. You’re a boy. It’s natural and this is nothing at all to be concerned about. I’ve seen it before, you know. You can’t learn about life from a book. That’s why my desk is always clear.”
She eased the notebook out of my hands with both her hands and put it on the desk next to the tissues. Her perfume filled the room.
“The first lesson is never be afraid of your own body,” she said. “Just look at me.”
She carefully unzipped my pants and lowered my Jockey shorts until every bit of me popped up like a Jack-in-the-box for all the world to see.
“Oh for God’s sake!” Miss Scully said. “You really are an O’Kell!”
Girls wrote Bo letters with girly perfume and hearts drawn on envelopes and writing so inch-perfect it could have been printed on a greeting card. Bo got letters from the older counselor who fell for him at camp in Maine; from the cupcake he made out with for 55 minutes at the private airport on the way to The Abbey; and from his girlfriend in Hyannisport, where his family had a beach house just down the beach from the Kennedys. He was irresistible to girls but he wore it lightly, as if constant attention from the opposite sex was to be expected. After lights out at The Abbey, Bo would give me the details matter-of-fact—what to say when you wanted to kiss a girl, how to play it if you wanted to see her again, when to unbutton that first button for the first time. I felt like Bo had forgotten more than I was ever going to know. He was a good teacher and when it came to girls I was a good listener.
“I always write them back,” Bo said. “It’s always nice to get a letter from a guy. Especially if he likes you.”
That sounded right but I had no way of knowing because I had never sent a letter to a girl, let alone one who liked me enough to write back.
“How’s your girlfriend, Wilbur?”
“I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“You have a date with her in the Old School Building every Tuesday after lunch.”
I could see Bo smiling in the dark.
“Miss Scully is tutoring me,” I said.
“Torturing is more like it.”
“The proof is in the pudding. My grades are way up. She wants me to succeed at The Abbey. And in life.”
“With the door locked?” Bo said.
“How do you know about that?”
“Everyone knows. She’s famous for it. She locks the door with a different freshman every year.”
“She’s got the hots for me, Bo.”
“How can you tell?”
“She tells me I’m cute.”
I took a deep breath.
“She touches you?” Bo said.
“She leans into me so I can feel her nipples right here against my arm through her shirt.”
I pointed to my right bicep.
“Jesus Christ, Wilbur!”
Bo popped up in bed.
“What do they feel like?”
“Like pillows. The softest pillows you’ve ever seen.”
“Then she—you know—she touches me.”
He flipped his legs over the side and looked at me like I had just gone crazy.
“God in heaven, Wilbur! You let Crip touch your pecker?”
“Is that a question?”
“Are you hard when she does it?”
“That’s a dumb question.”
Bo, in blue pajamas with white sailboats going every which way, hopped up off the bed and started pacing like a madman.
“She takes it out,” I said.
“Shetakes it out?”
“She takes it out with one hand and with the other she dips into a big jar of Pond’s from the drug store. She’s got Kleenex in the other hand just in case.”
Bo fell back on the bed like someone hit him with a cross-body block.
“What about her mouth?”
“We haven’t gotten that far yet.”
“I bet you anything she swallows it,” Bo says. “Some girls won’t swallow it, you know.”
That was news to me.
“What about her legs?” Bo said.
“What about them?”
“What does she do with her legs?”
“I don’t really notice them. From the waist up she’s Marilyn Monroe.”
“Can Crip feel anything down there?”
“I don’t know but she does gets twitchy.”
“You have to find out. That’s your homework. She could be faking it. Girls fake it you know. All the time.”
Bo stared at me like I was from another planet.
“Orgasms, Wilbur. They can have lost of them lots of different ways. Or none at all. Sometimes they fake them.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Maybe because they can,” Bo said. “Because they don’t want guys to be disappointed. Maybe they fake it so guys will like them. How do I know?”
“I haven’t been disappointed yet.”
“Did she need the Kleenex?”
“Merciful Christ!” Bo said.
I went to Kent Abbey long before anyone heard the words sex education, but Dr. Tobias Matthias called the freshmen class together in the Chapel every fall to give his famous speech about sex. He had seven kids with his wife so we figured he was expert enough to give the speech right off the top of his head.
No freshman at The Abbey had even seen a girl since Bo stuck his tongue down the cupcake’s throat for almost an hour at the private airport before the start of classes. Aside from one unmarried Spanish teacher, four secretaries in the school office, dozens of lumpy faculty wives—and the one and only Miss Scully—no girls or women in the state of Connecticut were allowed anywhere near Kent Abbey. Not having girls around was part of our religion, and listening to Dr. Tobias Matthias drone on about sex was a Holy Sacrament no freshman was allowed to miss.
His expert opinion about sex could be summarized in three words: wait for marriage.
Even though we were teenagers, we knew sex with someone you loved had to be better than sex with no love at all. (Probably a lot better.) But we also believed sex without love was much better than no sex at all. You did not have to be a genius to know that. And nobody wanted to wait for sex, particularly not horny freshmen with hormones smoking like ribs over a flaming pit.
What would be so bad about sex without love? Or just making out with someone cute? Like I said: we were teenagers. None of us had any idea what we were waiting for in the first place.
“Toby should have called this The Meaning of No Sex.”
I was smirking.
“Keep It In Your Pants would have worked,” Bo whispered.
Dr. Matthias had some other gems about waiting for the right woman (mysteriously chosen by God) and not coveting pretty much anybody in a skirt. I knew not coveting was a shalt-not commandment but I had no idea how to covet anything in the first place, let alone not coveting somebody’s wife. No freshman was going to covet Mr. Matthias’s wife after the seven kids. The faculty wives were never going to be great covet material. Technically, not even Miss Scully was in the covet category because she was not even married. In the gospel according to Dr. Matthias, I could covet Miss Scully all I wanted from the waist up without going to hell because she was single. Coveting was confusing enough, but I really had no clue about girls besides my first anatomy lesson on the path to success with Miss Scully.
“You might have heard your body is supposed to be a temple,” Dr. Matthias said. “But that doesn’t mean it has to be a church.”
“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” I said.
“Neither does he,” Bo said.
“We have to embrace love of family and love of God. All good things come from the family and the best things come from God.”
Dr. Matthias lost me there—lost me for good. I was sure Bo Dotson’s family was warm and beautiful, with plentiful condiments always at hand, but I knew firsthand what God had done to my family. O’Kells were hellish but God was not off the hook for letting it happen.
“You okay?” Bo said.
Bo and I spent all our free time together mostly studying or doing nothing. We were looking out for each other now without even knowing it.
“No,” I said.
Nothing Dr. Tobias said in his speech made any sense to me. It was all nonsense, really. Even I knew that.
“He’s trying to ruin the mixer before the girls get anywhere near here,” Bo said. “He wants to scare us so bad we’re afraid to touch them.”
Dr. Matthias always called his speech The Meaning of Love but we knew he was actually talking about sex because that night the girls from Our Lady of Sorrows were being bussed in—all the way from Nonquitt, Massachusetts—for our first freshman mixer at The Abbey. We were terrified by the Sorrows girls because we knew so little about sex, and Dr. Tobias Matthias was not exactly filling in the blanks.
“So never forget—love is best fulfilled within the Holy Sacrament of Marriage.”
Dr. Matthias’s mission was not only to explain sex was nowhere near as good as love, but also to put the brakes on the freshman boys of Kent Abbey in the face of actual Catholic girls. We were all 13 or 14 years old with a good ten years ahead of us before we could have sex with a wife, let alone a wife we loved. Bo liked to say anticipation was the best part of anything—but ten years of waiting for sex was way too much anticipation, especially with those girls from Sorrows bearing down on us for the first mixer that night.
We sang A Mighty Fortress Is Our God and got the hell out of there.
We were not only waiting for marriage but also for the bus from Our Lady of Sorrows.
The point of waiting for marriage that night was to make sure no one from Sorrows got pregnant in the heat of the moment. We figured our keepers at The Abbey picked a Catholic school far enough away to make sure we would never see any of the girls again, but that brilliant idea was already starting to backfire. Bo and I planned to make the most of our opportunity because we were never going to see these girls again.
“Nonquitt would be too far away even if you lived in Boston,” Bo said. “Let alone Lowell.”
“I can’t even find it on a map.”
“It’s on Buzzard’s Bay,” Bo said. “So we’ve got one night with these girls. A couple hours. Then it’s bye-bye blackbird.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“Both,” Bo said.
As one of our chaperones, Miss Scully’s job was to get horny freshmen into line by height because that’s the way it worked at these mixers: every freshman, boy or girl, had been assigned a partner for the mixer according to how tall they were. Bo would get the third smallest girl; I would get the third tallest. That was the way the faculty running the show made sure there was no mixing at our mixer and thus no impregnated girls from Our Lady of Sorrows. You did not have to be a genius to see they had stacked the deck against us because they could.
“Mr. O’Kell?” Miss Scully consulted her list as we waited for the bus. “You belong in the back of the line with the tall drinks of water. Third from the rear. Behind Lonnie Orndorff. Make sure to behave like a gentleman. You’re representing Kent Abbey tonight.”
She said it like I was just another boy to be chaperoned but her smile was like a warning. I was still thinking about her morning, noon, and night—before I went to bed, after I woke up—all day every day and all through the water torture of Dr. Matthias’s lecture on sex and love. When I was not thinking about Miss Scully’s breasts I was thinking about the spectacular muscles on her arms. Other frosh at The Abbey said women could not grow muscles but I could see every muscle in Miss Scully’s arms came from carrying herself around on crutches with no help from those pitiful legs. I was also starting to think about the whites of her brown eyes and her face but more particularly her skin blushing hot red once we got rolling in the Old School Building. I had started to think about her mouth, too, and her lips, though I had never touched them either. I had no reason to believe I was ever going to get my hands on anyone from Our Lady of Sorrows, so I was dreaming about Miss Scully every night before the mixer in a way that had everything to do with sex and maybe a little something to do with love, though I was too young to know where one ended and the other one began.
I never thought twice about her legs. I never even looked at them.
I knew Miss Scully was a beautiful woman the night of the mixer with Our Lady of Sorrows—the night I broke her heart without ever meaning to.
The entire freshman class from The Abbey was standing around in front of the gymnasium waiting way too long for the shipment from out of town. The line according to height made about as much sense as waiting for marriage to have sex. Pairing Abbey freshmen with girls from Sorrows seemed like the dumbest idea of all time until the girls finally got off the big yellow bus from Nonquitt.
I counted to three: I could see Bo hit the jackpot with a golden-haired girl a little too big in all the right places, in a dress just a little too small. Bo was immediately chittering away about God knows what: I was sure the third shortest girl from Our Lady of Sorrows was falling for him by the minute.
How could she not?
The mathematical man-made couples headed toward the gym in pairs as Miss Scully checked them off her list. That left me with the tallest guys at the end of the line trying to figure out the luck of the draw. I counted one-two-three from the back to a tall and willowy girl with bangs cut short across her forehead and wavy brown hair past her long neck to her shoulders. She looked nothing like Miss Scully—she had no breasts to speak of but long sculpted legs no amount of skirt could hide. I knew nothing about style despite my sister Diana’s coaching but I knew this girl had it just the same.
“Miss Emma Templar?” Miss Scully checked off our names. “This is Mr. Will O’Kell. One of our better specimens.”
Miss Scully gave me a long look without the smile before she moved down to the last two in line. Emma Templar put her hand out to shake; I took it and shook the way Bo had shown me to.
“So you’re the guy at Kent Abbey with the handshake.”
“I’ve been working on it all semester.”
She laughed as if she liked me.
“That teacher on crutches looks at you funny. Like she likes you. Maybe too much.”
“She’s my tutor.”
“You’ve got a personal tutor?”
“Kind of. Sort of.”
“For what? Home nutrition? Sex education?”
“For everything. That’s what makes it personal. Miss Scully thinks I can succeed here. She says I have no choice because of all my advantages in life.”
“Maybe this Miss Scully wants to make sure you learn how to obey your orders.”
“I never asked.”
“Don’t ask! You decide what it means to succeed! No one else! Especially not some old maid!”
“Not flunking out of The Abbey would be a start. Then going to a good college.”
“Those are givens,” Emma Templar said. “People like you and me have been given a lot. We should do something good given what we’ve been given.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I have no idea. I’m just a freshperson on a Saturday night at a boys boarding school in the middle of Connecticut with a cute guy I just met who almost broke my hand. But I like to dance. That’s a given, too.”
We had to take off our shoes so we would not scratch the basketball floor in the gym. That left us sliding around in our socks and stockings until the first slow dance.
“Thank God,” Emma Templar said. “I love to dance but I can’t skate a lick.”
When the music slowed down I held her at arm’s length because I thought that’s what freshmen from The Abbey were supposed to do at a mixer. Emma Templar put her arms around my waist and her head on my shoulder like she might go to sleep.
“We don’t have to dance at all,” she said. “It’s nice just to hold you. And to be held.”
I would have been happy to stay that way all night because a girl with her head on my shoulder was actually letting me hold her.
“Put your hands a little lower on my back and squeeze,” Emma Templar said. “It feels nice. I promise not to break.”
Miss Scully was already pointing at us and talking to one of the nuns from Our Lady of Sorrows—the one who seemed too young to be a nun.
“Here comes Mother Sister. She’s the worst.”
A young nun came between us as if on a holy mission.
“Emily? I need to see some daylight between you and this nice boy from God-knows-where.”
“His name is Will O’Kell,” Emma Templar said. “Don’t worry, Sister. I checked. He’s from Kent Abbey. We’re s-l-o-w dancing. That’s what you do at a mixer, Sister. S-l-o-w-e-r the better.”
“Don’t take advantage of the situation!” Mother Sister wagged her finger at me.
The situation was me dancing with a very pretty girl surrounded by every freshman boy I knew, all these girls from Our Lady of Sorrows, half the faculty of Kent Abbey, and just enough swooping nuns in their awful habits to make you feel guilty for even thinking about a breast.
“We’re at a mixer, Mother St. Mary,” Emma Templar said. “We’re supposed to mix it up.”
“Get fresh with me and I will put you back on the bus so fast your head will spin all the way to Nonquitt!”
“My head is already spinning,” Emma Templar smiled. “Could this be love?”
Mother Sister snorted before she moved on to separate Bo from his own date with destiny. Emma Templar had a sense of humor to go with everything else.
“Maybe we should get out of here,” I said.
“That would be nice,” Emma Templar said.
“Let’s pretend we’re getting some punch,” I said.
We pretended long enough to put on our shoes and toss the punch into the garbage before we beat it out the back door. The only problem was Sister Lancelotta from Our Lady of Sorrows, and Miss Olivette Caloroso, The Abbey’s Spanish teacher, smoking cigarettes and standing guard outside the gym. I pulled Emma Templar back inside.
“Where we going?”
“To the cage,” I said.
The cage was a basketball court so old it was used only for wrestling. I pulled her to the small room off to the side where they stored the smelly wrestling equipment. All the lights were out.
“Lock the door,” she said.
I looked around.
“There is no lock,” I said.
“We need a door that locks,” she said.
The Nonquitt clock was ticking. Nothing was going to stop me now but there was only one place to go that was a sure thing. We left the cage by the back door and ran hand-in-hand down the pathway behind the Old School Building. It was so dark and so cold the only thing we could see for sure was our own breath.
“This way,” I said once we made it inside.
The heat was clanking away even at night: Miss Scully’s office was so hot I had to open the only window a crack. Then I locked her door the same way I always had. Her desk had nothing on it except for a gigantic dictionary. An extra pair of crutches were wedged in beside the bookcase.
“Her office? That’s where you take me?”
“It has a lock.”
“What’s her name?” Emma Templar said.
“Everyone calls her Crip.”
“That’s cruel. Is that what you call her?”
“Behind her back?”
“Is she married?”
“Does she have a boyfriend that’s not you.”
“I’m not her boyfriend.”
“That’s not what I asked. What does she do to you here?”
“She tutors me.”
“With the door locked? Does that help your concentration?”
I locked the door.
“What do you want to do in here?” I said.
“I know what I don’t want to do.”
“Talk,” she said.
Emma Templar was both a good talker and a very good kisser, sometimes with her tongue and sometimes not, but usually meeting mine in the middle of her mouth. Before I knew it we were hanging onto each other’s lips like we might never speak again. I was going to be 14 soon and I was glad Emma Templar was the first girl I ever kissed.
“Ummm,” Emma Templar said.
I was happy to make out with her all night long but she pushed me back until she was sitting on top of Miss Scully’s empty desk with her long legs squeezing hard around my hips.
She was warm as a fire. I was hard as a flagpole waiting for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Bo said two things that could happen when you unbuttoned that top button: the girl could button it back up or she could do nothing and let you keep going. Same with the next button. And so on. I tried to get her top button unbuttoned with the fingers of just one hand while I kissed her but that was getting me nowhere. The button was rubbery and slippery at the same time and not like anything I had ever come across on a boy’s shirt.
“Let me help,” Emma Templar said.
She unbuttoned the top button and then the next two.
“Use two hands,” she told me.
With both hands I liberated the final two buttons and she pushed her shirt open on both sides like a curtain. Underneath there was no bra, nothing but a little white slip over her tiny breasts.
Bo told me it was always good to wait once a girl’s buttons were unbuttoned. At that point Bo said you can take your sweet time—so I did because Bo was always right about these things. I kissed her neck and cheeks before my hand started to move beneath her shirt. Worst case I was going to find out if girls feel the same when you touched their nipples, no matter how big or small their breasts might be.
Turns out they do.
Emma Templar and I were the last ones to come back to the bus. When we finally made it the Catholic girls from Our Lady of Sorrows let go with a chorus of oooooo-HOOS you could hear clear across The Abbey campus.
Miss Scully was waiting for us, leaning against the bus with the big smiley face she wore in public like a mask. I put my head down as we walked past Miss Scully but she was looking at me the without the smiley face.
I did not kiss Emma Templar goodnight again because I already had.
“I love you,” I whispered.
“Don’t,” Emma Templar said.
“But I do.”
“No you don’t, Will. You think you do because you’re never done this before.”
“Yes, I have!”
“Look—I have a boyfriend—and he’s 17. I just wanted to know what it felt like to cheat. Like my mother does.”
“You have to live in the moment. And at the moment I really like you. Don’t ruin it with love.”
By the time Emma Templar stepped onto the bus back to Nonquitt Miss Scully was clumping away with all her might, swinging her useless legs behind her to keep up with the rest, the sound echoing across the hill every time her little heels hit the pavement together.
“I’ll write you,” I yelled to Emma Templar.
“Bye-bye, Wilbur,” she said.
After the senior proctors checked our rooms I counted to a hundred, opened the door, and looked out into the hall.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Bo whispered.
“To the Senior Terrace.”
“What the hell for?”
“I need to pee.”
I had on a grey sweatshirt that said The Abbey on the front and the same grey sweatpants I always slept in. I put on my sneakers unlaced with no socks. Because of Emma Templar I had decided no one was going to tell me what to do.
“Are you out of your mind?” Bo said.
The Abbey was all about tradition when I went there—especially the stupid ones like the Headmaster’s speech about sex and love—but no tradition was dumber than the sacred tradition banning undergrads from the Senior Terrace. The terrace itself was nice enough, with an elevated lawn at least forty yards long and a stone wall where you could sit and watch Maul Ball while the sun set in the west over the Berkshires—the nicest view on campus. But you were not allowed up there under any circumstances before your final year, with one disgusting exception. At The Abbey, seniors routinely kidnapped freshmen, tied them up with white athletic tape that tore at your skin, and peed all over them on the Senior Terrace, a tradition going back to the founding of the school. (So we were told.) They picked their targets carefully, and as a freshman you lived in fear that you might be next because the seniors made the rules and ran the show. The Dork had been their first victim.
Tradition, like I said.
“You can’t pee on the Senior Terrace,” Bo said. “The seniors are supposed to pee on you. We’re not even allowed up there. Plus it’s freezing. Are you nuts, Wilbur?”
I really had to pee. This was nothing like me but I had never experienced anything like the indestructible love I felt for Emma Templar that night. I was ready to start acting like a man.
No one is going to succeed at The Abbey like Will O’Kell!
Snow was dusting the top of The Berkshires like a really bad case of dandruff. From the stone wall I peed all over the Senior Terrace. I had been saving it up since Emma Templar got on the bus so I had a fire hose with me that night, more than enough for me to piss my initials on the snowy grass in cursive, including the apostrophe in O’Kell.
I wrung it out and zipped her up. From the top of the Senior Terrace I was a man’s man on top of the world. I never felt so good in my life before I hopped down. I never even heard Bo come up behind me.
“Wilbur!” Bo yelled too late. “Look out!”
Billy Dridge was coming at me from across the terrace like a wild boar with paws pawing at the earth. This time he knocked me all the way into next month—and I hit my head on the ground again. He circled back to get up another head of steam and to do even worse. I was seeing stars again and none of them were real.
“Get you ass up you little piss ant,” Billy Dridge said.
When Bo held up his hand I knew he was going to make a great lawyer or become great at whatever he decided to do. Remember Bo was the third smallest kid in the freshman class——and Dridge was a giant in comparison, a hormonal cocktail swallowing lower classmen and/or running backs like malted milk. Even worse, he had Abbey tradition blowing at his back, decades of upperclassmen peeing all over freshman for no good reason other than to keep the tradition going.
“Let’s think about this,” Bo said to Billy Dridge.
No way Bo should have stood a chance. Because of me, the best friend I ever had was going to be toast one way or another. But this was Bo we’re talking about—a boy able to move mountains through simple human kindness and reason, an altar boy as close to embodying God on this earth as anyone I would ever know. Bo was not only special: he believed he was a servant of the Lord in his everyday life, able to call on His power and His grace whenever the need might arise—especially when it came to cute girls and incoherent upperclassmen.
Bo was still in his pajamas with the sailboats above a pair of shined-up penny loafers with shiny copper pennies. He looked even more ridiculous than me. Like me he was shivering in the cold.
“No one pees up here except us,” Dridge said to Bo.
“What about after you graduate?” Bo said.
“What are you talking about?” Dridge said.
You could see the wheels grinding to a halt beneath Dridge’s thick skull.
“You graduate in May, right? Then you won’t be a senior any more.”
“I’m not listening to any more of your shit,” Dridge said.
“All I’m saying is you won’t be allowed to pee on the senior terrace after you graduate, because strictly speaking you won’t be a senior.”
“You’re not making any sense,” Dridge said.
“Yes he is,” I said.
“Tell your pussy friend to shut up,” Dridge said to Bo.
“I got this Wilbur,” Bo said. “Dridge is a smart guy. Let’s listen to what he has to say.”
Imagine how stupid Dridge looked in the cold of the Senior Terrace with absolutely nothing to say.
“You’re right,” Bo said. “No one but seniors should be allowed on the Senior Terrace. Agreed?”
“That’s the rule,” Dridge said.
“And no one gave Wilbur permission to be up here, is that right?”
“He ain’t shit.”
“Wilbur? The next time you come up here you have to promise Dridge to get permission.”
“From me,” Dridge said.
“From him,” Bo agreed.
“Next time I’ll ask,” I said. “I’m sorry, Dridge. I really had to pee.”
“Close enough?” Bo said to Dridge.
“Fuck you both,” Dridge said. “I’m going to bed.”
Within two weeks Bo and Dridge were best buddies: I would see them side-by-side, dangling their legs over the edge of the Senior Terrace in the winter. By the spring Dridge had even given me permission to sit with them whenever I wanted.
No senior ever peed on a freshman at Kent Abbey again. All you needed to go on the Senior Terrace from that night on was permission from any senior. It was a miracle—and all because of Bo. No one else at The Abbey could have pulled it off.
How can you not love a guy like that?
Writing Emily Templar every week was a dumbass thing to do: no one, not even Bo, was saying I was anything but a dumbass to keep writing her and pretending to be in love with a ghost. Yet there I was writing another letter that night to Emily Templar in care of Our Lady of Sorrows in Nonquitt, Massachusetts, in the precise middle of nowhere. She never wrote back but I wrote her every week for the rest of the year, more times than I could count, telling her about all the great things I wanted to do in my life since I met her, without hearing a peep back from the postal service. I knew it was a stupid waste of time and stamps—like a message in a bottle plopped in the middle of Buzzard’s Bay—but one of those bottles might wash up on shore at Our Lady of Sorrows while Emily Templar was kneeling to say her prayers. I was hoping for a miracle as if miracles happened every day.
I was too busy trying to be in love with a girl my own age to think much about my friendship with Bo, except when Lonnie Orndorff came around—and he was always around. The Dork was jockeying to be our third wheel at The Abbey, so he always sat with us in the dining hall, and he spent too much time in our dorm room staring at us through black horn-rimmed glasses. The Dork never wore a sweater or a sweatshirt, not even in the dead of winter, so you could always see the muscles that made him look like Popeye—he even ate too much spinach and had the same squint. The Dork was always in our room in the hour between the end of study hall and lights out. For my money he was a little creepy, the odd man out, always trying to find his way into the inner circle made up exclusively of Bo and me.
“You have to like them or what’s the point?” Bo was saying in our room after study hall ended. “As long as you like someone it’s fun to fool around and talk and do whatever. That’s the part Toby doesn’t get.”
“They seem to like you,” The Dork said.
“I like to hear what they think. I listen to them. My best friends have always been girls. Until now. Now Bo’s my best friend.”
“I feel the same way,” I said to Bo.
“Thanks, Wilbur. It means a lot.”
“My girlfriend writes me all the time,” The Dork said.
“Really?” Bo said. “What about?”
“What’s her handwriting like?” I said.
“Pretty. Like her.”
“What do her letters smell like?” I said.
“Sweet. Like perfume.”
“She Catholic?” Bo said.
“She’s a sophomore at Sacred Heart Greenwich.”
Lonnie Orndorff’s father was a pediatrician in Greenwich, just down the road in Connecticut.
“Letters from an older woman?” I said. “Must be nice.”
“Nothing better,” The Dork said. “As long as we’re stuck in Alcatraz with no escape.”
“What does she write about?” I said.
“Nothing really,” The Dork said.
“Some girls are like that,” Bo said. “Pretty and pretty empty. That doesn’t mean you can’t still like them.”
“Tell me about it,” The Dork said.
The beautiful Miss Pamela Scully was determined never to let the world see how she suffered. That explained the smiley face and her relentless optimism about everyone and everything. She never let anyone see what was behind the mask but I could see it in her eyes: Miss Scully had her dreams, probably of love and a husband and a family even with the dead weight of her legs. I was sure she wanted to be normal because that’s what everyone wanted and she was normal enough. She knew how to get from Point A to Point B like anyone else. She could drive a car equipped with a special contraption on the steering wheel. She had the strongest arms I had ever seen and her stupid legs were just part of the deal. She was beautiful and smart: I saw no reason why she of all people could not live happily ever after.
With Miss Scully sitting beside me in the Old School Building, I had become a model student destined for the Ivy League—never late with a paper, always paying attention in class. No one in my family had ever given me their undivided attention, so I loved being with Miss Scully my freshman year. Her way of teaching was to find something, anything, to excite you about a subject—then go to town on what you wanted to find out in the first place. When I was in her office, I was the only one in the world and that made me feel special. But after the mixer Miss Scully could have cared less about my grades. All she wanted to talk about was Emma Templar.
“You still writing her?”
“She ever write back?”
“She’s pretty busy.”
“She’s a waste of time, you know. And you don’t have any time to waste.”
Miss Scully took off her sweater before I could sit down.
“Lock the door,” she said.
Before we could do any schoolwork, Miss Scully unbuttoned her blouse and put it on the table. Her miraculous breasts were held aloft in defiance of gravity by a lacy black bra that looked brand-new without really being up to the task required. I had seen the breasts of my sisters and their friends in bras and bathing suits but this was different. This was me alone in a room with a woman with beautiful breasts who had just taken off her shirt.
I was not even 14 yet. Miss Scully was 26 by my count, almost twice my age.
I wondered what Bo would think—I wondered what Bo would do. It was too late to start with the buttons because her blouse was gone with the wind. My sweet time was no longer relevant no matter what Bo said about unbuttoned buttons.
“Unsnap me. From behind.”
Bo and I had never talked about how to unsnap anything. I was not aware of the existence of snaps holding girls together. Emily Templar did not have a snap in her entire wardrobe at the mixer—just those buttons.
“I’m not asking.”
Miss Scully did most of the unsnapping by reaching behind her back because I had never touched a girl’s snap in my life and I had no way to practice. I had memorized her breasts a long time ago: I could see them in my sleep and then again when I woke up. But I had also never seen Miss Scully completely naked from the waist up, without a blouse or a bra or anything between me and the deep blue sea. I had never seen nipples so large and so perfectly round and so pink with cherries on top.
With her beautifully muscled arms she pushed her soft breasts together and up towards me like the perfect gift. They were nothing like Emma Templar’s breasts or anything I could ever imagine.
“It’s okay if you just want to keep looking at them. Lots of boys do.”
“Because you’re beautiful.”
“You think so?” she said.
Miss Scully pulled my head to her chest where my face got lost.
When Emma Templar did the same thing in the same room it felt innocent and even loving because we were the same age, learning the same things, sharing the same thoughts at the same time. What we did together seemed like who we were going to be for the rest of our lives. I was ready and it was time. I was not ready for Miss Scully now—but also not ready to say no to her.
“Do you love me, Wilbur?”
“I want to.”
“What about Miss Boo-Hoo-Hoo from Our Lady of Misery.”
“She’s just a girl. I’m never going to see her again. I know that.”
“Touch them,” Miss Scully commanded.
Slowly and lightly, I let my fingers run over every curve and bump of her breasts.
“That girl has the body of a boy.”
“She likes to talk,” I said. “And I like to listen.”
“Use your mouth,” she said.
“Call me what they call me.”
“Say it like you want me.”
“Whisper it over and over. Whisper it louder each time.”
“Crip. Crip. CRIP!”
She unzipped me and used her hand the way she had before.
“Use your mouth,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” Miss Scully said.
“I’m not asking,” I said.
Bo was just back from the indoor tennis court and I was done with swim practice. Lonnie had his game face on, getting ready for the state championships in wrestling at 148 pounds. He was so buff you could see every muscle in his stomach. I don’t think he could see three feet without his glasses so he was squinting like crazy in my direction. The only thing missing was Olive Oyl and the Popeye theme song.
We were all showering in the gym together because that was the only place at The Abbey for a student to shower at all. We showered every day like that so I never thought twice about it. Once a month some senior would make a comment about a horse or the hose between my legs but I ignored them. By now I was used to the jokes. At the end of the day I was an O’Kell, so there was more of me to behold than the average Joe. That’s what Miss Scully said after she almost choked in her office.
“Oh Jesus,” Bo said in the shower. “Oh Jesus God, Lonnie.”
I looked where Bo was looking to see The Dork with a full-on hard-on sticking out of the shower as far as the eye could see.
“Orndorff’s got a boner!” one of the frosh shouted.
Faster than you can say erection, The Dork was surrounded by a pack of gaggling, cackling freshmen.
“The Dork’s got a hard-on in the shower!” another one said. “You got to see this!”
In his near-sighted way, The Dork had turned away from the crowd when he realized the size of his predicament.
“The Dork is a homo!” said a third. “The homo’s dick is hard! Just look at him!”
“No,” Bo said above the din of the showers. “Don’t.”
Bo was up to any challenge, no matter how small—or, in this case, how big. He took his towel and cinched it around Lonnie Orndorff’s waist in one motion. Lonnie threw his own towel over his shoulders and pushed through the frosh, then threw on his clothes and raced out of the locker room without even tying his shoelaces or putting on his socks or jockey shorts or glasses.
Remember Bo was not a big kid, but when he came back buck-naked he seemed to take up all the space in the shower.
“It could happen to anyone. To me or to Wilbur or to any of you.”
Bo stared them down as only Bo could. The water was splashing around so he had to raise his voice.
“Don’t be an asshole,” Bo said. “We’re got too many of them at The Abbey already.”
The sniggering stopped.
“Anyone who says anything to Lonnie answers to me.”
Bo took his towel off and stepped back into the shower. No one else said another word about it.
That was Bo for you.
A school like The Abbey, without any girls, seemed like a total waste of Tony Francesa’s talents. Unlike me he oozed sex—especially when he blew smoke rings and ground out his cigarette butts with the tip of his foot. He never went to Chapel no matter how many times Dr. Matthias threatened him. He was one of the cool kids.
Tony Francesa spent his free time smoking in the woods by himself and that’s where I found him. He said to come alone because he had something important to tell me. I knew his father ran a chain of Italian bakeries out of Hoboken, New Jersey, so I knew he was nothing like me. But we had Miss Pamela Scully in common. Like me, he had been one of Miss Scully’s pet projects.
“Does Crip do that thing where she sticks her tits into you until her nipples get hard?”
“It gets hot in there.”
“Like an oven. Does she take her sweater off so you can see her boobs? Does she tell you to lock the door like a trained seal?”
“You know exactly what she does.”
“You think she loves you, don’t you?”
“I think she might.”
“You’re not going to fuck her if that’s what you’re thinking. That’s not how this works. You can forget about that.”
“Can she feel anything down there?”
“Are you kidding me? Yes! Just don’t ever try to touch her legs. She’ll go batshit on you. Six two and even, over and out.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Maybe my pet project is to wise up her pet projects.” Tony Francesa snuffled before he could suck it up. “She’s a prude in a kooky kind of way. And a cock-tease. She likes virgins no matter how close you get to the real thing with her—and she lets you get real close. You want to go to college, right?”
“If you want to go to college you do exactly what Crip says. Make Crip feel like she’s in control when you’re the one in control. You do that and she’ll get you into a good school. Guaranteed. That’s your deal with her.”
“I never made any deal.”
“Yeah, you did. We all did the minute we locked the door to her office. She was using me. Now she’s using you. That’s the deal. Get used to it. How old are you?”
“I’m not just some kid.”
“That’s exactly what you are.” Tony Francesa’s voice got thick. “You’re just some kid having sex with a grown woman.”
“It’s not so bad.”
“When my year with Crip was over I went to a whore in Newark to get her taste out of my mouth.”
“How was it?”
“Sex without love ain’t great,” Tony Francesa said. “Toby’s right about that. But it ain’t nothin’ neither.”
Bo was praying with me on my knees beside him in our room. Nobody knew how to pray like my roomie so I was usually went along for the ride.
“Your turn,” Bo said.
“I don’t know what to say. You always say it better. That’s why you always say it. And you know what He wants to hear.”
“Give it a try,” Bo said. “God has a soft spot for frosh.”
I had to say something just to make it into bed without looking bad in the eyes of my best friend. I knew Bo well enough to know he was not about to give up.
“Dear Lord,” I said. “Please guide us tomorrow and every day to make this world better for everyone we see and touch. And please forgive us when we don’t make the grade as long as we keep trying.”
“Not bad,” Bo said. “Pretty damn good actually.”
“I’m glad you approve.”
“It’s not up to me,” Bo said.
We climbed into bed and for a few minutes we were just thinking.
“Your father ever give you the talk,” Bo said.
“Is there some other talk I missed?” Bo said.
“The one about money.”
“Your mother ever say anything?”
“You should have heard what she didn’t say,” I said.
“Dad gave me The Talk before I came to The Abbey,” Bo said. “He was pretty good at it—much better than Toby. He said he and my Mom actually like sex because they’re in love. And they don’t just do it to make babies because you can only make so many babies.”
I knew Bo had to come from parents who really loved each other. That was obvious in everything he did. He was born lucky that way.
“My Dad said sometimes they have sex just for fun,” Bo said. “No babies included.”
“He said I was young so I should wait until I’m sure.”
“Sure of what?”
“He didn’t say. That’s the great thing about my Dad. He never spells things out for you. He lets you find out for yourself.”
I don’t know where jealousy lives in your body but I felt it then like never before. I would never have what Bo had in my family or in my life.
“My Dad said there was one holy commandment when you had sex.”
“Don’t get the girl pregnant,” I said.
“Wear a condom,” Bo said.
“What did your sisters tell you?” I said.
“They told me to get lost,” Bo said.
“The Talk had a Part Two,” Bo said. “My Dad said most guys are crazy about girls, and most girls are crazy about guys. But not always. Some guys like guys better, and some girls like girls better. He said some guys who liked guys were going to like me whether I liked it or not.”
“You mean homos?”
“Don’t use that word!” Bo was not happy. “Why do you think The Dork spent all that time with us?”
“I think he’s lonely. Maybe he misses his girlfriend.”
“The Dork doesn’t have a girlfriend,” Bo said. “He’s never had one. And he never will. He’s not lonely, Wilbur. He’s in love.”
“With you? That’s creepy.”
Bo let that sunk in for a minute. Like his Dad, he did not want to spell things out.
“Get out!” I said.
“He looks at you different, Wilbur—the way you and I look at a pretty girl—like we’re interested in what they’re saying. You stare at a pretty girl for no good reason. Lonnie stares at you. He always has. Unfortunately he was staring at you in the shower, too.”
Lonnie Orndorff was the favorite to win the state championship for his weight class as a freshman, but as you might guess it all came apart after his public hard-on in the shower. Within two weeks he ate himself out of the finals. On the rare occasions when he did shower, his stomach was already starting to look like everyone’s else’s belly. He never came into our room or sat with us again. In the fall The Dork was gone for good to Greenwich Country Day, living at home but leaving behind the cautionary tale about hard-ons in the shower.
“There’s nothing wrong with it, really,” Bo said. “A guy loving a guy, but my Dad said people are scared of it for some reason. He said they shouldn’t be because it was just another kind of love.”
“I’m not scared of it,” I said. “Why should I be?”
“Lonnie looks at your pecker the way you look at Crip’s boobs,” Bo said.
“They’re very nice boobs.”
“They’re perfect, actually,” Bo said. “I wouldn’t change them for the world.”
My final tutoring session with Miss Scully came after I aced final exams. I was still writing my letters but no bottles had washed up on shore at Our Lady of Sorrows in Nonquitt, Massachusetts. Wearing turtlenecks and jackets buttoned all the way up, Miss Scully had been all business on Tutoring Tuesdays since our no-shirt, no-schoolwork lollapalooza, and my grades for the final semester showed for it. In the end Bo would come in third highest in average for the class, and I made it all the way to ninth—a small miracle for sure.
Without Miss Scully’s help, I would have been just another rich loser expecting a living from the world, so I was feeling nothing but gratitude for her when I went to see her in the Old School Building for the last time. I had grown enough to know sex with a teacher (with or without love) was not a good thing for me—or for her—but that horse was out of the barn.
Freshman year was over. Vacation was in two days. I just wanted to thank her and go with Bo to Hyannisport for the summer.
Even with her fake smiley face, I had always liked Miss Scully as a person, and not just because of what her breasts did to sweaters. Miss Scully taught me History and Biology and she gave me my first lessons in success and sex. I believed she was actually trying to help people like Terry Francesa and me to succeed at The Abbey and eventually even in life. We paid dearly for her pet projects with our innocence, but now was no time to look this particular gift horse in the mouth.
I was okay with what we had done: I was glad for the adventure and the chance to share it with Bo blow-by-blow. He told me he was okay with it, too.
I thought this last meeting was going to be Goodbye Miss Crip, a bittersweet goodbye to freshman year at The Abbey. Instead my life was about to turn on a dime.
“Come here, Wilbur,” Miss Scully said from her chair behind the desk.
Without even asking about finals, Miss Scully took my teenage face in both her hands and touched my cheeks with the lightest of touches. With the backs of both her hands she made the same soft strokes against the peach fuzz now proliferating on my 14-year-old face.
“You are such a sweet boy, Wilbur. You always have been. And you have a gift from God.”
“They make fun of me sometimes. In the shower.”
“They’re jealous. They’ve never seen anything like it. And neither have I.”
I wanted to run, to get out of there with what was left of my childhood—but Miss Scully was on a mission that was only going to end one way no matter what Terry Francesa had to say.
“You don’t have to pretend you love me, Wilbur. I just want to love you.”
In a blink, before I could say thank you and see you later, Miss Scully was unbuckling my belt, unzipping my zipper, and pulling my pants and jockey shorts down in one rough motion.
“Make believe I’m a mermaid,” Miss Scully said.
I saw a young crippled woman, a much older woman, with her leg braces and sensible shoes propped up against the wall for no good reason. Even the skirt falling down past her knees could not hide the saddest legs I have ever seen in my life—the thin, neglected thighs and microscopic calves with no muscles and (worse) with no purpose. I had never seen her feet before without the boots. Now I could see her little child’s toes, as tiny as Chiclets in a row, swinging above the floor below her skirt.
She unwrapped her skirt and it fell away and she wore nothing underneath, just the wild bush I had never seen between her lifeless legs. Those beautifully round breasts were free and loose under her sweater with no blouse and no bra to get in the way.
“Make believe you’re in love with a beautiful mermaid named Pamela.”
“Mermaids don’t have legs,” I said.
Miss Scully closed her eyes.
“Neither do I,” she said.
Miss Scully should have protected me on the road to success: I was not a bad kid just because much had been given to me.
“You should never be ashamed of your body,” Miss Scully said.
Miss Scully was stroking me up and down. Then she moved south with her mouth until I snapped—and stopped her cold. She had taken something from me and I wanted to take it back.
“You want to love me,” she said “I know you do.”
I took a condom from my wallet, the one Bo’s father said guys should always have just in case. I put on the condom that barely fit and lifted Miss Scully out of her chair. I sat down on the chair and lifted her onto me.
Miss Scully put her palms on her desk by those tiny thighs and tried to push herself off of me like I was the horn on a saddle and she was a buckaroo.
“Please don’t, Wilbur! No!”
She pounded my head and shoulders with her fists. No way was I letting her go even with the strength of those incredible arms pushing against me. She kept fighting but without the use of her legs she was trapped, a prisoner. Without any real meat to her legs she was light as a feather.
“Stop! I’m a virgin!”
I could have cared less. Miss Scully was never going to shake free from me—not after what we have been through, not with two days left before the end of school. I lifted her up on the horn and then down and then again, over and over, faster then slower, like I was never going to stop.
Once she quit fighting me she rolled her eyes so high they became so white I thought they had left her head. Bo said girls faked orgasms all the time but that was never going to be Miss Scully’s problem. With me inside of her electricity ran through her upper body like she was plugged into a socket. Every little up-down made her squeeze me even tighter inside until she started twitching like she was possessed. When I grabbed her legs and stood all the way up with her she went completely batshit, waving her arms and gulping for air like she was drowning. To keep from screaming she bit her forefinger so hard it left teeth marks on the skin.
Part of being an O’Kell down there was being able to take your sweet time. I was not going to let her go until I had nothing left, not a drop to drink—until my virginity and hers were long gone—and no amount of praying could ever bring it back.
Dr. Tobias Matthias, looking down at our freshmen grades, knocked twice on her door before he opened it. When he looked up his jaw came down like the back of a station wagon. Without saying a word, Toby dropped the papers on the floor, closed the door, and got the hell out of there.
“You must never tell anyone about any of this,” Miss Pamela Scully said.
Bo knew everything so I just assumed I would keep telling him the rest.
“Okay,” I lied.
A bottle must have washed up on shore right after classes started sophomore year, because I finally heard back from Emma Templar. Due to her exemplary work at the mixer—and Toby’s sparkling recommendation—Miss Pamela Scully managed to leave Kent Abbey quietly over the summer and landed a part-time job as a college adviser at Our Lady of Sorrows, with Emma Templar as her pet project.
As for Bo: late one Saturday night at the end of freshman year, drinking way too much beer by myself at a bar in New Haven, I used a pay phone to call Bo on campus in Berkeley when he was just getting back to his fraternity. We caught up. Bo was doing great, of course, Honorable Mention All-American as a freshman on the tennis team at Cal. He had a girlfriend named Kelly and he sounded happy and in love.
“You never told me what happened with Crip, Wilbur.”
“You never asked.”
“You had all summer on the Cape. You never said a word.”
“I promised her I wouldn’t tell.”
“This is me you’re talking to, Wilbur. Cough it up.”
“So we did it. In her office. Satisfied?”
“Crip screwed you?”
“She was a virgin, too. I screwed her.”
“On the desk?”
“On her chair.”
“How did you—you know—what did you do below the waist?“
“Everything worked except her legs.”
“I thought you were the virgin, Wilbur.”
“Toby saw us in her office. That’s why Crip was gone the next year.”
“We forgot to lock the door.”
“Jesus God, Wilbur,” Bo said. “I’m going to the Chapel right now to pray for you.”
I told Bo I missed him and hoped we could see each other again before the end of summer.
“I miss you too, Wilbur,” Bo said. “I miss you every day.”
Bo Dotson: how could you not love that guy?
About a month later, in early June, Bo was riding his bicycle across campus when he collided head-first with a Hell’s Angel on his motorcycle going the wrong way down a one-way street. The Hell’s Angel was unhurt but Bo hit his head on the pavement and never woke up.
He died before night was over, before I even knew something was wrong. At least I know Bo died happy because he told me so.
Over the summer I wrote a check with his parents for the Bo Dotson Center for Academic Excellence at Kent Abbey. The following spring I went back to The Abbey for the last time when they named the Bo Dotson Senior Terrace in his honor.