Friday, October 16, 2020

The Pennant of Initiation by Tom Sheehan

A high school American football team dare each other to hang a girl's panties on the Saugus Centre statue by midnight, and young Johnny Templer knows his naivety will get the better of him; by Tom Sheehan. 

Young Johnny Templer, in the summer of his sixteenth year, at the beach on a Saturday afternoon with his crowd, was at a crossroads in his life. Already he had experienced three erections on the crowded beach, any and all girls driving him into the mindless frenzy. He could have buried himself in the sand, or gone into the cool ocean water and stayed there until midnight.

The girl in the two-piece purple swimsuit was particularly dangerous, and daring, the way she absolutely was posing for him with her back against the beach wall, posing for him alone out of all the guys around. Almost snapping it at him, he could hear his brother saying, him three years in the Navy and knowing practically everything there was to know about girls. He was sure of it. Three erections told him so.

Now game time was at hand and pal and teammate Spit Kelly had their attention. Spit had a way about him you noticed sooner than later. "So, we go off to practice on Monday. We dead sure have to cap off a great summer, 'cause if we don't, we're going to forget it in a hurry." Spit looked at the dozen of them, most of them entering their senior year, Johnny Templer and Greg Wozny and Joey Turner being the only juniors-to-be in the group, babies, just out of their sophomore years, sopping behind the ears. Virgin territory, though not so readily admissible.

"It's got to be different. It's got to be memorable. And it's got to be exciting."

Spit, getting demonstrative, was the fullback on the team and would take on fire. The whole North Shore League knew it and we all knew it and it gave Spit a whole handful of respect. He was a lady's man to boot, a great dancer, a smooth talker, as if every girl he ever met had been waiting for him. The single scar, across his lower lip, almost firehouse red when he was angry or pushing at extremities, marked him apart from the others, marked him dangerous, or at least as a survivor of an unknown encounter along the way. But nobody had ever asked him who did it. With his helmet on, the scar burned with a Brandenburg flair and occasionally earned him an extra yard or two with the ball. We had seen that time and again, and in the tough games.

"Now who's got any ideas? Make them good 'cause we don't want to waste our time. We haven't got much more of this weekend. Then it's three and a half months of locking on to football." One fist smacked down into the other hand and people on the beach turned to look at him. Spit, also knowing where the stage was, turned his good side to the crowd.

Johnny Templer never had any ideas that would excite any of them; except the single one he had of Miss Purple Suit, sitting now with her legs v'd into the sunshine not ten yards from him. That image was his to keep, forever. Spit looked at him and looked away. It was long and lean Ray Carbury who spoke first. "How about a contest, like who's the first one that gets some nookie tonight." A smile was beginning. "And can prove it." His eyes went wide with comic expression.

Spit said, "There's nothing special in that. Maybe nothing different at all." Some guys nodded. Some smiled in coy agreement. Some hung their heads. Johnny Templer was still looking at Miss Purple Suit, his mind filling with unknown images, the other and most foreign territories.

Carbury came back. "What if we set a time limit and a special way to announce it? And we need proof of the whole thing."

"What kind of proof?" Spit said. "Her name on a placard and one of you guys walking around Saugus Center with it over your shoulder? I don't want any part of that."

"Yuh," Dutch Broovert said, "'cause MaryJane would kick your ass all over town if you gave her name."

"And kick it twice as far if it wasn't her," Spit added. But he was thinking, and measuring, and Johnny Templer figured that Spit was already planning to move on from MaryJane anyway.

Ray said, "What if the winner had to hang up a pair of her panties as a signal."

"Hang 'em where?" Spit put in.

Ray wasn't quitting. "In the Center someplace. Out in the open. Like maybe the statue right on the green. Hang the panties up on the statue's outstretched arm, like a flag or a pennant, like Welcome aboard, Captain." His tittering fell on the sand.

Spit leaped to his feet again. "That's great," he said, "but we have to have some rules. Start making suggestions." He pointed at them, one at a time, locking eyeballs just the way he'd do it in the huddle.

"It can't be a steady," Mark Campio said. "That's got to be off limits."

"It can't be a regular," Bill Brockman added, everybody having a damn good idea of who and what he was talking about, names not being spoken.

"Do we have to know who she is? We'll have to swear to keep her name secret," Eddie Searles put in, already worried about his sister Kate and how she had made the driveway memorable with her boyfriend at least three times already that he personally knew about.

Spit was onstage again. "Of course, we have to know who she is. It's nothing otherwise if we don't. The fun will be gone. Hell, we all get plenty anyway. We're all going to put in five bucks for the winner. And we have to swear to keep her name secret, just among us. That has to be part of it."

Dunna Coggs, usually quiet, a great follower but never a leader, feeling a minute opening, said, "The clock has to be set for start and finish."

Johnny Templer, not yet with a girl, started to sweat. Miss Purple Suit was packing up her things. Opportunity was leaving him on the next bus headed away from the beach.

Spit was smiling and nodding. "That's great. We leave the Center at seven, go our separate ways, and shut the clock off at midnight. The trophy has to be hung before midnight, on the arm of the statue. You climb it or get a ladder, but you have to get it up there. And it has to be there until Sunday morning. How does that sound?"

There was a murmur of approval and Spit added, "And there can be no previous arrangements. We kick ass on anybody who does. "Member how we got Tattletale Dick last year on punt returns? We'll do the same thing to whoever screws this up. No cheating. We're a team, aren't we? Are we game?" An adventure and an excitement made merry in his voice.

Johnny Templer, never with a girl other than minor petting, a clumsy fondling of a breast or two, but full of dreams, walked away from the Center at 7pm in a quandary. He was a dead duck, he figured. Sixteen years and nothing to show for it. Now he had five hours and the whole world was coming down on him. Little there was he could do. Couldn't call a girl and say, plain outright, "Want to make love with me tonight so I can win a contest?" And Miss Purple Suit, long gone away from him, came back only in short quick bursts of dreams.

At ten o'clock, he sat on the front porch of his house a mile out of the Center. He'd be banished forever in the group. Probably most of them knew he had never been with any girl anyway. Now he'd be the Sweet virgin running the halfback counter play or the Sweet virgin sweeping wide with Student Body Right in the first game. He could hear quarterback Chuck Waymore calling the play in the huddle, his eyes right smack on Johnny Templer and the whole team knowing the score.

With his skin crawling with apprehension and all the boding promise, he snuck into his sister Elsie's room and stole a pair of her underpants. He took sleek black ones, thin, sheer, all the adjectives flying at him. Into a back pocket he slipped them and started out for the Center. Less than a hundred yards down Main Street, a car slowed and stopped beside him. It was MaryElizabeth Harmon, bar none absolutely the best-looking girl in the school, sitting behind the wheel of her father's sleek Packard Clipper. An image formed itself in Jackie's mind: she and the Packard formed a fair pair, elusive, beautiful, brand new. Her blonde hair was a halo in the dark interior, and he could remember her hips just a few days past walking in front of him down the high school corridor. Miss Purple Suit most likely couldn't hold her hat.

"I thought that was you, Jack," she said. "Where you going at this hour, and what's that hanging out of your back pocket?" Thinking it was his handkerchief, he pulled the pair of panties out of his pocket and held them at the window. Only then did he see what he flagged at MaryElizabeth.

MaryElizabeth said, "I think you better get in here, Jack. You really have some kind of explaining to do, and I don't mind listening." Mystery rode in her voice. She reached over, lifted the lock button very slowly and opened the door for him. He could feel the same sensation he had at the beach. Now he could at least hide in the darkness of the Packard's interior.

He told her everything that happened during the day. And how he had slipped into Elsie's room and taken a token trophy.

The heartiness of her laughter, warm and headily delightful to him, filled the car, and she pulled off the road and went in behind the American Legion building, the parking lot completely deserted. "They'll never let you get away with it, Jackie. If they ever find you out, you're done with those guys. I know it. I could draw you a picture of it all." Her hand was such a soft comfort on his shoulder, he could feel it in his toes.

She placed that hand on his bare arm. It was hot, Purple Suit hot. "I'll give you mine. No strings attached." Her voice was husky, smoky, carrying the unknown, all of it, and bit down into his body with a claw hammer clutch. Easily, without distortion, she slipped her skirt up and wrestled her underpants off. A pair of the loveliest legs ever seen filled the front seat of the Packard.

Her skirt still riding where she had pulled it around her hips, she looked at him. "My God, Jackie, you're white as a ghost. Haven't you ever seen a girl before?" She stared at him. "Never been with a girl, Jackie? I suppose you'd want to touch me, wouldn't you. I don't mind." She took his hand, "Like how I'll show you, and then a little faster if you want." And then, only moments later, her voice still smoky, the unknowns breaking all apart for him, she said, "I suppose you'll want everything, won't you, and on the first night, too. Oh, my, what a lover you are." And later she said he could hang her panties on the statue but couldn't tell anybody her name.

Johnny Templer climbed the statue and hung MaryElizabeth's underpants on the statue raised for Civil War veterans. As he was leaving the Center, four of the guys rushed at him and demanded the girl's name. Johnny Templer, understanding more than ever the predicament he was in, relented and let them poke fun at him when he said he had snuck a pair of underpants from his sister's room. They all joked about it and had a big laugh out of his desperation, knowing they'd be more laughs coming, a whole season of them; in the locker room, in the huddle, on the bus going to and coming back from games. Jackie the lover!

The story went around town in a hurry, and Elsie Templer, passing the statue just before noon, figured her kid brother had come pretty far along in the world, as she acknowledged to herself that the underpants were not hers.

And Johnny Templer, all these years later, father to six, grandfather to 22, a storyteller from the word go, who for years regaled all with classic stories on his summer porch or in his winter kitchen by the fire, never once told anybody about hanging grandma's underpants on the statue in Saugus Center.

5 comments:

  1. Another great nostalgic tale of young love. Johnny makes a wise choice and catapults himself down a path toward a great future. Ending made me smile.

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  2. Highly unlikely story, but every heterosexual teen boy's fantasy come true.

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  3. Great story, Tom. I like the long term perspective provided by the ending. Thank you.

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  4. Well told tale, Tom. Good job!

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  5. Johnny did right my MaryElizabeth and ended up with her for a lifetime. I would have liked a little more to help me see MaryElizabeth as more than sex starved teenager, but I trust in the long run they had a great life together. Thanks for sharing the story.

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