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|My mother’s cousin Sarah married a farmer. Not that I have anything against farmers, mind you, but it was a bit unusual for my family, since we’ve pretty much always been city folk. So Sarah and her husband Carl had always been kind of the odd members of the family, living out there on a farm in Oregon, far away from the rest of us.
It was a surprise when my mom announced that we would be going to visit Sarah and Carl for the weekend. I’d never been to their farm, and I’d only seen Sarah a few times in my life. The last time was over four years ago at a family reunion. Carl was the strong, silent type — a hard man who believed in hard work. They had two children, a girl, Anna, who was a year older than me, and a boy, Luke, who was two years younger. I remembered Anna as a sweet girl who had just turned thirteen, and Luke was a pesky little ten-year-old twerp who liked to play practical jokes on everyone. I tried to stay out of the annoying little brat’s way. I was hoping he had changed a little, now that he was fourteen. And I was really looking forward to seeing how Anna looked at seventeen.
After our flight my parents rented a car and we made the long drive out to the farm. I slept in the back seat. When we arrived, the first thing I noticed was that it was a more beautiful place than I had imagined. The farmland was flat, of course, but there also were hills and trees around. Sarah and Anna came out of the farmhouse to greet us. Carl was out working, naturally, and nobody knew where Luke was. Anna had grown into a real knockout! She was blond and beautiful and the way she looked at me when we said “Hi!” made me think she liked me, too. I was sixteen, a year younger than her, but I never had any trouble attracting the older girls back home at my school. Plus, I had been working out pretty hard this summer, trying to put on some more muscle so I could be a starter on the varsity basketball team this year. I was wearing my basketball jersey, which showed off my buff arms and nice tan. We went into the front room to sit and talk, and Anna kept glancing over at me with a shy smile. I smiled right back and could pretty much tell she thought I was good looking. Most girls tell me I am. Carl came in and greeted us all, then went to wash up. Anna asked me if I wanted to take a tour of the farm, and I readily agreed.
We walked out around the property and ended up behind the barn, where I finally put my arm around her waist. I started talking about making the team in the fall and the weight lifting I was doing, and she complimented me on how I looked. That was all the encouragement I needed to show off a little. I raised my right arm and flexed for her and her eyes got big when she saw the nice, hard bulge my biceps made. I was pretty sure she was going to reach up and feel it, but just then we heard a shout and looked over to see Luke and a friend approaching.
“Hey, dude, what’s with the posing?” Luke said. “You think that’s a muscle?” He and his little buddy laughed. I didn’t know what he was so smug about. He was shorter than me, only fourteen years old, and he was wearing a “Kings” hockey jersey that was a few sizes too large for him. His friend was even smaller, wearing a “49ers” tee shirt that was also too big. “Here… I’ll show ya a muscle!” Luke said. He started to pull up the sleeve of his jersey, but Anna was clearly annoyed.
“Get out of here, you little jerk,” she snapped, and she gave him a really hard shove. Luke giggled and somehow kept his balance without falling down. He just shrugged, then smiled at me and winked. “I’ll see you at supper then, cousin,” he said, and he and his buddy left, still giggling.
“Just ignore him,” Anna said, but the moment was broken. We walked back to the house and I got my suitcase out of the car. I found out I was going to be sharing a room with Luke — so much for trying to ignore him. And I found out we would be sharing a double bed. I wasn’t looking forward to it.
At dinner, we all sat around a big table in the dining room. I guess Sarah had taught her kids to dress for dinner when they had company, because Anna had on a nice dress and Luke wore a long-sleeved white shirt that was buttoned up to the collar. His blond hair was also combed and slicked back a little. It made his ears stick out even more. I felt a little out of place still wearing my basketball tank top. During dinner (which they called “supper”) the adults talked a lot and sometimes asked the kids a question. Luke and Anna sat across the table from me. Whenever I looked at Anna, Luke would give me a little smirk and pucker up or sometimes bat his eyelids, mocking me. Several times he raised his right arm when no one else was looking and acted like he was flexing his arm for me. I didn’t know if he was trying to show off or just imitating what I was doing out by the barn. I couldn’t see his arm because of the long sleeves, but I did notice that something was moving up and down in that sleeve, all right. He would twitch the muscle and make it jump a little, and I just rolled my eyes, which made him smile.
After dinner, we all went back to the front room and talked some more. Sarah brought out some photo albums. It was kind of boring for the kids. Carl and my dad were going off to look at his gun collection. I was gonna go too, but the women wanted to play cards, and I agreed to be the fourth player. Luke snickered at me and went off with the men. He puckered up and made kissing noises again before he left the room. Man, that kid was annoying!
Everyone seemed to go to bed early on the farm. After the game was over, I said good night to Anna and went to my room. Luke wasn’t there yet. I got my paperback book out of my bag and started to read. When Luke came in, he stood right by the bed and started ragging on me.
“Hey Muscleboy!” he mocked. “Did you think you’d impress my sister with those little city-boy muscles? You probably ain’t done any real work like on a farm, have you? The kind of work that builds real muscle.”
I looked at Luke and frowned. I wanted to punch him in the face, but I tried to keep calm. He was, after all, my second cousin and two years younger, and I didn’t want to get Sarah upset by beating up her little kid, even if he was a loud-mouthed jerk. “What’s your problem with city boys, huh?” I said. “Do you hicks out here have an inferiority complex?”
“I’m not inferior to you, that’s for sure!” Luke argued. “I could whip your butt any day, and twice on Sundays!”
I looked at him like he was out of his mind. I put down my book and stood up to my full height, looking right down into his face. “You wanna say that again?” I challenged.
Luke reached out and grabbed my arm. “Flex it again!” he said. I jerked my arm away and raised it properly and flexed my biceps. Like I said, I’d been lifting weights for several weeks and was already starting to show some results. My sixteen-year-old biceps was nice and rounded with a pretty good peak. It was good and solid, too, and considering how skinny I had been last summer, I was pretty proud of how I looked now. Luke reached up and squeezed the bulge.
“Not bad, but my arms are bigger… and they’re harder, too!” he bragged.
“You’re dreaming!” I laughed. “No twerpy little eighth grader can compete with this!” I squeezed my fist even tighter and flexed my arm to the max. My biceps bulged up a little higher and became even more defined. “You wish you had muscle like this!” I sneered.
Luke was busy unbuttoning his shirt and undoing the cuffs. He whipped the shirt off his shoulders and slipped it down his arms, tossing it aside. He turned to face me and smiled. I lowered my arm and stared at him with my mouth open. Luke squared his shoulders and flexed his pecs a little. “I told ya I was stronger than you!” he said. “This body is all hard muscle built by hard work!” He slapped his chest and stomach making nice, solid thumping sounds. I had never seen such a young teenager with this much muscle before. Every muscle was clearly defined without an ounce of fat on this kid. His tan was darker than mine as well. “See…” he raised his arm and flexed. “My arm is bigger than yours, too!” Luke’s biceps made an amazing peak when it was flexed. It bulged up and up like it was trying to burst through the skin. I couldn’t believe this kid had built up this kind of muscle at only fourteen years of age.
I wasn’t about to admit that he was bigger than me. He looked good for his age and size, but I was still taller and heavier. I raised my arm and flexed it again. “No way!” I said. “You’re not as big as I am. Only in your dreams!”
Luke came and stood right in front of me with his back against my chest. He had to go up on his toes to get his arm level with mine. Then he flexed his arm along side of mine, comparing the biceps side by side. The sides of our arms were touching as we flexed. Luke would lift his elbow a little, trying to show that his biceps was peaking higher than mine, and I would do the same, not willing to let him get the upper hand. We were both flexing as hard as we could — two muscle teens locked in a battle of the biceps, each fighting to prove he had the bigger muscle. “Mine’s bigger!” Luke would say, and I would snap right back, “No, mine is bigger!” We both tightened our fists until our knuckles turned white. We kept flexing harder and harder until our forearms began to shake. Our biceps were really getting pumped and flushed as we strained. Veins started popping out along the muscle. It became a contest of endurance, neither one wanting to be the first to give up. We flexed and flexed until our arms started cramping up. My biceps started throbbing with pain, but I just grit my teeth and flexed even harder. This farm kid was not going to beat me! Luke’s entire arm was trembling now, and his biceps was pumped up to the max. I had to admit, the kid had a lot of muscle on that young arm, and I watched as a big vein appeared on the top of his biceps and began to throb with his pulse. Both of us were grunting a little as we flexed as hard as we could, and the pain in my biceps was getting so great if felt like my arm was going numb. Then Luke twisted his wrist all the way to the back and bent his forearm just a bit more, and his biceps contracted all the way and forced the peak up another fraction of an inch. I tried to do the same, but my arm was already flexing at maximum, and it was shaking so badly that I couldn’t hold it any longer. I lifted my elbow a bit, then put my arm down and declared victory.
“There,” I said. “I told you mine was bigger. I guess I showed you.”
“You cheated!” Luke complained. “I had you beat, and you cheated! You just won’t admit my muscles are bigger and stronger.”
“Those are two different things, Dumbo” I said. “Even if you were bigger… and you aren’t… you wouldn’t be stronger than me. I’m older and taller and heavier. Everybody knows I’m stronger than you. They can tell just by looking at us.”
“Just because you’re taller, doesn’t mean you’re stronger. I know I’m stronger than you, dude! I do more work in my daily chores than you would in a week of lifting your little weights. You city boys go to your fancy health clubs and push a little iron for half an hour and think you’re getting so strong… you make me laugh! You wouldn’t last a day doing the work I do on the farm. You’d die of exhaustion! My muscles are built harder and tougher and stronger because they have to be. Your muscles are just for show… city-boy muscles.”
I made a fist and shook it in his face. I wanted so badly to punch him that I could taste it. That stuck-up little brat had an ego bigger than the farm. I really needed to wipe that stupid little smile off his face. “I would gladly show you how strong I am, you little twerp,” I said, “but out of respect to your mother I won’t rearrange your face right now.”
Luke snorted in contempt. “You want a test of strength? I’ll show you a test of strength.” He flopped down on the carpet and propped up his right arm. “Let’s arm wrestle… I’ll prove to you how strong I am.” I looked down at him with his forearm raised as he wiggled his fingers, challenging me. I could still feel some soreness in my biceps. I couldn’t believe Luke wanted to arm wrestle after all that flexing. “What’s the matter, are ya chicken?” he said. I knew I had to meet his challenge or never hear the end of it. I didn’t want to think about losing, either. I had to win.
I lay down on the carpet facing Luke and placed my right elbow next to his. We gripped hands and squeezed. Luke was staring hard at me and I stared right back. “Whenever you’re ready, you say ‘go’,” he said. I didn’t hesitate. “GO!” I shouted, and pressed his arm as hard as I could. I got his arm about halfway down before he even resisted. “Hey, wait a minute…” he said, and then relaxed a bit. I pushed his arm down to the carpet in one second.
“Ha! I won!” I said, jumping up. “I guess all that talk about farm chores making you strong was just talk. My city-boy muscle was stronger than your farm-boy muscle.”
Luke shook his head. He didn’t move from his position on the carpet. “I wasn’t ready,” he complained. “You cheated. You were supposed to say, ‘1 - 2 - 3 - Go!’”
“What a whiner!” I said. “You didn’t say that at all. You just told me to say, ‘Go!’ You just don’t want to admit you lost fair and square.”
“You could tell I wasn’t even trying,” Luke said. “Let’s make it two out of three, and if you win this time I’ll even sign a paper that says you’re stronger than me.” I got back into position and gripped his hand. “I’ll say ‘go’ this time,” he said. We stared at each other again. “One… Two… Three…” As soon as Luke said “three” he started pushing with all his might. Then Luke said, “Go!” My arm was only a few inches off the carpet when I reacted and pushed back. It took only a little more effort from Luke to slam my arm all the way down.
“I guess you aren’t stronger after all,” he smiled. “Where was that city-boy muscle you were talking about?”
“Very funny, you cheater!” I said. “Okay, two out of three. We each had our advantage at the start. Now let’s settle this once and for all.” We gripped hands again. “Neither one of us will say ‘go’ this time. We’ll just start slowly and keep increasing the pressure gradually so we won’t catch each other by surprise.” I pushed on his arm a little and let him match my force. Luke increased his pressing and let me move our hands back to neutral. We kept increasing our effort bit by bit until we were straining at nearly full strength. “Okay, now GO!” I shouted, and we both gave it our all. I looked at my arm and watched my biceps respond by jumping up to full peak. I looked at Luke’s arm and saw it was bulging very impressively too. I gasped a little and tried to increase my effort. Luke’s arm didn’t budge. I bit my lower lip and grunted a bit as I felt my arm cramping again. My biceps was flexed as hard as I had ever flexed it. Our arms were trembling as we gripped our hands tighter and tighter. I felt sweat break out on my forehead and start to roll down my temples. Luke’s arm hadn’t moved an inch, and I couldn’t believe he was matching my strength. I dug deep and tried to find some extra bit of power to get his arm moving down. I started panting like a dog, doing anything I could to get the advantage. At that point, I happened to look at Luke’s face and saw him smiling at me!
“Is that all you’ve got?” he said calmly. I started to freak out. Then Luke screwed his face up in a grimace and increased his power. I swear I saw his biceps bulge up another half inch! My arm started moving down! I strained until my eyes started to bulge out. The sweat was pouring off me. I got my arm to stop moving and worked at getting a reversal. Luke was now taking big, grunting breaths and using all his effort. I struggled with all my might, but I couldn’t quite get my arm back up to neutral. Luke’s arm was like a rock — even his forearm was bulging bigger than it ever had. The pain in my cramping biceps was growing worse than ever. I didn’t have much time left. I had to do something quickly. I twisted my shoulder violently, trying to jerk his arm over, but it didn’t work. By moving out of position I lost all my leverage. My growl grew into a yell as my arm started moving down, slowly but surely. Luke growled right back as he gave the final burst of energy that slammed my arm the last couple of inches down to the floor.
“Yeah! That was a great match!” Luke said, as he jumped up. “You’re pretty strong for a city boy… I had to work harder than I thought! I have a lot more endurance than you, though. I wanna arm wrestle some more… I’m pumped!… but you look like you probably couldn’t even lift your arm anymore.”
“I’m just tired, that’s all,” I said, shaking out my sore arm. “It was a long flight, and a long drive. I’ll get you next time.”
“As you said… In your dreams!” Luke laughed. Then he shook his finger at me. “Whatever it takes, before you leave I’ll get you to admit I’m stronger than you.” He went to the bathroom to get ready for bed. I saw the light still on in Anna’s room and her door was open, so I went to say goodnight to her. She saw me rubbing my arm and asked if I was all right. I didn’t try to explain it to her.
It didn’t take me too long to get to sleep, despite the fact that I had to share a bed with a kid I was growing to hate. Luke didn’t say anything after he turned out the light, and he was asleep almost instantly. Another farm-boy talent, I guess. In the morning the first thing I heard was Luke’s voice.
“Hey, are you gonna sleep all day?” he said. I blinked at him and tried to get my eyes to focus. Luke was standing at the end of the bed with the buddy he was with the day before.
“What time is it?” I groaned.
“It’s almost nine o’clock. We’ve been up since five. I’ve done all my morning chores. We finished moving the irrigation pipes almost an hour ago.” I sat up a little in bed and put my hands behind my head. “This is my friend, Pete,” Luke said. “I told him about our arm wrestling match and he says he’d like to take you on… isn’t that right, Pete?” Luke slapped Pete on the shoulder. Pete smiled and showed a mouth full of braces. He was a bit shorter and smaller than Luke. Homelier, too. “Pete’s only thirteen, but he’s really strong. I told him you might be as strong as he is, but I doubt it. Like I said, us farm boys have real muscle, not that fake gym muscle you city boys have.”
I tightened my arms as I stretched and yawned and felt my biceps contract into hard balls of muscle. “You think this little geek can challenge me?” I said. “You must be out of your mind.” I put my hands back behind my head and twitched my biceps on and off, making the muscle jump up and down. “Take a good look, kid. This is the kind of muscle you might have when you’re sixteen… if you’re lucky!” Pete giggled and didn’t say anything. He looked at Luke and smiled.
“Do ya wanna arm wrestle him now or not?” Luke sounded annoyed. “Pete has to go work on his farm.”
I got up and walked off toward the bathroom. “Get lost, kid,” I said to Pete as I passed. “Go arm wrestle your mother. You ain’t up to my standards.” I went out the door and down the hall.
“I told ya he wouldn’t do it,” I heard Luke say. “He’s just chicken. Come back tonight and we’ll see.”
After my shower I went to the kitchen for breakfast. Luke was there by himself. He told me the women had gone shopping in town for the day. Luke told Anna I was going swimming with him, so she went along with Mom and Sarah. Now I had another reason to hate him. Luke told me to grab a towel and we would walk to the swimming hole. He was wearing just a pair of cut-offs. I wondered if he was constantly tensing his taut, muscular body for me. Nobody could have that much natural muscle tone and definition at age fourteen, I thought. I didn’t have a bathing suit, so I put on a pair of shorts and sandals and we walked toward the road. Luke called me a “tenderfoot” for not going barefoot, like him. As we crossed behind the barn we passed a large tractor. Luke stopped and said he wanted to show me something. He grabbed a pair of leather work gloves from the seat of the tractor and put them on. Then he positioned himself at the front of the huge vehicle, standing with his back against it. He squatted down and grabbed the front edge of the tractor with his gloved hands and started pulling up. I thought he was crazy! I mean, I may not know much about tractors, but this was a huge one! This was not the kind of tractor you mow a lawn with, this was a tractor you haul big pieces of equipment with. The seat was almost as tall as me. I saw the cords stand out in Luke’s neck as he began to strain. He grit his teeth and grunted mightily. The muscles all along his arms jumped to attention as they were stretched to the limit. His stomach muscles froze into solid bricks as he gulped each breath. But it was his legs that really caught my attention. The kid’s thighs were bulging bigger than I ever thought they could. The muscles were straining so hard that they seemed to vibrate with effort. You could see each individual muscle in his thighs growing more and more defined as they flexed. I gasped when the tractor’s front tires left the ground. Luke threw back his head and let out a yell. His neck and traps were bulging like crazy! Those fourteen-year-old thighs kept flexing as his legs continued to straighten. Slowly but steadily that massive tractor moved up until Luke’s legs were fully straightened and his knees locked. He lowered his head and looked me in the eyes with a triumphant smile as he took a few big, gulping breaths that made his chest heave. Then he lowered the tractor quickly but smoothly until it hit the ground again with an impressive thud. Luke was still panting hard when he removed the gloves and offered them to me.
“You wanna try?” Luke said, smiling. I just shook my head. “Okay,” Luke shrugged, “I didn’t think you would. You probably would have hurt yourself, anyway.” I just turned and resumed walking to the road, ignoring his snide remark. I was getting tired of Luke’s boasting and bragging. But he wasn’t about to let up. As we went down the road he kept running ahead of me and showing off… like walking on his hands or vaulting over a high fence in one leap, while I took my time climbing over. When we got near the swimming hole the woods got heavier and there were some trees growing over the path. Luke ran ahead and jumped up to grab a limb and started chinning himself. He had done about ten when I caught up with him, and I was getting impatient with his constant attention-getting antics.
“That’s enough, you show off!” I said. Luke pulled his chin up to the limb again so I grabbed his knees, which were about at my shoulder level, and pulled him down. I got him about halfway when I realized he was fighting me. I looked up to see his arms flexing like crazy, and I tugged on his legs a little harder. Luke gave a grunting little laugh and tried to resist me. For a moment, he actually pulled himself back up a little, which really surprised me. I saw his biceps bulging up once again, pumping themselves up beyond what you would think was possible for a fourteen-year-old boy. I had to pull until I felt my weight being lifted nearly off the ground before Luke’s body started moving down and he finally gave up and dropped to the ground. He sat there in the middle of the path and laughed, catching his breath. I knew he wanted me to say something about how strong he was, so I just turned and kept on walking. But even though Luke was an annoying little egotistical brat, deep down I had to admire his amazing strength and endurance. The kid was a non-stop bundle of energy.
When we got to the swimming hole, Luke raced ahead to be first in the water… naturally! He never tired of climbing out and doing cannonballs, especially if it got me wet. He also liked to wrestle in the water, always grabbing me by the shoulders and trying to force me under. Sometimes I just let him do it because it was too tiring to resist. Everything was a test of strength for Luke. He never tired of trying to show he was stronger than me. I soon got tired of his roughhousing and climbed back onto the shore. There was a big flat area of smooth rock that was perfect for sunning. I lay on my back, enjoying the summer rays, and Luke soon joined me. After a few minutes, I found myself looking over at Luke’s body more and more. He couldn’t be more muscular and stronger than me, I told myself. He’s just a kid. But every time I looked at his body I noticed how every muscle was standing out sharp and defined. It was kind of scary to think what kind of a body he might have in two years, when he was as old as me.
Suddenly, Luke put his hands behind his head and started doing stomach crunches. He brought his knees up to touch his elbows, then started doing twisting crunches, touching the opposite elbow and knee. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was exercising. “You’re just totally hyperactive,” I said. “That’s not exercising… that’s a mental disease.” Luke jumped up to his knees, facing me.
“Oh yeah? Well, I bet I’ve got harder stomach muscles than you,” he said. I groaned. Here we go again, I thought. Luke put his fists behind his neck and took a deep breath, then blew out all the air and crunched down hard on his stomach muscles. His abs tightened into a perfect six-pack of solid muscle, nicely defined. I tried not to look impressed. “Hey! You wanna have a good ol’ fashioned gut punching contest?” he said, eagerly.
“What’s that?” I said.
“It’s easy… come on,” he said, pulling me by the hand up to my feet. “We take turns punching each other in the gut until someone doubles over. It’s really fun! I’ll even let you go first!”
I couldn’t believe this was his idea of fun. But I had to admit, the thought of slugging this conceited little brat was appealing. I grew more interested. If there was anything I was more proud of than my biceps, it was my abs. I think Luke was underestimating how solid my stomach was. “Okay, let’s go,” I said, balling my right hand into a fist. “You ready?”
Luke braced his feet and put his hands behind his back. He tightened his abs again and they grew solid. “Ready!” he said. I drew my fist back and really laid into him. The force of the blow knocked him back a couple of paces, but he didn’t fall down. My fist felt like it had hit something hard. Something really hard. I tried not to show my surprise.
“Okay, my turn!” Luke said. He didn’t even take time to catch his breath, or anything. He was already starting to throw his punch, so I had to act quickly to brace myself and tighten my stomach. His fist slammed into my gut and I stumbled backward. Then I felt the wave of nausea overcome me. That kid’s punch hit me like a ton of bricks! I gasped and tried to catch my breath. Luke smiled at me and nodded. “How was that?” he said. I tried to say, “Okay,” but it came out sounding more like a cough. Luke let out a laugh. “Your turn again,” he said, and he assumed the ready position once more. I knew I couldn’t play around. I had to get tough with him and pound his little tummy with everything I had. I drew my fist back slowly and tried to concentrate on hitting him square in the belly button. Luke’s amazing abs looked unbelievably solid. I hoped his navel might be a weak spot. I really threw my shoulder into it and slammed my fist hard into his gut. Luke took several steps back this time. He took one big breath, but otherwise didn’t show any effect. “Good one!” he said cheerfully, and prepared to throw his punch. I knew I was in trouble. My fist was aching. That was probably the best punch I had ever thrown at anyone, and this fourteen-year-old with a body like a rock took it in stride! “Get ready!” Luke said, and I stood up straight and tried to brace myself. He threw his punch and I felt his fist sink in a little this time. I stumbled back and had to wave my arms to keep from falling down. I grabbed my stomach and started to hunch my shoulders, then remembered the rule about doubling over, and tried to remain upright as I rubbed my gut. “You aren’t supposed to warn the other guy or anything,” Luke said. “You’re just supposed to keep throwing punches back and forth as fast as you can. The idea is to get to the other guy before he can brace himself, so you can hit him when he’s vulnerable. I’ve been waiting for you to get ready because you’re new at this, and you look like you could use the time to recover.” I looked at Luke and tried to smile. “Thanks, I’ll remember that,” I said.
It took a few seconds before I was ready to throw my next punch. I knew I needed all my strength to get Luke to double over. I took a few running steps up to him and threw the punch. I didn’t know if this was cheating, but I didn’t care. Luke acted surprised, but he didn’t try to move out of the way. I was less accurate with my punch and it landed to one side of his belly button, near the obliques. Luke spun halfway around, but didn’t double over. I lost my balance and fell to the ground. Luke stood over me with his hands on his hips. “We’re both supposed to have our feet planted,” he said. “That was cheating, but I’ll let you get away with it. You didn’t know all the rules.” I started laughing, and Luke looked confused. The idea that I kept hitting this kid with everything I had and he didn’t even lose his breath was suddenly funny to me. Luke helped me up and I prepared to take my punishment again. He drew back his fist slowly and I winced in anticipation. It hurt now every time I tightened my abs, so I knew I wouldn’t last long. I was right. This time Luke’s fist did real damage. His punch totally broke down my stomach muscles and tore into my gut. I felt the air rush out of my lungs and my knees buckled. I grabbed my stomach and fell to the ground, rolling into a fetal position. Luke walked up to me and I saw his bare toes slowly come into focus right in front of my eyes.
“I guess I win,” he said softly. “Are you gonna be all right?”
I didn’t answer right away. I couldn’t. Luke knelt down and rubbed my back and said it’s okay if I felt like I wanted to vomit. He said lots of kids do when they lose. I felt miserable, not only because of the nausea, but because this little farm boy whipped me good. It took about twenty minutes before I felt like starting the walk back to the farmhouse.
I skipped lunch and took a nap for most of the afternoon. Luke went out and did his afternoon chores. Even on a Saturday, there was no time off for a farm kid. When I woke up, Carl was in the kitchen and he made me a sandwich for lunch. He asked me if Luke and I were having a good time, and I lied and told him yes. There was just one more night here, I thought. We were leaving early in the morning to catch our flight. I couldn’t wait.
That evening Luke was real polite at supper. Maybe he felt bad for nearly making me puke. After dinner, I thought I might finally have some time alone with Anna. So I was really surprised when the doorbell rang and Anna’s date for the evening showed up. He was another farm boy, of course, and he looked big as a tree and strong as an ox. I looked at those shoulders and wondered how much weight lifting I’d have to do to get deltoids that strained the fabric of my shirts like that. He put his arm around Anna and she gave me a sympathetic smile as she went out the door. I understood. It was Saturday night, after all. She wasn’t going to spend it at home with her younger second cousin.
I went back to my room and pulled out my book. A few minutes later, Luke came in followed by Pete. “How about we finish that arm wrestling match?” Luke said. “You can wrestle Pete, then the winner will wrestle me for the championship!” I put down my book and looked at the little thirteen-year-old. Normally, I wouldn’t even be interested in beating such a young kid at arm wrestling… I mean, what’s the point? But I was feeling a little down after losing to Luke twice. At least I’d finally be able to win something. Little Pete smiled at me, showing those braces. I got down on the floor and put my hand up. Pete started to get into position, but I decided to jump up and strip off my shirt, just for effect.
“Don’t wanna get my shirt dirty,” I said. I tossed my shirt on the bed and began to stretch, using the opportunity to flex my muscles for Pete. I wanted this boy to get a good look at what he was up against. “I was a little tired earlier today,” I said, “but I’m feeling strong now!” To emphasize my point, I raised my arms and struck a double biceps pose. If Pete was intimidated, he didn’t show it. He smiled at me, then started giggling again. I realized I hadn’t ever really heard him speak, just giggle. He seemed to giggle a lot.
“Come on Pete, take off your shirt, too,” Luke said. “We’ll all take off our shirts.” Luke stripped off his tee shirt and waited for Pete to do the same. Pete was not as developed as Luke or me, of course, but he was surprisingly muscular. It must have been how Luke looked a year ago — work-toughened muscles that were mature beyond their years. I stopped flexing and got into position on my belly. Pete did the same. His forearm was a little shorter than mine, and it was hard to get a good grip. His hand was smaller too. I looked at his arm and noticed how his little biceps jumped as he tried to get a firm grasp on my hand. The muscle was peaking already, and we hadn’t even started. Luke grabbed our fists and shouted “Go!” as he released. I pushed Pete’s arm down almost half way and he seemed to have trouble resisting my strength. “Come on, Pete!” Luke shouted. “Don’t let him whip you like that! You can do it!”
I felt Pete’s arm tense up more and his biceps flexed up harder. He stopped me from moving his arm down and we struggled there at about a 45-degree angle. Then I decided I couldn’t maintain my cool and expect to beat this tough little boy easily. I grunted and strained and gave it everything I had and Pete’s arm started slowly moving down again. It was only a matter of time now. But as his arm got lower, his hand started slipping down to my wrist. I tried to hold on, but our palms were sweaty. I gave a sudden quick burst of power to slam his arm down, but Pete’s hand slipped out and sprang back up without touching the carpet.
“Foul!” Luke said. “We’ll have to start over.”
“Hey, that’s not fair!” I said. “I had him for sure!”
“Well, you’ll just have to do it again,” Luke said. Then he turned to Pete. “Come on, I know you can take this guy. You’ve got to get serious!” Pete giggled again, but he bit his lip when Luke gave him a stern look. Luke whispered something in Pete’s ear and the boy nodded. He looked at me and smiled again, showing his braces. What a geek, I thought.
We got a better grip and Luke started us again. This time Pete’s little bicep jumped right at the start, and he started grunting with effort right away. I was startled by the muscle power this little kid had. I stepped up my effort as well, but my arm had been pushed back a few inches already. Luke put his hand on Pete’s flexing biceps and squeezed it a little. “Come on, boy… use that muscle!” he said. “Teach him what it’s like when you take on a farm boy! We’re tough as nails and stronger’n dirt!”
Pete lowered his head and put everything he had into forcing my arm down. Luke’s little speech seemed to be just the incentive he needed. I couldn’t believe how strong this little kid was! My arm was being bent down to nearly 45 degrees, and I was losing leverage fast. Luke released his grip on Pete’s bicep and started cheering. I looked at the boy’s arm and saw his biceps pumping with veins and everything! I felt helpless as my arm kept moving down until it touched the carpet.
“Yeah!! Yeah!! I knew you could do it!” Luke yelled. Pete giggled again and shook out his arm a little. I rubbed my sore biceps and wondered if it was still recovering from last night. I looked at Pete’s arm compared to mine and figured mine was at least two full inches bigger. There should be no way this boy could put my arm down! I propped my arm back up. “Two out of three… come on,” I said. I was really serious now, and getting mad.
Pete gripped my hand and Luke started us for another go. This time I didn’t let him get the jump on me. I strained with everything I had right from the beginning, and Pete was grunting and straining, too. I moved his hand down a little, but the kid stopped me and held firm. Still, I had the advantage now and I wasn’t about to give it back. I poured on the pressure and moved Pete’s arm down another inch… then another. Luke started pleading with Pete to give it everything he had. “Remember what I told ya… do it now!” Luke said. “Use your secret weapon!” The boy seemed to huff and puff a little, then he took a deep breath and held it. He screwed his face up into a wild contortion and started making a noise that was part grunt and part growl. Pete’s arm started vibrating and I could feel the trembling in my hand. At that moment I looked down at the boy’s biceps and saw the muscle grow like I’d never seen a boy’s muscle grow before. It actually started swelling up like a balloon and the definition got sharper and the veins started popping out like branched lightening. The power surging into his arm was unbelievable! I felt my arm moving back almost before I knew what was happening! The boy’s grunt became a groan and kept growing louder and louder. My arm moved all the way back to the neutral position and didn’t stop moving. Pete’s face turned beet red as he continued giving everything he had. Nothing I did could stop the slow progress of the boy’s arm now. It was like a hydraulic piston! The power was irresistible, and my arm kept moving down… down… down. When my hand got within a few inches of the carpet, my arm totally gave out and the boy slammed my knuckles to the floor.
Luke started whooping and hollering and jumping up and down. He picked Pete up and started hugging and shaking him and ruffling his hair. Pete just giggled. I groaned and rolled over on my back with my aching forearm over my eyes. It had been a miserable day. After they finished celebrating, the farm boys had their championship match, but I wasn’t really interested. I got up and sat on the bed. Luke put Pete’s arm down twice in a row, without too much effort. I like to think I had weakened the boy, but I doubt that Luke had ever lost to Pete anyway. Luke stood up and raised his and Pete’s hand together in victory.
“The Champion and the Runner-Up!” he declared. “Now I guess you know where you have to go to find some real muscle! Check out the farm boy muscle!” Luke struck a double biceps pose and Pete followed his lead. I looked up and just shook my head. I didn’t want to admit it, but it really was an awesome display of young muscle. When I first saw these guys I thought they were just normal kids. I never would have guessed they had such hard-chiseled physiques under their clothes. Luke pushed Pete right in front of me and pointed at the boy’s flexing right arm. “Just look at that muscle!” Luke said. “The arm that beat yours two straight! Feel what a lifetime of hard work in the field can build!”
I looked at Pete’s pumped-up right arm and nodded. That wasn’t a biceps, that was a little mountain of granite! Luke grabbed my wrist and put my hand on Pete’s bulging biceps. The kid’s arm was hard as a rock and peaked like a pyramid. I squeezed until my forearm bulged but Pete’s biceps was uncrushable. It wasn’t as big around as my arm, but it peaked up almost as high and was definitely harder. Stronger too, I had to admit. I told him he was the strongest thirteen-year-old I had ever met, and he giggled again. I guess Pete didn’t speak much.
Luke did some more bragging about how strong they were, and I listened to it all without comment. I didn’t feel like arguing with him, and I didn’t have anything to back me up, anyway. Both kids liked to flex their muscles and have someone feel them, so we did that for several minutes. I guess it was my punishment for losing, to feel these boy’s hard muscles and tell them how strong they were. Then Luke put his arm around Pete’s shoulders and winked at me. “I told ya I would get you to admit I was stronger than you,” Luke said. Then he and Pete high-fived each other and Pete put on his shirt and left. At that point I’d had just about all I could take. I went out for a long evening walk and when I came back Luke was already asleep. I was left to replay the awful weekend over in my mind a few times before finally nodding off.
Let me tell you, I was glad to get out of there Sunday morning. I left with a sore arm and a bruised ego. If you ever find yourself in a position to challenge a farm boy, take my advice and just walk away. They’re tough as nails and stronger’n dirt.
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