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|“Damn, have you seen Ryan Maloney?”
“Yeah, the guy is freakin’ jacked!”
All anyone talked about once school began in September was how much muscle Ryan had put on over the summer. Well, to be honest, people talked about him all the time, but as he stepped through the door now as a senior, he knew that he absolutely ruled the school. He had packed a full 15 pounds of solid muscle onto his already incredibly built body, tipping the scales at a meaty 190 pounds. Even the guys stared at him wide-eyed as the hunk passed by them in the hallway. And of course, all the girls were completely beside themselves, drool practically dripping from their mouths.
“Have you seen his new tattoo?”
“You mean, the Superman shield on his shoulder?”
“Yeah, he looks so fuckin’ hot with it!”
Ryan Maloney, the jock god of Central High School, was on the lips of nearly every group in the building, while his lips – and tongue – were down the throat of his “girlfriend of the month.” The most recent in a long line of unbelievably hot conquests, she was almost entirely enveloped in his massive arms, her supple breasts pressed up against his rock-hard pecs and her hands passionately clutching his firm ass-cheeks. No doubt, he had fucked her senseless all summer. The two superior teenage lovers were carrying on their public display of affection right in the middle of the main hallway, but she didn’t care. As far as she was concerned, as long as she was with him, everyone had to like her.
“The guy is such a jackass!”
My eyes darted over at Hunter as he said this, luckily only loud enough for me to hear. There was not only a look of envy, as there was in almost every other guy, but also an intense sense of disgust.
“You really hate him that much?” I said, intending it to be a rhetorical question.
“You kidding me?” Hunter answered. “What do you think the real reason why I never tried out for the football team is? Him, and a dozen other guys like him. They think they own the world and they treat everyone else like we were put here to serve them!”
I was stunned. Never before had I heard my friend since grade school go into such a tirade. Even though I somewhat agreed with him, I knew that Ryan had put a lot of work into becoming what he was. True, the good looks may have been a gift, but all that muscle was earned in the weight room. Hunter just didn’t understand that, but I didn’t want to argue with him. I probably wouldn’t have won anyway.
“And JP’s getting to be just like him,” Hunter scowled, calming down a bit.
Something welled up inside of me as he said those words. I suddenly had the acute urge to defend the younger Maloney. Ryan was a role model to him. There was nothing wrong with that, especially since JP had been busting his own ass over the summer. “What do you mean?” I asked, somehow keeping my stoicism.
“You’ve noticed it during band camp,” he made his case. “I mean, the kid had always been sure of himself, but now he’s downright cocky. He’s like a mini version of his brother.”
My insides were seething. I did everything I possibly could to keep from losing my cool. I stared furiously at Hunter, not sure how to respond. Then, movement behind him distracted me. Ryan and his girlfriend were walking in our direction.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off him as he head toward us, his heavily muscled arm possessively around the girl’s body. As the large, prominent Superman tattoo on his right deltoid passed within a foot of my face, I caught a whiff of his superior scent, the smell that only the most elite of jocks give off.
Ryan was wearing a black muscle shirt with the exact purpose to show off not only his cosmetic addition, but also the breathtaking musculature of his torso. The fabric was stretched ever so becomingly across his back and chest, while hanging loosely around his waist. His thighs and ass filled his jeans so that they creased and folded with every step.
This was JP’s brother. This was what JP could become.
Despite my intense need to come to his defense, I agreed with Hunter on the fact that JP had changed since his freshman days. And as wrestling season drew nearer, JP started showing off a little bit more.
About a month later, while we were waiting to audition for concert band seating, a bunch of the trumpet players were fooling around in the band room. Frankly, it was always one of the most boring parts of the year. Hunter loved to act macho, even though the majority of his rather large bulk was devoted to fat, always devising challenges, usually physical, to prove that he was the dominant one among us. This time, it was how many chin-ups each of us could do while hanging from the percussion harness rack. Pretty much everyone agreed that Hunter would win the challenge (as always). However, he wasn’t going to let that slide.
“Despite a unanimous vote in favor of yours truly, with one abstention” – JP was the only one who wasn’t there – “I declare that this experiment commence regardless.”
One by one, we were forced to perform as many chin-ups as we could muster until failure. Some of the guys couldn’t even do one. I was impressed with myself that I could do six before retiring. I guess I still had some strength left in me. Hunter, of course, went last and blew the rest of us away with eight. His last one was a little slow, but he said that he was just showing off. As he was finishing up, JP strolled into the room, having just finished his audition. Hunter saw him and snapped his fingers at him.
JP raised his eyebrows and cocked his head a little. After a second, he said confidently, “Sure, no problem.” I looked over at Hunter and, seeing his smirk, laughed to myself.
Unlike me, no one else, including Hunter, had seen how strong JP had gotten save the little push-up display he gave that one morning at band camp. Of course, we had all seen JP’s sinewy physique as he frequently took his shirt off during marching band rehearsals, but they simply had no idea what physical feats he was capable of.
“How many did you do Hunter?” the sophomore asked his section leader.
“Eight. Let’s see if you can beat that.”
JP nodded his head and headed over to the rack. He looked up at the bar for a moment and then suddenly, started his reps. Since he was wearing a sweatshirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, we could only see the muscles in his forearms working like crazy. I wished he wasn’t wearing it. To everyone’s amazement, JP did eight chin-ups exactly as Hunter had done…except that he didn’t slow down on the last one. Each one was all the way down and all the way up. When he jumped down from the bar, he turned to us, took in a deep breath and let out a satisfactory “Whew!”
“That felt good!” he said.
“Ok,” Hunter answered, not as sure of himself as before. “So you tied me.”
“Oh, I’m not finished.” My eyes darted to JP. Never before had he stood up to Hunter, not that Hunter gave him a lot of trouble. It’s just that very few people, in our section anyway, did. “I’m going to see if I could do a better job.” He started to turn back toward the rack when he changed his mind and quickly faced us again.
“You know what?” he said almost braggingly. “It’s getting a little hot in here. Do you guys mind if I take off this sweatshirt?” No one said a word.
JP unzipped the top of the shirt and pulled it off his body. An audible gasp came from a few of the younger guys. JP was only wearing a wife-beater underneath the sweatshirt and his body was brilliant. The straps clung to his narrow but visible traps and you could see every muscle fiber in his round shoulders. His arms were not huge, but they were definitely fuller than they were two months ago. His pecs had also gotten slightly bigger since I last saw them in August. They now actually protruded a little bit from his chest, maybe a half-inch or so, pushing out at the fabric of the wife-beater ever so slightly. His body was also starting to form lats; they were small, but they were there, pushing at the shirt as well. JP seemed to like the attention.
“For those of you who don’t know, let me give you a bit of an education. These,” he lectured, pointing to his chest, “are pecs.”
As he turned back around to the rack, he tucked in the shirt. My god, he had a tiny waist. In fact, that was probably the only part of him that hadn’t grown. It couldn’t have been more than 27 inches around. I also noticed – I couldn’t help but look – that he was beginning to acquire a rather nice butt.
He looked up at the bar again and immediately began a second rep of chin-ups. My mouth dropped open. The muscles in his back, every one of which you could see, were moving back and forth furiously as JP heaved his body up and down. His biceps were bursting out of his arms the size of tennis balls. This Greek god glided up and down in perfect repetition no fewer than 16 times before he dropped to the ground. He probably could’ve cranked out a bunch more since he hardly slowed at the end, choosing instead to end at 16 to double Hunter’s score and his own from only minutes before.
The whole room was quiet when JP dismounted. His face was flush and his chest was heaving up and down. His arms stood away a little bit from his body and moved up and down with his breathing. Everyone was in shock. “And that is how you do chin-ups,” he said. With that, he grabbed his sweatshirt and confidently walked out of the room.
A couple of hours later, I had completed my audition and was back in the band room packing up. Even though I wasn’t the last one to go, it was my custom to leave immediately after my turn, opting to find out the results the next day or through word of mouth. Suddenly, a hesitant voice startled me.
“Um, can I have a ride home?”
Not knowing that someone had been standing right behind me, I looked up with a start. It was JP. He was biting his lip, as if he was embarrassed to be asking me the question.
“Uh, ok, sure,” I stammered, puzzled.
“You sure it won’t be any trouble for you?” he asked, a little less meekly now that I had said yes.
“No, it’s not a problem at all,” I smiled. “I’m your section leader. That kind of thing is part of the job description.” The corners of JP’s mouth curled up in a slight laugh at my lame joke.
In minutes, the two of us were pulling out of the high school parking lot in my little red Honda Civic, our trumpets taking up the back seat. Despite the butterflies in my stomach at the thought that the possible future hunk of the school was sitting next to me in my car, we had an easy conversation.
“So, you’re thinking of majoring in music in college,” JP said.
“Yeah,” I answered. “It’s pretty much the only thing I have right now, since my other grades are kinda average.”
He was looking right at me as I was talking, hanging on to my every word. “Well, you are a good trumpet player,” he complimented.
“Thanks,” I returned humbly. This was a side of JP that I hadn’t seen in a long time. Gone were the sneers of cockiness and the blatant remarks of superiority. Beneath it all, the kid was actually a genuinely nice guy.
“What about you?” I asked. “Think you’ll continue wrestling after high school?” I left the question open to see if he would answer back boastfully.
“I might,” JP looked forward through the windshield. “Unlike my brother, I’ve been thinking of going to college for a real major, like computer science or something, and not ‘advanced football.’”
I laughed. The kid was modestly right. Ryan, hardly a top student, was being recruited by a number of Division I schools and was hoping for a football scholarship, his only avenue into college. JP, on the other hand, didn’t need to rely on athletics; he was a straight-A student. He probably could go into anything he wanted and still succeed.
“Ryan should have no problem getting a scholarship,” I observed, “especially after breaking the school scoring record.”
JP smirked. “Too bad for him there isn’t a scholarship for screwing, or he’d be a shoe-in.” He began cracking a smile. “I’m sure you’ve heard about how he fucked two girls at the same time last summer.”
I practically drove off the road. “What!?” I exclaimed.
“Seriously,” he went on, stifling hysterical laughter. “I heard it through my bedroom wall and the next morning, I caught him sneaking the two of them out of his room.”
I shook my head. Somehow, that didn’t surprise me. I guess so many girls wanted him, they were going to have to sleep with him two at a time.
“He couldn’t stop bragging about it. That’s when he got the Superman tattoo.”
“Did your parents find out?” I asked through snickers, wondering how it was possible to bang two girls at once.
“Of course not,” JP looked at me, his face red with amusement. “My mom is completely oblivious to his sex life and my dad is constantly working and is never around.”
“Where does your dad work?” I changed the subject.
“He was a communications officer on an aircraft carrier, but after he retired from the Navy, he joined a communications company in Rosslyn,” he answered dryly. “He works late almost every night. For weeks sometimes, I never see him.” He looked back at me again. “What about your dad? Where does he work?”
I looked blankly at the road. Shit, I thought, he doesn’t know.
“In New Jersey,” I muttered.
JP caught my reaction and immediately showed a look of empathy. “Oh, sorry,” he responded softly.
“No, it’s ok,” I reassured him. “You didn’t know. It’s been over three years since the divorce. I’ve pretty much gotten over it.”
In reality, that was a lie. When I was a little kid, my dad and I had a great relationship. He would take me to baseball games, especially when the Yankees – his favorite team – were in town, and hang out with me a lot. Then suddenly, he just left one night when I was in seventh grade. My mom told me later that she thought he had been cheating on her and filed for divorce. It hit me hard, especially when I found out that he didn’t even fight for custody of me. He just moved back to his homestate of New Jersey, my mom happily erasing him from her life.
“How often do you get to see your dad?” JP ventured.
“I haven’t spoken to him for almost two years,” I answered bluntly.
JP sat in the passenger seat in complete silence. I could tell he was mentally hitting himself for bringing up the subject, but how was he to know what the situation was?
“Look, JP,” I turned my head to him, trying to break a smile. “It’s alright. It doesn’t bother me anymore.”
I knew he could tell I was fibbing, but he returned a grin nonetheless. Luckily, we had just turned onto his street and he directed me to a typical middle-class suburban house. It looked like all the other homes on the block, but with bright green shutters as the only distinction. I made a remark about them to try to lighten the mood back up.
“My parents have been trying to get Ryan to repaint them,” he smiled, “but his social life keeps getting in the way.”
I smiled as he opened the car door. As he was getting out, he turned back toward me and looked as if he were about to say something. For a split second, I thought I saw a bit of softness in his eyes before he changed his mind and turned around. He grabbed his trumpet from the back seat and, after saying goodbye to me, headed up the front walk.
Just before he disappeared into the shadow of the front porch, he looked back over his shoulder at me one more time and gave me a big smile and a wave. I gestured back. I sat in his driveway for a moment trying to think what it all meant. The butterflies in my stomach were in a frenzy, my heartbeat was racing wildly and tears were beginning to well up in my eyes. Leaning back in my seat, I took in a deep breath.
There was something different about JP Maloney, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. But one thing I knew for sure: JP was not his brother.
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