He passed the plate to my brother who took two, “Mike Shirley has been promoted to back up.” The sophomore showboat had been training for a starting spot since Pop Warner.
My mom snatched a chop, “I hate that kid!”
The ill feelings went years back. In sixth grade during lunch, Mike Shirley challenged Wendell to a fight. It was the first year all the kids from the town’s elementary schools were in the same building. Wendell didn’t know Mike, but didn’t stop Mike from walking up to Wendell in the middle of gym class and challenging him to a fight for no reason whatsoever. Wendell told Mike to name the time and place. Mike said after school in the parking lot. When the hour of the duel arrived, Wendell came to the parking lot but Mike did not. The clock ticked. Still no Mike.
Believing that Mike would eventually materialize, Wendell waited two hours. When it began to rain, Wendell realized Mike wasn’t coming and walked home. Back at the ranch, our mom, fearing Wendell had been kidnapped, called the police. She was on the phone with the cops when Wendell walked through the door. While the fight didn’t happen, Wendell got an ass whooping from our mom because, “That kid could have come with a gun or a knife.” Her true ire was saved for Mike Shirley, “If I ever see that kid I will beat him up myself. I hate that kid!”
Truth is subjective, and Mike told anyone who would listen that he won the fight. Unfortunately for Mike, he was heard by Wendell bragging to class heart throb Annabella Stabler by the lockers. Incredulous, Wendell walked up to Mike, tapped him on the shoulder and decked him. Mike fell to the ground, weeping pitifully. Annabella responded by laughing hysterically which made Mike cry harder. Mr. Snodgrass, an art teacher and Vietnam vet who heard Mike wagging his mouth and had doubts about his story, separated the lads and told them to be on their way. From that day onward, when Mike even sensed Wendell, he hot stepped it.
My dad said, “Well his dad is an overgrown coolness dude who comes to the booster meetings and shows up on his playbaby motorcycle with his new wife. And then his ex wife comes with her new husband and they all sit together. And then he has siblings and half siblings and step siblings and that kid’s life is one giant math equation that never gets solved. No wonder Mike has issues.”
What my dad was referring to was that Mike Shirley’s parents were high school sweethearts. His dad had also been quarterback and his mom had been head cheerleader. Mike’s mom had gotten pregnant with him her senior year, and the two married on prom night after the last dance at the magistrate. They had two more kids before getting divorced. Mike’s mom remarried the head of the bus garage and Mike’s dad remarried a lady who was a receptionist at one of the elementary schools. Both his parents had children with their second marriages, and their new spouses brought children from their previous marriages and lived within a three block radius of each other.
The happily divorced blended family sat together at all the games both varsity and JV, and the parents, stepparents, siblings and whatnot seemed like great friends which was both good for the kids but generally an anomaly considering we knew our share of blended families where things were nothing short of acomonious. It was incredibly confusing to determine who was related and how, especially since the cast rotated weekly. To make matters more complex there were also aunts, uncles and cousins. Wearing shirts that said, “Mike Shirley Fan Club,” they had two rows of reserved seats. Those who regularly attended the games nicknamed the section Shirley Village.
Wendell passed the plate of chops to Skipper, “Mike groupies stay to watch him at practice and he drives them home in Maxine.” Mike, for his sixteenth birthday that summer, got a red corvette after the members of Shirley Village put their money together that he named Maxine.
Skipper, who was ten and just tested genius level, took her chop, “Don’t they have homework?”
I bit my chop, “Girls like that don’t do homework.”
Wendell took a third chop, “Mike and his Pop Warner friends are joined at the hip. If you arent one of them they don’t talk to you. I just avoid them, go to practice and get out of there before their stupidity can infect me.” What Wendell was referring to was the kids who came up playing Pop Warner were notoriously cliquish, and unlike them Wendell was on the honors/AP track.
My dad said, “Son, you should try to make some friends on the team. My mother never let me play football.”
Wendell said, “You told me how many times.” In a snit, Wendell pretended to count on his fingers, “One, two, three, four, five…”
My dad said, “Just saying, Son. If you are going to be on the team make some friends. You are going to be playing with Mike for the next few years.”
Wendell said, “Friends?! It was your idea I play!” What Wendell was referring to was after the soccer coach told him he was “too big,” at the urging of my dad Wendell switched to football.
I said, “Your friends with Bobby Ragny.” Bobby Ragny was a wide receiver with behavioral issues that Wendell had roomed with over the summer at the team’s pre-season camp. Coach Matthias matched the two up because neither boy had any friends on the team.
Wendell said, “Shut up, April.”
Skipper said, “Did you ever speak to him about getting his bladder checked?” At camp, they had bunk beds. Bobby took the top, but that’s the way Wendell discovered Bobby also wet the bed.
Wendell said, “Screw you all, I have friends. Just not Mike Shirley!”
My mom angrily bit her chop, “Good! Because I hate that kid!”
The Friday of the game came arrived, and it was the first cold night of the season. Skipper and I made our way to the visitor’s concession stand to get hot coca. There was not only less of a crowd there, but the home stand was operated by the soccer parents. Despite the fact that football was better for Wendell’s build and temperament, the soccer parents felt Wendell sold out and wouldn’t hesitate to let us know. In reality, it was more salt in the wound because not only were their games underattended, but varsity football was the parent that really paid their bills.
The visitor’s stand was operated by the JV parents, most of who we knew from the Saturday games. Each family took turns, and during the second home game of the season Skipper, my mom and I had taken ours. We got up to the window and a woman with big red hair that we didn’t know took our order. This came as a shock to Skipper and I because usually we knew everyone that worked concession. Big Red called it into the back and a little boy who couldn’t have been more than eight walked forward with our cocas.
The little boy said, “Mom, they’re Wendell’s sisters, right?”
Big Red flashed an embarrassed smile, “Yes DJ, those are Wendell’s sisters.”
DJ poked his head out and yelled, “BAD CALL REF!”
Big Red laughed, “Sorry about that. DJ knows most of Mike’s friends because they have been around since Pop Warner and even held him as a baby. Mike was even saying the other day he wishes he knew Wendell a little better. Oh, by the way, I’m Mrs. Higbee, Mike Shirley’s Mom.” Apparently Mrs. Higbee hadn’t gotten the memo that Mike wasn’t on Wendell’s Christmas card list.
Glancing at her I saw the Mike Shirley Fan Club T-Shirt, go figure. I said, “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Higbee. I’m April and this is Skipper.” DJ poked his head out again and yelled, “GO HAWKS! HOLD THAT LINE!” DJ then handed us our hot cocas and we each gave him a fist bump for a job well done.
Mrs. Higbee said, “He plays every Sunday with the Pop Warner guys now, but this is the highlight of his week.”
DJ turned to us, “They made me quarterback. Just like Mike!”
Seeing the line forming Mrs. Higbee said, “Oh, and tell your dad that we will have the concession money ready after the game. He just needs to come over.”
What Mrs. Higbee was referring to was at the end of the night the people working the concession gave the treasurer, the position my dad held in the boosters, the money from the sales and he logged it. Last week Mr. Pender and his much younger girlfriend had forgotten resulting in some Saturday JV drama. To add insult to injury they also took a bunch of free food for themselves and their friends.
Back in the bleachers we had to pass Shirley Village to get to our seats. A woman with big blonde hair who I guessed was the New Mrs. Shirley held a video camera. The second string was in.
A man who I knew as Mr. Higbey from the bus garage that was chewing tobacco on the low, “Thank you by the way. LuAnn has had to work the last four weekends at the hospital and missed the JV games, she would be heartbroken if she didn’t get to see this.”
The ref blew the whistle and the collective screamed, “GO MIKE!!!!”
Then the whistle sounded again, half time. Mrs. Shirley got up along with a well bundled up girl who had Pop Warner pom poms who was probably a little older than DJ. Upon seeing us, Mrs. Shirley said, “Girls, hi! I’m Kim, Mike Shirley’s stepmom. We will have the concession money at the end of the night.”
Mr. Shirley, who was probably hot in high school said, “No fuss. No muss. We ain’t the Penders.”
I said, “Mrs. Higbey already told us. But WILCO.” Mrs. Shirley looked relieved.
Mr. Higbey handed her a $20, “Tell LuAnn to bring me some popcorn and DJ has earned his milkduds.”
Mr. Shirley handed her a $20, “And some nachos cause it cold and I am starving like Marvin.” Then he turned to us, “As you can see, we pay for our food, too.” The band hit the field and the show began.
Mrs. Shirley said, “Come on, Jenna.” As the music from the half time show filled our ears, the little girl danced across the track waving her pom poms behind her mom as the two made their way to the visitor’s concession stand. Shirley Village was a great many things, but they were doing their part which is more than I could say for a lot of the JV families. Mike apparently also wasn’t still angry about a dumb ass sixth grade hallway fight.
After the game, which we lost, my dad successfully got the collection from Mrs. Shirley. We got in the car to pick Wendell up from the locker room up the hill. As we drove out of the parking lot, there was a red corvette in front of us which I had a funny feeling was Maxine. As my mom pulled out of the parking lot, a busty blonde ran out in front of our mini van. My mom slammed on her brakes and blasted her horn.
The blonde stood outside the corvette with a nervous smile on her face but was not getting in. Then my dad rolled down his passenger window and yelled, “Come on!”
Wendell said, “Dad, Mike has to open the passenger door. He is the only one allowed to touch the handles on Maxine.”
Skipper said, “That makes no sense.”
I said, “His family seemed nice enough and Mike told his mom he wishes he knew you better.”
Wendell said, “I know him well enough to know there’s a village missing it’s idiot.” Maxine’s passenger door finally opened. Mike Shirley stuck his head out the window, flashed his million dollar showboat smile, waved and Maxine drove off into the night.
My mom drove out of the parking lot and said, “I hate that kid.”
Monday came, and Skipper and I were setting the table before our dad came home from work. As I finished putting the plates on, I heard the beeping of a car horn. Looking out our window in our driveway was none other than Maxine. I called, “Skipper! Mom! Get in here. NOW!”
Mike, who was seated next to the busty blonde my mother had nearly run down, saw us at the window. Flashing their million dollar smiles as if Friday night had never happened, both waved as Mike beeped his horn and Maxine drove off into the sunset. Seconds later, Wendell jounced through the front door. My mom said, “Wendell, what was that?”
Wendell said, doing a little dance as he talked, “I got to ride in Maxine.”
My mom said, “WHAT?! You hate that kid.”
Wendell said, “No Mom, YOU hate that kid. He apologized to me today at practice for what happened in sixth grade. He didn’t want to fight me, he just wanted to impress Annabella Stabler who turned out to be kind of a jerk. Then he saw me walking home and offered me a ride. So now we’re friends.”
I said, “Friends with him, okay. But not the bimbo mom nearly killed.”
Wendell said, “For your information, her name’s Erica Kaninski, she’s nice. And she has some hot friends who need tutoring.” Due to his stellar academics, Wendell had recently been selected as a peer tutor.
I said, “The first lesson should be looking both ways before crossing the street.”
Wendell rolled his eyes, “Forgive and forget. Our fight happened four years ago. Friday was an accident. JEEZ!”
As Wendell walked up the stairs Skipper called, “Whoever you are, and wherever you have taken him, please bring Wendell back!”
That night at dinner, Wendell glowed about his new friend Mike. My dad said, “Glad you’re making friends, Son. That’s important. Mike’s mom and stepmom did a bang up job on concession and it’s the best it’s ever run. And they volunteered to do it again. It’s a hard job. God bless ‘em.”
Wendell said, “And his girlfriend’s hot friends need tutoring.”
My dad said, “That’s an olive branch and a friend for life.”
My mom said, “I still don’t get it.”
My dad said, “It’s the way guys are. We fight and then make up.”
Wendell said, “Maxine is a slick car.”
My mom rolled her eyes, “Is he a good driver?”
Wendell said, “Actually, yeah. He doesn’t want to hurt Maxine.”
My mom said, “Good. I still hate that kid, but I will hate him more if he kills. And if he kills you I will kill him and then I will hurt Maxine.”
Mike Shirley would become one of Wendell’s best friends on the team and Wendell rode many a time in Maxine. Erica’s friends, who were all failing math, were regulars in Wendell’s tutoring room. While the romance only lasted until Christmas, Erica and her hot friends turned their math scores around with Wendell’s help and also spread the word about his skill as a tutor. Wendell’s client list grew, and was one of the most impressive parts of his application to Brown.
Maxine died after six years, but Mike’s love for cars, especially corvettes, is still alive today. Good looking, personable and knowledgeable, Mike would go on to open his own successful car dealership. Shirley Corvettes is run and operated by most of Shirley Village, so while most outsiders don’t understand their business practices it somehow works. DJ, who now is a third string quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, is their celebrity spokesperson. Mike divorced twice before eventually marrying a showroom model and having three kids with her. Next to DJ, the happy family is on all the Shirley Corvette TV commercials. When my mom saw their first ad she said, “Good for Mike! I always liked that kid.”
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