It wasn’t fair.
Watching his cousin execute one maneuver after another so effortlessly was rough, since Josh had been skating for just as long and couldn’t do half of the stuff that Jackson could. He could still run a course and the skate park wasn’t a big challenge for him. But he could never grind like his cousin or make everything look as effortless as he did. He felt like a clunky old robot next to a stream-lined model like in I, Robot. His mother had always told him to be grateful for the skills he had and just keep practicing, but everything appeared to come so easy to Jackson. As his cousin finally finished his run and came to the top of the ramp where Josh was standing, he smiled as he spoke.
“What’s up cuz?” he asked, “You don’t feel like ridin’ with me today?”
Josh couldn’t help but smile, “Kiss my ass man, you make it look too easy.”
“What do you mean?” Jackson said between breaths, stomping on the end of his board to flip it up into his hand. Wiping sweat from his brow he shrugged his shoulders as Josh just looked at him.
“I mean I look like a novice out there next to you man. We’ve been doing this for the same amount of time and you’ve picked it up so easily while I’ve lost most of the skin on my hands and knees over the years. How the hell does that happen?”
“I dunno,” Jackson shrugged, “I mean, how the hell do you know how to do math so well? We all have our things man. I can just skate, but I’m kinda dumb when it comes to school.”
“You’re not dumb,” Josh said, rolling his eyes, “You just don’t pay attention.”
“So says the guy with the 3.8 GPA,” Jackson said with a laugh.
“3.9,” Josh corrected, causing Jackson to roll his eyes. “And you’d know what you were doing if you just studied.”
“You mean, if I worked at it I’d get better?”
Josh rolled his eyes, “Alright, shut it smartass!”
Jackson grinned, “Look man, my uncle, y’know, your dad, was a great skater, my dad skated pretty well back in the day, even my little brothers are turning into great skaters. Your dad got the brains in the family, even my old man says so.”
“But your dad’s a teacher.”
“At a public school and he teaches third grade Geography, or he did anyway,” Jackson said with a laugh, “Trust me, he knows he’s not a rocket scientist. Your dad on the other, Mr. Double PhD…”
“Yeah, yeah,” Josh said, “And I’ve got a high GPA and a high IQ, I get it. I just wish I could skate as well as you.
“Well, you’re not gonna learn up here,” Jackson said, stepping to the edge, “Let’s go bro! Vaminos!”
* * *
The sound of the wheels hitting the concrete was all he heard in that moment as he followed his cousin down, doing the same thing he’d been doing for so long as he did his best to just empty his mind and let it ride. Jackson was right of course, skating was just his thing, like being smart was his.
He looked at things differently, he thought about the angles, the geometry of the run, and the different statistical odds that went into each jump and grind. It was irritating though since his mind didn’t quite when he was on his board, it kept pumping out one mathematical equation after another until…
Josh felt his board slip out from under him a split second before it did, sailing off with him as he went stumbling forward, just barely turning his head as he went sprawling to the brightly-painted concrete, sliding for nearly a foot on his front before stopping. Issuing a groan of pain he did a quick mental assessment, moving his arms and legs just enough to make certain there were no sharp pains and no twinges that he couldn’t explain. He’d been lucky thankfully but his left cheek begged to differ as he pushed himself up, wiping at it with his left hand at it came away bloody.
“Woah cuz, you alright?”
Jackson peered at the wound on Josh’s cheek, making a face at it as he chuckled, “Looks like road pizza man. You leave any skin on your cheek or is it all on the floor?”
“Get bent,” Josh said, “I gotta go get my board. I think that’s it for me today man.”
“You’re not gonna come back out?”
Josh turned around to say something, but in that instant he forgot one of the rule of the skate park, which was interesting since he never forgot anything so important. One had to keep their eyes open and their heads up at all time since people were constantly riding by. If someone got hit there was always a chance that it was an accident, but if someone wasn’t looking then it was their fault. As Josh went down for a second time, this time falling to his back as he collided with another skater, he felt weightless for a moment before gravity reasserted itself and the back of his head thunked against something softer than concrete thankfully.
“Ow! Man, get off me!”
“Sorry,” he muttered, “Sorry,” he was trying to get up, to roll over, when his right hand landed on something firm but still pliable and, unfortunately, squeezed.
“Hey!” The next thing he felt was a sudden impact against his helmet that slipped and continued toward his face, hitting his nose with less force, but still enough to hurt as he quickly did what he could to shimmy away, holding his hands over his face as he tried to use his feet to scurry off.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” he yelled, “I didn’t mean to! Please don’t kick me or anything!”
There was a moment of silence in which he expected to hear the scuffling of feet that would come right before a vicious kick or maybe, if he were lucky, his cousin telling someone to back off. His mind reminded him that it would be someone with boobs, since despite still being a virgin there was no mistaking the shape he’d felt under his hand.
“Oh get up,” an irritated and very feminine voice said, “If I wanted to I could have kicked your balls up to your chin by now.”
Uncovering his head, Josh raised up tentatively as he placed his hands upon the ground, his eyes widening as he saw what he believed to be perfection standing above him. A young woman, maybe his age, maybe younger, stood a few feet from him, her umber-hued skin seeming to glow in the daylight as she stood with one hand cocked on her right hip and the other holding her skateboard, an older model with new wheels as he could see. She was beautiful, that was all he could focus on, and her body was absolutely tight as it could be, her frayed blue jeans showing skin here and there and her bared midriff showing off a belly-button piercing that caught the sunlight and caused it to sparkle as his eyes traveled up, and up, and-
“Hey dude, my eyes are all the way up here,” she said, grinning despite the moment as he allowed his gaze to skirt past her Star Wars t-shirt up to her face, which kept him mesmerized for several seconds as she frowned at him.
“Is this your first time at the skate park bubba?” she asked, smiling once again, “Most people already know to watch where you’re going.”
“Yeah, I mean no,” he stammered, shaking his head as he bounded to his feet, feeling the pain in his legs as he ignored it.
“Yeah it’s your first day, or no?” she asked, laughing at him now.
“No, I’ve been skating for a while,” he said, “And yeah, I know to watch where I’m going. It was, um, it was an accident, that’s all.”
Standing fully he could see that she was only an inch or two shorter than he was, making her a rather tall girl. Dark, curly hair that was currently being smashed down by her helmet stood out against the lighter color of her shirt, the natural frizzy nature of it drawing his attention as well.
“I’m, um, I’m Josh.”
“Hi um Josh,” she said, “I’m just Rachel. Now that we’ve introduced ourselves, can I go ahead and keep skating? Or do you need me to call an ambulance or something?”
“Hey, stop standing in the middle of the run!” The flash of motion that went behind Josh was someone he didn’t know, but he knew why the skater would say such a thing. They were currently standing in the middle of a high-traffic area and should probably move.
“I guess you should probably get to skating,” Josh said, feeling slightly dejected, “I’ve just got to get my board.” As he started walking past her, Rachel snorted, drawing his attention.
“That’s it?” she asked, confusing him further, “We collide, you grab my boob, and then just walk off? Man, some guys would at least buy me a soda or some shit afterwards, y’know, to make it worth my while after getting felt up and all.”
Josh gaped at her, but was quick to move when another skater came racing near to where he was standing.
“Goddammit, get out of the run already!”
“Oh unclench your ass and readjust your panties Nick!” Rachel suddenly barked, “We’re talking over here!”
Josh found himself at a loss as Rachel approached him, still smiling as she said, “Come on, let’s get your board and find a quiet spot to check you out.”
* * *
Thankfully there was a community snack bar near the skate park, as Rachel offered to pay for something to drink, but Josh waved her away, stating that he would take care of it.
“Such a gentleman,” she’d said, pretending to swoon, “When he’s not grabbing someone’s boob.”
Josh had flushed scarlet in that second as Rachel had spoken, especially considering that the cashier had been standing right there. There had been another attendant looking below the counter for a plastic bag to put some ice in. His cheek had already stopped bleeding, revealing a couple of shallow cuts, nothing serious. But he’d still been holding the pack that the cashier had been nice enough to fashion for him while he and Rachel sipped their sodas. The cashier hadn’t said anything about Rachel’s comment, merely rolling her eyes. The young woman wasn’t much older than the two of them, and had revealed with the way that she’d acted that she knew Rachel at least a little. Plus, the smile and the fact that Rachel said she was kidding had helped.
Jackson had come to find his cousin not long after to check on him, but had just nodded his head as he’d walked on, smiling as he passed out of Rachel’s line of sight, but not Josh’s. He’d felt a blush creeping up again, but either Rachel hadn’t seen it or she’d ignored it.
“You’re cousin’s kind of cute,” Rachel said, “In an oddball kind of way.”
“He and I, ah, we kind of don’t compete, y’know, for women, and all.”
“Am I walking off to talk to him?” she asked, taking a drink through her straw. Gazing at her very pointed stare, Josh saw that she was waiting for an answer.
“No,” he replied.
“Should I be?”
“Then shut up. I said he was cute, that doesn’t mean I’m going to run after him you knob.”
“No, I don’t think I will,” Rachel frowned as she lowered her drink, her full, wavy mass of dark, curly hair blowing slightly in a mild breeze that skated by, tickling its way through her locks as she continued to stare at him. “You have a real problem talking to girls, don’t you?”
“Not really,” Josh said, looking at the ground as he spoke.
“Then look at me.”
He felt himself starting to blink rapidly as he raised his eyes to hers, his heartbeat starting to quicken as he could see that she was grinning, but that she looked a bit serious as well.
“I bet you’re like some super genius and shit, huh?”
“I’m smart, I guess. I get good grades.”
“Yeah? 4.0 and all that?”
“I’ve gotten B’s before.”
“Well oh my lawd have mercy!” she exclaimed, “A ‘B’? You must’ve been sleepin’, huh?”
He frowned, “I think I’d better go now.”
“Oh calm your tits big guy, I’m joking,” she crooned, “These are the jokes, just feel free to laugh!”
“Are you just going to make fun of me?”
Rachel raised her eyebrows as her gaze turned incredulous, “Are you shitting me?”
Josh didn’t answer, merely shifting back and forth on the balls of his feet as he barely looked at her.
“Sit down Josh, please,” she asked, speaking in a lower, calmer tone, “Please. I won’t make fun of you, I promise.”
He didn’t move at first. Josh had been tricked more than once growing up and he knew that people could be mean. But as he glanced at her, he could see that Rachel was at least being honest, that she probably wasn’t going to say anything else that sounded mean or sarcastic. He wasn’t that thin-skinned, but he was easy to embarrass, and he definitely wasn’t great with girls. He wasn’t the worst about it, but he wasn’t the best either. Sitting down opposite from Rachel, he managed to finally meet her eyes to see that she was smiling, not in a mean way that meant she was about to say something cruel, but more like she just wanted to talk.
Maybe it could work out.
* * *
A little while later Josh was walking on the air as the saying went. He’d started talking, Rachel had listened, and when she wanted to speak she’d made it known. And it had gone like that for what felt like hours, but according to his watch had only been forty minutes, long enough that he needed to be getting home, but not long enough as far as he was concerned. Rachel had even asked if she could walk with him, and he’d agreed. She’d told him that she lived three streets away when they’d been getting close, and had seen him in school a few times, but had always wondered why he always looked like he had a stick up his ass.
“Well, you walk around with a frown on your face, like this,” she’d demonstrated, and Josh had almost protested, but she’d continued, “It looks like you’re mad at the world or something. That’s why a lot of people don’t talk to you, but you look pretty nice, when you’re sleeping.”
Josh had no answer to that, since it was true that there were times when he did nap during school, but only because he had a spare moment and had likely been up all night doing homework or working on a project.
“I’m not mad,” he stated, “I’m just thinking.”
“Those are some angry thoughts then,” Rachel said with a laugh.
“No,” Josh said, smiling despite himself, “No they’re not. I just, I’m just thinking when I’m frowning like that.”
He shrugged, “Stuff. I don’t know, just, stuff.”
“Just stuff?” she chuckled, “Like how to fix those ‘low grades’ maybe?”
He grinned this time, “Oh shut up.”
She threw up her right hand in mock surrender, “Oh, well excuse me,” she said with a laugh.
“This is me,” he said, stopping as they came in front his home. Standing two stories and taking up a full two acres of land, the home was enough to house his own family, including Josh, his younger sister Amira, and their parents, as well as his cousin Jackson’s family, his two younger brothers, and their parents. Their extended family was living with them until Josh’s Uncle Charlie, Jackson’s dad, could find another job.
“This is a nice place,” Rachel said after a low, appreciative whistle.
“Yeah, my dad is a professor at the local university and works on a bunch of tech stuff for various companies.”
“He’s a freelancer? That’s cool,” Rachel nodded.
“Yeah, and my uncle, he and his family are staying here for now, he lost his job when budget cuts hit. But he’ll get another job I think. He had a few interviews just last week.”
Rachel nodded again, “That’s cool. Man, you could fit like two or three of my house in this place,” she said with a laugh, “Your dad must make bank.”
“My mom is an author, so she helps out a lot.”
“Cool. What does she write?”
“Mostly cookbooks and a few murder mysteries.”
At that moment his mother came walking out of the two-car garage that sat to the right of the main house, her flats slapping gently against the sloping driveway as she was carrying the heavy green garbage can that usually sat inside the garage. As soon as she saw them she offered him a smile, setting the can on the curb before clapping her hands briskly together to rid them of any clinging dirt.
“Hey J,” she said with a grin, her dark brown skin crinkling slightly at the corners of her eyes and mouth, “Who’s your friend?”
Josh opened his mouth, but as he’d thought would happen, nothing came out. That was okay, as with a mild huff Rachel smiled, stepping forward as she extended her hand.
“My name is Rachel, ma’am.”
“Well how-do Rachel? It’s-J, what happened to your cheek?” His mother looked at Rachel as she released her hand. Rachel put her hands up, shaking her head.
“It wasn’t me, I swear.” His mother just smiled at her before turning his head gently to see the damage.
“I wiped out on my board mom, s’fine.”
“No it’s not kiddo, you’re going to need to put something on that.”
“I suppose it would be a bad time to admit that he felt me up not long after that.”
Josh and his mother both whipped their heads around to look at Rachel, Josh with his jaw hanging open and his mother with her eyebrows raised as she looked back at Josh with a mildly disapproving look, but also with a grin.
“Oops,” Rachel said coyly, placing one finger to her lips, “Was I not supposed to let that slip?”
“Let me go get some stuff for that cheek,” his mother said quietly, “and then we’ll talk.”
It wasn’t until his mother was out of sight, back inside the house, that Josh turned to Rachel, his eyes wide with confused anger.
“What the f-?!”
He didn’t get any further as she crossed the distance, her arms going around his neck as her body pressed against his. She didn’t kiss him, she didn’t grab him inappropriately, but she did cling to him as though she’d needed comfort, as though he were a rock to cling to for whatever reason.
“What, what’s this?” he asked, grimacing even as he asked.
“It’s called a hug,” she replied, her voice slightly muffled as she’d laid her head upon his shoulder, “Just enjoy it and go with it dummy.”
He honestly didn’t know how to react, since unlike his cousin Jackson he wasn’t much of a ladies man. But as the seconds rolled on he found that he was reaching around her, pulling Rachel close as he inhaled the scent of her, a hint of sweat with something else, sugar, or some sort of sweet spice that he could detect.
“I’m not sick or dying, like you see in the movies,” she said against his shoulder, “I don’t have a year or less to live.”
“Okay,” Josh replied, not fully understanding.
“I just figured you wouldn’t make the first move, so I did.” Rachel pulled back then disengaging as she stepped back until they were holding hands. Her warm smile made him giddy as Josh forced himself to look her in the eye.
“Better,” she said, still smiling. “That’s why dad calls a quick flare. It happens when people are completely comfortable with others because, like he told me, they’re an old soul and they can recognize when someone needs comfort, so they act.”
“Your dad said all that?”
Rachel nodded, “Something like it, yeah. But I’m pretty sure I embellished a bit. But you looked like you needed someone back at the skate park, so I figured that I would, y’know, not take the boob grab personal.”
“But it wasn’t.”
“Well duh,” Rachel said, “Other guys might have said ‘oops’ and grabbed a little harder or tried to roll into me and pretended that they were using my tits as leverage to get up.”
“I guess that’s one way,” Josh said, looking her in the eye as realization hit them both. Rachel laughed aloud, a pleasing sound that hit his ears like a pleasant slap with a feather pillow.
“Did, did you just make a joke?”
“I think so,” Josh replied.
“Well, what’s going on here now?”
Their hands parted as they turned to regard Josh’s mother, who had found a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a few Q-tips, holding them in one hand as she walked forward, smiling at both of them.
“Nothing,” Josh said, “I mean, um, I..”
“We were just talking,” Rachel said with a grin, “But I have to be heading home now.”
“You sure you don’t want to stick around?” Josh’s mother asked, “It’s nice to know that Josh is finally talking to a young lady.”
“Mom..” Josh said, blushing again as Rachel continued to grin.
“I’d like to, but my mom is probably going to want me to get home soon. If you’ve got something to write on though I wouldn’t mind leaving my number, if that’s okay.”
His mom nodded, smiling as she said, “Oh sure, there should be a pad and pen on the workbench over there.” She gestured with the hand carrying the supplies to his father’s work station in the back of the garage, which was as orderly and neat as the man himself. “We’d love to have you over again, maybe we’ll get more than two words out of Josh next time.”
“Mom!” Josh whined, looking at her incredulously.
“What?” his mom asked with a shrug, “Seriously kid, you’re going to have to lighten up one day. Now hold still.”
Rachel jotted her number down after finding a pad and pen near a large chop saw that had been bolted to the work station, flicking a bit of hair out of her eye as she did.
“Ow, ow!” Josh complained, “That hurts!”
“Oh quit being a baby,” his mom said, noting as Rachel walked by, “Nice to meet you Rachel, don’t be a stranger.”
“Nice to meet you too, um…”
“Jessa, dear. Or Mrs. Dolan, whichever you like.”
“Mrs. Dolan,” Rachel nodded, “Josh, I’ll see you around I hope.”
“Yeah, we’ll see each other-ow! Mom!”
“Oh sit still,” his mom chided as Rachel walked onward, disappearing after she rounded the corner a short ways away.
“She seems nice,” his mom said with a smile, dabbing at his cheek again.
Josh didn’t even grimace this time as he thought she was right. He couldn’t wait to see Rachel again. Maybe next time instead of just a quick flare they could work on a slow burn. Just maybe.