Shooting hoops later that night with Joey helped keep his thoughts under control. Joe was working for a landscaper that summer and trying to save up for a car he fantasized and talked about constantly. Matt listened for the millionth time about how great it would be when they turned sixteen and could drive and go to parties, pick up chicks.
“What do you think?” Joe asked, catching Matt off guard.
“Huh, oh sorry, dude. I missed that last bit.”
“Or all of it. What gives?”
“Nothing, tired I guess. Work is hard, but you know…good.”
Matt couldn’t talk to Joey about Jackie; he just didn’t understand. Since she wasn’t covered in lipstick and mascara and her clothes weren’t painted on, she failed to register on Joey’s radar. Even Matt didn’t fully comprehend his attraction to her, but he could deny it no longer.
Feeling like he might explode and say something he might regret, Matt decided it best to call it a night with Joey. He told him he was going to see if there was any pizza left from dinner and catch some sports on television.
“Okay, you’re on for the pool tomorrow, right?”
“Oh yeah, don’t leave without me. Wake me if you have to,” Matt called back as he walked toward his back door.
“Dude, we’re not going until like two in the afternoon. You’ll be up.”
Matt spun the basketball on his forefinger. “Ya never know.”
They rode their bikes and met up with Dave and Brian at the entrance to the town pool. Hot from the ride, they threw their towels, shirts, sneakers, and balled-up socks in a heap by a chair and noisily jumped in. Jackie and her friends couldn’t help but notice the raucous foursome.
“God, those guys are obnoxious!”
“They must be from the town high school,” Tiffany snorted from behind her gossip magazine.
“Oh, for sure. In fact, I think a couple of them are supposed to be ‘stars’ on the football team or something.” Morgan had pulled up her sunglasses to get a better look.
“Basketball,” Jackie added meekly, glad that Brianna was at Sydney’s Cape Cod house for the weekend.
“Oh, that’s right. Jackie knows them. Family friends or something, right?”
“Something like that,” she answered. “Hey, who wants a coke?” Jackie stood up, trying to cause a diversion before the conversation about Matt went any further.
Matt still had no idea the girls were there and continued to horse around. He tried to pull down Brian’s trunks while also avoiding getting drowned by Joey. Dave performed cannonballs until one got too close to some little kids.
A whistle blew.
“Okay, tough guys, out for rough-housing,” the tan, preppy-looking lifeguard yelled while giving the “ejected” sign with his thumb to Matt and his friends.
“We were just leaving anyway. This pool is lame,” Joey announced, clearly humiliated but trying to act tough. They heaved themselves out of the water and toward their belongings piled near the entrance.
Jackie was still over at the snack stand finishing her drink. She was unavoidable, but she tried to make herself invisible behind an umbrella. She tried to divert her friends’ attention by pointing out someone’s cute shirt, but it was hopeless. It always was.
Without any forethought or inner censor, Matt blurted out what his hormones were screaming when he spotted her.
They both stared at each other in surprise at his yelling, neither knowing what to say in front of everyone. Matt wanted to reach out and embrace her; she wanted to turn invisible.“Um, hi, Matthew. Nice to see you,” she managed. What else could she do? Her friends’ stares were boring holes through her terrycloth cover-up. The lifeguard was watching, too, waiting for the boys to leave. He was a senior at her high school; Jackie knew him vaguely.
“Hey, what a coincidence. Do you girls want to come with us? We were just on our way out,” Matt asked innocently. He immediately became excited at the thought of all of them going back to Joey’s house to hang out. He was picturing it perfectly. However, the girls from Crestwood Prep could not.
“I think you mean you were just asked to leave,” Tiffany corrected.
“Whatever,” Joey interjected quickly.
“Well, anyway, how about it, Jac. Wanna come with us?” Matt asked as if not recently burned by her friends.
“Uh, I can’t, Matt. I uh, um…”
“What Jackie is trying to say is that she doesn’t have to leave. She is still welcome here, unlike you and your hoodlums. I mean friends, of course,” Morgan announced smugly.
“No, Matt, it’s just that, well…” Jackie kept her eyes on the concrete ground.
“No, Jackie, I got it. See ya around.” Matt threw his damp towel around his neck and headed out through the gate.