Coming of Age Middle School Friendship

The students at Bay Middle School were giddy. It was the last class on Friday. Kevin shared a lab bench with his best friend Aadesh, who sat directly behind Haley Bennett.

Kevin’s seventh-grade class was paying attention to their Science Teacher Mrs. Greenlee. She was old but interesting, and in her distinguished career had won teacher-of-the-year more than a few times. But Kevin was paying more attention to Haley who was unfortunately in his line of sight to Mrs. Greenlee. Haley was the most beautiful girl Kevin could ever imagine meeting. Her hair was as perfect today as it ever was; long, blond, and silky, not a hair out of place. Her skin was also perfect. Her lips looked like she wore lipstick. Her bright blue eyes and her smile were both, well, they were perfect.

Who was he kidding? She was perfect, but he was one of the smallest kids in the seventh grade. Haley shared a lab bench with JT, who was big and practically shaving. As if being the starting quarterback wasn’t enough, JT was the starting point guard, and of course, he liked Haley too.

Kevin sighed as he realized that if he didn’t help Haley with her homework, she probably wouldn’t even give him the time of day.

“Mr. Barker,” Mrs. Greenlee said loudly. “Do you agree with Edgar?”

Kevin cleared his throat. Edgar Turnhouse sat on the front row at a table with Ivy McCormic. They both turned and glared at him. They thought they were so smart. Kevin was half an inch shorter than Edgar, but Edgar tried to make him feel much smaller. All those two did was study, and Kevin didn’t have to study and had grades just as good.

“Edgar is right about having rescue ships ready, but docking two ships in space is much harder than they make it look in the movies.”

“How so?” she said, removing her glasses and cleaning them.

“Well, the docking speed needs to be very slow; maybe a few seconds per foot." Kevin held his hands up and closed them together slowly. "On the NASA channel, it's pretty boring, even for geeks like me.” This got some giggles and nods from the class.

“Anything else?”

Kevin felt his ears get hot when he realized Haley and Jake had turned to look at him. “It has to be slow because the ships have to align just right,” he continued. “If you make a mistake, you could damage the door, and then you might not be able to maintain pressure. The rescue would be a failure.”

“Ok, that’s enough,” Mrs. Greenlee said. “Thank you, Kevin, and you too, Edgar.”

“That was a close one,” Kevin thought. His daydreaming was almost discovered.

As Mrs. Greenlee continued, Aadesh slid a piece of paper across to him without looking at him. The note read, “Nice recovery. Stop looking at you-know-who. She’s outta ur league!!!”

The final bell rang, and Mrs. Greenlee announced, “You are all invited to participate in the meteor count tonight. The official count is from nine to ten tonight. My husband’s college astronomy class is having a bonfire on the beach near the bay bridge. It's family-friendly, so no alcohol will be allowed. If you come, bring your own blanket or beach towel. It will be directly overhead, so you’ll need to lie down."

Instead of going downstairs, Aadesh grabbed Kevin by the arm and pulled him upstream of the flow of students, then dragged him into a janitor’s closet.

“Aadesh, what’s up?”

Aadesh shushed him and pointed upward. “That is. It’s unlocked.”

In the corner, next to a metal cabinet was a metal ladder bolted to the wall. Kevin strained to look past the overhead light and saw a square door.

“Looks like an access door to the roof.”

“Ding, ding, ding,” Aadesh said as he started climbing the ladder.

Kevin watched Aadesh struggling to open the door, but it was too heavy, so Kevin started climbing. “Wait up. You’re going to hurt yourself.”

Together they lifted the door enough for it to latch open. The draft from the open door created a chimney effect causing the janitor’s closet door to close.

“Aadesh! We’re going to get locked in for the weekend.”

“Nah, the exits have crash bars. They’re fire escapes. Right?”

“I hope you’re right.”

They walked around and looked at the air conditioning units. They snickered when they realized the ventilation fans were located above the bathrooms. They walked to the edge of the high roof with its low wall around it. They watched the buses ramble away from the school. They looked out and saw the bay two blocks away.

Kevin pointed east. “That house with the red metal roof is the two-story across the street from my house.”

They continued looking around. Aadesh followed Kevin's gaze. “Even up here, you’re stalking her."

“What do you mean?”

“You’re looking at that big three-story house with the blue metal roof out on Beach Boulevard. That’s Dr. Bennett’s house.”

“Aadesh, promise you won’t tell anyone this?”

“I’ll do my best.”

“I’m going to marry her someday.”

That night Kevin was lying next to Aadesh on their beach towels counting meteors.

“That’s not a meteor, Aadesh. That’s the space station.”

“Cool, Kev. You’re so smart, you could be an astronaut.”

Kevin looked over at the bonfire. Other kids were sitting around it, not even watching the meteors.

“Kevin, get over there and talk to her.”

“If I pass out, go tell my parents.”

Kevin walked up to Haley and tapped her on the shoulder. “Haley, can I show you something?” Confused, she stepped away from the fire, and Kevin pointed out the Space Station moving across the sky.

“One day, I’m going to be up there.”

“I believe you, Kevin.”

“What do you want to do? I mean, when you grow up?”

“Probably just be a doctor like my dad. I like the way he helps people.”

“Oh,” Kevin laughed. “‘Just’ a doctor. I guess that’s good enough.”

A football hit Kevin in the back. JT and his friends had been throwing it. Kevin tried to throw it back, but it slipped and only went several yards. The other cheerleaders called Haley back to the bonfire.

Kevin walked back to Aadesh who said, “I see it didn’t kill you.” 

“If you’re still spending the night, let’s go now,” Kevin said shaking his towel wildly. “I need to work on that project.”

“You never study, Kevin. What gives?” Aadesh asked picking up his.  


Kevin thought about that day a lot. He remembered it when he was taking the SATs, and when he was being interviewed by a Senator for a nomination to the Air Force Academy. He remembered it when he graduated from flight school and when he was flying through the mountains of Afghanistan. He remembered it when he was accepted into the astronaut program, and now he was thinking about that day as he looked through the porthole at the distant space station.

Last night Kevin could hardly sleep with his excitement. He had mentally reviewed the procedures most of the night as he lay awake. At breakfast he downed his nutrition and supplements, being careful not to let any water float away. He busied himself with checklists, habitually looking out the port to keep the space station on target.  

Mission Control was waking up the station's crew from their central time slumber with Rod Stewart’s Maggie May. 

After their morning routine, the shuttle made radio contact. “This is Destiny, Crew Chief Jay Johnson. Docking specialist Captain Barker estimates the time to dock is two hours and fifteen minutes. Hope you’re ready for supplies. Over,” the chief announced.

“This is Epiphany Station. We copy,” said a female voice. “Time to dock is Zero eight forty-seven. Over.”

“This is Mission Specialist Trapper. We see getting larger. Our calcs show you ahead of schedule.”

“We’re going to take this really slow, Trapper,” Kevin replied. “Be patient.”

“Destiny, we’ve been waiting a long time. A few more minutes won’t matter. Over.”

Kevin laughed, but officially replied, “You know I don’t rush things. Over.”

“Understood. Out.”


Kevin looked out the window and remembered ten years ago. He had become friends with JT in high school, but Kevin went to Colorado. JT was on the football team in at Southern Miss but sat on the bench. After graduation, he married the prettiest cheerleader. Kevin flew home and stood up for him at his wedding. Just as the dancing began, Kevin shook hands with JT, told the bride she was beautiful, kissed her on the cheek, and left to catch his flight for pilot training.  


“Destiny, Specialist Trapper. We estimate thirty minutes until contact. Over.”

“Epiphany, Captain Barker. I think we’re going to be a little slower than that. We want everything perfect. Over.”

“We appreciate that. We’ll just have a second cup of coffee while we wait. Over.”

“Understand. Don’t get jittery. Out.”

Kevin shouted to Jay, “You think she’s kidding about coffee?”

“I doubt it. Two hundred days in space. They’re probably pretty chill about things,” Johnson answered. “What I’m wondering is two guys and two girls together in space. How’s that work?”

“It’s all good. David Jackson and Karen Lee are married to each other.  Lopez has a wife and five kids in Titusville,” Kevin said. “I’m sure he’s glad to be rotating off.”

“But, what do you know about Trapper?”

“Didn’t you read her bio?”

“Yea. A bookworm. Masters in Public Health from Tulane School of Tropical Medicine, then an MD, then Army research in Virology. It didn’t say if she was married.”

“Divorced, no kids.”

“Wow, I saw her in an interview. Her husband must have been a doofus.”

Kevin grunted and looked out the porthole, “It happens.”


Five years ago, he saw JT at their ten-year high school reunion. He was shorter and heavier than he remembered. He was also drunk with his buddies. Kevin suggested he get a job with less travel, and that his wife deserved a full-time husband.

But Kevin couldn’t stay long. He broke up a fight and took Aadesh to the hospital for stitches. “Aadesh, how many times do I have to say it? Don’t shoot it off if you can’t back it up. Just because you’re a sports reporter, doesn’t mean you can cut people down for their opinions.”

Aadesh was rummaging through Kevin’s center console. “I think I could use a tic-tac.”

“What, to cover up your breath? You’re drunk, own it. But you’re not driving, so cool it. Besides, Aadesh, you’re a big family man now,” Kevin said. “You’ve got number three on the way. How are we going to explain this to Barbara,” Kevin said. “I hope she doesn’t go into labor.”

“ ’We’ are not going to say anything,” he slurred readjusting the bag of ice on his face. “At least my black eye won’t show up on camera with my black skin.”

“When are you going to settle down, Kev?”

“If the Air Force wants me to get married, they will issue me a wife.”


“Destiny, this is Specialist Trapper, you appear to be a little off target.”

“Epiphany, Captain Barker. Twenty minutes until contact. I hate to disagree. We show you on target. It looks like it’s you that appears to be off a few degrees. Over.”

“Destiny, we will review that. Over.”

After a few minutes, Trapper said, “Destiny, we’ll get into alignment. Top dead center at zero degrees. Over.”

“Epiphany. Thank you. We want this to be perfect. Over.”

Inside Destiny, Kevin suggested to Jay that the main thrusters were causing some clockwise rotation. “Just micro-thrusters from here on in.”

“Agreed. I’m flagging that button for the engineers. They might send a software update.”  

Docking was excruciatingly slow but error-free. After docking, the resupply equipment was prepared for movement while the airlock was pressure tested. It seemed like an eternity to Kevin before the airlock was opened and Destiny Chief Johnson and Epiphany Commander Jackson ceremoniously shook hands. The command for the joint crew was assumed by Epiphany Commander Jackson.

Both crews met and bobbed weightlessly in the space station common area. They critiqued the docking procedure, with some ribbing about Kevin taking too long. Then they reviewed the procedure for transferring the supplies from Destiny to Epiphany via bucket brigade. The prior containers were filled with trash and some had been nested inside each other before being moved back into the Destiny for the return trip.

The combined crew celebrated the day in the common area with a special dinner. Johnson, not used to eating weightlessly, coughed while eating.

“Party foul!” everyone shouted, while they gathered the food particles for disposal.

When dinner was almost over, Kevin patted his pocket and winked at Epiphany Mission Specialist Lopez.

Lopez tapped a tool on a door handle. “Captain Barker would like to make an announcement.”  Specialist Lee switched on a camera.

“Thank you, sir,” Kevin began. “Most of you know that I have never been married. Some of you know that I have known Mission Specialist Trapper for a long time, and we’ve been in touch over the past few hundred days. You might say I’ve waited a long time for this.”

The crew laughed except Jay who was still confused.

“Colonel Jackson, I need some help here,” Kevin pulled a box from his pocket and struck a weightless pose as if he was kneeling. The colonel braced himself and put his foot on the back of Kevin’s calf muscle, pinning his right knee to the floor.

When she saw the box, Haley realized what was happening and covered her mouth with both hands.

“Haley Bennett Trapper, I’ve loved you since my first day at Bay Middle School. I’m sorry that I didn’t ask you sooner, will you do me the great honor of marrying me?”

“Yes! You finally asked! Yes! Yes!”

The crew applauded, and Colonel Jackson said, “Mission Control, did you copy?”

“Five by five, Epiphany,” the speaker sounded. “Congratulations to Specialist Trapper and Captain Barker. We have someone here that would like to say something to them. Over.”

“Go ahead, Mission Control, they are listening. Over.” Jackson responded.

It was a woman’s voice, “Congratulations, Haley and Kevin. Do you know who this is?”

“Mrs. Greenlee? How exciting!” Haley said, both of them in tears.

“What an incredible surprise! It’s so wonderful to hear your voice,” Kevin said.

“Aadesh tracked me down and told me I could offer my services. After I retired, I became a notary and I can perform your wedding.” After a pause, she said, “Over.”

“Legally? Over.” Haley asked.

“Yes, legal and binding. But you better hurry. I’m eighty-three years old. Over.”

Kevin and Haley looked at each other and both nodded. Kevin said, “Mrs. Greenlee, we would like nothing more than for you to perform the first wedding in space. Over.”

After a little preparation, Mrs. Greenlee began the ceremony. She talked about how she had them both in her class, and how Kevin couldn’t take his eyes off of Haley. Mrs. Greenlee was always amazed Kevin could follow the lesson. She also said how Haley came to her house crying because Kevin was selected to go to the Air Force Academy.

After the short ceremony, the wedding certificate was sent from Mission Control to the space station for e-signature. There were jokes about where they might go on their honeymoon. Colonel Jackson announced that it was almost lights out. Sleeping assignments were rearranged and Haley and Kevin were moved to the Destiny cabin.


Before lights out, Haley thought about a night three years earlier. She was at the kitchen table staring at an email she had drafted. After years of study and research, she couldn’t believe the opportunity, but her biological clock was also ticking.

Maybe if she and Jake had been together more they'd have children by now, but he spent more time at the gym than he did with her; not that it helped him. He was getting pudgy, but she still had it together. Even at thirty years old, she could turn heads.

She re-worded her response several times: “I regret to inform you that I decline the offer to train for service aboard the Epiphany Space Station.”

A phone chirped, but when she checked her phone; no messages. JT’s phone was lying on his chair. “Must have fallen out of his pocket before he took off for the gym.” She read the text in disbelief, but other messages confirmed her fear. 

“Why is it always the best friend?” 

She felt sick to her stomach, wiped her face, and stiffened her back. She looked at the screen, and in thirty seconds made two changes to her email and clicked send:  “I am pleased to inform you that I accept the offer to train for service aboard the Epiphany Space Station.”


Haley finished brushing her hair and whispered, “I rotate back in eighty days.”

“I know,” Kevin whispered back, “and then I’ll rotate off one hundred eighty days after that.”

They floated next to each other while they did the math.

“It might be close,” Haley said, then they both giggled.

“Captain Barker, but if you’re finally ready, you can turn out the light.”

“Aye, Aye, Mrs. Barker.” Finding the right button, Kevin turned out the light.

February 09, 2023 03:48

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Richard E. Gower
14:31 Feb 16, 2023

Bravo zulu. I am a sucker for a good love story.-:) RG


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Mary Bendickson
22:04 Mar 04, 2023

Covered a lot of space there--very nice.


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Kathryn Kahn
20:41 Feb 13, 2023

What a fun "nerd wins" story. I like the out-of-sequence little scenes of the lives of these characters. Did you consider combining J.T. and Aadesh into one character, just for simplicity in storytelling?


Dan Taylor
01:38 Feb 16, 2023

Thank you, Kathryn, I hoped the flashbacks weren't too hard to follow. I'm still new to short stories, and minimizing characters is a challenge. Jake Trapper (JT) is the antagonist. He gets the girl but ultimately loses her. Aadesh is Kevin's friend and more of a sidekick. I use these characters in my unpublished novels, so I have trouble developing them in short stories. Short stories have helped me flesh out more character qualities. Thanks again!


Kathryn Kahn
22:04 Feb 16, 2023

I love that you have characters that move across works. I wrote a trilogy of novellas, and I got so attached to the characters that I've been considering writing some short stories about them, just so I can revisit them!


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