Chris Gomez is not a thief—an aging auntie indulges him and obviates any temptation he may feel to shoplift. He is, however, a liar, and Foley Gaspers is tired of Gomez’ lies.
“Chris, you want to get high after school?” Foley asks the compulsive fibber in second period English class.
Chris’ reply is similar to those Foley has heard several times before, “Hell, yeah. I want to stay high. I smoked a joint this morning. I was so stoned I could barely ride a straight line on my way school.”
Foley knows Gomez is being dishonest. He also knows Chris sincerely treasures the BMX bike his auntie bought him last year. The kid can keep up with Foley’s stunts on a quarter pipe. Foley has never seen anyone bunny hop higher than Gomez. Last time they measured, Chris cleared an obstacle twenty-three inches off the ground. Chris has BMX racing trophies lined up on a shelf in his room. Foley admires them on his visits to the Gomez family home.
Foley tries to further entice Chris by saying, “Gertrude will be at the house. I’ll smoke her out, too.” Gertrude Gaspers is Foley’s sister. She is a junior at the same high school as her brother and is a year older than him.
Upon hearing that the brunette beauty will be joining them, Chris’ eyes pop out of his head. Foley assumes Gomez sprouts a goatish pair of horns and that the thought of being in the company of the attractive, older girl momentarily tilts his libidinal pinball machine.
Foley, of course, does not want to facilitate a hook-up between Gertrude and Gomez. Not only does Chris lie about doing dope, he also lies about having sexual encounters.
“Last time Cindy Alpers and I were high together, she told me she couldn’t get enough. We must’ve screwed in at least eight different positions.”
“What does that have to do with Gertrude getting wasted with us?”
“Oh, nothin’. I was just sayin’.”
To round out his insecure adolescent mendacity, Gomez tell untruths about his martial arts prowess.
“I was only able to screw Cindy because I used an axe-kick on that loser boyfriend of hers. Nearly broke his clavicle.”
Foley is certain that not only is Chris completely sober, but that he’s also a virgin, and doesn’t have it in him to aggressively shoo away a bothersome June bug.
“I’ll see you at the spot after dark,” says Foley, referring to a park near his domicile.
“See you and Gertrude there, right?” replies Chris.
“Riiight,” says Foley, putting his hand up for a high five, which Chris obliges, knowing that he will be a no show at the park.
During lunch, the word circulates in school about the anticipated meet-up between the Gaspers siblings and Chris Gomez.
“You think he’s really gonna do it this time?” is the question that echoes on the quad.
“Who? Mr.-would-be-the-goodiest-of-goody-goodies-if-he-didn’t-lie-all-the-time? Little Chris Pinocchio? The day he has the guts to smoke a little ganja, I’ll stop talking smack about him.”
On his ride home from school, Chris stops at the supermarket to buy a half-gallon of milk his auntie requested this morning. As he is leaving the business, he encounters Matthew “Mugs” Mulrooney, the neighborhood ne’er-do well.
“Heard you’re getting high with Foley later,” says Mugs, scanning Gomez head to toe.
“Yup. You gonna be there?” asks Gomez.
A transient is asking customers for change outside the supermarket.
“Nope. You want me to be there?”
If he were intending to be honest or show up for the rendezvous, Chris’ answer would mirror Mugs’, but instead he says, “It don’t matter. I’m going for the high, not the company.”
Mugs continues to size up Gomez. “Heard you’re getting together with Foley’s sis.”
“Yeah, she’s so fine,” is the response.
Mugs decides to raise the stakes of the banter, “You gonna beat Foley up to fuck her?”
A car alarm sounds in the distance, and Mugs notes that Gomez tenses up.
Out of grandiosity and mendacious habit Chris says, “I don’t need to. Foley’s scared shitless of me.” He immediately regrets saying it.
The transient, a complete stranger, eyes Gomez, expresses incredulity with a, “Hmmmph,” then spits onto asphalt.
“Sure Gomez, sure,” says Mugs. He is incensed by the shameless braggadocio, but his expression remains stoic.
“I like your bike,” he says to Chris.
“Nobody else in school has one like it,” is the boastful response. The wrong thing to say to the school’s bully who is known for being perennially down on his luck.
Mugs unfolds a pocketknife, points it at Chris, and says, “Whose bike is it now, poser?”
Chris backs off, lifts both hands above his head and whimpers, “T-take it. It’s yours.”
The bully grins, “I like your stutter, too. You can keep that, punk.”
As Mugs rides off on his new set of wheels, Chris, stifling the urge to cry out after the thief, begins to shed tears.
Later that evening, after Chris stands up Foley and Gertrude, Foley is in his room listening to a CD of his favorite 90s grunge band. He is acting out the frustration he feels at Chris Gomez and at the world by blasting the music at a volume level even he would normally find abnormal. During a pause between songs, he hears a banging on the door, “Son, turn that hell-raising noise down!”
When he was in his twenties, Edward Gaspers, Sr., a Baby Boomer and fundamentalist Christian, listened to easy-listening musical acts that were asphyxiated by the wave of Beatlemania. He thinks that rock-and-roll induces moral laxity in its listeners. The sound of heavily distorted guitars and the guttural utterances his son listens to these days are a scourge of society, and Foley is a source of no little misery for the stern man.
As the chorus of a song entitled “Apoplexy” begins to play, Edward Gaspers goes from hitting the door with an open hand to striking it with a closed fist.
Knowing that yet another argument he can’t win awaits him if he opens the door, Foley, exits his room through a window, but before he does so he turns up the volume dial from 7 to 10.
Once outside, Foley sees his sister who is taking out the trash. She looks at him with a mixture of concern and disbelief and says, “Brother, you’re asking for trouble again.”
He utters two words to his worried sister: “Safe spot.” This is the shibboleth they use to convey urgency and a need for complicity with each other. It is the way they have of letting each other know that despite a little turbulence, things will be alright. Without another word, Foley mounts his battered BMX and rides to a corner convenience store.
When he gets to Harvey’s Liquor, Foley sees a bike outside that is unmistakably Chris Gomez’.
Foley enters the busy store, does not find Gomez, but sees Mugs Mulrooney instead. He is leafing through a copy of the comic book series Masked Vigilante.
Foley senses the afternoon took a sour turn for Chris, and, despite his flakiness, feels a pang of sympathy for him.
“What’s up Mugs? Got a new bike?”
“Gomez permanently loaned it to me.”
“Did you fuck ‘im up to get it?”
“Nah, you know that lying fool’s a sissy. He had the nerve to tell me you were scared of him.”
A plan hatches in Foley’s mind. If he can get Chris to fight for his bike, it’ll cure him of his blustering and cowardliness.
“Mugs, if I heist you a couple of beers, and buy you that comic book, will you trade me Chris’ bike for mine?”
Mulrooney hesitates. “You’re lucky you let me spend the night in your room last time my dad was drunk, Gaspers,” he says.
“It would’ve been my hide as well as yours had my old man found out, Mugs.”
Mulrooney considers this and thinks, you probably would’ve got a worse beating than me from that fanatic Christian dad of yours.
“Deal,” says Mugs holding out his hand.
When Foley gets home, he makes sure to keep Chris’ bike hidden from Edward Gaspers.
Foley suffers a belt lashing from his father, who says after he’s done, “You’re grounded for a week for pulling that stunt earlier. I had to climb in your window to turn that racket off.”
The son responds with silence. “And, Foley,” says the senior Gaspers, “I’ve confiscated your stereo until you develop healthier musical tastes.”
In the morning, after his father has gone to work, Foley calls Chris and tells him to drop by on the way to school. “I have your bike, I’ll give it back after we get high and drunk,” he says to Chris, but with no intention of returning the bike unless Chris puts up a fight. Foley’s not sure he can get Chris to throw a punch. He’s betting that under the influence, Chris will be disinhibited enough that he will finally break free from his shell of cowardice.
When Chris arrives at the Gaspers’ home, grunge music is blasting from Gertrude’s boom box, which Foley has temporarily relocated to his room. Foley invites Chris to the garage where Chris’ bike is concealed under a tarp. Upon seeing the bike, Chris exhales in relief. To express his gratitude, he finally concedes to Gasper’s pressure, agreeing to share a six pack and a packed bong with Foley and Gertrude.
When they’re back in Foley’s room sipping beer and taking hits of Kush, Chris hardly looks at Gertrude. Foley finds this odd, given Chris’ penchant to boast of sexual conquests.
After an hour of casual, stoned banter, Chris gets up, and, woozy from the drink and weed says, “Ok, Foley, we’re late for school. Thanks for getting my bike back.”
Foley stands up and blocks the exit “I was just joking ‘bout returning it. I had to kick Mugs’ ass to get that thing. He pulled his knife on me. You can’t have it unless you earn it.”
“What are you talking about?”
Foley slaps Chris on the head.
“I’m saying you can’t have the bike unless you do something about it.”
Chris exits the house and enters the garage, Foley and Gertrude in tow. He hopes Foley is just putting on an act. As he gets on the bike, Foley grabs the handlebars and jerks it away from under Chris.
Gertrude, disturbed by her brother’s belligerence, and unaware it is feigned, says, “Give him back his bike, Foley.”
“Gertrude, this is none of your business, now get your ass back in the house.”
Emboldened by the buzz he is feeling, Chris says, “Don’t talk to her like that.”
Foley realizes something. Gomez might be a horny, lying, cravenly teenager, but he has genuine feelings for Gertrude.
“I talk to who I please, however I please,” Foley says, putting his older sister in a headlock, taking pains to make it showy, but also as gentle as possible.
“Foley what are you doing? Get off me!” Gertrude says.
“Leave her alone, Foley!” says Chris, red-faced, and hands now clenched into fists.
Bingo. Thinks Foley.
With his sister still in a headlock, he twists her from left to right, eliciting further protests from Gertrude. Her complaints keep Chris from hearing Foley whisper the words “safe spot” into his sister’s ear.
“Listen, punk, your bike is now mine and my sister is mine to do as I please, aren’t you, bitch?”
Gertrude, knowing that her brother needs her cooperation and trust, but not accustomed to his being cruel, begins to whimper.
“Enough, Foley!” yells Chris.
“What are you going to do, tough guy? Cry like you probably did when Mugs stole your bike?”
Foley twists once more with Gertrude firmly in his grip.
Upon hearing her sob, “Foley, please!” Chris can no longer restrain himself and with a yell of “Aaargh!” connects a fist to Foley’s nose.
Foley releases his sister and tackles Gomez, who continues to throw wild punches at the provocateur while they tussle on the ground. Chris has reacted the way Foley intended. Aside from a bruise on Foley's nose, both teenagers are unharmed.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” interjects Foley as he immobilizes his flustered and confused friend’s arms with a bear hug. “Chris, calm down. Everything’s gonna be okay. You did alright, man. You aren’t spineless.”
Chris finally stops thrashing about. Gertrude says, “Foley Gaspers, you are such an asshole!” and Chris looks at Foley in disbelief. His anger subsides. Tickled by the absurdity of the situation, both boys commence to laugh. The laughter is at first halting, but then, spurred by their eventful high, it becomes hysterical.
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Mike, This tale has everything a coming of age story should; the tilting of Chris' 'libidinal pin ball machine' and his unearned bravado. Leading up to the fight in the garage, the duplicity between Foley and Chris felt like it could go either way. Them laughing together was a good choice and it rounded off the story nicely. Superbly spun, as ever, sir :)
Yes, there was definitely an ambivalent vibe between the characters in the story. Foley doesn't want to like Chris because he lies, and Chris doesn't want to like Foley because he's always wanting his acquaintances to get stoned. I'm glad the conclusion worked for you. It seemed like an appropriate way to resolve the tension between the characters. Thanks for commenting.
Hello! It’s great to read some background on your characters. I have to say…boys are so weird😂😂 but this sounds exactly like something my brothers and husband would’ve done when they were kids. Also, since I was the only girl, I can relate to Gertrude’s “WTF” response to the situation. Great job! I enjoy your Foley stories.😻
I'm glad to hear that I was able to depict a girl getting caught up in a situation of "boys being boys" in a way that resonated with you. Hopefully, I'll be able to further develop Gertrude Gaspers' character in future stories. Thanks for reading and commenting.
A young Foley story! We get to see where he comes from. Gomez rings true, and is an excellent fit for the prompt. It's a time in life when kids realize the world is bigger than ever, and thus they are smaller than ever, and they feel overwhelmed. Maybe they lie to protect their image, to remain relevant. I suspect the lies are as much to appear cool, as they are aspirational. They're also annoying, so we totally get where Foley (and the others) are coming from. He is as always, a problem solver, and I love the way he tries to solve thing...
Yes, Michal, this is my first go at an origins story for Foley Gaspers. You're observant as usual - the kids here "realizing the world is bigger than ever and [that] they're smaller than ever." Foley's slipping into a larger pair of shoes (and feeling so big that he steals them) was a key detail in "Safe Spot," so I think this feeling of smallness haunts him in his adult years. Perhaps Gomez, and his aspiration to be cool, rings true because he's based on a character I was familiar with in high school. I think he might have benefitted...
Great story, reminded me alot of my childhood days and the crazy things we did as kids , i myself grew up in a non-internet time so this is pretty much what we did in middle school , not sure we were this crazy at high school though hahaha but different places and different circumstances
It seems there is a global rift between kids who frequently resort to physical aggression and those who obsessively refrain from it - I believe both situations can lead to malaise. Thanks for reading, and I hope the Americanisms didn't distract from the story.
That reminds me a lot of high school in the 90s, and the things we did for entertainment before the internet lol. I heard a theory once young guys aren't really friends until after they have a good fight, because then they know what they really think about each other, I think that might possibly be true and your story reminded me of that! I think there might be a typo in: "brawlers having bloody nose"
This has a good uplifting end. It’s amazing what we can get through and still be friends.
Thanks, Graham. I know what it's like to rupture bridges between people. Perhaps what happened to Chris would've been a dealbreaker for me, but some kids will be kids and compassion goes a long way...it's preferable to judgment. Thanks for reading and take care.
You’re welcome, same to you.
I'm glad the story evoked the 90s. That decade is definitely the temporal setting the events take place in. And, yes, I agree fights can be both the worst and best things that happen in a hormonal teenager's life. Worst because it's not the most rational way of resolving an issue, best because after the fight is over it gives the victor a very primal sense of satisfaction. Foley took a big chance here, but his intentions were good. The results would have been disastrous had the fighting not stopped when it did. Thanks for pointing ...
good. i like it.