A Charmed Life
Chapter 3: You’ve Been Thunderstruck
Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider
27 August 1984 - Hardwick Road, Enfield, Massachusetts
Jeff gulped down the cup of water he was holding and tried to ready himself for his next turn at the current drill. He’d be going up against Nick Ansoina, now a senior and a co-captain of the soccer team. They watched while Tom Jarrett and a freshman raced after the ball, each jockeying for position.
“Man, they’re really banging away at each other, aren’t they?” Nick asked as he looked down the field. “That kid isn’t taking it easy on Tom, that’s for sure.”
“There’s one in every bunch,” Jeff joked in reply.
“That was you last year, ya know?” Nick reminded Jeff, facing him now.
“That was you,” Nick repeated. “You and Tom fought your way down the whole sideline. And you’re right, there is one in every bunch; that was me my freshman year, it was Tom two years ago and you last year. Your performance in this drill last year, that you wouldn’t give up, that was a big reason why you got as much playing time as you did last year. You’ll be captain your senior year, if not before.” Jeff wasn’t sure how to answer that.
He didn’t have a chance to meet the freshman he’d commented about until the scrimmage at the end of practice. They were part of their team’s midfield.
“Hey,” Jeff greeted his teammate while he held out a hand. “I’m Jeff Knox.”
“Chris Micklicz,” the freshman responded as they shook.
“Where you from?”
“My family just moved to Palmer from outside Lansing, Michigan. Dad got a new job in Springfield this summer.”
“Well, the Valley’s not anywhere near our beloved Commonwealth’s capital, but we actually prefer it that way.”
“The Swift River Valley which is, technically, Enfield, Greenwich, Prescott and Dana.”
“It’s not pronounced ‘Grennitch?’”
“Nope, ‘GREEN-witch.’ We’re a bit different ‘round these parts.”
Chris laughed. “I was glad that my folks at least picked a school with a hockey team. Is it any good?”
Jeff shrugged. “We weren’t that good last year, five-and-fifteen, but a lot of those games could have gone either way. We just need the breaks to go our way and we’ll be pretty good.”
The whistle blew.
“Today, ladies!” called Coach Romanov. They quickly got back into their positions.
“Hey! Jeff!” a voice called to him the next week. Jeff turned from his locker and saw his friend Jack Jarrett. Jack was walking towards him with a wide smile on his face and an arm around Kathy Stein, his girlfriend of nine months. The young brunette invited Jack to her family’s summer house for the month that August; Jeff hadn’t seen the couple since mid-July due to the timing of his own family’s vacation and theirs. Jack and Kathy left for Maine the same day the Knoxes returned home.
“Well, look at you two,” Jeff quipped. “Both of you look very happy. And disgustingly tan.”
“And you’re not?” Kathy shot back. “You look like you were outside for hours every day yourself.”
“Well...” Jeff began. “Okay, fine. I was outside a lot despite my hours at Bilzarian’s. How was Maine?”
“Other than the crazy tourists, it was fine,” Kathy replied.
“Um, aren’t you guys crazy tourists when you go up there, Kath?”
Jeff was distracted when a beautiful blonde he didn’t recognize passed by. She was talking to a group of girls he recognized from the junior class. He managed not to let his mouth hang open, but he couldn’t stop staring at her. She was spectacular.
“Jeff? Jeff?“ Jack was trying to get his attention. Jeff looked back at his friends.
“Sorry...” he said, a sheepish look on his face. Kathy just laughed at him. She’d seen who he’d been watching.
“You met Chris Micklicz last week during soccer practice, right?” Jack asked.
“Yeah?” Jeff answered, wondering how Jack had already heard of him.
“Tom told me about him,” Jack explained. “That’s his older sister, Pauline. She’s in Tom’s class.”
“Wow...” Jeff whispered, clearly taken with the older girl.
“Yeah, definitely not a butter face,” Kathy muttered. A “butter face” was a girl who looked pretty until she turned around: “she had a fine body, but her face... !“
“Older and out of my league, then,” Jeff sighed.
“You never know until you try, Big Boy,” Kathy teased.
“That’s one of the areas I don’t have a lot of confidence in, Kathy. You know that.”
“And that’s something I totally don’t get,” she said. “You’re friends with just about everybody!”
“Most of the girls I’m friends with I’ve known for years,” Jeff reminded Kathy. “You’re the exception, Kath; you’d already met this guy here, and now you’re Jack’s girlfriend. There’s no pressure with you. This girl’s different.”
The soccer team talked about many things while they cleaned up after practices. One locker room debate after practice early in the year started the team thinking; it was also the start of helping them gel. Jeff was right in the middle of the discussion.
“Why do we need to worry about those kids?” asked Deke Mueller, a starting forward and a senior this year.
“Deke, do you like music?” Jeff asked in return.
“What? I though we were talking about the geeks?”
“Bear with me. Do you like listening to music? On a turntable? Maybe on a tape player?”
“How about talking to your girlfriend on the phone? Picking her up in your car to go somewhere? Not having to go to bed when the sun sets because you can turn on a light?”
“Who do you think thought up all that stuff? The geeks, right?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Deke admitted.
“Deke, I’m a geek,” Jeff told him. “I have been for years. In fact, I got straight A’s on my final report card last year.” Deke just blinked at him. “I’m probably near the top of my class right now.”
“But ... but ... you’re a soccer player! A jock!” Deke exclaimed, shocked.
“Yeah, so?” Jeff shrugged. “Why do the two have to be separate? When I leave Thompkins that might be the end of me ever playing sports competitively again. There may be people at this school who will go on to college sports, or maybe even get to the pros, but for the majority of us this will be it. Why shouldn’t we work hard? Learn as much as we can as well as we can so we have more choices later in life? Anyone can be a dick, just look at Bryan Cosgrove. How much will that cost you later in life? How much will it gain for you not to be?”
Deke looked thoughtful, as did the others who’d heard Jeff’s argument, so Jeff kept going. “You guys know Tom has a little brother, right?” he asked indicating Tom Jarrett. Many of his teammates nodded. “Jack’s probably my best friend, with Kathy Stein a close second. With his medical problems Jack will never be able to play sports, and Kathy’s chosen not to. Does that matter to me? No. I have the same sense of humor as they do, and we like hanging out together. End of story.”
“You guys backed me up last year when I squared off with Cosgrove on the first day of school, and you’d only known me a week. There’s only about three hundred of us in high school here; why are we splitting ourselves into such small, divisive groups? Talk to these kids. Make them see you’re nothing like they probably thought you were.”
Jeff climbed off the soapbox. He let his teammates roll his words around in their heads while he finished dressing. Tom Jarrett caught up to him as he walked out to the parking lot to catch his ride home.
“Nice sermon, Reverend,” Tom joked as he shoved him gently.
“Why should Jack and Kathy and the others who don’t play sports be treated like that, Tom?” Jeff asked in a not-so-joking manner. “You know I’d be treated like them if I didn’t play a sport.”
“Easy, man,” Tom said in a soothing tone. “You’re preaching to the choir, okay?”
“Sorry, Tom. It pisses me off.”
“Really? Hadn’t noticed.” Tom almost fell over laughing when Jeff shoved him back.
In his office Coach Romanov smiled to himself. He’d overheard Jeff’s speech.
The sophomore grinned at the three freshman. It was a cruel smile. With his buddies behind him backing him up, he was sure that the three younger kids would soon piss their pants. He’d just about gotten them to the point where they’d hand over their lunch money when he heard a scuffle behind him. Someone swatted a stinging slap to the back of his head. That person was going to die! Spinning around, he nearly dumped his bowels into his pants when he saw who’d slapped him.
“Hi, Bryan,” Jeff Knox growled through gritted teeth. “Did ya have a nice summer?”
Bryan had stayed in the shadows, avoiding Jeff since their first confrontation last year; he’d taken a chance and poked his head up again this year to see what he could get away with. A quick glance around showed his buddies being braced by Jeff’s teammates, many teammates.
The other teams heard about Jeff’s speech; they’d responded to the challenge. Bryan knew he was about to be hammered back down into his hole. He turned back to Jeff with a much less arrogant attitude.
“What I told you last year is still in effect,” Jeff whispered to him, so softly that only Bryan could hear. “We haven’t been back in school a month and already you’ve managed to piss me off. Nice work.”
Jeff looked over at the three younger students. “Guys, if this person here - and I use the term person lightly - bothers you again, you come find me or any of my teammates. We’ll handle the problem, okay?” The three freshmen nodded nervously, not quite believing that an older student was sticking up for them; that was not what their dealings with other classes had showed them so far. They saw the student who’d stuck up for them give the bully a hard look before he waved them down the hall.
“That’s strike two,” Jeff warned Cosgrove after the younger students left. “You don’t want to know what happens when you strike out.”
Jeff worked on his French homework beside Kara before dinner. He was taking both Spanish II and French I on the enthusiastic recommendation of Isabelle Alcala. Kara chose French as her language so they’d be in the same beginner’s class. She found Jeff’s study methods and his discipline were something to emulate; with the burden of an extra class this year, Jeff needed to study whenever he could. His mother tousled his hair while the siblings worked at the kitchen table.
“Mom, you’re killing my chance with the ladies!” he complained, trying to straighten his hair while Kara laughed at him.
“Who?” she asked. “Your sister? Me? The kitchen isn’t exactly a target-rich environment as you kids say.”
“You’re the one that keeps telling me to be ready when opportunity knocks!” he responded. “How can I be ready for my adoring fans if I look like I just woke up?”
“Relax, Romeo. The bouncer at the door will let us know when they start lining up for you. It’s time to put away le français and set the table.”
Thompkins was playing a league rival, Petersham Preparatory Academy, in an early October soccer match. Away games were sparsely attended by Thompkins students. PPA’s students made a decent turnout; now they were making a lot of noise because their team was whistled for a foul just before halftime. The foul happened just outside the penalty area. Thompkins was awarded an indirect free kick for interference. Two players had to touch the ball before a goal would count.
Nick Ansonia waited next to Jeff while the referee pointed to the spot of the foul. The ref paced off the ten yard zone that PPA had to stay outside of. Nick and Jeff talked over the play one more time; it was a common play that everyone used but it did work sometimes. The referee raised his arm and blew the whistle.
Nick nodded to Jeff and ran towards the ball. When he stepped over it, he bumped it back towards Jeff. The ball made the one full revolution for the play to be legal. Jeff was already sprinting towards the ball; he blasted a shot towards the goal, a shot that looked to be going wide of the far post.
PPA’s goalie saw the ball’s spin. He broke as hard as he could for the back post one of his defensemen was already guarding. Jeff placed his shot well. Sideline spectators watched the shot arc towards the net; PPA’s defenseman leaped for it, hoping to head it away. The goalie dived to intercept the ball, stretching out, trying to bat it away.
Jeff’s target was the net’s top corner on the far side. The spinning ball broke for that corner as it arced through the air. The ball hit the goal post just above the defenseman’s head, beyond the diving goalie’s reach; it caught the inside edge, bouncing it back, inside the goal. The net rippled with the ball’s impact.
Thompkins players cheered and gathered around Jeff to congratulate him on the shot. He’d scored the first goal of the game.
“Great shot, Pelé!” Nick said with an arm around Jeff’s neck.
“Still a lot of soccer to play, wise-guy!” Jeff cautioned.
“Doesn’t mean it wasn’t a sweet shot!”
Jeff rolled his eyes but smiled back at his teammate. “It was, wasn’t it?”
October gave way to November. Soccer gave way to hockey. Jeff paired with a freshman on defense since he was coming in as a third-line defenseman from the previous year. The freshman was Chris Micklicz. The two connected as line-mates instantly.
“Oh my word...” muttered John Kessler, the head hockey coach for Thompkins. He watched his third-line defense pick apart his first-line offense. Chris and Jeff seemed to know where the other would be without a word, with hardly a glance, and they’d never played together before! Coach Kessler watched them control the ice as practice progressed; he watched his new first-line defense.
Jeff walked down the hall of the Jenkins Building with Chris a week later. The school day had ended and they were talking over a couple of hockey plays on their way to practice. Jeff had the skills but he’d only been playing for a few years; Chris had better hockey instincts and he was pointing out certain things to Jeff as they walked.
“Hey! Chris!” a female voice called. The pair stopped and turned to see Chris’ sister Pauline walking towards them, smiling. Jeff had been sneaking looks at Pauline since the first day of school but he’d yet to talk to her. He decided to keep his mouth shut unless spoken to so he wouldn’t make a fool of himself.
“Hey, I forgot to tell you this morning, but Dad needs a new copy of your hockey schedule. He can’t find the other one and he wants to be sure he makes the home games.”
“No problem,” Chris answered. “I’ll make sure I ask Coach for one before practice starts.” Seeing his partner checking Pauline out but trying hard to look like he wasn’t, Chris introduced them to each other. “Pauline, this is my partner on defense, Jeff Knox. Jeff, this is my big sister, Pauline. She’s a junior here.”
“Hi, Jeff,” Pauline said in a bright voice. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“H-h-h-hi, P-Pauline. I-i-i-it’s nice to m-m-meet you,” he stammered. He sighed, thinking So much for not making a fool of myself.
Chris stared at his partner before turning back to Pauline. “Hey, I’m sorry, Sis, but we’ve gotta get to practice. I’ll see you at home.”
“Sure, Chris,” Pauline said, thoughtfully. Jeff was looking anywhere but at Pauline.
“Come on, guy, before we’re late,” Chris said to Jeff, grabbing him by the elbow. He led Jeff away from an amused Pauline. Chris looked at his friend once they were outside, headed for the field house. “Okay, what the hell was that?”
“You looking all embarrassed in front of my sister.”
Jeff sighed. He knew Chris wouldn’t let this go; it was best to get it out in the open now. “Look, Chris, I first noticed your sister on the first day of school. I mean, she’s beautiful. How could I not notice her?”
“Beautiful? My sister’s HOT!“ Chris joked before realizing the problem. “Wait a minute! You’ve got a crush on my sister!“ he exclaimed.
Jeff sighed again. “Chris, please don’t say anything to her, okay? She probably thinks I’m an idiot now.”
“Oh, she does not! She’s a bit confused right now, that’s for sure. I mean, I’m sure she’s been hearing what a great guy you are and how confident you are since we started here, so the stammering fool routine she just saw maybe threw her for a loop. I doubt she thinks you’re an idiot; mentally challenged maybe, but not an idiot!”
Jeff chuckled along with Chris. “Okay, so maybe not an idiot, but you have to admit that I came across looking pretty stupid.”
“Jeff, in all seriousness? She’s really a nice person. Just talk to her, okay?”
“Okay,” he sighed yet again. “I’ll talk to her tomorrow.”
Chris clapped him on the shoulder as they reached the field house doors. “It’ll be fine.”
Jeff approached Pauline the next day before school started. She was putting her things away in her locker. Jeff was sure his palms were sweating as he crossed the hallway towards her; he was praying he wouldn’t make a fool out of himself again.
“E-excuse me? Pauline?”
Pauline turned to see the boy her brother had tried to introduce yesterday looking at her. The embarrassed look from yesterday was gone, replaced by a hopeful one. She smiled.
“Hey. Look, Pauline, I wanted to apologize for how I acted yesterday. I’m not all that used to talking to girls I don’t know, especially girls as beautiful as you.”
“You’re a silver-tongued devil, aren’t you?” Pauline laughed. Jeff liked the sound of her laughter.
“Not usually,” Jeff grinned. “I’m just trying to make up for yesterday.”
Pauline put her hand on Jeff’s elbow; it gave him a bit of a rush. “It’s fine, Jeff. Is my brother giving you any problems?”
“It’s more like your brother is making me look good,” Jeff chuckled. “We click on the ice.”
“I’m glad.” She cocked her head. “May I ask you to walk me to class, sir?”