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|“JP was in your car?” Chrissy asked me the next morning, her face bright with anticipated excitement. “What’s he like? I mean, did he say anything about…you know…”
I smiled. The fact that I drove him home had slipped out when she inquired why I had left so quickly after my audition…and wondered out loud where JP had gone. If she was asking me what I thought she was asking, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
“Do you mean, does he like you?” I suggested, watching the girl blush.
It seemed that JP was getting more and more desirable by the day. Chrissy was on an ever-growing list of girls who had crushes on him…and I could tell why. With looks like his, he was becoming a top commodity among the underclassmen females, even outside of band. Not to mention, he had a way with girls that was almost hypnotic. One glance of his gorgeous blue eyes and you’d be smitten.
“You know,” I informed her, “you are very pretty. I’m sure you have a better chance than many of the girls out there.”
She blushed an even deeper shade of red. “Do you think Hunter would get pissed if JP took me to Homecoming – I mean, assuming he asks me of course.”
“Why would Hunter have a prob – oh,” I suddenly caught on. Chrissy and Hunter had been casually dating, although I always thought the two were together more for convenience than anything else. She was the only girl in the trumpet section and since that meant having to spend a lot of time with her during football season, it just made sense. I don’t think they liked each other that much.
I thought for a second. “If you want,” I offered, “I could bring your name up to JP. See what he says.”
Chrissy almost burst with exultation “Would you? Oh Matt, I love you, I love you,” she exclaimed, practically bowling me over with a huge hug.
As soon as she rushed off to spread the news to her girlfriends, a thought struck me. Whether Hunter liked her or not, he still wasn’t going to be happy. It was beginning to be well known around the band that Hunter didn’t really admire JP like everyone else. He openly objected to his sometimes cocky behavior and the pull-up competition the day before didn’t help matters. I was going to have to talk to him, too.
“Hey, Matt,” JP came up behind me and patted me on the shoulder. “What’s up?”
“Uh, Hi,” I stammered, trying to take in the sight that now stood before me.
JP was wearing a blue sleeveless shirt with NAVY plastered across the front in gold lettering. The color brought out his mesmerizing eyes just as much as the shirt itself showed off his still slight, but buffed arms. With almost no body fat, the striations in his shoulders were clearly visible, as were the veins running down the front of his biceps and snaking around his rippling forearms. The muscles in his neck, made strong by a year of wrestling, popped and flexed whenever he moved his head. I gulped, feeling that familiar lump in the pit of my stomach that always appeared whenever he was near.
“What is Chrissy so excited about?” he asked, smiling, his perfect white teeth glistening. “She’s going crazy over there, talking a mile a minute.”
“Who do you think she’s all excited about?” I returned, raising an eyebrow and obviously cocking my eyes at his muscled limbs.
“Oh,” JP smiled, biting his lower lip. Now he was the one blushing.
I laughed. “Dude, where’s that attitude of yours?” I said, confidingly grabbing his shoulder. Damn, it was rock hard! “Chrissy’s pretty hot. You should probably ask her to Homecoming.” Screw Hunter, I thought, he can suffer this loss. That would show him not to speak out against JP. Plus, the kid would treat her better anyway, I figured.
“You think so?” the boy answered, looking up at me with his deep blue eyes. God, they were beautiful! I nodded reassuringly. His face was beaming as he walked away.
JP had decided that since band was the only class the two had together, he’d ask her then. So a few hours later, the little jock sauntered into the room with his trumpet case slung coolly over his shoulder, his peaked bicep that supported it bulging out of his skin.
He sat down next to Chrissy with a dramatic sigh and, placing the case down on the floor next to his chair, impressively stretched his arms behind his head, knowingly displaying the musculature of his arms and shoulders, making them jump to attention. I sniggered as the poor girl shuddered with fancy, hardly able to keep her eyes off the boy’s body.
JP immediately noticed her stare and flashed a flirtatious, yet commanding grin, her way. I could almost hear her heart beat against her chest as he leaned closer to her.
“You like what you see, Chrissy,” he hushed, his face only inches from hers. She answered with a bewildered sigh. He gazed longingly into her eyes, as she melted completely into his.
Then, JP smoothly wrapped a sexy arm around Chrissy’s shoulders. I thought she would totally lose it right then and there, but the boy hunk held her together on his own. It was as if he could control her every thought, her every action. He moved in even closer and whispered something in her ear.
Suddenly, Chrissy shrieked and jumped in her seat. “Yes, yes, I will!” Everyone in the room turned to see what the commotion was all about. She threw her arms around his wide neck in adoration, squeezing him tightly. JP had a look of surprised satisfaction on his face as he looked at me. Neither of us knew that her reaction would be this elated.
As the girl finally lifted herself off of him and rushed to tell her friends, I caught JP’s attention. I raised my eyebrow and smiled. He simply thrust his chin at me and winked.
Luckily, Hunter hadn’t been in the room at the time and you can imagine my relief upon hearing the news that he had asked a girl in his math class to Homecoming the night before and didn’t care what his former girlfriend did. I took that as a good sign.
The two had a great time on Homecoming night. Chrissy couldn’t stop talking about how nice JP was the whole time and even her dad, a hard-to-affect patriarch, was impressed. He had toned his cockiness down to a mere lively confidence and it worked on everyone he met, including my mom, who complimented me afterward on my choice of friends.
Over the course of the next two months, JP and I continued to be close friends, best friends in fact. One might say he replaced Hunter in that position, whose overcritical complaints were starting to get on my nerves, particularly when it came to the subject of JP himself.
The rides in my car began to be a daily ritual since his mom worked all day and Ryan wouldn’t be caught dead near the band room. Therefore, I heard all the stories of JP’s encounters with the opposite sex. It seemed that at least once or twice a week, he was being approached by ravenous girls, expecting him to be as reckless as his brother. Much to their usual dismay, JP wisely and graciously turned down their offers. He didn’t want to get involved in such a “pack of wild animals,” as he called them.
And just as our friendship grew, so did JP. With wrestling season just around the corner, his training became more and more important. Every day after I drove him home, I knew that he immediately went down to the basement and lifted with his brother.
When he took his physical in November, he was 5 foot 8, 131 pounds with only 4% body fat, a statistic of which he was very proud. As I watched him grow from week to week, I could only see how accurate those statistics were. The kid was almost all muscle!
Instead of the skinny JP we knew as a freshman, he was now chiseled and buff. His neck got increasingly wider as wrestling season neared, the thin strands of sinew morphing into thickening cords of muscle. His pecs were gradually becoming slabs of rock-hard meat, growing farther and farther outwards and they were perfectly accented by his beautiful six-pack, growing tighter with each set of sit-ups that he religiously cranked out. He had broad shoulders capped with a thin, yet dense, layer of muscle, which led to bulging biceps that rolled up into little round balls as he bent his arm, even without flexing now. As he kept growing, his lats started to widen, pushing his arms away from his body a little bit. His waist stayed as narrow as usual, not even forming love handles…and his obliques were simply mouth-watering.
I couldn't believe how big JP was getting. People were beginning to say that he was on steroids or something, but no traces were turning up in his physicals. No one could explain JP's sudden explosion of muscle. In only a year, he had gone from a 95-pound bony nerd to a 130-pound sculpted jock. His coach blamed it on puberty and genetics and all the working out he was doing for wrestling and that was probably the reason. I mean, JP wasn't the type to get into drugs.
By mid-December, his growth was unmistakable. Even through his formerly baggy long-sleeved shirts, you could see the outline of his expanding chest, the bulge of a chiseled arm. Every day, JP would update me on how his training was going. As you can imagine, his strength was rising rapidly, the weight and magnitude of his lifts increasing nearly by the week.
“I benched 175 for three sets of ten yesterday,” he announced one chilly afternoon on the way home from school.
I looked over at him with a mix of awe and respect, shaking my head in astonishment, wishing I had the same drive and determination.
“Ryan was just screaming at me to push,” he went on, “and I gave it all I had.” He leaned his head back against the headrest, remembering the moment, the muscles in his neck exploding outwards as he did. “The last few were hard as hell, but I did them. Man, it was awesome.”
“I can imagine,” I said quietly, wondering what it must be like to have someone like Ryan Maloney personally mold you into an athlete. “So, you’re going to be wrestling 130 this season,” I continued.
“Yeah,” JP beamed. “Coach Graves said it’s been years since he’s seen someone jump four weight classes in one year like that and still keep his skills.”
“And your brother?”
“189, but he’s having trouble cutting.”
“You mean, big hunky Ryan Maloney isn’t as ripped as you are anymore?” I said, mimicking a flustered teenage girl. That had always been one of the senior brother’s claim to fame: the definition of his torso. There had been a rumor going around that the Anatomy teacher once used him as a human anatomy chart.
“You kidding me?” JP scoffed. “You haven’t seen him with his shirt off lately. He’s gotten a bit of a gut forming down there. Probably too much female saliva.” Both of us laughed. At the rate of his social life, I’m sure he sacrificed a few lifting sessions now and then.
When we calmed down again, JP peered wistfully out the window, his chin resting on his fist, as if he was pondering some unseen thing.
“Coach told him to lower his body fat,” he stated.
It was the seriousness with which he said it that made me wonder. There was some deeper issue hidden within the tone of his voice, one that was non-existent only seconds before. What am I thinking, I said to myself, it’s none of my business. I decided to ignore it.
But a rare awkward silence lay between us. I was even afraid to look at JP for fear that he could somehow read my thoughts, detect what I was thinking.
“Do you think I’m too cocky?” JP finally asked, cautiously turning toward me once again.
What? I knew that he would be the one to break the stillness, but not with a perplexing question like that. I hopelessly searched the road through the windshield for some kind of answer.
“What do you mean?” I conceded.
“I mean, do you think I talk about myself too much?” The boy, now far from the confident teenager that was his norm, peered hopefully at me.
I looked back at him. As the rest of his body was maturing, so was his face. Even the acne was beginning to clear up, making way for the model of superiority that he was quickly becoming. Still, his soft blue eyes made him seem almost childlike, like he was when I first met him. What could I say?
“You have every right to act cocky,” I started, choosing my words carefully. “You’ve re-invented yourself into someone that others can respect. Very few people can say they’ve done that.”
JP smiled at me placidly and looked forward again. From his expression, I could tell it may not have been exactly the answer he was looking for, but it was good enough.
“Why do you ask?” I ventured.
He turned back toward me, his eyes still giving off their gentle hue. He bit his lower lip and said shrugging, “Something just came up, that’s all.”
I don’t know if it was the inflection of his words or the quiver in his voice, but something told me that something was bothering him and now was not the time to ask. I didn’t.
Another, shorter silence followed until JP suddenly jumped up with a newly-found enthusiasm. “Can you come to one of my wrestling matches over the Christmas break?”
I thought for a moment. “Well,” I confessed. “I’ll be spending Christmas at my grandparents’ in Minnesota, but I’ll be back New Year’s Day.”
“Perfect!” he beamed, his old self back again. “We have a dual the first Saturday in January at home. I’d love it if you could come.”
“I’d love to be there,” I answered in the same tone as his, resulting in us both laughing heartily. We arrived at his house in the best spirits yet. As we clasped hands just before he climbed out of the car, he shot another cherubic smile and said: “See you in January!”
See you in January. That was the only thing I could think about the whole time I was at my grandparents’. I mean, I enjoyed visiting with family and all, but the one person I longed to see the most was JP. I dreamt about him at night, during the day, constantly, imagining what seeing him wrestle would be like. Would he be as good as I had heard? as he said? I just wanted to see his face, hear his voice.
Finally, the Saturday after New Year’s arrived and I drove to the high school gym, my stomach in knots. My first glimpse of seeing JP doing something he loved was only moments away.
Upon entering the cavernous room, the twinge of excitement that always hovers over sporting events minutes before the start enveloped me. I panicked slightly, not knowing what to do. This was my first wrestling match and I had now idea even where to sit. Thank God I’m not the one wrestling, I laughed to myself. Luckily, I spotted a teacher I had had the year before, Mrs. Shepard. I went over to her and asked if I could sit near her.
I knew she was a big fan of the wrestling team and knew almost all of the wrestlers, including JP. Of course, since her husband had once coached it and both her sons had wrestled when they were in high school, she knew all about the sport and the team. I told her that I was a novice spectator and asked if she could explain every once in a while how the scoring worked. Mrs. Shepard told me that the team actually wasn't very good and had no chance to win any titles, but JP was one of their best wrestlers.
“He’s only lost two matches so far this year,” she informed me.
“Wow,” I exclaimed, my eyes widening in surprise. “I didn’t realize he was that good.”
“Yeah,” the teacher continued. “And both of those matches were to a wrestler from South Lakes.”
“Is he a favorite for the District Championship?” I asked.
“I would guess so.” She paused. “You know, JP’s funny. He’s lost to this guy twice, although not as badly the second time, and yet predicts he’ll beat him at districts.”
That’s JP, I thought to myself.
Minutes later, the match started and the whole team filed out of the locker room, wearing their warm-up suits. The crowd cheered enthusiastically as they lined up along one side of the mat, the opposing team on the other. I spotted JP and tried to get his attention. He didn't look up, instead looking straight at the floor ahead of him as if he were in a trance. The teacher said that like most of the wrestlers, he always goes into a “zone” before his match.
The announcer introduced the line-up; JP was wrestling at 130 pounds. The national anthem was played and the first match was introduced: the 103-pound weight class, JP’s old class. A thin, bony freshman climbed out of his warm-up suit (which seemed a size too big for him) and nervously readied himself for his match. His opponent wasn’t much bigger, but his body looked a lot more toned. I didn’t have to be a wrestling expert to guess which athlete was the favorite to win.
“JP’s probably the only wrestler who trains all year,” Mrs. Shepard said. “He’s gained a lot of muscle since last season. He used to be such a skinny little kid, like that.” She pointed to the freshman who was walking across the mat to his certain defeat. “You could see his inexperience in the first few tournaments. But now, he’s improved so much. It’s been such an amazing thing to watch. I can only imagine what he'll be like by his senior year.”
“I know what you mean,” I answered back.
During the first few matches, JP stayed on the bench with the rest of the team. There were four matches before his and four losses for our school. I guess the team isn’t very good, I thought to myself. Our 112-pounder was totally obliterated. Mrs. Shepard winced as his opponent forced him into an inescapable hold.
The Central High School Spartans needed rejuvenation…and quickly. The mood on our side of the gym was sullen at best, but an anticipatory murmur began as the 119-pound match was called. However, it wasn’t for what was happening on the mat.
“Look, JP’s getting ready,” Mrs. Shepard directed my attention toward the team bench.
As apparently was his custom, two weight classes before his, JP got up from the bench and walked toward the wall behind. After jumping up and down a few times and swinging his arms back and forth to loosen his body up, he then proceeded in taking off his warm-up suit.
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