"People are strange
When you're a stranger
Places look ugly
When you're alone."

The Doors - "People are Strange"

September 1987

I was eighteen years old in the fall of 1987 when I left Hattiesburg, on my own for the first time, and went off for my freshman year of college at Hinds Junior College in Raymond, Mississippi.  It was a pilgrimage for me, an escape.  I had to get out of Hattiesburg and the local junior colleges, Jones County Junior College (JCJC) and Pearl River Junior College, weren’t far enough away. 

I wanted to escape … I wanted to get far away, a long way away, many miles away, many hours away from where I was.  I wanted to be on my own and independent, that ultimate expression of teenage angst; I thought I could make better decisions for myself than I could if I was living under my parents’ roof and under their rules (liberal as those may have been).  I was tired of Hattiesburg … I’d lived there eleven years now and I’d had a lot of memories there, not all of them good, especially the more recent ones.

I had become restless and Hattiesburg had become boring. Everywhere I went in Hattiesburg I was just stomping on old memories, cruising on familiar and boring territory and running into people I cared little or nothing for.  I needed to escape from Hattiesburg.  I needed to leave the nest.

Hinds Junior College offered me a scholarship based on my ACT test score my senior year and the Raymond campus was so remote that it seemed perfect for me and what I wanted.  Raymond was outside of Jackson and I’d lived in Jackson from the fall of 1975 to the fall of 1976 so there was a desire, maybe even a need, for me to return to where I’d spent my first grade, where I’d started this whole long journey through school, to where I’d lived for just one short year of my life.  Maybe after twelve years I needed to see where it all began again and to be near that starting point if only for a little while, to make some kind of connection with the start and end point of a journey that, in hindsight had seemed to last forever but in reality was over in the blink of an eye.  I had no delusions that I’d meet or hook up with any my childhood friends from that time again … in all probability eleven years had seen their departure from Jackson as well and even if I met them again the difference in years of us being apart, the temporal gulf that separated us, probably meant that what we had once shared as innocent youths would have been long lost, irreplaceable, and that we’d be unrecognizable to each other.  Time does change people, their conditions, their life and their experiences as well.  I may have found my best friend from 1975 but I doubted if we’d be the same best friends … he would now have his life and I’d now have mine.

Heraclitus was no one’s fool.

So, it was a pilgrimage; a personal journey back to where I’d started, to a place where my roots had been yanked out over ten years earlier (and transplanted almost a hundred miles southeast), and getting away would be like starting over as well.  I’d graduated high school and that had taken twelve years.  Twelve long years spread over two cities and five different schools.  Now I was about to start college and that would take me four more years of my life, if I was lucky and plowed straight through.  Sometimes I looked at my education as one sixteen year long journey and then other times I saw it as two separate journeys; school and college.  Right then college seemed like such the big adventure and in late August of 1987 I packed up my things and left Hattiesburg, on my own at last, for the first time in my life.  It was a heady experience to be sure.

The Raymond campus was quiet and reserved, not quite antiquated but it looked like it hadn’t been updated since the time that “Billy Jack” had played in some local theater.

Most of the people on the Raymond campus knew each other and had gone to school together; some probably all of their lives … from pre-school and kindergarten through elementary to high school and many had probably graduated together just this past May.  I was a stranger here; I knew no one on campus … hell, I didn’t even know the campus which is one of the main reasons why I wanted to get away from Hattiesburg and go off to Hinds. 

I was new. 

Hinds was new. 

I was so far away from everyone that I knew and everything that I had become accustomed to that going off to college was literally like starting over again on another planet and I liked that … I really liked that … a lot!

Hinds was a complete unknown to me, everyone there was a complete unknown.  Unlike my previous experience in elementary, junior high and high school where if I switched to a different school some of the people I knew might follow me there no one from Hattiesburg followed me off to Hinds.  There was the impending sense of adventure about my first year of college; something was in the air, something almost tangible.  It was an uplifting feeling and a great situation to be in because everything was brand new.  I could meet new people, explore new places, drive down new roads, listen to new radio stations, go to new bars, hang out at new places … I could do anything I wanted to because I was on my own and everything was brand new.  I was really on my own for the first time in my life and that was the greatest feeling in the world; freedom and excitement, endless horizons, a clean slate to write my own future on with no one to answer to except myself.

Yeah, my life had just taken on the makings for great adventure and I intended to live it up for all it was worth. 

          First day of classes
Hinds Junior College
Raymond, MS
Monday, August 31, 1987

As fate would have it, I didn’t have very long to wait for my great adventure to begin. 

In fact, my adventure began my very first day of classes because that’s when I met Cody Miller … a kindred spirit who would not only rapidly become one of my best friends but would be a comrade and a brother in crime in many of the adventures that I would have in the next five years.  I had no way of knowing that, at the time, but that’s how things would eventually work out.  I think we were destined to meet.  From humble beginnings great things come … or something like that.  Life was funny strange like that, you never knew who you might meet or how far down the road they would be by your side and so it was with Cody.

College was, at least to me, a lot like high school ... if high school's chief mode of operation was to scatter its required classes over a large campus, barely give you enough time to get from one class to another and then inject a wide amount of pure chaos into the recipe.  I was still trying to get my bearings on campus, looking for which building I was supposed to be in for my next class and looking at the well-worn student schedule with its map of the campus for reference.  The night before I’d marked out my routes, classes and what buildings they were in but everything looked different when you were there standing in a surging crowd of people.  I guess the other guy was trying to get his bearings as well; we were headed in opposite directions when we passed on the sidewalk, just two strangers moving like cruise missiles flying NOE Nap Of the Earth, moving effortlessly through the surge of students that were spilling from the emptying classes.  The noise was overwhelming and even though we didn’t speak I could tell that we were cut from the same cloth; loners and misanthropes, experienced though unimpressed observers of the biological joke that we had come to know as the human race. 

You can get that feel from someone just like you, call it sympathetic empathy.  We were two sharks swimming with a purpose in a pond full of much smaller fish.

He wore dirty white and blue sneakers, faded blue jeans torn open at the left knee, a black AC-DC concert T-shirt, a black leather jacket, mirrored sunglasses pushed up on top of his head and he had an old, faded orange, heavily marked up backpack slung over his shoulder by a single strap.  He was clean shaven but he had that boyish look to him that almost made you think that he always looked that way and that he never had to shave at all.  I was dressed almost exactly as he was except for my black harness boots, my green Ray Ban Aviators (that Marie had given to me last Christmas) and the fact that my backpack was black but still carried on a single strap over my shoulder as well.

We walked towards the other like we each owned the place, the crowd ebbing and flowing around us while we tracked true.  I’d found out that if you walked like you owned the place that people got out of your way because most people just moved from place to place, aimlessly.  I moved with a purpose and so did he.

I said nothing to him as we passed close enough to almost slide leather though I got an almost whispered “cool jacket, bro”.  I shrugged my shoulders and kept on walking, not even looking back, unsure if I had just been given a sincere compliment or a sideways thrown sarcastic remark and not really caring either way.  Whether he saw my body language or not didn’t matter to me either.  He may have been like me but right then and there he was just another face in the crowd.

A number.

Soon to be forgotten ... or so I thought.

A second later, I heard him coming up behind me, fast … dirty sneakers quickly pounding the sidewalk pavement.  I kept walking but tensed, not sure what was about to happen but really not wanting a confrontation with some strange kid, maybe even a local, on my first day in a strange place.

“Hey!” the guy called out.

I kept walking.

“Hey!  Hey, bro!  Wait up a sec!”

I kept walking.

“Hey, Ray Bans!  Hold up, boss!”

Ray Bans?  

Was someone calling me “Ray Bans?”

Did he also just call me "boss?"

I stopped, turned and faced him as he jogged to catch up and stopped a few feet from me.

“Hey!  Wow.  You must have turbo boots.  Hey, look bro, it’s my first day and I’m lost as a nun in a whorehouse.  Can you help me out?”

Lost as a nun in a whorehouse.  I almost laughed but right then that euphemism seemed to just describe everything about life.  That was as good of a euphemism as any for life in general, I thought.  Lost as a nun in a whorehouse … weren’t we just all?  I guess my expression was easy to read.

“First year here.  First day, actually.  Uh.  Yeah.  Look.  Can you tell me where this class is …” and he handed me a crumpled up sheet of paper with his name and class schedule printed out on it.

I looked down at the paper that he had handed to me.

Cody L. Miller.

I guess that the “L” in his middle initial stood for “lost.” 

I looked to the class that he was pointing to with his finger.  I followed it across, found the location, recognized it as the building that I had just left and pointed to the building.

“You were close.  That’s the building that you’re looking for.” I said.  “Go in through those doors and it should be halfway down the hallway on your left.”

“You sure?” Cody asked, surprised at how close he was to his destination.

“Yeah.  I just came out of that room, just had a class there last period.  Go in through that door there ... third door on your left.  The teacher is a hoot but don't get on his bad side as he'll ridicule you in front of the whole class.  He doesn't like idiots.”

“Whoa!  Hey!  Thanks, Ray Bans!  Appreciate it!” Cody L. Miller said, slapping me lightly on the side of the arm, taking his schedule away and turning to walk away.

“Yeah.  No problem.” I said, going back to my misanthropic stroll to my next class, promptly forgetting about Cody L. "Lost" Miller all together.


Later that day, I was walking from my last class on campus, heading back to my dorm room in Greaves Hall when I heard the sound of a motorcycle accelerating through its gears somewhere behind me on the curve.  It wasn’t the slow, deep resonating sound of a cruiser type bike but the higher pitched drone of something more powerful, something purpose built for performance. 

Sport bike.

I stopped and turned to watch as the guy I had passed on the sidewalk earlier that morning, Cody L. Miller, rode by on a wicked looking red, white and blue Honda Interceptor sport bike.  His orange backpack was now worn over his shoulders by both straps and the visor of his red, white and blue Bell helmet was open; I could see his mirrored shades down over his eyes now.  He must have recognized me as well because he beeped the Honda’s horn four times as he rode by, turning around in his seat to throw me an extended thumbs up salute.

“Stay cool, Ray Bans!” he shouted.

I stood there, watching him and his bike get smaller and smaller before turning back around.  Off in the distance I heard Cody power up the Interceptor as he was riding it off campus, running through the gears as he got out on Hinds Boulevard headed towards Highway 18.  That V4 engine sounded amazing once he rolled the throttle back.  I waited until the drone of the high performance V4 engine, mechanical music to my ears, faded to silence before continuing my walk back to my dorm.

Cody L. Miller.

Little did I know at that time ... or maybe I did.  

Maybe somehow, deep down inside, I did know.

September 2, 1987

The second time that I saw Cody was two days later, Wednesday, when Tennis Aerobics, an elective class, a Phys Ed course, met early in the morning.  The teacher, a butch little overweight woman (with a shrill voice, a whistle and an attitude) was late for the class so until she arrived everyone just milled around in groups talking to people that they were comfortable with while waiting on the teacher to show up.  I guess most of us were feeling awkward in the mandated spring time dress code for the early fall class, especially since it was in the lower 60’s that morning and colder weather was just ahead.  I leaned up against the chain link fence of the tennis court, observing the groups that my classmates gathered in as they formed, noticing the many girls and the few older women who had signed up for this class all the while seeing if there was any of them that I might be interested in getting to know or getting to know better.

I stood there, leaned up against the chain-link fence, observing the freshly repainted tennis courts, holding my Wilson tennis racket in its zip up protective bag and twirling it nonchalantly while eyeing the girls and women in the class from behind my Ray Ban Aviators.  Someone slipped in beside me, leaned up on the fence but said nothing.  I slowly looked over and saw the same guy that I had passed on the sidewalk just two days ago.  I remember faces and even if the jeans and black leather jacket were gone I could still recognize the guy standing next to me.  It was the guy who had commented in passing on my jacket the other day, the same guy I had helped to find his class for him, the V4 Honda Interceptor pilot; Cody L. Miller.

“Hey, Ray Bans!” he said, like we had known each other all of our lives.

“Cody.” I replied.

“Whoa!  How did you know my name?” he asked, genuinely surprised and concerned.

“It was on your class schedule that you handed me day before yesterday when you asked me for directions to your next class.  Remember?”

“Oh.  Ha!  Guess it was.  Anyway … Sorry about the other day, I was rushed.  First day.  Lots of stuff to do. No time to talk.  You know.”

“Yeah.  First day is always the worst I guess.”

“So … I guess now we’ll do this the right way now.” He said, extending his hand with the confidence of a used car salesman and showing me the borrowed smile to boot.

“Cody. Cody Miller.”

“Shields.” I said, taking his hand and squeezing hard.

Cody winced.

“Whoa!  Hey!  Good grip there, bro.  Good grip.  Got that whole He-man and the Masters of the Universe handshake going on there, don’t you?” Cody said, withdrawing his hand, frowning.

I grunted and went back to twirling my racquet in a bored manner.  So far my personal pilgrimage was not off to the epic start that I would have thought it should have been.  Still, there was that feeling, something in the air, almost tangible, made even more so now but I still hadn’t found it or it still hadn’t found me.  One of the most important things to carry with you on an adventure was patience.  Adventure would find you, sooner or later.  The hard part was the waiting … and then sometimes the hard part was realizing that adventure may have already found you, you just weren’t paying attention to it being there standing there beside you.

Cody cleared his throat lightly.

“So, Shields … Got a first name or were your parents too poor to be able to afford one for you when you were born?  I mean, do I call you Ray Bans or Shields or what?”

I caught myself almost smiling at his jibe.

“Christopher.” I said, flatly.

“Christopher.” Cody mimicked, trying to imitate my deep voice and getting it mostly right.

“That’s a cool name.  Christopher.  Sounds powerful.  It’s long, and probably important … not at all like Coh-dee.  You see, you’ve got three syllables in your name … Chris-To-Pher.  I’ve only got two syllables.  That makes a difference.” He added, drawing his own name out for emphasis.

“It does?” I asked, curious but not that much.

“No.  Not really.  So, I’ve got three names for you now … what does everyone else call you?”

“Everyone calls me Shields.” I added.

“Everyone calls me Shields.” Cody mimicked me again, trying one more time to imitate my deep voice. 

I suppressed most of a smile because he almost got it right.  Did I really sound like that?  Was I really that deep and gruff?  I guess I did.

“Nice ride I saw you on the other day.” I said.

“Yeah?  Thanks!  I’ve had it since it was new.”

“Since it was new?” I asked.


“What year is your Honda?”

“It’s an ’84.” Cody said.  “Got her brand new when I got my license at fifteen.  It was love at first sight.  I found her at the local Honda shop, they had just got her in and put her together.  My grandfather bought it for me.  He’s pretty damn cool.”

Some guys have all the luck, I thought. 

“Honda Interceptor?  What size?  500?”

“Yeah, VF500F.  They call it a five hundred but she’s really a four ninety-eight cee-cee.  V-four.”

“Four ninety-eight cee-cees?”

“Yeah.  See, they round up to the nearest hundred in class size.  I guess calling it a “VF498F” didn’t sound marketable and the race class limits it to five hundred cee-cees total so … round up and market it like that.”

I nodded.

“It’s a V-four, right?”

“Oh, yeah!  V-four! 
Smoooooth chain driven double overhead cam, four valves per cylinder and liquid cooled.” Cody said as he slid his hands horizontally off then into the horizon.

“She’s only got twenty-three thousand miles on her and I put them all there myself.” He said, playing with his tennis racket.

“Is it as fast as it looks?”

“Fast?  Oh, hell, yeah!  I can promise you that, bro.  She’s got sixty-six horsepower and a six speed. I can pull the wheel in first and walk it for a block, make her prance.” Cody said, pantomiming doing a wheelie.

Suddenly I was really jealous of the kid standing next to me.  Cody was lucky as hell to have a Jap sport bike like that.  When I was fifteen I’d have sold my left testicle and long term leased the right testicle just for the key to something like his ’84 Honda VF500F Interceptor.  Cody said something else about his bike, something I barely heard.  I nodded because I didn’t think it was worth commenting on or begging his pardon for not paying attention.  I went back to being bored, twirling my racquet and looking at the milling, chatting debutantes on the court and the other guys who either grouped up in twos and threes or just stood around awkwardly trying to figure out how to fit in.  Cody followed my line of vision and whistled softly in admiration.

“Life lesson, Ray Bans.  If you can’t spot the dork in the group then it’s probably you.” He said.

“Huh?  What?” I asked.

“Where ever you go, whenever you get there, always look for the dork.  If you can’t spot the dork then it’s probably you.  Don’t be the dork.”

“Do you see the dork?” I asked, trying to follow his reasoning and looking over the other people on the court.

“Oh, yeah.” Cody said, nodding.  “I see lots of them … that’s how I know it’s not me.  It’s a regular town hall meeting at Dork City on the opposite side over there.”

I chuckled and shook my head.

“Yeah.  Lots of dorks.  Lots of dorks standing over there.  Trying to look cool.  Trying.  Failing.  It’s sad.  I feel sad for those dorks over there.  They’re dorks and don’t even know it and that is why they will always be dorks.”

“And what are we doing over here.”

“Over here?  Over here we are being cool.  Yes, we are being cool.  You see, there’s a line down the middle of the court out there, a line no one but the cool guys can see and the guys on the other side of the line aren’t cool.”

“And the guys on this side of the line, namely you and me, this is the cool side of the court?” I asked him.

Cody nodded.

“And you know that this is the cool side of the court because …?”

“Let me put it this way, Ray Bans.  If this wasn’t the cool side then I wouldn’t be standing here, with you, now would I?”

It was hard to argue with his logic, especially since it was stated so matter-of-factly and with such confidence.

“So … why did you start calling me “Ray Bans”?” I asked.

Cody shrugged.

“Seemed like a good name.  I didn’t know your name, all I remembered was that you were cool, you helped me, and you had those cool Ray Bans you were wearing.  So … since I didn’t know your name I just called you “Ray Bans” until I could find out who you are … and now I know.”

I nodded.

“Don’t sweat it.  It’s just what I do because I’m kind of bad with names.  I could have just called you “Boots” but I liked “Ray Bans” better.  I mean, it could be worse … you could have been wearing a unicorn shirt and carrying a pink backpack and then I’d have called you by an entirely different name.”

“Like what?”

“Dork.  Probably.  Maybe something worse.  Probably something a lot worse.”

I chuckled.

“Yeah.  Ray-Bans.  I think I’ll just call you Ray-Bans for a while.”

“Do I get a say in this?” I asked.

“Yeah, sure you do … but it doesn’t count.”

“Well, now that we’ve got that out of the way …” I said flatly.

“Yeah.  Pleasantries aside, I was just thinking … This should be an easy class but what I’m really here for are the girls.  I heard that a lot of freshman girls take this class … that’s what my advisor said.”

“Freshman girls, huh?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah.” Cody replied, looking around.  “Just because they’re freshman doesn’t mean that they’re right out of high school.  There’s some prime aged real estate standing over there by the fence.  I see a plot I’d like to stake my claim to right now, whip out the plow and do a little planting in her furrow.”

I looked over at a pair of older women standing where Cody had nodded with his head.  Prime aged real estate … I’d never heard an older woman called that before and with that I could definitely tell that Cody Miller was a unique individual.

“So your advisor told you that freshman girls take this class.  Is that why your advisor went ahead and signed you up for this class?” I asked, looking at him and not even breaking a smile.

It took Cody a second to get that jibe.

“What?  Oh.  Oh!  Ha!  Ha!  Damn, you’re a riot.  Yep.  I’m definitely going to have to watch you, Ray Bans.  Going to have to be careful around you.” Cody stated, swinging his racket through the air slowly.

He then used his tennis racquet to point towards the main group of girls on the court, a movement that drew the attention of a few of the girls in the group and caused them to look over our way, talking among their selves as they did so.

“That’s an okay group of tail, a bit young for my liking.  Maybe the teacher will be hot.” He commented.

“What if it’s a guy teaching the class?”

“Naw.  I checked.  It’s a woman.”

Somehow I knew that Cody would say that.

“From where I’m standing, the pickings are kind of slim if this is all that is going to show up.” I said, looking at a few of the girls who were now congregating in a group near the net at the center of the court.

“So … if you’re not here for the girls then why did you sign up for this?” Cody asked.

“I had to have a PE elective and tennis is something that seemed easy, like you said.  I mean, tennis seems like a kind of hard class to get an "F" in …  Think about it ... you've got to be pretty spastic to fail tennis.”

Cody thought about it.

“You may be right.  I hadn’t thought of it that way before but I guess it is kind of hard to fail tennis.  I really hadn’t thought much past the lots of girls in the class part.  Hmmmm.  This might have been a good choice for other reasons as well.  Go figure.”

I looked over at Cody to see if he was serious or not and his expression said that he was … until he cut his eyes up at me, noticed my expression and lost it with a soft chuckle.  I shook my head then turned back to survey the gathered dorks and that’s when I noticed a pair of leggy brunettes, one with shoulder length hair and one with hair about twice that long.  They were standing on the opposite side of the court as the main group, just the two of them by their selves.  Each of the brunettes seemed to be looking my way far more often than was coincidental.  The brunette with the shoulder length hair looked older than a teenager … late twenties, possibly early thirties.  The long haired brunette was definitely younger, probably my age, and I’d say a high school graduate from last May. 

I watched their behavior for a minute or two then I looked over at Cody.  Cody was a really handsome guy, the kind of guy that would have gotten all the girls in high school and he would have done so without even trying which probably would have gotten him into all sorts of trouble once he realized the gift that he’d been given and how he could use it to his advantage. 

I looked from Cody back to the two brunettes then back to Cody.  Maybe they weren’t looking at me … maybe they were looking at Cody. Probably were.  Cody had looks, the kind of natural guy handsomeness that I couldn’t compete with.

Like I said, some guys have all the luck.

I turned back to stare at the two girls on the other side of the tennis court.  They were looking back in my direction, talking to each other, smiling and occasionally laughing.  I hoped it wasn’t at my expense.  I looked down to check my attire, making sure that something obvious like my zipper being wide open wasn’t inviting their attention and their smiles.

“What’s got your attention, Ray-Bans?” Cody asked.

“Those two.”

“Which two?” Cody asked.  “There’s a lot of twos over there and a lot of zeroes as well..”

“Those two.  They’re looking at you.” I said.

Cody turned to look at the two brunettes then turned his gaze elsewhere.

“Uh, no.  Those aren’t twos, that’s an eight, maybe an eight point seven and the one with the long hair is a good solid seven point …”

Cody lifted his glasses and stared back at the two women on the other side of the court.

“Yeah.  The one with the long hair is a high seven, maybe low eight and no, those two aren’t looking at me.  I’d know if they were looking at me.”

“How would you know?” I asked.

“The hairs on my goody trail would be standing up if they were looking at me.” He said with a straight face.

I laughed and shook my head.

“Your ... goody trail?” I asked.

“Yeah.  You know, your goody trail.  That line of hair that runs from your belly button to your crotch.  That’s your goody trail.  A girl just follows that trail to your goodies.” He said, again, straight face.

I laughed out loud.

“I know what it is … I just never heard it called that before.” I said.

“Goody trail.” Cody said.  “If a girl is paying me attention then the hairs on my goody trail tingle … kind of like Spiderman has that Spidey Sense going on, getting all tingly.”

“You’re serious?” I asked.

“Dead serious.” Cody said.  “And … Nope.  Those two aren’t looking at me, they’re looking at you, Ray-Bans.”

I lifted my Ray Bans up to the top of my head, squinted and let my eyes adjust to the extra sunlight.  The shorter haired brunette looked over at me again, we made eye contact and held it for what seemed longer than normal then she smiled and turned away.

That one.

That one was definitely looking at me.

She had pretty eyes and nice legs and I decided right then and there that I wanted to know more about her.  There was something about her, how she stood, how she moved, how she tilted and turned her head to look at me, the way she cut her eyes, the way she took her hand and used it to push her hair back out of her face in just that way and the way that she smiled when we made eye contact.  I could tell that she was older than me but not by a lot, maybe a few years, but she was a woman, not a girl; so much the better.

I liked older women.  I thought back to Marie … gone now these past few months. 

What was it that I was feeling? 

Did I need someone or did I just want someone?  There was a big difference between needing something and just wanting something and right then I wasn’t sure what I was feeling other than an emptiness way deep down inside.  It would be so easy to misread that emptiness and to try to fill it with a want rather than a need.  Did I really need to fill that emptiness or did I just want to fill that emptiness?  Was I looking for something because I had to have it or because I wanted it?

Right then I really wasn’t sure.

“She’s making fuck me eyes at you.” Cody said.

"What?" I asked, not sure if I had heard him right.

"She's making fuck me eyes at you."

“No, she isn’t.”

“Yes, she is.” Cody said.  “That one there, the older one with the shorter hair, she’s got fuck me eyes and bedroom legs.  You could wrap those around your head when it gets cold, use her thighs like ear muffs, keep your ears warm.”

I turned and stared at Cody.  For having really just met this guy he was acting like we’d been friends for years and the surprising thing was that I kind of felt that way as well.  There was something about Cody Miller ... maybe a kindred soul?

“Yeah, she’s got come hither, fuck me eyes and let me wrap these long bedroom legs around your waist, grab your shoulders and ride you like the quarter fed mechanical horse outside K-Mart.  You’d be wise to get to know that one there, Ray Bans, because she’s thinking about how she’s going to get to know you.”

“Bullshit.” I said.  “She’s got no interest in me.”

“Yes, she does.  Seen that look before.  Oh, I’ve seen that look before.  If you ever play in a band long enough, you get to know that look.  That one has locked onto you like a heat seeking missile.  Just give it time, if you want it.  If not, maybe I’ll take it for you, you know, pick up your slack, take care of your light work for you …  I won't mind.  With that one there, I won't mind at all.”

Cody sighed and straightened up, adjusting his shorts.

“Yeah.  I’ll take it … that is, if I’m not fucking something better when it comes all begging and hopping its furry little cotton tail down my goody trail..”

“Bullshit.” I said again, trying not to laugh.

“Deny it all you want but it’s there.  Trust me on this, Ray Bans.  The way she’s looking at you, it’s there.  That is a guaranteed fuck waiting to happen.  I'd put money on it but that would be too close to prostitution and I think you can get in trouble around here for prostitution so I won't.”

Someone laughed on the other side of the court.  A guy turned and tried to get away but a girl swatted him on the ass with her racket, hard, before he could take two steps and everyone laughed again.  The guy turned around, said something and the girl blushed.  

"Dorks.  Got no style." Cody said.  "The way that one just pranced when he ran ... he's a fairy.  He just hasn't admitted it yet."

I let myself be pulled away from thoughts of the brunette on the other side of the court.  These people would be graduating Hinds two years from now and a senior college four years from now, if they survived the education process which was itself a tiered, methodical, bureaucratic imitation of natural selection at work.  These people would be out there, in the real world, doing jobs that they thought mattered in some scheme of all things but from where I stood they were just sheep, just numbers, just slots being filled in the educational process, semi-processed material, the results of a twelve year initial refining process, now moving through an even bigger machine that would either grind them down, break them and reject them or polish them to a form usable by society and eject them at the end in a grand ceremony, certifying them ready for use. 

Right then I could almost see the machine … almost see the process being applied … a long, slow process that would take over a decade and a half from start to finish, from pre-school to the day that we donned our graduation robes and tasseled mortar board hats … the tassel itself nothing more than a tag applied to indicate that we were ready for service.  The giant machine would have certified us, with a certificate called a diploma, and we’d go out into the world to find a niche, to find a slot, and fill that slot until we were used up.  We’d think we were happy, we’d think that we were making a difference, we’d think that our effort counted for something, we’d think that someone would remember our accomplishments or that we’d bring about effective change to what we viewed as chaos and disorder but all of that was just an illusion …

We were products with a shelf life and an expiration date only we were products that didn’t know what our shelf life or expiration date was.  I guess that fact alone made life itself tolerable.

When all was said and done, we were products, end products of raw material inserted into a system and spat out a decade and a half or more later.

Nothing more.

What separated Cody and I from the other products standing around the tennis court was the fact that we understood what we were.  Deep down inside, maybe not the exact specifics, but we understood, in a grand way, in a wide sweeping vision, we understood our place in the universe.  Our illusions had been broken a long time ago; we’d looked behind the cosmic curtain and come to grips with what we found there and in doing so our lives had been forever changed. 

We saw life differently because we were different.

Maybe it was an accident of birth, a mutation, a divine gift, a culmination of our own personal experiences or perhaps even a strange fusion of all of those elements but one thing was for sure … Cody and I were different from the people standing on the other side of the tennis court.  We knew it … and I think they knew it as well.  Right then and there, standing on that tennis court in the chilly early morning, I could almost see the universe working, its gears and cogs turning, slowly, tirelessly, inexplicable mathematical precision hidden under the veiled illusion of freedom of choice itself hindered by the personal result of consequences sometimes beyond our ability to avoid, beyond our ability to adapt to and beyond our ability to reconcile.


Cody had been wrong.  The people on the other side of the tennis court weren’t dorks … they were sheep.




Their eyes forever closed by choice rather than circumstance.

Awake but dreaming, like that .

The guy said something else and now two girls raised their voice in mock surprise, one going almost to the point of being shrill.  The first girl took another swing at the guy but he was faster on the getaway this time and she missed.


Safety in numbers.


They were all sheep, they were just numbers in the grand scheme of things and they were too oblivious to even see it.  In two years when I left Hinds I’d probably never see these people again, such was their importance in the grand scheme of my life and I realized that the same could be said about me in regard to them and their lives.  To them, I was just a number, a stranger and whether I made it or not, whether the machine molded me into a finished product or rejected me as unworkable didn’t matter at all to them … or to their lives.  That was the sum experience of the human race.  The only thing that mattered was that we didn’t matter, not as much as we thought we did.  It was the illusion that we actually did matter that made life tolerable.  It was the illusion that what we did would make a difference that gave us the will to live, to try, to hope.


They were mingling together for comfort, they were drawing upon the strength of the group and their shared memories in order to mask their fear and to give them a false sense of hope, a false sense of security.  Their mingling was like a life raft, a life raft made up of human beings holding onto each other, huddling against the process, cast aloft amid uncertainty and the unknown and they were holding onto each other for all they were worth because I guess it was the only thing that they had to hold onto.

None of them was strong enough to stand alone.

Their lives required the validation and the approval of others in order to have value, in order to have meaning.

Cody and I were different. 

We didn’t need to hold onto each other, or anyone else for that matter, for support.  Our lives required the validation and approval of no one else other than our own selves.  We didn’t need a group of people to act like a life raft to hold onto because we weren’t survivors cast adrift.

Cody and I were sharks in the water.



Even that was probably an illusion.

There was probably something watching us, thinking it funny that Cody and I were living in our own comfortable illusion.  Layers of illusion, overlapping each other.  Everything had a predator above it, even the predator that was circling you had a predator circling it and above that a predator circling that one and above that ...

“Hey!  Ray-Bans!  You’re thinking too hard.” Cody said softly, nudging me with his tennis racket.

I shook my head to clear my thoughts and looked over at him.

“You left me there, Ray-Bans.  Got all lost in your thoughts.  I could almost see the gears all grinding and moving in your skull.  You went deep, bro.  A couple more seconds and smoke would have started coming out your ears.”

I shrugged my shoulders and looked around the tennis court at the other people gathered there, sizing up each one against my personal requirements and expectations.  No one stood out … no one was really unique or spectacular or interesting.  I could imagine that each one had what they considered an exciting life but in reality their lives were probably pretty dull and boring.

… but I kept coming back to the leggy brunette and each time that I looked at her she looked back at me.  There was something there, even all the way across the tennis court there was something between us that kept turning our heads to look at each other.  Maybe she was different from all the others.

Maybe, a long time ago, her illusion had been broken as well.

“Yeah … Looks like I’ve got to get another student advisor.” Cody said.

“Really?” I asked, coming back out of my own wandering thoughts.



“Well, if this is all the available tail that is going to show up then I feel gypped.  I’ve definitely seen a better selection of potential practice breeding material before.” Cody said, looking out over the court and the females gathered there.

"Practice breeding material?"

"Yeah.  You know.  Practice making babies just don't make any babies.  Practice makes perfect.  The more you practice, the better you get."

I laughed.

“Yeah.  I've seen better as well.” I said, lowering my Ray Bans back down again to the bridge of my nose.

“Yeah?  Where?” Cody asked.

“Old reruns of Hee-Haw.”

That hit Cody like a ton of bricks and he laughed out loud, loud enough that his laugh caught the attention of those across the tennis court from us.  The sheep turned almost as a group, took a long look, decided that we weren’t a threat, yet, and went back to their useless, empty mingling.  The leggy brunette looked our way as well but it was long after the others had looked away that she turned away and went back to her own musings.


Not like the rest.

Fuck me eyes.

Bedroom legs.

Locking on like a heat seeking missile.

She lowered her head and cut her eyes at me.

Fuck me eyes.

“You and me, Ray-Bans.  Yeah, this is going to be a good year ...”

“Think so?” I asked.

“Know so.” Cody said, nodding his head as he put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me close to him.

"This is going to be a very good year."

And like that a bond had been formed between Cody and me.

          Cody and Me

It was during that first week of freshman classes that Cody and I rapidly became really good friends.  Really good friends because Cody was like the brother that I’d never had and apparently he thought the same way about me because he even told me as much.  His line of questioning even included the postulation that he and I had been born from the same womb but separated at birth, probably by the government and for reasons that included the betterment of society. 

There was just something about Cody, his natural rugged handsomeness, his dark even sometimes borderline psychotic humor, his endless energy, his easy-going nature … you couldn’t help not like the guy and I noticed that Cody used his attributes to the best of his personal gain whenever he could.

Cody had been born with a gift and he knew how to use it to his fullest advantage.

Cody was like me, a misanthrope, a cynic and a loner.  He constantly made fun of other people in hushed whispers to me, pointing out their faults and shortcomings often to the point where I was almost in tears from not being able to laugh out loud.  In turn, my own banter on the uselessness of the human race had him laughing out loud.  What we had wasn’t “Batman and Robin”; no, it was more like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”.  We weren't trying to stop trouble ... we were just looking for our fair share.

Cody and I were a lot alike; we both shared the same misanthropic outlook on life.  We both liked dirty magazines, liquor, fast cars, fast motorcycles, heavy metal, science fiction and older women.  We were both adrenaline junkies who liked to live our life on the very edge; a shared trait that promised to get us into plenty of trouble as our freshman year rolled on, that is, if we actually survived our freshman year and there was real doubt there in my mind.

Cody was from Corpus Christi, Texas; born and raised, as he often told me, and he was not only a stranger to this area but to this entire state.  He was living with his wealthy, retired grandparents (on his mom’s side) out in Pearl.  From what I could tell, Cody’s mom came from money, maybe even deep money, old money, but his father didn’t.  His parents’ marriage wasn’t well received by his grandparents and there was trouble between Cody’s mom and his dad and that trouble, apparently, was Cody.  Cody had been an unplanned pregnancy and a forced marriage and his father had never really accepted him as anything other than an unwanted anchor, an extra burden to carry in life.  From what I could gather, Cody’s father was kind of a bad-boy with a wild streak, with hints that tied him to a biker gang in his earlier years.  His mother was hopelessly devoted to his father in the way that so many women in tragic relationships were.

There were problems in the marriage, Cody being the biggest one and from what I could tell from what Cody told me he came early in the relationship and at a time when he wasn't expected ... maybe not even wanted.

Cody always had this wild air about him, something he probably got from his father.  His natural boyish good looks were something that made me jealous because he seemed to have been born with the innate ability to get women to desire him without even having to break a sweat, women just naturally gravitated to Cody because he was “cute” in the way that most guys who ever graced the cover of magazines like Bop or Tiger Beat or some other teen heart throb magazine like my sister used to always read ... Cody was "cute" like those guys were “cute” to girls.  Overall, Cody had been born gifted with looks and the only thing that made it worse was that not only was he fully aware of that fact but that his awareness of his natural born gift could sometimes come across in annoyingly narcissistic ways.

I’m sure that he had used all of his talents and gifts to his personal advantage during the past; there was the hint that he had left Corpus Christi because of some personal or even legal trouble.  Something had happened in high school his junior and senior year and he had been forced, more or less, to leave Corpus Christi and come live with his grandparents (on his mother’s side) after graduation … he had to come and live with his grandparents apparently the day right after graduation and from the way that he told the tale it was the kind of trip that didn’t take very long and he hadn’t stopped often between Corpus Christi, Texas and Pearl, Mississippi.  All he had brought with him was his ’84 Honda Interceptor, his red and black ’85 Toyota Supra, the clothes in his closet, some books and his collection of cassette tapes … mostly heavy metal.

I felt sorry for Cody, I really did, because something deep down inside of him seemed to be always fighting against something else.  He seemed like a really nice guy with some not so nice problems buried deep down and he always seemed to be trying to outrun whatever inner demons that were chasing him.  It was like he was always trying to prove himself to himself.  The fact that he managed to do so was even more amazing because he had, for want of a better description, a really over the top kind of attitude that was barely contained. 

Cody didn’t talk much about his father, when he did it was usually with some kind of grudgingly half-given respect, more honored out of their relationship than actually earned.  Cody’s father seemed almost mythical in his telling me about growing up, like some powerful figure that was aloof and had to be pleased otherwise wrath and terrible times would fall upon Cody.  His mother he talked about a lot, she was apparently a very beautiful woman who had grown up in a strict household.  Her parents, the grandparents that Cody lived with now, saw her marriage as an act of rebellion against them and Cody said that his grandfather always said that Cody had too much of his father in him for his own good, that it would one day be a bad thing for him.  From what Cody told me, his grandparents weren’t happy with his mother’s choice for a husband but they loved Cody and he had them wrapped around his finger.  It was his grandparents that had bought him his first car and his first motorcycle and now he lived with them and this was his first semester, first year at Hinds.

And that was Cody, the short version.

When it came to our shared Tennis Aerobics class, Cody made sure that he got in the same group that I was in and he did this by charming the horrid little whistle blowing Phys-Ed troll, flirting with her and using what I’d started calling his “Lone Star Gigolo Charm” to get her to change her original team and partner assignments.  By the third class Cody had the sweat suit wearing, whistle blowing, short blonde haired gym troll literally eating out of his hand.  Yes, the class instructor was a troll of a woman, a fact that I had pointed out to Cody numerous times.  When I told him that she was making fuck me eyes at him he visibly paled.  When I told him that she might not have bedroom legs but she would probably love to wrap her hairy little ham hocks around his waist and ride him like the quarter fed mechanical horse outside K-Mart all the while drooling and slobbering on him and making the same kind of noises that a sea lion in heat made Cody had whacked me on the side of the arm with his tennis racket. 


Hard enough to hurt.

"Oh, by the way, Ray Bans.  I've got something for you." Cody muttered.

"Yeah?  What?"

"A name." Cody said, smiling.

"What name?" I asked.

Cody pointed to the girl who had been looking at me that first day.

"Her  name.  Debby Lee."

"Debby Lee?  Is that her first and last name or a double name or ..." I asked.

Cody shrugged his shoulders.

"That's all Wanda told me ...   She said "Debby Lee" was her name."

And now I had a name to go with the body and the face.

Debby Lee.

Two days later I learned that somehow  Cody had arranged it on the class assignment that he and I were in the same group.  I guess I was glad that he did that … Cody had become a known in a lot of unknowns, a familiar face, a reference point for me on campus, someone to pal around with in this class as well as between classes and after classes.  I guess he saw the same thing in me and that’s how and why we developed the bond and the friendship that we did as quickly as we did.

          Robert Edward

For the first week of the Tennis Aerobics class we were part of a triple team which included Cody, his tennis partner Debby Lee (the shoulder length haired brunette who had been standing off to the side making fuck me eyes at me that first day), myself, my partner Alison (the tall, leggy, long haired brunette who had been standing with Debby Lee that first day of class), Wanda (a very attractive older woman in her late forties) and her partner Robert Edward.

Robert Edward.

What can’t I say about Robert Edward?

Whereas Cody was a love child conceived between a rich, rebellious woman and a wild but poor, hard living man, Robert Edward was an example of human genetic misfire, the end result of two yuppies having desperate sex (be that as it may) and thinking it was their God-given right to reproduce and give the world yet another inevitable burden on society.  Robert Edward was tall and thin, athletic sculpted because he swam and ran a lot (Cody joked that he probably shaved his body from the ears on down to his toes).  Robert Edward came from a well to-do area family and he knew it.  Much like Cody, Robert Edward had been born with a gift and that gift was a silver spoon.  He’d like to think that it was in his mouth but Robert Edward quickly showed anyone who was around him for any amount of time that the silver spoon he had been born with wasn’t in his mouth, no, it was shoved up his ass … sideways.

Robert Edward was a dick, he was rich, he thought he was good looking (and I guess to those who migrated to that kind of fake lifestyle he was a good catch) and he was stuck up.  He thought that he knew more than anyone on the tennis court just because he played tennis for two years in high school and had been in some kind of championship.  He thought that gave him some kind of clout, maybe even some extra pull.  He resented how easy Cody was able to get his way with the teacher and how the teacher treated Cody like Cody was gold. 

Robert Edward was always early, he’d be the first one on the tennis court for class and he’d invariably be doing either warm up exercises, stretches or if more than a few people were around he’d be on the court by himself, pretending to play an imaginary opponent all the while trying to regale the onlookers with his fancy foot work and practiced moves.

His behavior was strictly for show, his skills for display.

His hair was perfect.

His complexion was perfect.

He was like a mannequin in a tennis shop come to life, right down to the gay colored shorts and shirt he wore.  Sweat bands.  Head band.  Robert Edward looked like he had stepped out of a tennis supply catalog.

I hated him because he was the illusion.  

He embraced the illusion.  

He personified the illusion.

Cody had a name for Robert Edward …

“Now that is what we in Texas refer to as a “useless twat”.” Cody had stated to me after arriving after I did and standing there with me, observing Robert Edward play with himself on the court.

To make matters worse, for everyone including himself, Robert Edward insisted that we call him by his proper double name, especially the first few times that the teacher called him “Robbie”.   Robert Edward pissed me off … here he was in no condition to make demands of the rest of us but he expected us to adjust our lives to meet his wants.

Not needs.


He was better than the rest of us, or so he thought.

I wasn’t having any of that.  I just switched his name around and called him Eddy Bob instead whenever I could, especially to his face.  My new name for him stuck with Cody and soon it became popular as well with the other students in the class, much to Robert Edward’s chagrin.  Hell, even the teacher kept calling him “Robbie” and after about the third day of class he stopped arguing the point and resorted to pouting like a six year old girl whenever anyone called him anything other than his given name, than the name he wanted everyone to call him by.  If he had had a numeral after his name, like Robert Edward III, I would have really been merciless with him because that would have just been the bitter icing on the sad cake of his life.  Robert Edward wasn’t worth the waste of human skin that he had been granted, let alone to be the third in a long line of equally useless human beings.

“He is such a twat.” Cody muttered.

“I don’t know why … but whenever I see him I think that maybe there’s a Culture Club video missing one of its walk-ons.”

Cody laughed.

“No.  You see that pink Polo shirt he’s wearing … and those striped shorts?”


“Yeah.  You wear colors like that when you can say “You can’t arrest me, my daddy’s a lawyer.””

I snickered but he had a point.  Robert Edward was on the cutting edge of fashion but whose fashion it was or from what planet it had come from I had no idea.

“Robbie!” the teacher would call out.

“See her?”

I looked at Wanda.  She was the attractive older woman who had joined our class on the second day.  She wasn’t hard on the eyes but I wasn’t going to make it easy for Cody.

“Yeah?  What about her?”

“That, Ray-Bans, is a grade “A” piece of prime aged real estate.”

“And …?” I asked.

“And … She’s been abandoned.  Someone’s left her cast iron stove unlit for a long time.”

“And …” I asked again, not really seeing where he was going with all of this.

“And … I’m going to throw my wood up in her, light her up and fuck her.” Cody said.
I snorted because I didn’t know whether to take him seriously or not.

“Seriously, Ray-Bans.  I’m going to fuck her.  I.  Am.  Going.  To.  Fuck.  That.” Cody said, pointing at Wanda with his tennis racket.

“You think?” I asked.

“I know.” Cody said.

“And … does she know this?” I asked.

“No.  Well, I mean, she doesn’t know it yet ...”

“Cody … do you know what you call it when you fuck a woman who doesn’t know that you’re going to fuck her?”

“No.  What do you call it?” Cody asked sarcastically.


Cody laughed out loud and smiled, shaking his head and pointing his tennis racket at me.

“It’s not rape if she wants it, smartass, and trust me … that woman over there wants the Cody.” he said putting particular emphasis on the last two words.

I rolled my eyes and Cody saw me do it.  His look took on an expression of righteous indignation.

“Oh!  You don’t believe me?”

“No, I don’t.”

“What I say is true, Ray-Bans.  You can bank on that.”

I suddenly realized that narcissism was one of Cody’s strong points and that it could also be one of his most annoying character flaws.

“Okay … suppose you’re right.”

“No supposing to it.  I am right.”

“Okay, suppose you are right.  How do you know that she wants you to fuck her?” I asked.

Cody turned to me, a sly smile on his face.

“Oh, that’s easy.  It’s the little things.  Signs.  How she looks at me.  The fuck me eyes she’s throwing my way.  The show that she puts on for me when she knows I’m watching her.  That smile.  She’s been giving me the bedroom smile for the last two classes.”

I snorted.

“Like I told you, Ray-Bans, you can bank on this.”

“Rape.” I sarcastically said, disguising the word as a quick cough.

“You can’t rape the willing …” Cody said.

“If she’s willing …”

“Oh, she’s willing.  That woman is definitely willing.” Cody said.

"If you say so ..."

Wanda served again and Robert Edward returned the serve with another exaggerated display of his skill and ability, all designed to make Wanda look even more foolish when she tried to return the serve.  Robert Edward threw his hands up in mock disgust and, like he was pleading to the universe and the gods themselves, wondered aloud how he could have been paired with someone who was obviously not up to his ability.  Wanda, obviously frustrated, looked over at Cody.  She gave him a smile, a knowing smile. 

Cody smiled back at her and nodded at her.


“See what?” I asked, looking from Wanda to Cody and back to Wanda.

“Just watch her.  You see that look she gives me when she looks this way?  That, Ray-Bans, is the look of a woman who is determined.  That is the look of a woman who has already made up her mind.  She knows what she wants … she just hasn’t figured out when she’s going to get it and it’s making her frustrated.  She’s having to wait and she doesn’t like that.”

“The only thing that’s frustrating her is Eddy Bob out there trying to show out.”

“Watch and learn, Ray-Bans.”

Maybe he was right.  Maybe he and Wanda would be having sex soon.  I felt a twinge of jealousy there because Cody made it look so easy, maybe because it was so easy for Cody.  Cody could turn on his Lone Star Gigolo Charm like a faucet and he’d have women stripped down naked and eating out of the palm of his hand ten minutes after he met them.  To see Cody in action was tantamount to seeing a superhero use a superpower and the effect was almost as awe inspiring.

Robert Edward took the tennis ball and served it back to Wanda but this time Wanda just stood there, her arms crossed and her racket in her hand.  It was evident that she was frustrated with Robert Edward and that she had finally had enough of his antics.  Cody watched as the tennis ball flew past Wanda and she sighed.  The tennis ball bounced a few times, hit the chain-link fence then rolled along the edge of the fence to where two corners of the fence met.  Wanda went to pick up the tennis ball and took her time.  She looked back at Cody as she walked to the far end of the court, taking her time, slowly working those long legs of hers.  Cody and I watched her while Robert Edward huffed and hung his head and made a big deal, mostly with himself, about how he could be paired with such an inept and unskilled partner.

Wanda had a grace about her when she walked, an age earned grace, and she stopped where the tennis ball was sitting, next to the edge of the court.  She looked back over her shoulder at Cody and me then slowly bent to pick up the tennis ball.  She took her time bending over to get the tennis ball and she made sure that Cody and I were getting a great view of her legs and her ass there in her tight shorts.  She lowered herself down, squatting on her ankles, her ass making a perfect upside down heart shape in her shorts, her crotch straining against the material of her shorts.  She turned around then and smiled at Cody again, making sure that he was watching her bend over, watching her squat.  She bounced up and down, slightly, on her ankles, slowly, like she was riding something under her.  For the briefest of instants her tongue came out of her mouth, just a little, to lick her lips in a teasing manner as she stared back at Cody and then she used her racket to push herself back up and to rise to a standing position.

I think Cody and I were the only ones who had seen the show that she had put on.  No one else seemed to have noticed … except Debby Lee, who had a cross look on her face.  I realized that she had probably seen me looking at Wanda the same way that Cody had and that had probably upset her.

Debby Lee.

Was that a double name or was Lee her last name?

Was Debby Lee abandoned as well?

Did her stove need a match thrown on it to relight her fire?

Was she looking at me to be that match and light her fire?

Somewhere in my mind The Doors began singing softly "Light My Fire".

“You see that show she just put on for me, Ray-Bans?  Tell me that she hasn’t made up her mind.”

Yeah, after seeing the little show that Wanda had put on it was hard to argue with Cody’s logic ... or his interpretation of Wanda's preening for him.

“You may have something there.” I said as Wanda straightened up, adjusted her shorts and started to walk back to the line.

“Oh, I’ve got something there all right, Ray-Bans … and from where I’m standing it’s a done deal.  All I’ve got to do is just work out the details on how the ... merger ... is going to happen.”


We watched Wanda walk back up to the line again.  She turned, looked at Cody and smiled then she bounced the tennis ball and served it with her racket.  She served it hard and straight, right at Robert Edward.  He was so surprised at this move that he didn’t duck and the tennis ball beaned him just above the groin, hard.  Robert Edward gave a sharp little screech, threw his hands across his crotch, bent slightly and turned away, mouthing words with no sound.  Wanda put her hands on her hips, racket in hand.

“That was an easy serve, Robbie.  Why, for the life of me, I can’t believe that with all of your skill and ability that you couldn’t return that.” Wanda shouted across the net.

Everyone busted out laughing.  The fat little gym troll blew her whistle and walked over to see if Robert Edward was hurt.  Wanda turned to Cody and gave him a long, sultry wink before throwing her hair back and running a hand through it.  She then stood in place, arched her back and stretched, her breasts jutting out under her shirt, her shirt rising up to expose her bare washboard flat belly and her shorts stretching tight over her ass.  She raised her hands above her head, cocked her arms then bent at the waist to the right and to the left, seemingly stretching but her angle had been carefully judged before she started.  I swear that when she bent to the left, towards us, that I could see straight down her shirt and right then I knew that was exactly what she had intended for us to do.

“Another life lesson, Ray-Bans.”

“Yeah?  What’s that?” I asked.

“If they’re older be bolder.  They like it when you’re bolder.  Don't waste their time.” Cody said.

“Can I bank on that, too?” I asked.

“Like it was the everliving gospel truth.” Cody said flatly.

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Do that, Ray-Bans.  You just do that, bro.”

Robert Edward recovered quickly from his injury.  Wanda hadn’t hit him as hard as she could have, it was more of a warning shot, a notice to him not to mess with her again because she wasn’t putting up with any more of his attitude towards her.  After the gym troll had made sure that Robert Edward was okay she thought it was best if Robert Edward and Wanda took a break, blowing her whistle again and asking for two more students to take the court and practice.  Robert Edward went off to be by himself and Wanda came to stand by us, on the left side of Cody.  Her perfume was strong, mixed lightly with her sweat even in this cool fall morning.  Cody was probably right … he’d be fucking Wanda soon.  The way that she just slid up next to him when she left the tennis court … there was so much invisible sexual energy crackling between them you could almost feel it yet neither really acknowledged it.  It was almost like they were savoring it.

Building it up.

An overload looking for a chance to release.

“Nice shot.” Cody said.

“I thought so.” Wanda replied.

“Too bad you didn’t zing him right in the balls.”

“Honey, I’m a good shot but as small as that sissy’s balls are I’d never have hit them …”

Cody leaned his head back and laughed out loud.  A few of the other students, the teacher and Robert Edward in particular looked in his direction but no one said anything.  Robert Edward moved over to stand by the teacher and he gave a long scathing glare back at us when he saw Wanda standing there beside Cody.

“That little sanctimonious prick really thinks that he’s God’s gift to the world.” Wanda whispered.

“You mean he’s not?” Cody asked sarcastically.

“Honey, he’s nothing.  I’ve wiped bigger dog shit than him off my dress shoes before.”

Cody laughed out loud again and he did it when he was looking right at Robert Edward.  The look that Robert Edward shot in Cody’s direction was scathing.  Cody gave his best “I don’t give a damn” look, pleaded with his outstretched arms, racket in hand and then Cody folded his arms across his chest.  The message Cody was sending to Robert Edward was clear … “If you want a piece of me, come on over and try me.”

“Didn’t think so.” Cody muttered when Robert Edward turned to stare off in another direction.

Wanda walked away, down the fence line, to where she had dropped her towel on top of her gym bag.  Robert Edward and Cody both watched her as she walked, both for entirely different reasons. 

Ire and desire.  

I had to look away from the human circus on display because I was curious as to what Debby Lee was doing.  She was watching me and the corner of her mouth drew up in the start of a smile.  Just the start of a smile but it was there to see.

“Do you see how that retard swings a tennis racquet?  It’s like he thinks it’s a sword.” Cody said.

I turned around to look at what Cody was talking about.

“I don’t know … I didn’t exactly peg him as a big fan of “Excalibur” or of having played a lot of D&D.” I said.

Cody got a serious look on his face right then.

“Hey!  I played a lot of D&D!” Cody stated.

“I played a lot of D&D, too …” I said.

“Yeah?  What did you have?”

“The longest running character I had was a sixteenth level human ranger named Raan.”

Cody was silent for a few seconds.

“I had a nineteenth level human cleric named Brother Helspith.” He offered.

“I bet my ranger could kick your cleric’s ass.”

“I doubt your pansy ass ranger could.  I had spells.” Cody said proudly.

“Oh, I’m so scared of your ability to purify water and bless food … hell, you couldn’t even use a bladed weapon!  What kind of a fight could you put up?”

And like that he and I snickered then busted out laughing.

“I had a +2 silver mace!” Cody said, holding his tennis racket out in front of him like it was his role playing weapon of choice.

“That's lame.  I had a +3 flaming sword!”

“I knew you played D&D!” he chided me.

“That game rocked.” I admitted, smiling and shaking my head.

“Yeah.  Yeah it did.  Hey!  What edition did you play?” Cody asked.

“I played the second edition, the one with the dragon and the magic user and the fighter with the drawn bow on the front.  First time I played it was 1978 …”

“Me too!  My girlfriend back in Corpus Christi bought it at the hobby shop when it first came out in ’78 and she used to play a female elf thief character until she got killed by a frost giant.  That was like 1984.  I used this ring of wishes to bring her back only it was a cursed ring and she came back as a zombie so I was a cleric with a zombie elf girlfriend.” He said.

I guess my arch of my eyebrow and my expression spoke volumes to him.

“What?!  It’s true!  God!  That was a good summer!  Between playing in the band, playing D&D and fucking her brains out that was a good summer!” Cody stammered, starting to laugh at my expression.

“Wait.  Don’t clerics automatically turn undead?  How could that relationship have ever possibly worked out?”

“It was … complicated.”

I almost snorted when Cody said the word “complicated” … man, had that word been used a lot in my life in the last two years.  A whole lot.  Too damn much, in fact. 


I immediately thought of Marie.


I looked over at Debby Lee.

She was watching the couple on the tennis court and my eyes wandered over her, from top to bottom and back again and for all the wrong reasons.

“Initially after I brought her back she couldn’t get very close to me but we had a good DM, guy’s name was Paul … anyway, Paul let some of the rules slide and it became this whole summer long epic quest to get her turned back into a living elf.  While I was on that quest I renounced my vows and just became a regular fighter so I lost all of my abilities … including the turn undead ability and that’s how I could get close to her.  I had to join up with some mercenaries, on a boat, and they turned out to be pirates so we raided the coastal towns while I was trying to find this wizard named Alinar who could bring her back from the undead.”

I snapped myself back to Cody.

“I bet she smelled bad.” I said, thinking about what he had just said.

Cody shrugged his shoulders.

“She was kind of a hippy, into smoking pot and walking naked through the woods, communing with nature, that whole being one with the Earth spirit sort of thing.  She didn’t shave her legs or her arm pits … but she was horny most of the time so if I was getting it pretty regular I didn’t mind the whole back to nature thing she had going … you know what I mean?”

Cody must have taken my sudden change of expression as permission to continue.

“Oh!  She had acne, not bad but it was like she could never get rid of it all the way but let me tell you what, Ray-Bans!  Girls with acne have libidos that are over the top.  She was horny all the time and I could fuck her any time I wanted to.  Two, three times a day.”

My blank stare finally got his attention.

“What?!  That’s just the way she was …!” Cody stammered, smiling and laughing a little.

“I was talking about your girlfriend’s D&D character …” I said slowly, trying to get the images that Cody had just shared out of my head.

“What?  Oh.  Oh!  Christ!” Cody said suddenly and he blushed then hung his head.

“Yeah!  Wow.  Sorry.  Damn.  Sorry.  I guess an elf zombie girlfriend would smell bad.  Sorry.  I, uh … yeah, sorry, there, Ray Bans.  Let you in on a little more than you bargained for I guess.”

I shook my head in utter disbelief.

“I’ll tell you about her, sometime.”

“Your zombie elf love slave?”

“No!  My old girlfriend back in Corpus Christi, Gwen Dale.” Cody said.

“Grendel?” I asked, laughing, not sure if I had heard him right or not.

“Gwen Dale.  Gwen. Dale.  Not Grendel.  Smart-ass.  I’ll tell you about her sometime.”

“Don’t.  Please.  I think I’ve heard enough already.” I said, smiling and trying not to laugh.  “

“Ok.  Or not.  Smartass.” Cody relented. 

I nodded.

“Still … got a lot of stories to tell about that one.  A lot of stories … 
She gave head like she invented it.  Yep.  Stories.  Sex stooooories.” Cody said, drawing out that last word for a long time.


“Zombie elf love slave … I like that.  It does kind of describe Gwen now that I think about it.  Pale.  Hairy.  Free spirit.  Walking naked in the moonlight.”

“Come on, man!” I said flatly.  “Zombie Elf Love Slave sounds like a failed metal garage band.”

Cody thought about that for a minute.

“Hell!  Now that you mention it, it does!  Damn, if I still had my old band I’d rename it that!” Cody laughed.

“Wait.  You had a band?” I asked.

“Yeah, I had a band … last three years of high school.  It wasn’t much, four guys … me on guitar, Mark on drums, Paul on bass guitar and Logan on a keyboard.”

“Paul?  The guy who was your DM?”

Cody nodded.

“Yeah, same guy.  That guy was cool.  He could DM and he could tear up a bass guitar.  He’d regularly break a string or two when we played somewhere … he just played that thing so hard.”

“Did your girlfriend do anything with the band?”

“Yeah, sometimes.  Gwen Dale did some vocals when we needed something deep down and growly but she only really started being part of the band in my junior summer and through my senior year.”

“What was your band’s name?” I asked.

“We called ourselves “Accelerator” but we only got to play a few local hangouts.  Maybe five places in the last two years.  It was mostly just for fun and to strut our stuff, put on a show and have a good time.”

“Were you any good?” I asked.

“I was.” Cody said, laughing.  “I can’t really say much for the other guys other than Paul but we had fun and made a few bucks here and there so …”

“Wow.  “Accelerator” is a pretty cool name.” I said, mainly because it was.

“Yeah, I figured that we needed a really cool name and I came up with “Accelerator” …  That was my idea, the band name, but we spelled it with a big “X” after the “A”.”

I thought about that.

“Wait … You spelled it “A-x-c-e-l-e-r-a-t-o-r”?” I asked spelling the word out.

“Yeah, but no “c” … just “A-x-e-l-e-r-a-t-o-r”  I guess spelling the band name like that made it a hell of a lot cooler.  We usually drew the band name with a pair of crossed guitars instead of the letter X.”

“So just a little garage band among friends?”

“Yeah, I guess it was.  It was a shit band but we had fun.  Wasted time, smoked pot, got drunk, wrote songs in spiral bound notebooks in class and between classes, had our own little set of groupies that hung around us.  We never really meant to get really serious with it but … who knows.  It was just something to do and a way to do it, especially my junior and senior year.  We had some good times.”

“Axelerator.” I said, nodding.

“Axelerator.” Cody said in a low, dark voice, throwing up his arms across his chest, giving the horned sign with each hand and playing it for all it was worth.

He resumed his easy stance and smiled.

“Did that quite a few times in front of a microphone in front of a crowd.”

“So … you’re here in Mississippi.  What happened to the other guys in the band?”

Cody sighed and looked off into the sky, screwing up his mouth in a grimace.

“Logan joined the Army after graduation so I think he’s in Germany now, maybe even Japan.  Army was about as best as he could do … his parents couldn’t afford to put him in college and he didn’t have the smarts to get a scholarship so he did the only thing he had left to do which was pick up a gun and go where Uncle Sam told him to go.  Three squares and a paycheck.  I think he’s going to be a lifer.”


“Yeah.  Anyway, Mark just didn’t have it together either.  He got this girl pregnant last December and had to marry her in the spring.  The last time I talked to him he was working at a convenience store trying to make ends meet.  He got robbed one night last July and the guys who robbed the place put a gun in his face, took all the cash then beat him up pretty bad.  He was thinking about the Navy but I think he just wanted to get away.  Mark had a lot of shit come down on him in his life, a lot of shit in a really short time.  I don’t think he was dealing with it all that well.”

“What about Paul, your DM?” I asked.

Cody got real silent then.  Something changed in his expression, something not good.

“Yeah.  Paul.  Paul’s dead, bro.”

Silence as I tried to process that.

“Damn.  What happened?” I asked.

“He got himself killed in a car accident.  About four months ago.  A little before I left.” Cody said almost in a whisper.

“Sorry.” I whispered.

“Yeah.  I’ll tell you about it sometime.  Not now, but sometime.  You need to know about Paul.  Someone needs to tell his story.”
Cody sighed and twisted his tennis racket in his hand, twirling it first clockwise then counterclockwise.

“Look.  Paul was a good guy.  He was my best friend in eleventh and twelfth grade.  He was cool, I mean, out of all of us I thought he might really do … something … with his life, you know … might be something.  Might even be something that mattered, something that made a difference.  Maybe be a doctor or … something.”

Cody paused, started to say something again, then didn’t.

“Sorry.” I said and even that sounded hollow and inadequate, about as hollow and inadequate as anything can sound when someone tells you something like that.

Cody nodded and turned to look at me.

“You know not everything I left behind in Corpus Christi was a happy memory, Ray Bans.  Some things back there I don’t regret leaving behind … or trying to leave behind and I guess some things I’ll never be able to leave behind.  Some things just kind of … stay with you for the rest of your life, you know?”

“Look … Cody, I didn’t mean to dig.” I said.

“You didn’t know.  How could you know?  Any way, it doesn’t bother me, not as much, anymore.  Paul was a really good friend and now he’s gone like disco.”

“Gone like disco?” I asked, stifling a laugh because that seemed like such a strange thing to say.

“Yeah.  Gone like disco.  You know, disco … really cool while it was here for a little while but now it’s gone and it ain’t never coming back so, yeah … Paul's gone like disco.”

Cody looked at me.

“Another saying I guess we used a lot back where I come from and you … didn’t.  It’s okay.  I’m dealing.  It’s just dust now, you know?”

I guess my expression caught him.

“What?” he asked.

“Dust?” I asked.

“You know … dust.” Cody said like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

I shook my head and made an expression that told him I wasn’t familiar with the term.

“Dust!  Oh, come on!  You never heard that one either?  Dust!  We’re all just dust in the wind.  Nothing matters when you’re gone.  God, Ray-Bans … haven’t you heard any of this stuff before?”

I shook my head.

“Sorry.  It’s probably location.  I’ve got some terms we used that you probably didn’t either.  Dust.  You mean “Dust in the Wind?”  Like that old Kansas song?”

Cody nodded.

“Exactly.  We played that song, a lot, covered it just about every show.  I think it meant a lot to us, maybe in different ways but it was the one song that we kind of all got quiet when it came on the radio, you know.  It was almost … spiritual.  A hymn, maybe, our hymn.  If we were hanging out and that song came on we just kind of got quiet and listened to it, from start to finish.”

“Dust.” I said.

“Dust.  Really?  You’ve never heard that used before?” Cody asked.

I shook my head, again.

“Aw, bro!  Dust!  It’s just … dust.  Just something we used to say all the time back in high school.  If something was old or gone or didn’t matter anymore it was dust.  It’s what we called stuff that wasn’t important any more.  You know, it was all just dust.  Old relationships, old girlfriends, grades last semester, a test you just failed, bad marriages, who cared … it was just … dust.”

I thought about that.


I liked it.

“Dust.  I’ll have to start using that.” I said.

“Dust is the devil’s snow.” Cody said matter-of-factly.

“What?” I asked, hit out of the blue again by another of Cody’s sayings.

“Dust is the devil’s snow.  Don’t worry.  It’s just something my mom always told me when I was little, when she was cleaning house.  She always said that dust was the devil’s snow.  Maybe that’s where I picked it up but maybe not because Paul was using it when I met him so …” Cody shrugged his shoulders.

“Maybe it was a Texas thing.” He added, smirking.  “Lots of dust in Texas.”

“Dust.  That’s another word that I’ll have to start using.”

“You do that, Ray-Bans.” Cody said but there was a tremor in his voice and I knew that I’d hit something, something deep, maybe painful so I left it at that.

While I was thinking about all the things that Cody had just told me Robert Edward was standing beside the teacher, critiquing the moves of the other two students on the court, using his racket to point at them for emphasis.  Right then I began to wonder how people like Cody’s friend Paul died so young and people like Robert Edward would probably live forever and that more than anything else was proof positive that the universe wasn’t anywhere near fair.

Over the first week of class our small group thinned when several students dropped the class (to no one’s real surprise, Eddy Bob was among the first to go claiming he really didn’t need to take such a basic course).  Cody had worked his Lone Star Gigolo Charm on the tennis troll, again, to arrange it so that he and Wanda were court partners and, like the other times before, the teacher was proving time and again to be susceptible to Cody’s silver tongue.  In fact, she declared that she had been watching all of us the past few days to try to get a feel for who would match up well with each other and she decided to change almost everyone around when it came to tennis partners since several people had dropped the class and our numbers had diminished. 

Cody got his wish and was now paired up with Wanda and whatever it was that existed between them only got even more intense if still unspoken.  I became partners with Debby Lee, the girl that Cody said was locked on to me.  Debby Lee seemed happy with the switch, more so than someone who wasn't interested in me at all might be so I took that for what it was as well.  So, out of the two original women who had been eyeing me up and down that first day of class I wound up with the older brunette with the shoulder length hair, with the fuck me eyes and the bedroom legs.

Debby Lee.

The one that had caught my eye as much as I’d caught hers and the one who seemed different than all the others.  

Little did I know just what a simple change of partners, one scribble on a teacher’s class chart, would make in my life.