Tony didn't know if it was because of the altercation with Peter the day before or that people were tired of being mean, but since the incident in the hallway, things quieted down. There was an uneasy truce between the school and Courtney and more reverence towards him when it came to dealing with acquaintances, but his regular group of friends that he thought he could count on through thick and thin still wouldn't have anything to do with him. Antonio hoped that the wall that was being built was temporary, but as the days went by, he grew more uncertain that there was an easy fix.
“How could they just throw away four years of friendship over a silly disagreement,” Tony thought to himself as he walked towards his car. “You think they would trust my judgment.”
Tony didn't want to look disappointed when he settled into the bucket seat, but Courtney was developing an uncanny knack for reading him. Before he reached for the key he had left in the ignition all day, the girl took a hold of his hand.
“Are you okay?” Courtney was becoming more assertive with her feelings and how she went about things, something that intrigued Tony to know end.
Tony gave a strained grin. “It's Friday, the weeks over, we're free, whoopee,” he said weakly.
“Still upset about Carl and the others?”
“Not really upset.” Tony cranked up the car and revved the engine for a little while. “Just wondering when it will all end.”
“When I give back your pin,” Courtney said plainly.
“But I don't want you to do that.”
“Than this has to end some other way. It's so unlike Carl to be this way.”
“I have that affect on people,” Courtney said glumly.
“Not at all.” Tony was finding out that sometimes Courtney's insecurities manifested itself as negative self talk and he was doing his best to help her break that habit. He knew how damaging such talk could be. “He's being a judgmental jerk and he, of all people, should know better.”
“He's looking out for you. You can't fault him for that.”
“I suppose I can't. But his concern is misplaced. A part of me can understand what his issues are, but he has to learn to let them go.”
“Makes me nervous,” Courtney said out loud, despite not meaning to.
“Carl would never do anything to hurt you, not directly anyway. This current little thing is all about me.” Tony assured as he kept one eye on the road and the other on his girlfriend in the passenger seat. Though he didn't like what she said, he was glad she was opening herself up to him, sharing her feelings and thoughts and concerns.
“Not exactly what I meant.”
“Sometimes I worry that one day you'll start thinking the way Carl is and want nothing to do with me. My mom says you don't seem like a guy who would start a relationship on a whim and that you don't seem like the love them then leave them type.”
Tony smiled. “Your mom is right. You're my girlfriend because I like you, a lot. When I met you, I didn't plan on developing feelings for you.”
“Because of my condition,” Courtney interrupted as she looked toward the area in question.
“Not at all,” Tony couldn't stress his answer strongly enough. “My main concern was that you're a lowly freshman and I'm a senior. Almost like robbing the cradle.”
“You're not expecting me to suck my thumb are you?”
Tony let out a bellowing laugh. “Good one.”
“I bet you never thought you'd date a transsexual.”
“That's certainly a big word for a little girl.”
Courtney scrunched up her face at him in that certain way that Tony found cute. “Honestly, though, I bet you didn't.”
“To be honest, if you asked me before the year began, I would have doubted I was dating anyone. But I don't see you as a transsexual or whatever label you put on yourself. I see you as Courtney, a girl that has captured an important part of my heart.”
Courtney turned red as she kept her eyes glued to Tony. She didn't even notice he had pulled into her driveway. “You certainly have a way with words.”
“I try my best. We better not keep your mom waiting; I already see her peeking through the blinds.”
Courtney snapped her head forward and noticed she was looking at her own garage door. “Oh,” she blushed. “We wouldn't want that.”
Tony got out of the car, walked around and opened the door for her. Courtney was getting use to being treated like a young lady and enjoyed the small gestures of chivalry from her boyfriend.
“I know my mom's been dying to talk to you ever since all this happened.”
“Ut-oh,” Tony said. “I smell a lecture coming on.”
“My mom isn't like that,” Courtney said as she paused in front of the door.
“All parents are like that. I'm the big bad wolf looking to swipe their precious baby away.”
“Back to me being a baby again? Do you have issues I need to know about?”
“I don't think so.”
The two teens were laughing as they entered the house.
“What's so funny?” Mrs. Barnes asked as soon as she saw them.
“Just joking around,” Tony answered and tried to get serious.
“Tiny thinks I'm a toddler,” Courtney announced.
“I do not. I said I was robbing the cradle.”
Mrs. Barnes raised an eyebrow at the two. “Robbing the cradle or not, I think me and Mr. Tiny need to have a talk, without little snoops eavesdropping this time.”
“Oh.” Courtney pouted. “But your talk has to do about me,” she added in a whine.
“None of that,” she scolded. “There are some things that need to be straightened out between a boy and his girlfriend's mother that she doesn't need to know about.”
Tony took a hard gulp. He wanted to tell Courtney he was right, he was about to be lectured, but he figured it wouldn't be appreciated if he said it in front of her mom. He did make a mental note to point it out to her later. Sometimes he found it a pain to be right about certain things.
“Let's go to the den, Mr. Tiny. It's harder for Courtney to sneak a listen there, even though she is going to be in her room getting out of her school clothes.”
Courtney picked up on the hint. “Yes ma'am.”
Tony watched as his girlfriend shuffled her feet towards her bedroom before following her mother into the den. The smell from vanilla candles was still powerful, but not as bad as the first time when he came over; he could only assume the house was aired out prior to his arrival.
“Have a seat,” Mrs. Barnes instructed as she closed the door behind her and locked the door to keep her daughter from accidentally walking in on them.
Antonio looked at the woman suspiciously and then at the door.
“Courtney has a habit of cracking the door open so she can listen in on private conversations and I never know until it’s too late.”
“Okay.” There was an uneasiness about Tony's voice.
“You're not in trouble or anything,” Mrs. Barnes reassured. “I just wanted to have a serious talk with you about recent events.”
“I assumed that much,” Tony said, hoping he didn't come off as flippant.
“Mr. Tiny, when you were here a few weeks ago, do you remember me asking what your intentions were with my daughter?”
“I remember something like that, yeah.”
“And what did you say?”
“Probably that I wanted to be her friend.”
“That sounds about right. Were you lying when you told me your interest in my daughter was simply Platonic?”
Tony shook his head. “No.”
“Are you still only friends with my daughter?”
Tony wondered if the woman was trained in interrogation by the sheriff's office. “Not exactly.”
“From what I hear, you went from being friends to going steady awfully fast.”
“I didn't plan on it that way.” Tony squirmed in seat. “It just kind of happened.”
“And kissing her? Did that just kind of happened too?”
Tony nodded. “Yes ma'am.”
“And how many times have you kissed my daughter?”
“Just once, honest.”
A smug grin appeared on Mrs. Barnes face, she was enjoying herself. “And during this just once kiss, where were your hands.”
Tony tilted his head and looked at the woman in confusion.
“Your hands, Mr. Tiny. Where were they?”
Tony thought back on the kiss he and Courtney shared. Usually when he thought back to that day it brought a smile to his face, but now he was scrutinizing the situation. Just where exactly where his hands anyway? “I kind of had my arms wrapped around her in a hug, so I guess my hands were touching my own arms.”
“So they didn't venture anywhere they weren't suppose to.”
Tony shook his head vehemently. “No ma'am.”
“You didn't try to, oh, how do you kids put it these days, cop a feel?”
“Oh, no ma'am. I would never.”
“But the thought crossed your mind, didn't it?”
“No. That's not the way I go about things.”
“Good. I wanted to hear it for myself. You have a reputation for being a good guy, but sometimes those reputations are a ruse for a guy who takes certain liberties and I don't think Courtney is prepared for that sort of thing. She wouldn't have the faintest idea how to ward off any advances. But I do.”
“Okay.” Tony could sense an implied threat but didn't know exactly what that threat was.
“I like you Tiny. You're a good guy, very popular, but I wouldn't be a good mother if I didn't make one thing perfectly clear. If you ever take liberties with my daughter, you can expect a visit from two of my closest friends.”
“Two of your friends.”
“You would know them as Smith and Wesson.”
“I think I catch your meaning,” Tony said with a gulp. He wasn't use to parents taking this approach with him.
Mrs. Barnes smiled warmly as she paced around the room. “You realize I am obligated to give that speech right?”
“I've had similar. None with the threat of being shot though.”
“Just a momma bear protecting her cub. So Mr. Tiny,” Mrs. Barnes sat down in a chair opposite the teenager. “How did you decide to start going steady with my daughter?”
“I didn't decide. It just happened. I wasn't planning on it, but I developed feelings for her and it was the right thing to do.”
“The relationship confuses the heck out of my husband and I.”
“I can't say that I understand it myself. Sometimes things happen and you go with the flow.”
“You're telling me, with no previous plan, you found yourself in the position to kiss my daughter.”
Tony grinned. “Exactly. Until that moment I didn't even consider Courtney in that way.”
“Because she is a,” Mrs. Barnes let the final word go unspoken.
“Not at all,” Tony said as he filled in the blank. “If it was anything it was the fact that she is a freshman and I'm a senior. Before hand, I thought of her as a kid sister, I didn't know the other feelings were there as well. Probably a good thing if I don't see her in a swimsuit while we're alone together though, I don't need that kind of temptation in my life.”
“Took you by surprise, did it?”
The tone of the conversation changed, and Tony relaxed. He was no longer being interrogated, and Mrs. Barnes was trying to be a confidant. “I know what she has said about herself, about her anatomy,” Antonio measured his words carefully. “I prepared myself for seeing some evidence that what she told me was true, but even in the tight swimsuit, she looked nothing but the girl that she is. That might have taken me off guard a bit. It's like when on Christmas, you open up a box and expect to find a pair of shoes, but find that gift you've been begging for all year.”
“So Courtney is a gift.”
“Don't you agree?”
“Of course I do, but I'm her mother, I'm supposed to. By the way, with that kiss you totally validated her existence as a girl.”
Tony sat back and thought on Mrs. Barnes last sentence. “I would hope it wasn't just that.”
“She knows who she is, and she's working on coming to terms with everything. You can understand she has a fear of not being accepted by society. I think she had a notion in her mind that considering her situation, she would never have the kind of relationship she finds herself in. If it were with another boy, I might be wary, but your reputation precedes you.”
“Good thing for that, it would be my loss if I didn't get to know Courtney better.”
“I do have one favor to ask though,” Mrs. Barnes turned serious again.
“This is new to Courtney, more than any other girl who is just getting into her first serious relationship. A lot of girls have some experience, even if it’s only a little, to build upon to learn how to go about things. Courtney is learning everything on the fly and you wouldn't believe the amount of questions she has about how to continue. Please, take things slow with her and don't be frustrated if it takes her a little while to catch on how to do things.”
“Has she mentioned something?”
“No. You've been great so far in that respect. I only wanted to bring it to your attention.”
“I'll do my best. Besides, it might be fun teaching her.”
Mrs. Barnes raised an eyebrow at the teenager.
“That probably didn't come out the right way.”
“Luckily I figured out what you meant before getting my two close friends.”
Tony grinned sheepishly.
“Let's not keep the princess waiting, we've tortured her enough.”
“Have you started shopping for a homecoming dress?” Tony asked as he sat on the couch with his arm around Courtney.
“Not yet,” Courtney snuggled up close, resting her head against Antonio's chiseled chest, trying to not get too comfortable. “My mom and I were thinking about going to the mall this weekend and finding something. I never dressed up fancy before and I don't want to wind up looking like a little kid.”
“I guess that doily ruffle looking thing under the skirt is out then.”
“What doily ruffle looking things?”
“I think he means petticoats,” Mrs. Barnes called out from the doorway, reminding the two that she was still lurking in case they decided to participate in less wholesome acts.
“Yeah, that petticoat thing, if that’s what you call them.”
“Those are more for babies and woman who go to square dances.” Courtney let out a soft chuckle. “I am not a cowgirl and after your robbing the cradle comment, I don't need to look any younger.”
“I'm sure your mom will help out, make sure she doesn't pick out any fashions from the seventies or something.”
“Hey!” Mrs. Barnes interrupted.
“Sorry,” Tony called out.
“Mom!” Courtney whined. “This is supposed to be me and Antonio time, not me, Antonio and Mom time.”
Tony could feel the woman smile, even though he didn't turn around to look.
“Why does it have to be dress up anyway?” Courtney asked.
“Tradition, I guess. It's not completely dressed up; it's not like prom or nothing. Girl's put more emphasis on the dressy part anyway. It'll be lucky if most guys show up in suits and most of the football players will wear their team polo. I think they feel special with the monogrammed falcon on their pullover and they get those every year on Homecoming.”
“Why doesn’t the wresting team get pullovers?”
Tony shrugged. “For one, our practices don't start until after Homecoming, so we don't even know who is on the team. Plus, we get other stuff, t-shirts, warm-ups, that kind of thing, so it balances out.”
“I can't wait to see you dressed up in a suit.”
“I already know you're going to be beautiful,” Tony said as he gave her a squeeze.
“How do you know that?”
“Because your beautiful now, dress or no dress.”
“See mom,” Courtney called out, knowing her mother was close by. “Tony doesn't need me in a dress; I might as well go naked.”
“Courtney Anne Barnes!” Her mother scolded. “He said nothing of the kind.”
Courtney looked up at Tony and winked.
“That's my Grandma's name.”
The front door opened and Courtney separated from Tony and made sure her clothes fell in the proper place. “My dad,” she said in a hushed whisper.
“I figured that,” Tony said with a smirk. “I don't think we were doing anything wrong.”
“I know. I didn't want to freak him out. Like I said, he's still adjusting.”
“Good afternoon,” Mr. Barnes said as he entered the living room and sat down in his easy chair. “Always nice to see a classic car sitting in the driveway when I come home.”
Antonio nodded. “She is a beauty.”
“I assume you mean your car,” Mr. Barnes said, lacking any humor in his voice at all.
“Daddy!” Courtney scolded as she stood up and walked over to her father. “Welcome home.” She gave the man a small peck on the cheek.
“Thank you, sweet pea. If you don't mind, I would like to talk to Tiny, alone.”
“Why is it that I can't be around when people are talking about me?” Courtney protested.
Mr. Barnes gave his daughter a look of warning.
“Yes sir,” Courtney said glumly. “I'll help mom in the kitchen with dinner.”
“Close the door behind you,” Mr. Barnes instructed.
Tony sat perfectly still on the couch as he heard the door latch close behind him.
“I've been wondering what to say to you all day,” Mr. Barnes started once he was sure he wasn't being eavesdropped on. “Having a talk with a boy who is courting my daughter was not something I thought I would have to do in life.”
“It was bound to happen sooner or later,” Tony said casually. “Don't you think?”
“I was thinking further back in time, before all this girl stuff came to fruition. But, since you are here, I guess it falls on you.”
“Are you going to tell me about Smith and Wesson?”
Mr. Barnes didn't look amused. “That's more my wife's style. As I was saying, all throughout the day I was wondering what I was going to say to you when I came home tonight.”
“I'm sure it will be good.”
“Here it goes. Are you out of your mind?”
Tony almost rose out of his seat as he stiffened up. “Huh?” He was taken completely off guard.
“I can't understand it, and it's the only explanation I could come up with. You've lost your mind.”
“I don't understand.”
“Come on, Tiny. Even last year before you became an Adonis, you could have your pick of any girl in the county, heck, in the whole state. So why Courtney, considering everything?”
“Why not?” Tony shot back defensively.
“Because it doesn't make sense. It's not like you don't know about her issues there.” Mr. Barnes looked sharply at his crotch and back up again.”
“That's not an issue for me. It's not like I'm the kind of guy who goes after that kind of thing and cheap flings with whatever girl is willing to ruin herself for a night of passion.”
“But eventually you're going to want a relationship that involves that.”
“When I'm married, yes.”
“So you don't see yourself committing to my daughter?”
“Kind of early to start thinking about marriage, don't you think?”
“I was talking about the future. I'm talking about you going into a relationship with Courtney knowing that it's a dead end. Why put yourself through all the trouble?”
“It's not like I ruled out a serious long term relationship. I'm not the love them and leave them type. I'm just saying that I haven't thought about marriage, I wouldn't be thinking of it no matter what.”
“But why her?”
“You really want to know why?” Tony challenge.
“Yes I do. Tell me, why Courtney?”
“Because I love her.”
Tony could feel himself turning red with a mixture of anger and frustration. “It's the truth. I wouldn't be able to tell you why I love her or how this came about, but it's the truth. I don't know where this relationship will end up, I don't know if it would be in marriage or not, but that's not the point. I know that I'm getting to know her more every day, and the more I get to know her the more I love her. I'm sorry I can't put into words why that is, but I'm not going to deny its existence.”
Mr. Barnes smiled. “Well said. I should have known you were on the up and up, but I don't take chances when it comes to my little girl.”
“So you're not upset that I'm dating your daughter?”
“Why should I be? It looks like she picked herself a winner right out of the gate.”
School was becoming a confusing place, and Antonio found that discomforting. For two days, nothing happened, the new norm had settled in. Tony wasn't being shunned by the entire student body; just those who he thought would never leave him. He always prided himself on the fact his friends knew he always had their back. He thought the sentiment was reciprocal and he was hurt to find out it wasn't the truth. Even though they didn't agree with his choice of girlfriend, Antonio thought they should at least stick by him instead of playing the games that they did.
Even though the teasing, the name calling, and the hurtful pranks stopped, there was a certain electricity in the air. It was the way conversations stopped whenever he walked by or the whispering and finger pointing across crowded hallways. There was an anticipation that could not be denied. It was the same feeling Tony got when he was about to compete. He could feel the adrenaline, the blood coursing through his veins, the hyper awareness of his surroundings. He made sure to keep close tabs on Courtney, if and when something happened.
School on Tuesday was over; Tony had his time alone on the mat, going through individual drills that didn't require a partner. He spent ten minutes working on his stance alone, finding that without as much mass he didn't have to keep his legs as far apart and could drive through his shots with more power. He didn't realize it would take so much work to get use to his new physique, but he didn't mind putting in the time.
Tony walked through the empty parking lot with his girlfriend. The football team was on the practice field running through plays as another disappointing season was coming to an end. In a few weeks there would be the Home Coming game and a week after that their season would come to a close.
Though he wasn't one for public displays of affection, he got a kick out of holding Courtney's hand as they made their way to the Firebird. As was his custom, he opened the passenger side door and let the girl settle in before closing it.
“The car survived another day,” Courtney said as Tony got behind the wheel.
“Why wouldn't it?”
“Don't you worry with everything going on that someone might steal your car? It wouldn't be hard; you leave the keys in it.”
Tony smiled. “You it would make it any harder to steal if I took the keys? If someone wants to steal a car, they just do it. They hot wire the car and drive off. The way I figure it, I'm saving myself money on repair bills if someone decided to be a jerk and take the beast here. Same reason why I don't lock the door; it's just as easy to break a window than to open an unlocked door. In the end, it's God's car, if He wants me to keep it, it will always be there for me.”
“I'm just saying.”
“I know. But it's okay.” Tony turned the car over. “See, they didn't even steal the battery,” he said as he revved the engine. “And that's even easier to steal. You open the hood from the outside; I couldn't keep people from the engine compartment even if I wanted to.”
Courtney relaxed in her seat as Tony meandered to her house. He went slow so they had more time to talk and the girl appreciated that. “School is getting better.”
“No one's been making an issue over things or being mean to me. The boys don't have anything to do with me, but they aren't being nasty. Some of the girls have started to talk to me and they're accepting me as one of their own.”
“You are one of their own,” Tony said as he pulled into the subdivision.
Courtney smiled. “You see that, but other people are taking their sweet time about it.”
“But at least they're coming around. The reason the boys haven't started coming around might not be why you think it is.”
“If it's not that, than what?”
“What would you have to do with it?”
“Think of it this way,” Tony said with a mischievous grin. “Everyone knows that we're an item now.”
“Those freshman boys are probably scared out of their wits that if I see them talking to you I might be the jealous type and give them a sound beating.”
“You would never do that,” Courtney said sternly.
“I know, but they don't know that.” Tony couldn't keep but laughing.
“I think you like people being afraid of you, but I know better.”
“You do, do you?”
“Yes. You're nothing but a big teddy bear that wouldn't hurt a flea if it bit you on the bottom.”
“I might be your teddy bear, but don't let it get out that I'm a big softy.”
“Your secret is safe with me,” Courtney said as they pulled into her driveway.
“Good, because I hate keeping my secrets to myself and it's nice that I found someone special I could share them with.”
Courtney blushed. “You're too good to me.”
“Only giving you what you deserve. I hope you don't ever forget it.”
“You better get going. Your mom is spying on us through the window again and I'm half tempted to have a full make out session just to teach her a lesson.”
“I wouldn't mind,” Courtney said hopefully.
Tony felt guilty for getting the girl's hopes up. He leaned over and gave her a small, soft kiss on the lips, even though that wasn't his normal way of parting with her. “You be good, okay.”
“I couldn't be better,” Courtney said as she got out of the car. “I'll see you tomorrow.”
Tony smiled as the girl staggered to her front door.
Author's note: In every story you need to be cognizant of pacing. This is the calm before the storm, when I post the next part on Monday you will see the exciting climax. I still think this is one of the better stories I've ever written.
Tired of waiting for the end to get here, beat others to the punch by buying you copy at Amazon.com (and leave a review when you are through, please). You can find me here: http://www.amazon.com/Wrestling-Against-Myself-ebook/dp/B00B... or by clicking the title art. Also, if you do not live in the us, go to your countries Amazon site and put in the book title so you can buy it there. I know the UK, US, and Canada have separate site (as does Japan, Italy, Germany, Spain, Brazil etc.)
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