I'm not sure how my life would have ended up had I not met Richie "Coop" Cooper Freshman year at The Sun Rise Lake School for Boys. I was stashed there by my Aunt who was managing my insurance fund left to me by my late parents, the victims of a car accident when I was ten. Auntie Jane was not parenting material and depositing me at the boarding school was her way of not dealing with the responsibility of raising a kid.
Coop was my assigned roommate although I wasn't sure why he was a boarding student when his family lived in Greenville, only fifteen miles away. He said it was to enjoy the "full experience" of prep school but he was home most weekends and even during the week too.
When you live with a guy you have no choice but to get along – otherwise you'll end up killing each other. We had sports in common - Coop liked to compete and I liked to take my aggression and frustration out on the athletic field. Coop was confident, outspoken, funny, cocky, and quite the character. I was mostly pissed off and anti-social, bitter and resentful for being left an orphan and having an insensitive disinterested aunt as my guardian.
Coop didn't seem to care that I was an asshole and for some unexplained reason we became friends despite my jerkiness. He was a good looking guy which made him all the more popular (even at an all-boy's school!) and he was naturally intelligent whereas I had to study hard just to get by. He was able to get dates with ease (even at an-all boy's school!) whereas I was mostly avoided by people because of my negative attitude.
I gradually adjusted and adapted to the school routine and norms. The faculty was strong and they didn't allow me to practice my bullshit on them. The dorm master was a decent guy who gave me the benefit of the doubt and cut me some slack when I was being a moody dick.
Sports helped me form discipline and a sense of purpose. I studied hard because I didn't want to face the stigma of flunking out. Coop stuck with me through my growing pains, willing to put up with my complaining and acting out and eventually I learned to appreciate him instead of acting like an asshole all the time.
The campus was a beautiful location – on a hill over the lake - and it was hard not to appreciate the scenery and the history of the place. I eventually started to mellow out in the tranquil surroundings.
When Coop realized I had nowhere to go on holidays and long weekends, he started taking me home to Greenville with him. His family lived in a huge three story Victorian house on Green Hill and his parents welcomed me as if I had always lived there. Coop had an older sister Yvonne who was quite serious and goal driven, enrolled at the local Catholic High School. She seemed uptight and I got the impression she didn't like me much.
"It's because of me," Coop explained. "We have a love-hate relationship only it's mostly hate so she hates all my friends too."
"Why is she jealous of you?" I wondered.
"Because I'm Mr. Everything and she's Miss Nothing," Coop laughed. He called Yvonne 'The Big Y' because he said she had a Big Yap!
Coop's kid sister Helen was much more animated, perky, enthusiastic, lively and fun than her older sister, asking me a thousand questions the first time I stepped into the house and always wanting to hang around with us even though Coop was constantly shooing her away. Helen was a cute kid and I tried not to be an asshole in front of her.
Coop's parents were friendly, warm, welcoming, accepting, and trusting. I assumed Coop told them my dead parent's story because they seemed to adopt me into their family from the first visit. As much as I tried not to be an asshole around the Coopers, for some reason Coop's sister Yvonne was a consistent asshole to me.
"Your parents probably killed themselves so they wouldn't have to be around you," she said to me one time after Coop annoyed her over something stupid.
"Jesus, Yvonne," Coop said in horror. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
I was too stunned and hurt to say anything in response and I was always cautious whenever I was around The Y after that. She was fake nice to me when her parents were around, but if I was in Yvonne's presence alone or just with Coop, his older sister was a bitch who treated me like I was unworthy of her time.
Mr. Cooper owned Cooper's Candles, a successful business that was popular thought New England. The family was well off judging from the location, size and contents of the house and the new model cars in the driveway but they didn't talk about their status. They were a lively, engaged, active and loving family and although I didn't go all gushy on them it was nice to be around a family atmosphere again.
I was given my own bedroom next to Coop's on the third floor and told to make myself at home whenever I visited.
As Freshman year drew to a close, Coop invited me to spend the summer in Greenville. My Boston suburb-based Aunt was more than willing to let that happen but Yvonne wasn't happy to learn the news.
"Having you around every day is going to be beyond torture," The Big Y said. "You disgust me."
Coop and I worked in the Candle factory warehouse, mostly loading trucks. Mr. Cooper was great to work for and he became an important father figure as my prep school career continued, often giving me the same advice he gave Coop – play hard but work hard, keep the grades up, and do the best we could.
I was stunned when Coop told me about the family's second house – located a mile from Summer's Beach. I had never met anybody with two houses before and I was blown away the first time we journeyed the two hours to what the Cooper's called The Beach House and it wasn't a cottage or cabin – but a regular year round family house – a ranch from the 1950s with a sun porch, living room, modern kitchen, two bedrooms on the first floor, two loft style bedrooms on the second floor, and a family room, bedroom and full bath in the cellar. Plus a barn behind the house full of beach gear, including kayaks.
The family spent most summer weekends there and it was nothing to walk the mile to the beach, hang out on the boulevard and pick up girls – something Coop was a natural at.
"You two are such little perverts," Yvonne complained when she overheard us talking about looking for "bikini clad babes".
Yvonne rarely left the beach house, usually seen with her face buried in a book. She didn't appreciate our womanizing ways and she had little patience for what she viewed as our immature behavior. She was critical of our conduct and bored by our attitude. Coop said The Big Y was a cold fish but Yvonne struck me as sad. Of course, we already had enough run-in's so I wasn't going to try to befriend her.
Helen, on the other hand, was a constant firecracker and more than willing to goof off and party with us. She looked great in a bikini (I rarely saw Yvonne in a bathing suit and when I did it was some old lady's type one piecer).
That was pretty much how I spent my years at Sun Rise Lake School for Boys. Coop and I remained roommates and friends for the duration. The Cooper house in Greenville became my second home. The beach house at Summer's Beach turned out to be my third home. Coop and I worked more summers for Coop's father.
When Coop got his license (and his own car) at sixteen, we became even more free and independent. Coop loved having a good time and he could sniff a party out within a fifty mile radius of the campus.
With hard work, I became a pretty good student and athlete. By the time senior year rolled around, I had all but forgotten the pain, hurt, resentment and loss of my past. I was an Honorary Cooper and I was no longer the asshole I had been when I first arrived at Sun Rise Lake, although I remained guarded and cautious, fearful of being burned again, especially when I was around Yvonne who seemed to have it in for me.
I really couldn't blame Auntie Jane anymore though. Sending me to The Sun Rise Lake School For Boys turned out to be the best thing she could have done for me. My prep school career started out as intense and difficult with a lot of emotional challenges but I was privileged to have some great teachers and I got to know some good guys (mostly because of Coop's infectious way of bringing our peers into his circle). I finally felt like I belonged somewhere, thanks mostly to Coop and his family.
I got the chance to turn my life around and do things I never thought possible. I grew in confidence from my experiences and I became a better person because of my challenges. I arrived as an orphaned outsider with a huge chip on my shoulder but – thanks mostly to Coop – I learned to fit in, make friends, find a family, and succeed. I played soccer, basketball and baseball all four years at Sun Rise and I got to form bonds and friendships and appreciate school spirit.
I wasn't sure what I wanted to do beyond high school. Coop had been accepted at the UMASS Isenberg School of Management to learn business and eventually take over the Candle factory from his Dad but I was undecided. Mr. Cooper said I could stay with the family, work at the candle factory, and attended Blue County Community College until I figured it out.
"I'm glad I'm gone," Yvonne said during a visit home when she learned of the plans, although she worked at the candle factory during her summers home from college.
My aunt showed up for my graduation from Sun Rise and she met the Cooper family. She was proud of me but I realized that we barely knew each other and that I had moved on from my tragic past.
Coop and I worked at the candle factory that summer and we played for the Sun Rise Lake Lions of the amateur Serguci baseball league that played its games at Beano Field in Hillsboro. Most of the Coopers attended our games to cheer us on and I noticed Yvonne came along from time to time, usually with a sulking look on her face as she watched.
. Coop headed off to UMASS and I hung out in Greenville. Yvonne was off at Wellesley College but Helen was a senior at Greenville High School so we spent a lot of time together when Coop wasn't around. I would have slept with her if she hadn't come out as gay her junior year in high school.
"I would have thought Yvonne would be the one who turned out to be gay," Coop remarked, but the family was open and accepting of Helen's announcement and I was happy to support her in my role as her second brother.
Coop returned to work at the factory and play Serguci League ball with me each summer. We continued to use the summer house, sometimes on our own without the family so we could have weekend sex fests with our girlfriends.
I got my Associate's Degree from Blue County Community College and transferred to nearby Green College while still living with the Coopers and working at the candle factory. Helen was at Smith College by then and I was dating a girl named Katie who I met at community college.
I finally moved out of the Cooper house when I graduated from Green, but I worked full time in the candle factory warehouse. His business degree in hand, Coop worked in the front office with his Dad and he eventually married Alyson whom he met at college. I was honored to be the best man!
Yvonne landed some big deal job in Boston and she wasn't around much. Ironically, I found myself missing her presence even though she spent most of her time insulting me with barbs and sarcastic comments. Meanwhile, Helen and her girlfriend opened a restaurant in Greenville.
Coop and I continued playing Serguci League ball and we remained friends and co-workers (although I didn't interact with Coop much at the factory). I remained an adoptive member of the Cooper family and Coop remained my best friend.
Life was good and I honestly thought it would last forever.