Geno was flattered to find himself at Nancy's invitation-only pool party a few months after graduating from Greenville High School. It was a prestigious gathering and a final farewell to high school life as those celebrating would be dispersing in the coming days, off to different colleges and careers.
The friends jokingly referred to Nancy's house as "The Mansion", a fairly recent addition to the Green Hill neighborhood, a $750,000 three story estate with a huge backyard complete with an in-ground swimming pool. Most of the clique came from well-off, upper middle class families, another reason why Geno was grateful to be invited to the party since his family struggled from pay check to pay check and lived in a dumpy house in one of the more run down neighborhoods of town.
Geno's involvement in athletics was his in-ticket to this circle of friends but he often felt like a third-wheel outsider among the more prestigious and unique collection of friends – some with benefits, others with hopes, a few with fantasies – but they all meshed in their upper middle class semi-pampered existence.
Geno wasn't drinking at the party, staying true to his high school reputation, but the others had no problem breaking out Nancy's father's good stuff as the night unfolded. Some of the guests were already in the pool when Geno arrived but he ended up playing two-on-two basketball in the driveway with Jane, Brian and Ellen. At one point, Geno sank five shots in a row and an amused Jane gave him a good-natured punch on the arm.
"Quit showing off," she joked.
Jane and Ellen were mostly there to have fun. Jane was playing on Geno's side and because they were presently ahead, she pranced around the driveway court with swagger, wiggling her hips in a celebratory little dance.
"Knock it off or I'll stick this ball right up your ass," an annoyed Brian threatened (he hated losing).
"My ass isn't that big!" Jane joked.
Geno admired Jane's self-deprecating sense of humor. She was as smart and popular as the rest of them but she was down to earth and real and Geno liked that about her. She was also good looking and he didn't mind watching her waltz around the court looking sexy and desirable.
When Geno sunk another shot, Brian decided he had enough and the game ended as he went off to find a beer, Sally tagging along after him.
"He hates you right now," Jane remarked as she and Geno walked off the driveway to join the others in the backyard.
Geno was flattered that Jane liked him. He was honored to be included in her circle and senior year was extra special because of his friendship with her. Jane was confident and enthusiastic and he felt good just being around her. Whenever Geno said something interesting, Jane would look at him with her beautiful penetrating eyes and he felt like she listened to him. Although she was serious about her school work, she liked to laugh and have a good time too.
There wasn't anything romantic between them but Geno liked to pretend there was something special. Of all the girls in their group, it was Jane who treated him the most like he belonged – the others tended to regard him differently because he was not from the same neighborhood and he worked a 'minimum wage' job at Wendy's while the others who worked had more prestigious and respectable positions.
Geno was impressed the day he didn't feel well at school and Jane insisted that he go home sick. She dragged him to the office and got the nurse to excuse him and she drove him home. She escorted him into the house (his parents both worked) and she wouldn't leave until he was lying in his bed. Geno was embarrassed that Jane saw where he lived – the house was well kept and clean, but it was old with aged furniture and worn carpets and the outside cried for a paint job and other repairs.
Jane made chicken noodle soup (out of a can) and she jokingly kissed him on the forehead before leaving. Geno slept most of the day touched by Jane's kindness and her concern in his time of need. She was his favorite from then on.
Nancy's swimming pool was huge, all deep with the exception of the walk in stairs at the east end of the pool. Swimming was one of Geno's better talents and he could hold his breath underwater longer than most, staying submerged for long periods of times – so long that there a few times over the years when people feared he had drowned.
He swam along the bottom with his eyes open, watching the kicking legs of various swimmers and the bikini bottoms of the girls, including half the naked ass of Judy Schafer's whose red bottoms had crawled up into her crack.
Butchie nearly killed Geno when he launched himself in a canon-ball off the diving board and sank deep enough to torpedo the fish Geno. They both surfaced, Geno annoyed but Butchie laughing.
"You trying to kill me, you asshole?" Geno asked
"You're still breathing," Butchie replied.
"Get out of the pool," Geno said with disgust. "You're drunk. You're gonna drown or drown someone else."
Most of them were good athletes. Geno liked sports but he wasn't as good as guys like Brian, Buchie, Doogie and Eddie. Basketball was probably Geno's best talent but he came off the bench even as a Senior so he clearly wasn't as good as at least five of his teammates.
During sport seasons, Geno was often wiped out after practices, especially if he couldn't catch a ride and ended up walking home in his younger years. Because practice took up so much time, Geno found himself studying extra hard at night and sometimes he'd fall asleep on his bed – or even at his desk. He wasn't as instinctively and naturally intelligent as some of his peers and he had to work harder to keep his grades up.
Sometimes his parents had already eaten by the time Geno got home from practice or a game and his mom would bring a plate of food for him to his room while he studied and did his homework. Some of the group formed a study group during finals to help each other through tough times. Jane, Ellen, and Amber were good tutors who often joined the guys to help them during crunch times.
Guys like Buchie, Doogie, Brian and Eddie were much more popular and successful in sports uniform than Geno, but Geno treasured his one moment of glory that made him famous for a couple of days. It was in the first round of the basketball playoffs earlier that year. Injuries and illness left the squad depleted before the game started and foul trouble added to the woes as the game progressed, affording Geno more playing time than usual and he got hot down the stretch and he was the one who happened to have the ball as time ran out, letting go a prayer of a shot that happened to go in to win the game. If he took the shot another 100 times, Geno would have missed 99 of them.
He was mobbed on the court by teammates and fans alike, receiving well deserved backslaps and adulation. Later in the locker room the Coach thanked Geno for his gutsy play and end-of-the-game dramatic heroics but he was back to coming off the bench playing his usual limited minutes in the next game which Greenville lost by 20 to end the season and Geno's high school basketball career.
Geno went through a depression after that experience, the crash from the high unexpectedly intense. He had a hard time concentrating on his school work and he slept more than usual to avoid dealing with the disappointment.
Although he semi-flirted with Jane and was friendly with the other girls in their clique, Geno felt sorry for himself for not having a girlfriend as the school year began to wane. He'd see couples in the hall looking happy together, intimate and holding hands, teasing each other and he wished he was close to someone like that. The others picked up on Geno's despondency and they tried to cheer him up with pranks and jokes.
One day, Jane punched him on the arm when Geno was being particularly morose and pathetic.
"Snap out of it!" She ordered. "I'm going to be envious and jealous of whoever you end up with."
"You will?" Geno asked with honest surprise.
"Of course," Jane insisted. "So deal with reality. You're going to quite the catch."
Geno cheered up, deciding to enjoy his final few months of high school instead of fretting over basketball and girls. He worked hard to maintain his Grade Point Average in his final semester and he had a good time with his friends. But late at night, alone in his room, he'd suffer from acute loneliness and in the morning he would wake up feeling sad. He knew many of his friends were having sex and he felt left out.
Butchie talked about the hand job he got from an older girl at the country club. He also claimed to have fucked the girl who worked the candy counter at the Greenville Cinema. Brian and his girlfriend Josie had been having sex for months. Doogie and Amber appeared to be doing it together. Louie said he got a blow job from a girl while on vacation and Geno assumed it must be true. Eddie showed Geno a phone picture of a girl with her tits hanging out that he met at a party. Geno never got close to experiencing anything like any of those moments.
Even now, in the pool, Butchie managed to untie the back of Annie's bikini top and it briefly slipped down long enough for anybody who was paying attention to get a glimpse of her naked breasts before she screamed and laughed at the same time and covered herself up. Then there was a splash and a scream, followed by laughter. Geno saw Doogie surfacing, whipping water from his hair before yanking down the back of Amber's bikini bottoms as she tried to climb out of the pool, her ass bared for all to see. Laura was bent over laughing on the deck.
Geno sighed at the merriment and he rolled onto his back to float along the pool surface, drifting with his eyes closed, the water muffling his ears. He propelled himself with short light kicks across the pool.
He heard the muffled voice and he opened his eyes to discover he was floating past Jane who swam toward him, put her lips on his and gave him a smooch before splashing him. He lingered along the surface for another moment, feeling special because she had kissed him.
"Let's go somewhere," Jane whispered before swimming toward the steps.