“Hey, Mikey, see that blonde over there, the one sporting the big rack? She’s giving you the eye, buddy.” Jack finished tying the laces of his bowling shoes and pointed toward the blonde getting ready to bowl in lane four.
Ralph, sitting beside him, started to laugh as Mikey’s thin face suffused with redness.
Nineteen and gullible, the shy boy worked in a bakery with the pair. As soon he was hired, the two jokers realized something wasn’t quite right with the kid; it wasn’t long before he became the butt of their jokes. Good natured and glad to have friends, Mikey went along with them. If his feelings were ever injured, he never showed it.
“Go on, sh-sh-she ain’t lo-lo-looking at me,” the boy stuttered, sliding on his shoes.
“Sure she is. When you ain’t lookin’ in her direction, she’s giving you the once-over. Ain’t that right, Ralph?” Jack looked over at Ralph and winked.
Grinning, Ralph nodded. “I noticed it, too. You oughta go over and say hello to her, lover boy.”
Seeing where this was going, the fourth member of group, Ben Lytle, scowled. Giving Jack a painful nudge in the side, he muttered, “Cut it out – leave the kid alone.”
Sometimes Ben wondered what he was doing hanging out with Jack and Ralph. They’d been friends in high school, and that was part of it, but that was ten years ago. Why hadn’t he moved on? He recognized the pair had a streak of cruelty, one that had worsened since they’d met Mikey.
The main reason he still hung out with them was that he had nothing else to do. A year ago his ex-wife had blindsided him, leaving him for some guy in her office.
It embarrassed him to remember how he pleaded with her to stay. Crazy about her since high school, he’d begged her to reconsider. But she wouldn’t listen, saying she wanted more out of life than he could offer. As she was walking out the door, she got in a parting shot. “You know what’s wrong with you, Ben? You’re just too nice. Just too boring, freaking nice.”
Since when was being nice a crime? Okay, maybe he wasn’t the most exciting guy in the neighborhood, but didn’t loyalty count for something? Maybe she had a point, though. He’d even been nice when his boss told him he was going to have to take a pay cut.
Nice. Where did it get you? A divorce and a reduced paycheck.
His dad used to say that things had a way of working out, but for the life of him, Ben couldn’t see it. All he could see was a succession of long, lonely days, forever hanging out with Jack and Ralph, trying to keep them from giving the kid the business.
Sighing, he ran a hand through his hair. “Look, can’t we just bowl a couple of games without you giving the kid a hard time? Lay off him.”
“Who are you? His mother, for crissakes? We’re just having a little fun,” whispered Jack.
At that moment, the blonde in lane four started shrieking. “I got a strike! I got a strike!” The four men watched as she began jumping up and down with excitement.
“Oh, mama! Give me some of that,” muttered Ralph under his breath. Almost reverently, he watched the blonde’s breasts bouncing up and down with each jump.
Noticing she had an audience, the blonde quieted down and started giggling. Giving the men a slight wave, she turned back to her friends.
“Sh-sh-she’s pretty,” said Mikey, staring at her.
“Well, go on over and say hello to her,” said Jack.
“Don’t listen to him, kid,” said Ben, rummaging around the table for a score sheet.
Mikey hesitated. He was never sure whether he should listen to Jack and Ralph.
“Come on, you gotta strike while the iron is hot. She’s waiting for you to make the first move.” Nudging him forward, Jack began to laugh as the kid made his way over to lane four.
“That was fuckin’ mean,” said Ben. “That girl’s gonna blow him off.”
“Sure she is. That what makes it funny.”
Ben turned away. “You’ve got a sick sense of humor.”
“Want to see something else funny?” asked Ralph, pulling a tube of glue from his pocket and reaching for Mikey’s bowling ball. “Look what I got here.”
Jack whistled with appreciation. “You’re a genius… a fucking genius!” he said, while Ralph squeezed the goo into the finger slots of the ball.
Ben wasn’t watching. His eyes were on Mikey who had made his way over to the blonde. He couldn’t hear what Mikey was saying but he could see the blonde’s friends giggling.
He could brain the two clowns next to him.
The blonde said something to Mikey that made the kid’s shoulders droop. He turned around and headed back to his friends.
“So, lover boy, how’d it go? You taking that sweet bundle home tonight?” asked Jack.
“N-no… she said she has p-p-plans for later. You musta b-b-been wrong, Jack. She s-s-said she wasn’t l-l-lookin’ at me.”
“Aw, man, guess we were mistaken… sorry about that,” said Jack. “Well, it’s her loss, buddy. Look, let’s get the game started. You go first, Mikey.”
The pair tried not to laugh as Mikey picked up the bowling ball. The boy shoved his fingers inside the slots, and then stood there, a confused look on his face.
“M-m-my ball! Something’s wr-wr-wrong with it!”
Frowning, Bed looked up from writing their names on the score sheet. “What’s the matter, Mikey?”
“Th-th-there’s something inside the holes.” Mikey tried to wriggle his fingers out, but couldn’t. “I-I-I can’t get my fingers out… they’re st-st-stuck!”
Ralph and Jack collapsed on the bench, laughing hysterically while Mikey tried to yank his fingers free.
“Oh, sweet Jesus, I just can’t take it…” Jack wiped tears of mirth from his eyes.
Ben stood up. “Just what the hell did you two morons do?”
Convulsed with laughter, Ralph couldn’t speak. Instead, he handed over the tube.
“Super Glue! You jackasses put Super Glue in the slots?”
Bellowing like a pair of hyenas, the two could only nod.
“I-I-I can’t get my f-f-fingers out, B-B-Ben!” Scared, Mikey began struggling to release the ball, tears beginning to run down his face. “He-he-help me, pl-pl-please.”
Worried he’d injure himself with all his thrashing about, Ben put a hand on his shoulder. “Calm down, kid. We’ll figure something out,” he said, although he hadn’t a clue what.
“Excuse me, can I help?” It was the magnificent blonde from lane four suddenly standing next to him. At her approach, both Ralph and Jack had stopped laughing. Tongue-tied, Ben just stared at her. Only Mikey continued to blubber.
She smiled. “I can see that,” she said softly. “Now stop fidgeting and take a seat on the bench.”
Sitting down, Mike watched as she gently pulled this way and that, but the recalcitrant ball remained fixed to Mikey’s fingers.
Sighing, the blonde looked at the two men seated next to Mikey. “What happened here?”
Ben managed to find his tongue. “Super Glue – they poured it into the slots.”
The blonde pursed her lips, but Ben could have sworn he heard her mutter softly, “Pricks.”
“Look, sweetie,” she said, placing a calming hand on Mikey’s cheek. “I’m a nurse, and I think you need to go to the hospital.”
“N-n-no! No hospital!” He looked imploringly at Ben. “Don’t wa-wa-want to go to the hospital, Ben!”
Ben pulled a chair up to the bench and sat down. “Look, pal, I’m afraid we’ve got no choice. You want to get your fingers out of that ball, don’t you?”
Mikey was about to protest when the blonde smiled at him. “I’ll go with you. I know the doctors and nurses. You’ll be fine, I promise. Okay?”
Slowly, Mikey nodded.
“Hey, buddy, we’ll go, too,” said Jack, eyeing the blonde’s chest.
“I don’t think so, slime ball,” she said. “In fact, if you don’t wipe that smarmy look off your face, you might be spending the night in jail. He could press charges against you.”
Ralph frowned. “Aw, Mikey wouldn’t press no charges against us. We’re pals, right, buddy?”
Mikey looked at Jack and Ralph. He knew he wasn’t very smart, but he was smart enough to finally get it that the pair weren’t really his friends. The knowledge made him sad.
“Come on, Mikey,” said Ben quietly. “Let’s go get this ball taken care of.” He helped his friend stand, and was surprised to find the blonde’s eyes on him.
“You’re not like the other two,” she said as the three of them exited the bowling alley.
“No, I guess I’m not.”
“B-B-Ben’s my friend,” agreed Mikey.
“That’s right, kid.”
“What’s your name?” the blonde asked.
“Well, Mr. Ben Lytle, you need to get yourself a better class of friends than those buffoons inside.”
“You got that right.”
The blonde tilted her head, studying him. “You know, you’re pretty nice,” she said, smiling. It was a sweet smile, meant only for Ben, and he felt a sudden thrill.
Maybe his old man was right after all. Sometimes things had a way of working out.
©All Rights Reserved Kate Loveton and Odyssey of a Novice Writer