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Pool with a Tool

Carly O’Connor, 2010

        It was finally Christmas vacation. I slid through the powdery snow as the snowmobile led me back toward our house. My big brother Brady held on tight behind me with white knuckles. We were going to take a break from our extreme winter adventures to grab some lunch at the house. As I sped up the driveway, I gave a small gasp. Waiting for us in the driveway was Kyle Bertram, who lived a couple streets down from us. Kyle was a senior and the point-guard on the varsity basketball team. And I may or may not have been in love with him since I was in kindergarten, when I had first caught a glimpse of that then ruggedly-handsome third grader picking his nose one beautiful day on the bus ride home. From that moment on, I loved him with a passion. We had shared exactly forty-five verbal exchanges since then. It may have been difficult for me to think of anything to say whenever I was around him. But I had never seen anyone else like him in my life, and I didn’t think I ever would. Brown, fluffy, wavy hair, warm brown eyes, a killer smile and high cheekbones all combined for a dynamic product that made Johnny Depp look like Anthony Hopkins. When you’re from a small-town like Cerro Gordo, Illinois, the picking is pretty slim, but this just goes to show that I have always set my sights high from the get-go.

        But there he stood at the end of our driveway, with his snow-gear on, and apparently waiting for us. And by “us”, I mean Brady. Brady was a junior on the varsity basketball team, so he and Kyle got along well. They weren’t best friends or anything, but Kyle would come over and hang out with him once in a while.

        “Isn’t that Kyle?” I asked Brady nonchalantly.

        “Yeah,” he answered. “He’s probably here because he heard the snowmobile running.”

        “What’s wrong with that? Don’t you like him?”

        “He’s alright.”

        Kyle waved and Brady waved back. I quickly decelerated, attempting to give an air of cool and calm indifference. But, I picked the wrong spot to slow down. Before I knew it, the snowmobile was stuck on the hill that led up to the house. I tried to speed up to get out, but the result was only smoke and a stationary snowmobile. Brady got off the back and the snowmobile finally jerked forward. I was mortified as I pulled up to the house and parked the snowmobile. Brady had gone up to Kyle and started talking to him. I couldn’t hear what they were saying because I had suddenly forgotten how to turn off the snowmobile, so the loud motor muted their voices. Thank goodness I finally remembered 45 seconds later.

        “ – you’re more than welcome to join Annie and I for lunch, we have tons of leftovers,” Brady said.

        “Sure, man,” Kyle said. “Sounds great. I just came over to ride a little bit with you, but I can always eat.” Kyle looked over at me with his big, warm, brown eyes, smiled his perfect and sparkling smile, and said, “How’s it goin’, Annie?”

        I smiled and tried to say, “Good,” but what instead came out was more of a quiet grunt, like “gahh”. Given our pathetic history of interactions, he probably believed that I was incapable of speaking.

        Kyle came in and ate lunch with us, and then he and Brady went out and rode the snowmobile through the trails in the woods for the rest of the day. I didn’t go with them. For one thing, there was no room for me on the snowmobile. And for another thing, I hadn’t showered since before Mass on Christmas Eve, making it my longest streak without a shower – four days. I was mortified to take off my helmet and expose my dirty, greasy hair when I went in for lunch with Kyle and Brady, and even more embarrassed when I realized that he must have caught a whiff of my sweat-and-motor-exhaust perfume when we both reached for the mac-and-cheese at the same time. But he didn’t say anything – he just looked up at me with his smiling eyes and winked when our wrists bumped together as we were both scooping out the mac-and-cheese.

        So, as soon as they left the house, I ran to the shower and spent about an hour cleaning and prettying myself. I even took the time to straighten my unruly hair. My hair now straight and flat, I started putting on my make-up. It was a somewhat confusing task for me then. I never really learned how to put on make-up until I was twenty-one years old. But nevertheless, I did what I could with my CoverGirl press powder, Almay brown eyeliner, clear mascara and chapstick. After I was done, I looked at my reflection in the mirror and felt very unglamorous and plain. Then, I remembered the big smile that Kyle always gave me, and thought if a guy like that could smile at me the way he did, then I must not be completely repulsive. I blushed, and then turned the bathroom light off.

        I ran downstairs and looked out the kitchen window. They were still out in the woods. Even though I prettied myself up to the best of my ability, I had absolutely no intention of actually joining Kyle or Brady. These measures were taken just in case he happened to see me again, even if only for two seconds. So I popped Miracle on 34th Street into the VCR and my mom and I watched Mr. Gailey woo Doris Walker while we enjoyed our favorite Christmas fudge and cookies together.

        While Mr. Gailey was flooding the courtroom with letters to Santa Claus, Brady came into the living room and asked if he and Kyle could order a pizza. It was dark now, but they were going to play video games and hang out some more. I did not see Kyle with him.

        “You sure you don’t want to play with us, Annie? We’re playing James Bond – you kick ass at Bond!”

        “No thanks, Brady,” I said, “I’m going to watch some more Christmas movies with Mom.”

        “Really, Annie,” Mom said, “go play with the boys. We can watch these movies together any time.”

        “Come on, Annie. Don’t tell me you put on make-up and did your hair just to watch Christmas movies with your mom.”

        Ouch. Both Mom and Brady knew that I was hopelessly in love with Kyle. But their manner of influence was ticking me off. They finally accepted that I was more stubborn than they, and so they left me alone.

        We saw that White Christmas was playing on AMC and so we turned it on. As the move began, I started praying. I was frustrated with myself, that Kyle was right downstairs, breathing the same air that I breathed every day, with his strong hands gripping my video game controller. And here I was, curled up on the couch with my mom, stuffing my face with fudge and watching old movies. In horror, I suddenly saw my future: I was going to be an old lady with thirty cats.

        “What do I do, God?” I asked in despair. “He doesn’t even know I exist! And he never will at this rate! What do I do?”

        I eventually got tired of my hopelessly depressing reflections and decided to focus back on the film. Judy and Betty Haynes were talking in their dressing room. Judy was saying, “You know how honesty needs a little plus, well sometimes fate needs a little push...”

        I froze.

        “Sometimes fate needs a little push.”

        Okay. That’s it. God had answered my prayer, I was sure of it. I needed to push fate. But I wasn’t good at pushing. I was good at gliding. But no, I needed to do something about this crush once and for all. It was now or never.

        I stood up and walked out of the room.

        “Where are you going, Annie?” my mother asked.

        “I’m going to give fate a little push.”


        I stood at the foot of the staircase and paused. I almost chickened out right then and there. I needed some courage. I remembered that guys in movies would sometimes take a shot of “liquid courage” before they did something nervy. I didn’t know where my parents kept the alcohol, so I went to the fridge, took out the eggnog, and slammed a shot. Sick, but it had a kick. I was ready.

        I walked downstairs and into the basement. They were playing video games. I hesitated, but then sat down right next to Kyle. I was going for bold. Brady noticed. Kyle’s eyes were glued to the television screen.

        “Nice of you to join us, Annie,” Brady said with a smirk.

        “Yeah, I was getting bored, so I decided to come down.” Kyle looked up at this and noticed that I was sitting next to him. He had never heard me speak so coherently or so much at one time before. My heart was racing, but I couldn’t back out now. They continued to play video game in silence for a few minutes. I decided that fate needed another push. “Would you guys want to play pool?” I asked. “Then all three of us could play.”

        “Sure,” Kyle said. We walked to the other side of the basement, where the billiard table sat.

        As Brady was picking out his cue, I stood at the side of the table, wiping the lenses of my glasses with my American Eagle t-shirt. Kyle stood next to me and said, “Did you have a good Christmas?”

        “Yes, I did, thanks,” I answered with the biggest smile I could muster.

        Kyle looked me in the eye for a moment, then smiled and said, “You should really think about getting contacts.”


        “I just never noticed how pretty your green eyes are,” he said quietly. “It’s hard to notice when you’re wearing your glasses.”

        “Well, maybe I will,” I said, blushing.

        This giving fate a push thing was working out quite nicely.

        “Who wants to break?” Brady asked, interrupting our Moment.

        “I will!” I answered quickly. I grabbed my cue, floated to the other side of the table, and prepared to shoot at the head of the table. I bent over at the waist, leaning my body over the table, with my right hand strongly gripping the bottom of the cue and my left hand softly directing its aim. I pulled the right arm back, pushed forward, pulled back, and stopped for a second. I considered my options: (1) play normally and beat them all to a billiardly pulp and emasculate Kyle’s macho manness, or (2) play awful and see if Kyle would try to teach me how to play. I suddenly remembered my grandma once telling me that a woman should never let herself beat the man she loves in a game. I went for option #2. I tightened my grip on the tip of the cue with my left hand, pushed forward again, pulled back, then BAM! completely shanked my cue against the cue ball and watched the ball move about three inches from its starting point.

        “Oh, crap,” I said, “I’m so bad at this.” Brady looked at me quizzically.

        “Annie, you’re gripping your left hand against the tip too tight,” Kyle said. He walked over to me. “Here,” he said, demonstrating with his cue, “grip it like this, so the cue can slip easily between your fingers.”

        “Like this?” I asked, gripping it entirely too tightly. The cue burned my fingers as I tried to push it through.

        “No, here,” he said, prying my fingers off the cue, and, wrapping his fingers around mine, reformed them into a bigger “O” shape around the cue. “Just like that,” he said, “and remember how the cue feels between your fingers now, remember the space you need to make for it. Now try again.”

        I looked up at Brady as I prepared to take my second attempt at breaking. I raised my eyebrows and he shook his head. BAM! The pool balls flew haphazardly across the table. I was great again. What magic.

        “Annie, that was fantastic! See, it’s all about the grip,” Kyle said.

        “Or all about the instructor!” I said coyly as I prepared to take my second shot. Brady rolled his eyes, but Kyle didn’t seem to notice what I had just said. I purposefully shot off target. The boys started talking about school and basketball as they took their turns, and then, as I was pondering my next shot, girls.

        “You know Lydia Linkee, right?” Kyle asked Brady.

        I know who she is,” Brady answered, “but I don’t really know her. She’s new, right?”

        “Yeah, man, and she is hot!! I took her to the dance after the home game last weekend. You wouldn’t believe the dress she had on, man – did you see it?

        “I guess I didn’t see much of a dress,” Brady laughed.

        “Haha, yeah, man. And we went to that crazy party at Larison’s afterwards…it was awesome.”

        As Kyle said this, a burst of anger shot through my body, and I pulled back and slammed my cue smoothly and squarely against the cue ball, sinking my shot perfectly. Lydia may have been pretty, but she wasn’t very smart or very nice. Kyle could do better than her. Plus, I saw that dress she had on, and she might as well have taped a dish rag to her body.

        “Whoa, there she goes again!” Kyle said. “See, it’s all about the grip, huh?”

        “Sure thing,” I answered with a forced smile.

        Brady prepared to take his shot. Kyle asked, “Did you take anyone to the dance? I saw you there.”

        “I did,” he answered as he missed his shot. “I took Angela Donahue.”

        Kyle laughed uproariously. “That fat girl? She’s a dog, man! What were you thinking? You could have done better than that!”

        My heart sank. Angela was a friend of mine from youth group. She was the smartest and funniest girl I had ever met. And she really wasn’t fat.

        “She’s goes to my church, and we’re good friends. We had a great time,” Brady answered smoothly. “She’s not that bad. And she isn’t really that fat. She’s just not built like Lydia.”

        “Whatever, man. You’re better than I am. I wouldn’t go to any dance with a fat girl,” he retorted, preparing to take his shot. Which he missed.

        Angela’s too good for you anyway, idiot, I thought angrily. I suddenly became aware of the slight muffin-top that my snug low-rise jeans created upon my hips and was embarrassed about my own body. But I bent over the table to take my shot. Slammed it.

        “Great shot, Annie!” Kyle said enthusiastically, giving a little wink. “You’re really getting the hang of this!”

        “Yeah,” I said distantly, taking my next shot. SLAM. That was for Angela.

        Brady stood back against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest. I could see the amusement in his face. On my next shot, I hit the ball so hard that it bounced off the table and hit the wall, taking a chip of paint with it. The boys were highly amused by this. I joined in their asinine laughter half-heartedly.

        After missing his shot, Kyle leaned against the wall. As Brady prepared to take his turn, I looked at Kyle, my heart feeling anger, disappointment, disgust, and yet, somehow, still love for him. Oh, he was gorgeous. But I was so confused. I had never heard Kyle talk like this before. How could someone with such a perfect smile be such a jerk? I watched him as he looked at himself in the mirror hanging up on the wall of the basement. He examined his face and touched up his hair discreetly, and turning to his side, examined his figure. Brady did not notice this because he was hitting some balls in the pockets.

        “You’re a pretty girl, aren’t you, Kyle?” I spewed before I could censure myself. “Such a pretty face, such a lovely figure.”

        Kyle turned around and just stared at me, clearly surprised by my words. It was my turn. I picked up my cue, looked at him defiantly, slammed all three of the remaining solid balls into the pockets, and then sunk the black eight ball in one strike. Game over.

        You could cut the silence with a knife. Kyle was in shock of how quickly the game ended with my turn, at my sharp and sarcastic words to him, and my dramatic improvement in billiards. Brady stood, leaning against the wall with a big smile, wondering what I would do next. It should have been an awkward moment for me, but it wasn’t at all. I stood like a tower with my arms crossed over my chest, empowered by Brady’s encouraging smile. I looked at the clock on the wall – 8:10pm.

        “Well, it’s been real, guys. I think I’m going to go back upstairs and finish White Christmas.” I put my cue back in the rack, smiled and raised my eyebrows at Kyle, and started up the stairs. I looked over my shoulder at Brady and gave him a big smile.

        From that moment on, I had gumption.

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All Information Copywright by Chimes Publication, Saint Mary's College 2010