Rubin Lopez was the first playmate I had over since two months ago when James and Roger Thompson pinned me on the trampoline in front of Dad. At ten in the morning I began checking for the Lopez’s car. I didn’t see it, but I made regular looks out front every ten minutes or so, hoping he’d arrive a little early. On my last look for them, I saw James and Roger across the street in their grandparents’ front yard throwing a baseball.

Rubin didn’t arrive early; in fact, he made it closer to noon.

“Call me when you’re ready for me to come pick him up,” Mr. Lopez said.

“I might decide to keep him,” Dad said, laughing.

A man afraid of me, his only son, being kidnapped, but he joked about doing it to someone else’s son? If he did kidnap him, Dad would only hold Rubin long enough for him to teach me all the Tae Kwon Do he knew. Once I could not learn anything else from Rubin, Dad would let him go.

Rubin and I went straight to the trampoline. I wanted to put off the pool as long as possible. I only had to take off my shoes for the trampoline, but for the pool I’d have to take off my shirt, and with my flabby chest, I was in no hurry. Rubin jumped high and performed flying kicks like Bruce Lee. Rubin was too good to believe.

I heard our dogs barking at the front gate. Our German Shepherd Pal was on his hind legs and Mounty was poking his head in the space where the two sides of the gate met.

“Can we jump on the trampoline with y’all?” Roger asked.

“Did you call and ask Dad?”

“We were going to, but we saw you outside on the trampoline and decided to come on over,” Roger said.

Roger and James knew how Dad was, so they understood the importance of Rubin, a face they hadn’t seen before, at the house, and they came over to see who was threatening their privileged position as my only playmates. I held the dogs while Roger and James met Rubin at the trampoline. Rubin and Roger were the same age – sixteen –and I was afraid they would hit it off and leave me having to entertain James, who, like me, was twelve.

“Rubin and I take Tae Kwon Do together,” I said.

“When’d you start taking Tae Kwon Do?” Roger asked.

“A while back.” I didn’t tell them that their pinning me in front of Dad were the reason.

We all jumped on the trampoline, minus the fancy kicks, in silence. Since no one was talking, and I was the host, I decided we should play a game, a game in which I could get back at Roger and James for embarrassing me in front of Dad. He was in the house now, but I knew he was watching us and I was going to show him that his investment in Tae Kwon Do was paying off.

“Y’all want to wrestle?” I asked. “Me and Rubin against you two.”

“Why do you get Rubin?” Roger said.

“Because that’ll even out the ages,” I said. “One older, one younger.”
“But what about size?”

“James is the smallest,” I said, “so no matter what, there’s going to be one pair that has two big people.”

“I don’t wanna wrestle,” James said. “Let’s play baseball, two-on-two.”

“You scared?” I said.

Without uttering a word, James dove and caught me around the neck; he strained and struggled and cursed a few times, but I didn’t fall. While he held on to my neck, I lifted him above my head and dropped him behind me. With all of us standing on the trampoline, there was no bounce, and I heard James grunt as he landed on his back.
Roger, paying attention to us, was caught off guard by a leg sweep from Rubin.

“That ain’t wrestling!” Roger yelled. “Play by the rules.”

“Ain’t no rules in wrestling,” Rubin said. And to prove his point, Rubin, before Roger could get up, jumped on him, rolled him on to his belly, and made a half-cross with Roger’s legs.

I was in awe of Rubin’s skill and quickness, but while I was being amazed, James grabbed my legs from the back and rolled me over. James held me in that position, my feet up and my shoulders pinned. To make matters worse, he rose to his knees and applied extra pressure on me. It was difficult to breathe and I didn’t know how I was going to get out of the fix. I feared that this would be the time when Dad emerged from the house to see me twisted like a cheap pretzel.

Rubin left Roger and pulled James off me and hip tossed him on to his older brother, where they lay on top of each other in a human X.

“I’m gonna tell your daddy,” James said.

“Tell him what?” I said.

“How y’all are being mean to us.”

“We’re only wrestling,” I said.

“You guys can’t take it, so you’re gonna go tell?” Rubin said.

“We can take it,” Roger said, “but can you?” He pointed at me. Roger the big brother was taking charge and taking back their respect. “Come on, rich boy.”

I jabbed, caught him on the nose, which I felt the tip of between my first two knuckles, and snapped his head back. The punch startled Roger, and I knew I had broken the number one wrestling rule: no punches. Now all bets were off and it was truly a free-for-all. Roger punched back, a wide looping cross that took forever to get to me, and when it did, I simply blocked it with my forearm and countered with a punch to the ribs that dropped him.

James rolled his brother off the trampoline and helped him put on his shoes. “You buy your friends,” James said. “You damn little rich boy.”

I started jumping on the trampoline, going high and higher, until, with a final bounce, I sprang over their heads. Roger was standing and holding his side, and James sat on the ground tying his shoes.

“What’d you call me?”

“Damn little rich boy,” James said. “You’re spoiled too. Trampoline, swimming pool....”

His knees were up, his legs spread, and his crotch was an open target. I stomped, and James let out a scream that made me think all the life had left his body.
“What’s all that damn racket?” Dad said.

James, with tears running down his face, walked spread-legged toward Dad carrying his shoes. “Wesley kicked me in the privates.”

I was about to tell my side of the story, when Dad said:

“If he did, you deserved it. Now why don’t y’all take your asses back across the street. Wesley has another friend over today.”

“You ain’t got to worry about us coming back,” Roger said, still holding his side. “You can have your new-bought friend.”

“You’re just mad you lost,” Rubin said. “Sore losers, that’s what you are.”

Roger stopped and faced Rubin. I feared that he might want to finish the fight, but he took James by the arm and walked across the street.

“You boys handled yourselves well,” Dad said. “But, son, you should’ve been paying attention when James rolled you up from the back. You gotta always be alert, don’t let no one grab you from behind. Remember: be more aggressive than the other man.”

I heard Dad, but my eyes were on Roger and James as they entered their grandparents’ home. Seeing them disappear into the house, I realized that I’d lost them as playmates.