That was also the year I met Charles Arthur Casey. I didn’t know him by that name, though, I knew him as Floyd. Floyd’s parents had named him first after his grandfather and second after Arthur Fonzarelli, the resulting combination just happened to be the same name as one of the most notorious outlaws in American history.
His sister, Rebecca, was the first to call him Floyd. Pretty Boy Floyd. To this day Bex says she came up with the name to be ironic in the Alanis Morissette sense of the term. Any real sense of irony ended when he passed the first awkward stages of puberty. After that, the name was more appropriate than anything.
Floyd was a top-row locker kind of guy if I ever met one—tall, good looking and he ran the 400 meters with a grace and power that betrayed his size. He was lanky with dirty blonde hair and a strong chin that suggested he had some Native American blood in him somewhere.
The Mayde High track team had made the cut for regionals that year, thanks in large part to Floyd’s heroics in the last leg of the 400 relay. They say that humans can’t maintain top speed for any longer than 30 seconds due to lactic acid buildup. Floyd was the exception that proved the rule. That day he set the state high school record for a 100 meter leg, coming from a good 25 meters back against the anchor from Cinco’s track team.
I met Floyd one day while I was out on assignment for the Gator Gazette, the high school’s weekly newspaper. High school journalism is laughable, really, especially since Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, though Mary Beth Tinker should have some say in that. At any rate the Gazette, out of fear of the wrath of Principal McCardle, ran only fluff pieces. Not that Floyd’s story was fluff, it just wasn’t the kind of story I would have chosen.
I found Floyd in the rotunda by the cafeteria. I remember it was just before lunch period and the smell of fish sticks and 50-cent hamburgers saturated the school like the grease they were cooked in. How Floyd got any sort of workout done with that smell in the air, I’ll never know—even thinking about it makes me feel like my heart could stop at any instant. Nevertheless, there he was, bouncing on one leg up and down the semi-circle stair case next to the checkout line while the lunch ladies, resplendent in their fishnet caps, watched out of the corners of their eyes.
It was really a thing to behold, 37 stairs up and 37 stairs down. Switch legs. 37 up, 37 down. Switch. He navigated the stairs like that was the natural way of moving, only showing a hint of awkwardness when he reached the landing in the center of the stairwell. 37 up.
“Floyd?” I said.
“One second,” Floyd said with only a hint of a pant.
“Yeah, I’m Floyd—you Jacob?” Floyd asked.
“Jake.” I said. “You done?”
“More or less,” he said. “What do you need to know?”
I pulled out my notepad. Three-and-a-half by six inches, with pages that flipped up, not side to side, per Mrs. Larsen’s demands. It really did make note taking much easier, finish with a page, flip it up. No fumbling with pages. And always write with a pencil, you can’t use a pen in the rain and don’t rely on recorders, if they fail, you fail and then you’re fired.
“I just had a couple questions about the track team’s upcoming trip to regionals,” I said, switching into reporter mode where I’ve been told my voice gets deeper and my shoulders more square. “First, what were you thinking in that final 100 against Cinco? Did you think you had a chance at coming from that far behind?”
“To be honest, I really wasn’t thinking all that much,” Floyd said as he pulled his towel from the hand rail and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Call it what you want, focus, runner’s high, whatever, I guess I was just in the zone.”
He had deep-set eyes with subtle bags underneath, reminiscent of Ronald Reagan. His hair was cut short then, almost in a buzz, I imagine to cut down on wind resistance—they say every tenth of a second counts and if so, it mattered to Floyd.
“And did you think you could win?”
“I always think I can win,” he said with a wry smile. “You go out there and do what you can do, if you win, you win, if you lose, well, you don’t have to go to any more meets. Don’t print that last part. If we lose,” he hesitated, a puzzled look found its way over his face, “you suck it up and get better, but our team obviously put us in a position to win and I just did my part.”
For a moment I hated him. I hated him the way Scottie Pippen had to have hated Michael Jordan, the way Millard Fillmore had to hate Zachary Taylor. I hated who he was in light of who I was. Top locker, bottom locker.
“Do you think you have a chance at winning regionals?”
Floyd’s eyes narrowed and he looked at me as if he wasn’t sure if he should be mad because I asked him a trap question or because I doubted him. “Like I said, I always think I can win—we have as good a chance as anybody I suppose. There are some great teams we will be racing against, but that’s the beauty of it.”
I scribbled everything he said in my notebook, writing as fast as I could in scratch that not even I would be able to decipher in a week.
“You mind walking over to the lockers?” Floyd asked.
“Get out of the fish stick smell?”
We walked down the main corridor of the school, careful not to step on the alligator in the middle of the rotunda. Though I wanted to hate him I couldn’t—normally I wouldn’t have given much thought to the school’s mascot, but around Floyd stepping on it felt like it would be sacrilege.
I flipped back to the front page of my notepad, looking for my next question. What does a normal day of training look like for you? What drives you to run? A means to an end. After we finished our question-and-answer session, I began to leave Floyd at the locker room doors, but something made me stop.
“Hey, sorry if I was a jerk back there,” I said.
“No worries,” Floyd said as he turned to enter the locker room.
Throughout the rest of that spring I would run into either Floyd or Busey just about wherever I went. The two first met each other at Rosa Mendes’ end-of-the-year party. I had to practically drag Busey to come along—I needed a wingman and he was the best I could do on such short notice.
The party was a stereotypical high school party: Red cups and cheap beer, purchased at the price of the high end stuff from the homeless man behind the Safeway who had made fake IDs unnecessary.
I remember I had set my sights on Veronica Wilde that night—I never really had a chance with her though, she was a junior and I a lowly sophomore. For most of the night she was with a small group of people, particularly one girl whom I had never met. The the friend was just average with hip-length straight brown hair and a scar over her right cheek that gave the impression she was always smiling about something—even if she didn’t show it. Veronica, though, was gorgeous—short-cut blonde hair, green eyes and everything in its place. She was perfect, I thought. It took some convincing, but I eventually talked Busey into distracting the friend while I got cozy with Veronica.
“H—Hey, Veronica,” I squeaked. Damn puberty.
“Hey, uh,” looking around, “kid.”
“You, uh, you enjoying the party?” I asked.
“Most of it.”
My palms dampened with sweat, my heart was racing. “You, uh, want something to drink.” I asked her, noticing that very moment the red cup sitting next to her hand. She looked at me with an appropriate level of contempt and turned back to her friend.
Busey stifled a laugh. I turned to him and gave him an angry nod towards the friend. Some wingman. Turning to the friend, Busey extended his hand but said nothing. The friend looked at it with a small smile and cocked her head, as if she weren’t sure if she should shake it or give Busey a high five.
“This is the part where you say your name,” the friend said to Busey.
“It’s nice to meet you, Timothy-Tim,” the friend said, “I’m Rebecca.” She reached out and shook his hand. She stuck her tongue out between her teeth as she turned her head to smile at Veronica, who was slightly less amused than she. I looked back at Veronica, having half succeeded in isolating her from the crowd. Only half, because Bex was talking for both of them, giving Busey a crash course on how to talk to girls you’ve just met.
“This is where you ask me if I’m having a good time,” Bex said, head still cocked.
Turning her head back to me Veronica smiled. This is it, I thought, but she wasn’t looking at me, she was looking past me or through me.
“Hey, babe,” she said.
I turned my head to the door just in time to see Trevor Rodgers walk through the door—the same linebacker who had nearly taken Busey’s head off only three and a half months prior. Right behind him was Floyd, who had stopped just three feet after entering the door to the cheers of his track teammates.
“These guys bothering you, V?” the linebacker asked, approaching us.
Busey turned around from his half conversation with Rebecca to see the linebacker. He must have panicked because he reeled around and backed up into a coffee table making a lamp rattle silently against the music.
Veronica just smiled.
“Hey there, little guy,” the linebacker said, tousling Busey’s hair. “You two boys bothering my girl?”
“N, not at all,” Busey said, leaning backwards against the coffee table like a boxer against the ropes. “We were, uh, just leaving. Right, Jake?”
My hands damp and mouth dry, I tried to bring the cup up to my lips to take a drink but the combination of nerves, red plastic and gravity don’t mix well and the cup dropped out of my hands and pounded like a gavel against the floor, sending a spray of liquid in the air and right onto Veronica’s dress. Guilty as charged.
Anger flashed across the linebacker’s face and I’m sure I looked just like the cross-town quarterback, but before Rodgers could act on his animal instincts, Floyd came up from behind.
“What’s going on over here?” he asked with a smile that seemed to put the group at ease.
“These guys are bothering Veronica and Bex,” the Rodgers said.
“He bothering you, sis?” Floyd said as he looked at Busey.
“Not really,” she said with a smile, showing two dimples, the right deeper than the left. “To be honest, he really hasn’t said enough to bother anybody.”
Veronica looked at Bex and rolled her eyes.
“You ignoring my sister?” Floyd asked with a suppressed laugh.
“No,” Busey swallowed.
“Don’t worry about it, Trev,” Floyd said, slapping the linebacker’s shoulder. “They’re just being polite.”
Floyd pulled us aside and introduced himself to Busey. Whatever Floyd was, Busey was not, but somehow they made a connection that never really seemed to make sense to anybody else at school. They became quick friends and I—as a third wheel—often was asked to tag along. I agreed, reluctantly at first, but before the end of that summer, the two guys felt like brothers to me.
To this day I think Floyd just pitied Busey at first and asked him to tag along. To be honest, I’m still not sure why Floyd slummed around with a guy like me either, I ran for exercise but not well—plenty of people have described it to be “ladylike.” Looking back at it, it may have been that Busey and I were nothing like him that attracted Floyd to us. It could have been anyone I suppose.
I was remembering these things driving home from college last May when I began to doze off. A quick alto burst from a car horn pulled me out of my fog as I was driving the stretch I-20 between Dallas—where I went to school—and Midland.
Median. I jerked the wheel back to the left and narrowly missed a green semi in the land next to me. The late spring heat was doing a number on my car and the air conditioning of my sky-blue 1997 BMW M3 was whirring to keep up with the sun. Two miles ahead was a coffee shop with clean restrooms so I stopped over and picked up an iced grande caramel macchiato. A little caffeine in the blood stream never hurt anyone—not enough caffeine in the blood stream hurts the head and makes me sleepy.
My phone chirped as I left the coffee shop. It was my internship director.
“Hello, is this,” a pause and shuffling papers, “Jacob Reynolds?” The disembodied voice spoke through the speakers.
“This is he.”
“Hi, this is Charles Westphall with Madison State. I’m just calling to confirm you’re still scheduled to begin work at The Houston Chronicle this Monday.”
“Spoke with the managing editor yesterday, we should be all set,” I said.
“Great, if you have any questions, give us a call at …” Westphall rumbled off some series of numbers I could find online in a matter of seconds.
“Got it, thanks,” I said as I hung up the phone and climbed back into the car. Houston was another two hours away—one and a half if you sped. I did.
© Caleb Williams, 2011