In 7th grade, Tom Tavermina moved across the street. He was in high school. My parents didn’t like him. Mom said he was a bad boy, never said why. That made him even more intriguing.
One spring day, we were hanging out in my barn. I thought his motorcycle jacket was hip. It was black, worn, fit him like a glove. He lit a Marlboro. I wanted to say something about safety, all the hay and stuff, but that would’ve been uncool.
I could hear the chickens clucking in their pen. A baby calf mooed.
He said, “Wanna hit?” His dark, wavy hair hung over his forehead.
I nodded, took the lit cigarette. My fingers shook. I drew in a breath, trying not to grimace. Wondered what would happen if mom walked in on us. Blew out the smoke.
“Nah, that’s not right, man. You didn’t inhale.” He showed me what I did, then how to do it. I understood the importance of getting this down. The first few times it burned and I coughed. My lungs screamed.
“Try again,” he coaxed. Stone cold expression.
Finally, it worked. “I did it!”
He patted me on the shoulder, I could smell the leather. I felt like a million bucks.
After the cigarette, he said, “Let’s go for a ride on my bike. Wanna?”
We slipped across the street through a copse of trees on the edge of our property.
He had a Harley Chopper. The license plate was missing, but it was all back roads. He rolled it out of the garage.
“Get on,” he ordered, and I hopped on the shiny chrome machine behind him.
He rolled his head toward me as the engine growled. “Hang on tight.” He revved the motor. I gripped the sides of Tom’s leather coat, feeling the power beneath my legs.
We peeled out of his driveway, asphalt flying.
I was in heaven.