Baby Boy

Baby Boy

When I was a very little boy with big, wild, curly black hair, my sister took me out with her friends. My sister was much older than me. I can’t even remember if I knew how to put together sentences back then. I don’t remember conversations. But my sister had long legs, even back then. Long brown hair. And that day, the sun was shining. It was a lovely day, and we were out in a field and there were a bunch of kids, and someone was playing music. I had on a pair of white Nikes and a little blue tracksuit. I remembered liking the music. I don’t remember the music exactly, just that it fit with the sun shining and the girls with long hair and the short shorts they were wearing and the green grass. I guess I started dancing. Seemed like the right thing to do. And it felt good. I want to say that’s my first memory of understanding: I liked to dance.

But what happened next was: I heard a bunch of giggling. And when I turned around to where my sister was, she and all her girlfriends were staring at me, grinning, laughing. It made me stop and I immediately ran to my sister and hid in her legs, hid my face in them. I was so embarrassed. I don’t really remember anything else about that day. But many, many years later, I did come to understand something. Those girls, pretty in my imagination, the hazy echoes of my memory, they weren’t laughing at me. Those girls thought I was cute. They thought I was adorable. Because, of course, I was.


I had to wait for my folks to go to sleep. Mom went first. Then usually about an hour later, Dad. The house was old, every step up the staircase creaked like the keys of a fucked-up piano. Pop finally came upstairs, took a piss, brushed his teeth, hit the hay. Laying in my bed, I pulled my comforter off, fully clothed.

This past year, I’d learned my parents knew the blues of the stairs too. Gotten myself grounded for a week trying to sneak out.

I had to adapt.

I opened the window of my bedroom and crawled out onto the roof. A story up. I looked down. It was dark out. I could vaguely see the earth below, but it just as well could’ve been the Void. I knelt there, peering over, contemplating my destiny. Was it worth it?

Then I jumped off.

When I landed, my roll was clumsy, but the most important part was I didn’t hurt myself. I dusted myself off. I looked around. Nothing moved, nobody said anything. I walked out into the street. The headlights of a car flashed on. I ran over to the passenger side and got in.

“Every time, this shit cracks me up. Mission Impossible out this motherfucker,” Eddie said.

We both started laughing. Eddie handed me a forty of Steel Reserve. That Silver Bullet. It wasn’t a full moon. I wasn’t a wolf yet.

I opened the forty. His was already cracked. We clinked them together and did a baby chug. I winced. I was just learning how to drink. I still sucked pretty bad. But we all gotta start somewhere. I knew this was important. Through literature. Eddie shifted the car into drive, and we started to move.

Eddie knew about a party. Eddie was a year above me in school but more importantly, Eddie was from here. I was still sort of new. It’s funny being a new kid. You can either get left out in the cold or you can lean into it. That didn’t always mean something good would happen to you. You lean in but how far do you lean? Because that mattered. I’d never sell my soul. I already knew that. My older brother had been sure to instill that in me. For better or worse. Still, maybe some luck was required. I believed in luck more than I had faith, I guess. At this point in my life.

I lived in a pretty quiet part of town. Cars passed by and that was usually the most action we got. There was a train somewhere. You could hear it. But this part of town Eddie and I now drove in, very quiet. Abandoned houses. Boarded-up houses. Cars that had been left behind. Lots overgrown by weeds like Man-Thing was pulling up. Concrete, split structures, vacated and in the process of being consumed by nature. Swallowed. Humans had left this place. The ones that paid for stuff like taxes anyway. Blocks with no streetlight. I should have been scared and I was scared but I was also young so I just thought life could be like this at any time. I was scared of stuff all the time. My parents, mismatching my outfit, grades, girls, having stuff in my teeth, growing pubes, pronouncing words correctly, you name it.

Out here, it felt like we were on the edge of the world. But we were after our own thing. We had to find places like this. To be free, to explore, to get into trouble, sometimes to get murdered. We just wanted our world and sometimes the only way to get that was in the remnants of an old one.

Eddie stopped in front of a house. A few other cars parked, scattered. I could see some light flashing from inside the windows even though everything around us looked dark. There were some kids out in front. They looked at us, into the car. Eddie said, “We’re here.”

I felt a kind of a hot wet prickle up my back, walking up to the house, walking up to those kids. I sort of wasn’t supposed to be here. The kids there knew us, of course. They all had on fresh looking sneakers, despite the neighborhood. They dapped Eddie up. Me, they looked up and down, and I didn’t give them any reason to put a foot up my ass. We were allowed in. I didn’t take any of it personal. We were allowed in.

We stepped inside the house. It was black inside but there was neon light. The light revealed shoddy graffiti and names not to be forgotten. A girl came up to Eddie. Big hair. Big hoops in her ears. She gave something to Eddie and he inhaled and passed it back to me. I put up a hand.

“You don’t smoke?”

“Nah,” I said.

The two of them looked at me like I said something about their cousin.

“OK. A little.”

We walked further into the house. Parts of the wall had been knocked out. You could see through, like we were in some kind of bootleg zoo. Music thrummed from inside, like we were walking into some kind of mythical furnace. I still had the forty in my right hand. It felt like I was carrying an axe. The effects of the joint were fast. I tried to look cool, but I couldn’t consistently keep my mouth closed. And my eyelids kept taking breaks.

We walked into a big room. There was a couch there and more people, people Eddie knew. People I knew but couldn’t say hello to on a street or a hallway. People I could nod to and maybe they would nod back. Maybe they’d acknowledge I’d existed.

No one was looking. I put my half-drank forty behind the couch.

Eddie said, “Yo! Come on.”

We were walking out that room just as I saw a girl. A girl I’d never seen before. She was tall. She was gorgeous. Like, beyond high school gorgeous. Long hair, wavy. Long legs. Eyes that said I’ll kill you. She just passed us. Quick, like a fast car on the highway. I didn’t even have time to crane my head. We were in a kitchen next.

A guy opened a fridge and stuck his hand in there and pulled out two bottles. Wine coolers. Yeah, I took one. I recognized these things. These little baby boys. My mom loved these. I felt a little more at ease. My mom. Beautiful woman. I think I was the best, out of her kids, at catching her. Catching her be beautiful. Maybe they did too. We never talked about it. But she was so beautiful. Charming. A person you wanted to always be around. She gave you a high. Like a drug. She was a wild waterfall. She attracted people. I know. I’d inherited it. I didn’t know yet. I even got made fun of it for a while. My dad would say it. My older siblings too.

“You’re just like your mom.”

In the beginning, I thought they only meant that the bad way. There were definitely some bad ways. But there were good ways too.

We went into another room. It had all been leading to here. The vibration. The hum. The DJ was here. Big headphones on. He saw us and smiled benevolently. He wasn’t alone.

There were some girls there. Dancing. Eddie and I recognized some of them. Hair done cute, shoulders and collar bones showing, nice fitting jeans.

I took a sip from the wine cooler. Eddie went over to them, talking. Nah, not me. I was starting to feel it. I knew they thought they were better than me. My insecurities. I was definitely scared. But I wasn’t going to pretend. I stood on my side of the room. Still, the music was good. I started kind of dancing. Just sort of my own. Fuck them, I thought. I don’t need anybody.

In no time at all, people flooded the room. The DJ played a new one. A banger. People began to cluster and I kind of got pooled in with them. I didn’t resist. I liked the feel of bodies around me. The proximity. The intimacy. Now I felt more at ease. We all danced in blue neon, the sound louder than our thoughts, the desired effect. When the music is louder, you don’t think about all the shit you’re scared of. You don’t think about how tall you are or how popular you are or what team you are on or what your parents make or what car you drive. Something else happens.

I wasn’t thinking about any of that stuff. I was a kid. Enjoying being alive. I closed my eyes and even in the dark could imagine myself back in those sunny fields, without even trying.

When I reopened my eyes, that girl was back. The one. The one with the long legs and long eyelashes and long hair and big lips and she was staring right at me, only about four dance steps away from me. Oh my-lanta.

I forced myself to maintain composure. I hovered there. Shoulders swaying. Clapping to the beat. Bobbing my head. Just be cool, I thought. Easy. Occasionally, I looked up. The whole place, the room, we were all caught in the moment. Damn good song. But when I looked straight up, she was there. And now she was looking at me. Not staring. But checking me out. A little inspection was taking place here.

Well, I wasn’t scared. I started to move forward. But I did this strategically. I danced forward. My hands held before me, snapping. Deliberate steps. Unhurried but deliberate steps towards a point. Mostly I kept my head down. But when I looked up, guess what I saw. Her. Watching. Waiting. Maybe just smiling ever so slightly. I was smiling too.

Well, we finally met. Squared up, right in the middle. She was taller than me, but I was dancing, and she was dancing, both of us smiling. I rarely looked in her eye. I felt like one of those fucking birds in New Zealand. Australia. I don’t know. One of those birds that’s got crazy feathers and a dance, does a whole thing. Mating season. I didn’t actually say a word to her. I just danced, right there, kind of smiling but trying not to smile too big, not be too corny. And as the song went on, we got closer. And closer. And finally, I was holding her. I was holding this taller-than-me, gorgeous girl. Jesus H.

I put my arms around her waist. Her womanly waist. She had an ass. I thought, she can’t be in high school. My face fit right inside her neck. Her long purple fingernails just lightly raking on the back of my neck. I could smell her and I didn’t understand scents like that but I knew this was the kind of scent that was like, yes, we should fuck.

Yeah, we should. We should fuck. Didn’t matter I had braces. Didn’t matter I was a junior. I know you like me. I know you know I like you. We’d give each other just enough space. Just enough. Look at her face. Still smiling. Eyes like a cat, getting ready to jump up to the fridge.

Shit, I thought. I got a boner.

We’d been dancing hard together. Grinding. Not too savagely. Tastefully, if you could imagine. Like I said before, this was all very deliberate. And in a place like this, close as we all were, no one was looking anyway. We were all in our own galaxies. And the DJ was God, and he wanted his children to play.

The wine cooler had me buzzing pretty hard at that point. So when I noticed, I wasn’t scared, just sort of like, OK, now there’s this. I had a boner.

And truthfully, I wasn’t alarmed. Because, and I’m being honest with you, I’d had boners before.

I couldn’t say I was an expert on boners. But I had had boners before. At this point in my life, I did like to dance with girls frequently. Any chance I could. This was an era when boys and girls grinded. Post Dirty Dancing, in the middle of the dance hall era, when supervisors were telling you to leave room for the Lord, shit like that. Hard rubbing. Dry fucking, essentially.

There was an etiquette to it, and it was up to you to learn the ropes. I felt like I had. I loved rubbing my crotch against a girl’s ass. Against her thigh. Loved it. But, and I mean this sincerely, only if she sanctioned it.

In the late 90s, there were different kinds of people. People like me. People that watched House Party and Martin and Living Single. People that were going into adult life and listening to music and liked to dance and were learning how to fuck.

It’s hard to learn. Everybody makes you feel so bad. That’s not right.

Just before I’d gotten the boner, I’d asked her, “What’s your name?”

“Esperanza,” she said.

“Esperanza,” I said, like she’d made it up.


I’d learn this from dancing with girls: you could get a boner. See me now for evidence. So you had to have a plan then. And the plans I’d concocted were these:


Cancel the dance. Go somewhere else. Go to the bathroom. Anywhere private. Neutralize the problem. Lowest risk, best way to not look like a monster, though your sex appeal dramatically decreases. A door may close to you forever.

Keep dancing. Hope she doesn’t notice. But she ALWAYS notices. So really this is a pretty big gamble. She could not be put off. Depends on how much she’s feeling you. But if she’s not feeling you… consequences could be severe. A door may close to you forever.

The Loop the Loop.

So now allow me to explain the Loop the Loop. So you got a boner. You’re in the middle of dancing, you don’t want the good times to stop. So you do this move where you detach from the girl. (More than likely, she was grinding her ass on your crotch, so it’s not as crazy as you think that this situation might occur. Maybe it’s exciting for them, I’ve never asked actually. I wasn’t a little toddler anymore, but I barely knew how to talk to girls any better at this age as I did when I was running around hiding in my sister’s long legs.) So you detach from the girl but you don’t abandon her. Very deliberately, again, you have to seem like this is just all cool and you’ve done this a million times, you start to do a little spin move. Just step by step. Take your time. Clap or snap your fingers, but step by step, you do a little spin. And just as your back is fully to her, you dip your hand into your pants, prop up your boner so that it’s now hidden behind your belt, looking straight up at you instead of sticking out like a homing missile, and by the time you are turned right around to face her again, she’s waiting with a smile, ready to resume business, none the wiser. Simple as that. Everybody respects everybody. We’re all just humans. Courteous, I would say. I’d done it a hundred times. It was all part of the dance. A way to hold on to the good times.

Therefore, naturally, I went with option three. I detached. She peered over her shoulder, a tendril of hair spooling down over her eye, sexy. I initiated the slow spin move. No one was looking. I was safe. My head was really buzzing from the alcohol and weed. I felt so wonderful. I put my hand down my pants. Had a little trouble getting in the underwear. Had to get all the way into the underwear. I was trying to pull my boner up. My belt was on a little too tight. My head was really buzzing. I realized I was already turning back to face her, I was already beginning to rotate around. But my hand was still down my pants. I couldn’t get my boner to get behind my belt. My timing had gotten all fucked up. I was drunk, I realized. Too late.

By the time I was facing her, she was facing me. She saw it. Eddie, a little ways off, dancing with a girl of his own, Eddie saw it. Hell, even the DJ saw it. My expression reflected my shock. I stood there before her, before them all, my hand down my pants. I couldn’t believe it. In shock. In the apocalypse. I couldn’t believe what she did next either.

Her head just tipped back, and she started laughing. Laughing her ass off. She had this one little crooked tooth. Perfect in its imperfection. She laughed and I pulled my hand out of my pants and I looked like a little dog that was about to get hit on the nose with a newspaper for doing a pee pee on the carpet.

Surely it was all over. But she wasn’t done with her surprises. She stopped laughing, only grinning now, grinning like crazy. I expected her to just walk off. Maybe even throw a drink in my face. I’d seen girls do that in movies. What she did instead was pull me back in. Back in to dance more. Boner and all. We went right back to work. Holy shit, I thought. I looked over her shoulder, saw Eddie staring at us. His jaw was sitting on his chest but then he picked it back up and he looked so proud of me. So happy for me. Eddie was a real one.

I guess it wasn’t crazy that the next step was that we started making out. The door had been opened. Maybe I might not have believed it was happening, but it already was, so the key was not to think anymore. Thinking got you in trouble.

She whispered in my ear, “Let’s get out of here.”

She had some kind of accent. Not anything foreign. Like a mix of redneck and hoodrat. Strangely seductive. I needed to hear it again to confirm. I said OK, ready to go anywhere in the world with her, but just as we squeezed our way off of the dance floor, she stopped in her tracks and said, “I gotta grab my girlfriend.”

She disappeared back into the writhing mass of kids. I watched them for a while. I felt like I was watching the Discovery Channel. National Geographic. This was real biology. Just when I started thinking she had come to her senses and decided to ditch me, she emerged from the crowd with her friend in tow, and behind her friend, Eddie. I grinned real wide and he grinned back at me.

We weaved through the house, the four of us, Esperanza and I giggling, our arms around each other. I kept on thinking this was crazy. Because I knew she was wildly out of my league and I knew as soon as we’d start actually having to talk she’d be like “bye,” but until then I was just going to ride the wave to Valhalla. I grabbed her ass and it felt like I was taking money out of a register. I managed to sneak a look back at Eddie and Esperanza’s friend. She was short but she was cute but also she looked totally wasted. She was leaning into Eddie heavy and not in the good way. I turned back forward, happy that it wasn’t my problem.

When we got outside, Esperanza asked, “Either of y’all drive?”

“I did,” Eddie said.

“Can we get a ride witchu?”

Eddie got his keys out fast.

The girlfriend rode shotgun, so me and Esperanza were in the back. I’d never felt up on legs that were this long. It seemed like they could go all the way out of the window and into the black sky. I was drunk. I didn’t know if she was. I could taste cigarette on her tongue and I didn’t care. In the middle of kissing, she would just stop to grin at me. She could’ve murdered me that night and I’d have showed up to the gates of heaven not mad, just shrugging shoulders and being like, “Yup, she got me.” Humbled yet a little proud.

“SHIT!” Eddie cursed from up front, swerving. The girlfriend sitting shotgun had started vomiting on the floor of the car. It was loud and it instantly stank, absolutely terrible. Eddie pulled over. She couldn’t even open the door or anything, she had to let it all out right there on her feet.

Eddie just looked miserable now. We all opened our windows. It had become pretty cold outside. I could see my breath coming out. What a mood crusher. Esperanza and I untangled from each other and sat up straight and leaned forward, then leaned back because the smell was so awful. The girlfriend had finally finished it seemed like.

“There’s a gas station up here,” Eddie said. I could hear the anger in his voice, but he was staying calm. Eddie was usually a very calm guy. This had to be a real test for him. I felt real bad for him but I started to worry about my own imminent future. What a mood crusher.

We got to the gas station. All four of us participated in helping to clean Eddie’s car. It was grisly work. All four of us at one point had to take a few steps away to just breath nontoxic air. It seemed like it took forever but we finally got the car clean. The stench was still in there but at least under the lights of the gas station it looked clean. The girl’s shoes were ruined. She tossed them in the trash bin, stumbled into the bathroom of the gas station barefoot to wash her hands, wipe her feet.

“I think we’re just gonna call for a ride here and head home. She’ll just stay at my place,” Esperanza said solemnly.

“Yeah. I guess that seems appropriate,” I told her. Eddie was already behind the wheel, staring ahead, jaw clenched. The girlfriend was sitting on a curb, cradling her head with her arms. “I think we can at least wait here until your car shows up.”

We didn’t kiss anymore. It just didn’t seem right. But we did stand next to each other, shoulders and arms rubbing. She was taller than me for sure, but she still smiled a little bit and I smiled back.

Their car arrived. She opened the passenger door and helped her friend get in. I stood there. She looked back at me and gave me another smile, kind of sad.

“Will I see you again?” I asked.

She just shrugged, leaned forward and gave me a kiss, then got in the car.

I walked back to Eddie’s car and was about to get in, then leaned down into the window and said, “Cool with you if I ride in the back?”

“Just get the fuck in, man.”

Eddie drove me back to my place. We didn’t even listen to any music. Quiet and cold in that car. I felt bad but only barely. What an awesome night, I thought to myself. I knew I could’ve been mad about it, but I guess I wasn’t as greedy as my brothers said I was. This had been a hell of a night. Eddie was looking back at me in the rearview and caught me smiling to myself.

“I hope you get to see her again,” he said to me.

“Thanks, Eddie,” I said back. “I hope I do too.”



About the Author

X.C. Atkins is the author of Grace Street Alley and other stories, published with Makeout Creek, and The Desperado Days, published with Trnsfr Books. He has short stories in Prairie Schooner, Paper Darts, BULL, Akashic Books Richmond Noir, Coal Hill Review, and other journals and anthologies. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University. He lives and writes in Los Angeles. (See more at


Photo by Kevin Bidwell: