He is beautiful, and I am 16 with braces.

I’m riding in the passenger seat of his pleasant smelling luxury car. I have two hours to kill after the tennis match and before the team dinner, so I asked him for a ride home—my parents are out for the day and I can’t drive yet. He suggested I simply come home with him, and although I live close enough to walk, I decide to come along. This is the intrigue I anticipated when I spontaneously agreed to manage the boys’ tennis team.

I’ve never set foot on a tennis court and don’t ever plan to. I learned how tennis was played two weeks into the job. My leg hair and chipped black manicures offend the mothers of the Varsity team, who usually show up to the courts toward the end of practice in Lulus, fresh off their own practices at their respective Country Clubs.

I feel like an outsider, but I like it. I’m a sophomore transitioning between friends, and any time I can spend avoiding homework to tan is valuable. So starkly different from the players and coaches and parents, I feel most myself. Our differences become the distinctions I use to define myself.

And there’s the appeal of the boys: my explicable sexual attraction across the social boundary of jock and art-girl sustains my hunger for their attention, and better yet, their validation. I try so hard to make them laugh. I complete endless tasks for them—no matter how menial or patronizing.

Now I am in his car, and he’s doing me the favor. Any more experienced, and I’d know that an older boy’s invitation to a parentless home was never meant to simply convenience his driving. But I’m naïve, and the distance between us is too large for me to fathom the possibility of his advance. He’s babysitting.

As we drive, he tells me that his mom walked in on him naked that morning. Can he see me blushing? No, his eyes are on the road. His hands grip the wheel as he laughs, his muscles tensing; his forearms supple and sparsely haired—not enough to intimidate, but enough to establish his budding masculinity.

He is not the kind of boy I would openly admit to wanting to have sex with. I’m scared to talk about politics with him. I know he probably thinks my bleached hair is too brassy or unwashed. He’s been around enough polished and trimmed women to notice things like that.

We get to his house, where he walks me around his packed garage, pointing out which cars belong to his father, his grandfather, and his brothers. (All on vacation together, without him.) He lives on one of the wealthiest streets of the estate section of our affluent suburb, but he makes it a point to note that he bought his car himself.

Inside, he shows me his two kitchens. In one, he grants me leeway to the entire fridge, and directs me to a computer in the breakfast nook that I can use if I get bored. He tells me he’s going upstairs to take a shower, but offers me a tour of the second and third floors.

Years later, when we coincidentally spend the summer together as camp counselors, I’ll sit with him for the good portion of a 12-hour bus ride up the Atlantic Coast, talking about college and adulthood and how to approach relationships in high school. But I’ll never feel as close to him, or as strange, as I do now. I tell him it’s alright, and retreat to the bathroom, where I stare at my reflection for at least 10 minutes.

While he is upstairs showering, I ponder the thought of wandering upstairs to interrupt his bathing. Part of me feels like he wants me to intrude on his privacy, but that idea leaves me guilty. But then why would he have brought me here? Why is he being so nice? He’s mean, probably the meanest boy on the team. If he was going to be kind to anyone, why would it be me?

I decide not to go upstairs. After all, he is beautiful, and I am 16 with braces. He just didn’t feel like driving me home.

He comes downstairs with two shirts, asking for my help in the decision. He makes a point to extend his long, limber torso into his Polo, knowing my eyes will naturally wander to the vanishing space above his crotch. Instead, I look down and laugh. He sees how red I am this time.

At dinner that night he glances at me to help him tell the story about his mom walking in one him naked. He smirks and smiles as I fill in the gaps. The team loves the story. I love it even more. ♦