By Don White
Sidney, Greg’s pint-sized college roommate, playfully pokes at the oversized muscles of Dave, Greg’s high school buddy who is visiting the campus. “Are those real?” Sidney asks in his nasally voice.
His pals laugh, but Greg just rolls his eyes.
Dave spent three years at Pennsylvania State on a football scholarship. Now he works at a health club where they expect him to have a physique that raises the hopes of anyone who walks in dreaming of a new body. In other words, he is paid to look good. And Greg resents it.
They stand outside Greg’s dorm room and the small crowd in the hall grows as Dave tells his tired football stories. They ask what his best play was. Has he thought of going pro? How much can he bench-press? Has he ever entered bodybuilding contests?
Grinning ear to ear, Dave answers them all.
They stroll to the cafeteria at lunchtime where more friends, especially female ones, come talk to Greg just long enough to be introduced to Dave. Starry-eyed college girls hang on his every word. Guys try to impress him with their old high school sports feats. They want his opinion on the college playoffs. They ask more about his coworker who played for the Lakers for two years.
Someone asks, “Have you ever measured your biceps?” Greg pushes aside his lukewarm spaghetti and reaches for his cherry cobbler, doing his best to tune it all out.
If they only knew Dave like Greg has for all those years. His flaws and insecurities, the big ears under the perfectly groomed red hair, the stupid things that came out of his mouth since they met in kindergarten back in 1964. “I’m Dave, Dave, the strong and brave,” he’d say with a silly grin. He was the tall kid sitting behind Greg, making gorilla noises.
Then there were the times Greg helped him with high school assignments so he could just stay on the team. Greg had the brains, Dave had the brawn, and the looks, and that transparent Mr. Nice-Guy aura.
Greg feels stuck in the college cafeteria as all his friends lavish attention upon his overly muscular boyhood buddy. These are friends who should be congratulating Greg on his story in the college journal, his election as class senator, or making it to the dean’s list again.
That evening the two guys get on a bus headed downtown. Greg stares out the window, listening to the rain drumming overhead.
Dave interrupts their silence.
“Greg,” he says, “do you think I’m okay?”
After all the hubbub on campus today, Greg can’t believe his friend is still fishing for compliments.
“Sure,” he says, watching the rain-soaked cars.
Greg turns toward Dave with a curious frown and catches him wiping tears off his cheeks. His eyes are red and puffy. His head is lowered and turned away from other passengers.
Then it sinks in.
This tall, good-looking, football player-turned-bodybuilder really cares about who he is. In an age that worships appearance, he’s honestly hurt that no one cared about who he was on the inside.
Dave’s humility blasts a gaping hole in Greg’s arrogance. He clears his throat.
“Yeah, Dave,” he says. “You’re a great guy. I mean it.”
His jealousy is nudged out by a swelling shame, and Greg remembers why he’s called Dave his best friend for all these years. He’s one of the good guys. Character matters to him. He’d do anything for anybody. He’s as honorable as the day is long, with a heart twice as big as his biceps.
Greg recalls two young boys sitting at their school desks. He sees a lanky kid with big ears and a silly grin, and in front of him sits a skinny blond kid with an incurable cowlick, trying not to laugh at his friend’s muffled grunts.
Greg’s eyes begin to water. He puts his hand on Dave’s shoulder and smiles.
“You’re one of the best, pal,” he tells him. “And I’m proud to be your friend.”
Then in the deepest. most serious voice he could muster, Greg stares at him and says, “Dave, Dave, the strong and brave.”
Dave stares back–and makes gorilla noises. A man across the aisle turns away, and the boyhood buddies bust out laughing.
Writing prompts for our writer friends: (1) Pick a random year from your childhood, and write about the first memory that comes to mind. (2) Find a photo of children at play and create a story from it. (3) Write about how a national event or trend affected you or your family.