It was an April morning—?a Tuesday morning, to be exact—?a morning that had nothing whatsoever unusual about it. The sun was shining, the trash had been collected from the sidewalk, the breakfast toast was moderately burned but still edible, and the various clocks in the apartment, which never agreed exactly, indicated that it was somewhere close to seven-thirty a.m.
It was a morning just exactly like every other Tuesday morning in April on the West Side of New York City, except for one thing.
James Priestly Tate, age twelve, had an overwhelming urge, for the first time in his life, to use deodorant.
He tried to ignore it at first. But he found that he was not able to put on his shirt. His arms were paralyzed. When he attempted to manipulate his arms to enter the armholes of the light blue button-down shirt that was part of the uniform he wore every day to school, they wouldn’t move. They weren’t ready to move toward those armholes—?and they wouldn’t be ready until James Priestly Tate used deodorant.
Frowning, J.P. headed back to the bathroom of the apartment. He had already been there once, and brushed his teeth. J.P. was a dedicated, almost religious toothbrusher. He had been devoted to brushing his teeth from the time he was three years old and a dentist uncle had given him a green toothbrush with a frog’s face on the handle.
He had already combed his hair and tied his shoes. He was wearing his chino pants, also part of his school uniform.
But he was shirtless when he stood at the bathroom door, thumped on it with his fist, and called to his ten-year-old sister inside.
“Caroline, hurry up!”
“I can’t hurry up, I’m in the shower! You had your turn already. I thought you were all through with the bathroom!”
“I forgot something. I need something,” J.P. called through the closed door.
“What do you need?” Caroline called back. “I’ll hand it out.”
Oh, great. J.P. couldn’t stand his sister to begin with, and now he had to call his most intimate needs to her through a bathroom door. He should forget the whole thing. But he couldn’t. He had this overwhelming urge to use deodorant. He couldn’t figure it out. He didn’t even smell. It wasn’t as if he had just run the marathon or something. But he had this urge; and the urge was so great that he was even willing to embarrass himself in front of Caroline.
“Deodorant!” he bellowed through the door.
He heard the sound of the shower stop. He heard the rustle of the shower curtain. He heard the door of the medicine cabinet click open. Then the bathroom door opened an inch, and his sister’s hand appeared. It thrust a plastic container at him.
“Here,” Caroline said, and closed the door again.
J.P. looked down at the pale green aerosol can, which was decorated with yellow flowers. He uncapped it and sniffed it. He looked at its name: Sunny Meadow.
He made a face. He wanted deodorant. He maybe even needed deodorant. Certainly he had an overwhelming urge to use deodorant.
But he didn’t want to enter his seventh-grade homeroom smelling like a sunny meadow.
He headed for the kitchen, where his mother was cleaning up the breakfast dishes.
“Hi,” Joanna Tate said cheerfully. “Where’s your shirt?”
J.P. didn’t answer. He held out the bottle of Sunny Meadow toward her. “Is there any other deodorant in this apartment?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No. Why?”
“This is too feminine,” J.P. explained. “It smells like flowers.”
“Well, of course it does. That’s why I like it. Also, it’s cheaper than some of the others.”
“Next time you go shopping, would you buy something with a more masculine smell, and something with a more masculine name?”
Mrs. Tate nodded. “I guess so. I didn’t know you even used deodorant, James. You smell okay to me.” Then she stared at him affectionately for a moment. “But I forget how old you’re getting. Twelve. My goodness. You’re an adolescent already. Next thing I know, you’ll start shaving. Let me see your chin for a minute.”
She reached for J.P.’s chin, cupped her hand around it, and held it up toward the light. He pulled away, irritated.
“My chin’s fine,” he muttered. “I don’t need to shave. I just want to deal with my pits, is all. But I don’t want to smell like wildflowers.”
“What would you like to smell like?” his mother asked, turning back to the breakfast table. “Locker room? Auto body repair shop?”
“Ha ha,” J.P. muttered, heading back to his room.
His sister, Caroline, appeared in the hall, combing her damp hair, wearing her bathrobe. “Jockstrap?” she suggested cheerfully. “Super Bowl?”
“Quit eavesdropping,” J.P. said. He entered his bedroom and picked up the blue shirt that he had left on his unmade bed. He dropped the Sunny Meadow deodorant unopened on his desk and finished dressing. Tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow he would use deodorant, and tomorrow maybe he would smell strong and masculine and pleasant during second period when he went to math class and sat down in his seat next to—?
J.P. blushed, all alone in his room, with his shirt half-buttoned. That was it, he realized. Be honest with yourself, Tate; it’s because there was that empty seat next to yours in math class, and now all of a sudden it isn’t empty anymore because that new student arrived last week and was assigned that seat, and now instead of an empty seat beside you in math class there is an occupied seat, and it is occupied by—?
He blushed again. Say it, Tate, he told himself. Say the name. Say it aloud.
J.P. took a deep breath. He checked to be certain that the door to his bedroom was tightly closed, so that his eavesdropping sister wouldn’t overhear. And he said it.
“Angela Patricia Galsworthy,” he said reverently. He could almost hear violins playing in the background as he said the name aloud.
He could hardly believe it. It had never occurred to him, in his twelve—?almost thirteen—?years of life, that this might someday happen. Now it had.