Love in the Time of Neon Friendship Bracelets: A Short Story

Coby walked up the long driveway and saw the group of mixed age adolescents playing a noncompetitive variation of basketball and was instantly annoyed.  Another home group church his parents dragged him to, where he would be forced to interact with socially awkward homeschooled kids and classmates he didn't like. Being a pastor's kid is great during a potluck, being the first to plunge into the unknown casserole dishes, but having to mingle with physically affectionate elders and visit needy parishioners in their boring homes...ugh..."Can't I stay home tonight, Mom?"

"No, people expect our whole family to be there."


But then he saw her.  Did that girl just dribble the ball between her legs, fake a move to her left, while crossing over to her right, and pull up for a three pointer and nail it in the face of a pimpled teenage boy?

That crossover got the Hawks shorts riding up...oh wait
that was just early 90s Hawks short shorts.  
Yes. Yes she did.

"She's good isn't she?" said a voice from behind him.

"Oh, hey Josh, I didn't know you would be here." Josh was in Coby's 5th grade classroom the previous year. He wasn't a friend, per say, but he was alright. Coby never relied on him showing up at church, youth group, or events, because his parents were barely members. "Yeah, she is. How old is she, and how come I've never seen her before?"

"Her name is Misty Lowe. She's twelve and her family just got back from somewhere in Africa. They're missionaries or something."

"She's our age, and can dribble like Tim Hardaway? No way," Coby said disbelievingly, as he scanned her over. She was probably four inches taller than he was. That wasn't uncommon. He was a short 6th grader. A short 6th grader who practiced all day long to impress middle school coaches who cared more about builds rather than skills. Nobody on his teams could dribble between their legs without looking like they were trying way too hard.

"Dude, she is twelve. I've known her all my life. We've been in the same Sunday school classes. Well, when they aren't off playing Columbus. Come on, I'll get us in the game."

I guess this is still cool...for the six miles per gallon it got. 
Coby walked up the long driveway. It was, really, a beautiful house. A huge house, with a brand new 1991 Ford F-350 parked near a detached garage.  There was some huge shop with tractors and machinery. This wasn't just a typical couple in the church. They were power players. Coby instantly felt sorry for his parents. Dad would have to keep this family happy, to keep them tithing regularly.

Coby was going to take it out on their little, precious, overly-talented, tom-boy daughter. He would need his brother's help.

He looked back at their aged Aerostar van. Ben was still inside. Still defiantly playing his Gameboy device, despite Mom and Dad's demands to "join the group tonight."

If Coby felt displaced there, he imaged how his older brother must've felt. At least the kids were playing basketball outside, Coby thought, which might coax Ben out (Ben was pushing for a spot on the varsity team as a Freshman). The two brothers had practiced so many hours outside together that they complemented each other's games, or, maybe, Ben just enhanced Cody's skills.

Hey Ben, they're gunna let us join the game," Coby said excitedly as he pointed up to the group of kids shooting hoops.

Ben reluctantly set down the gaming device and walked up the driveway with his little brother.  He too, saw the oddity on the ball court. The young girl phenom made another difficult shot, but it was her confidence that was really out of place. She was younger than half the kids playing, but she knew she was the best one out there. It was going to be a three person game. Ben looked at his little brother who held an odd grin, and instantly knew why he was asked to play. Ben copied his brother's smile.  His little brother had his first crush. Coby wants to humiliate her on the court...haha...what a middle school way to show her you care, buddy--Ben thought.  

"Coby, remember, these are church technical fouls, okay kiddo?"

"What? I never..."

"I've seen you when you really want to win...something comes over you...just remember she's a girl?"

"What are you talking about...oh, her?  I didn't even notice..." Coby lied.

"Sure you didn't. Haha."

The group quit the game it was playing when they walked up (apparently Misty's team was blowing out the other team). Most wanted to quit playing altogether, but they were curious how good the pastor's kids were.  The church was quite large, and many like Josh, weren't forced to attend church with their families. They all basically knew each other, but not their athletic abilities.

They shot free-throws for teams. Ben swished the first ball. The group groaned. They now knew there was another talent better than themselves.

Coby bricked his first attempt on purpose, but it hit the back iron and defied physics and bounced into the hoop anyway. Damn. He would have to play opposite his brother.

Less hair (more bullcuts), and more neon colors on our team
To make matters worse, Misty and Josh made it onto his brothers team. He looked at his own team which resembled the Bad News Bears. He hoped the humiliation wouldn't last long.

The game went almost exactly like he predicted. Ben made shots, or assists to Josh and the other wing players. And Misty was just as advertised.

Coby tried all he could to keep it close, but they were taller, faster and more accurate. Routinely, his teammates dribbled off their shoes or let passes slide out of their hands, or threw up air balls. Coby was going to have to individually play like Dominique Wilkins to get his team back into it.

Their defense had relaxed with their large lead, but Misty was still ball hawking. Coby took a pass, and looked into her eyes as she jumped in front of him.  Her hands were all over the place. She was pretty. Not gorgeous, but pretty. She wore no makeup, and her hair was almost identical to Smurfette's feathered swoop...just avoiding falling in her eyes.

She noticed the way Coby was looking at her, and it took her by surprise. She momentarily lowered her guard. It was right then that Coby dribbled past her on the left, darted to the right and attempted a reverse layup (a move he had far from mastered). Out of nowhere, Ben flew through the air and swatted his layup out of bounds.

Ben instantly realized his betrayal. Coby was staring at him with the look of "was that necessary?" to which Ben tried to shrug his shoulders in apology. The both loved competing, and Ben never played down to his brother. Still...

The game was over quickly afterwards. They quit with a final score of 40 - 12,  and it wasn't even that close.  6 of the points on the loser side were scored by Coby, but it was hardly heroic like he imagined.  Misty scored at least as much, if not more.  She also nailed a deep 3 pointer with Coby right in her face.

Disappointed, Coby walked with Josh over to Gatorade cooler filled with actual Gatorades.  Man, Coby thought, these people are rich...who supplies bottled drinks?

"Those teams were hardly fair," Coby said, as all losers do, to Josh.

"I know. It was awesome. It was like 5 on 1. You're teammates stunk. Haha."

"Hey...are you Coby?"  came a voice just as Coby uncapped his orange Gatorade.

It was her.  She was grabbing a grape Gatorade and looking right at him.

"Yeah...I am.  Hi."

"Was that your brother? He's pretty good."

"Oh, uh...yeah. Ben. He's in high school, so it's not really fair for him to play against us, but yeah, he's good," Coby jealously said. Coby felt, like all little brothers do, that he lived under the shadow of his older brother's achievements.

"You both were good. You're the pastor's kids, right?"  She asked.

"Uh, yeah...but don't let that..." He was searching for words of definition beyond his dad's profession. PKs (pastor's kids) were either awkward losers who wore suits in 4th grade or rebellious hellions who tried to advertise their parent's hypocrisy through idiotic antics. He took a swig of the Gatorade..."ugh..." he almost spat. "This tastes like salt water?"

"Ha ha...first time having Gatorade?" She laughed. She smiled at him too long and turned away in embarrassment.

"Yeah, I guess. We're more of a pop family." He sheepishly replied. "Sorry, I should be grateful your family supplied them...thanks."

"This isn't my Gatorade or my house, ha ha. My parents probably would probably be mad if they knew I was drinking it. Water is good enough for the Lowe family, ha ha."

"Oh. Sorry, I guess I thought this was your home." He relaxed his guard. She wasn't a rich girl after all.

Josh noticed what was going on, and like a true kinda-friend, helped his buddy out.  "Wow, you guys are totally weird. Coby why don't you just ask her out, and get this awkward stage over with?"

"What? Shut up Josh." Coby said as he shoved Josh with both hands. He was mortified. So was she.  She excused herself and went back to hang out with her sisters.

Coby knew of other kids his age who were "going out," and never understood it. What a waste of time. Girls are boring. They'd want to pick flowers or talk about clothes.  Although, Misty was different. In the hour he'd known her she was athletic, cocky, funny, cool, and oh, yeah, cute. Just her presence made him evolve from a boy to an adolescent in the course of one lopsided basketball game.

Two hours later, after dinner, a round of capture the flag, and numerous other games, Coby found himself sitting on a patio swing with her. He sat first, and when she casually sat next to him, he took it as a sign from God.

He forced himself to say the words he never thought he'd say. "So, like, um. I was wondering if you'd, I don't know, like, want to go out with me?" His voice almost cracked (like it would all the next year), it was harder than apologizing to his brother when he was the victim.

"What does that mean...going out?" she replied.

Are you kidding me? EVERYONE knows what that means. HOMESCHOOLED KIDS!  Now he had to explain it? This is why he did not want a girlfriend! Except that, this time, he really did.

"Well, uh geez...It means that we are a a couple."

"Like boyfriend/girlfriend?"

"Yeah, I guess."  This was too much. Courage was leaving his body as fast as sweat.  He needed another Gatorade.

"I'm not allowed to have a boyfriend until I'm 16."

"Oh...never mind, forget it then..."  He felt the instant pangs of rejection.

"But we can just call it going out? Right? Not boyfriend/girlfriend? Cause I'd love to, as long as my dad doesn't know about it."

"Really? I mean, I don't want to get you in trouble or anything..." He tried to downplay his proposal.

"Coby, I said YES."

"Oh cool."  And with that...he had nothing more to say.

They sat there for another 30 minutes watching the sunset and knowing that their parent's meeting was nearing the end. Neither wanted it to end, and yet...they had nothing to talk about.

He wanted to do something. Like hold her hand. That's what kids did, right? It would take more than an electrolyte filled drink to make that move though. So they sat there, inches apart, metamorphosing into different beings that suddenly cared about the other gender, watching the sun set on their childhood.

He wanted to cry when he got in the backseat of the Aerostar that night.  He wasn't sure why.

Mom noticed it immediately.  "What's wrong honey?" She asked.

"Coby's got a girlfriend. Her name is Misty Lowe and she can beat him on the basketball court," Ben said with older sibling glee.

Coby tried to punch Ben, but Ben dodged the wild swing.

"Knock it off, guys" Dad said.

Mom and Dad looked at each other. Great. Now this--they collectively thought. "We've met the Lowe family and they're good people; but we need to talk about this." Mom said.

They never did talk about it, to which Coby was grateful.


6th grade relationships are hard to maintain, Coby realized, especially when the girl doesn't go to your school. They only saw each other on Sunday mornings and during occasional church gatherings.  It was always awesome, short-lived and ever so bittersweet.  

After a month or so, he did reach for her hand. It was cold and soft and different than anything else he'd ever touched. It was the most amazing feeling in the world for 45 seconds or so, until his hand broke out into spontaneous fountains of perspiration.  He pretended to hear an adult and dropped her hand. He promised to work on his hand holding game like he did his dribbling skills.  

Can we trade back now?
They exchanged neon friendship bracelets and school photos (somehow she got the same smokey gray background even though she wasn't enrolled in a public school).  They played basketball more than they talked. They were fairly even. She won sometimes, and he did about as often. They talked about moves, angles, defenses, professional players, and ways to get better.

This shared love of the game was enough for them. Youth doesn't need complexity or variety. All you can eat pizza is better than a six course meal.  

He thought this was a mutual understanding.  He gave her a rookie basketball card of Clyde Drexler for  Christmas that year, and she gave him a Stüssy brand hooded sweatshirt. Clothes? Were his Quiksilver shirts no longer relevant? She gave it to him at church. She nervously waited outside the boys bathroom with her sisters as he tried it on.  

Comfortable? Hardly. She bought him a boys medium. He was NOT a medium. It was tight everywhere, but especially in the waist. He wasn't fat, but this sweatshirt sure made him feel it. He took it off and went back outside.

Misty and her sisters were obviously disappointed he wasn't wearing it? "What's wrong, did it not fit?" the eldest sister asked.  

"It fits fine. I'm just too hot to wear it." He lied. 

"Oh." Misty said despondently. His white lie being the first fissure to their innocence.  


It was his classmates that cracked their honor. As with any "relationship" outside the school building, the doubters were plentiful. At first, Coby didn't care. She played on the girl's basketball team even though she didn't attend the school. A few other girls confirmed this (and were jealous of her skills). Still, she was a mythical creature, and even Josh, in a newfound role of schoolyard bully, wouldn't verify her existence.  

My actual 6th grade school photo w/
my girl-friendship bracelets.  
As months turned to seasons, and basketball was abandoned for baseball, Coby was adamant to prove her existing beyond his one school photo.  (The photo had garnered everything from genuine "she's cute" comments, to "woof, she's a dog" from jerks, to "anyone can get one of those photos...doesn't mean she's real.")  

Fed up with their lack of faith, Coby yelled to some especially annoying teammates on his baseball team, "Dude, she's playing third base on that softball field over there!" 
"Okay, let's go check her out after practice," said another boy.  

"Yeah, let's do that!" Coby said

He realized his mistake when they got close. She was wearing some old burnt orange sweat pants that clashed with her aqua team jersey. She had, like he should've known, also dove to make routine plays in practice, and so was covered in varying layers of dirt and grass stains. It would've been respected if she was a boy...but he wanted her to look cute...attractive...not like a tomboy.  

"Is that her, Coby? She looks more like a Dusty than a Misty."  

"Yeah, she looks like Pigpen."  

Coby sunk into himself. She was still cute...they were just...jealous. They were just...

"More like Misty Musty Underwear!" said one of the ruder boys to uproarious laughter.  

"Yeah, Misty Musty Underwear!" they repeated as if some creative Shakespearian poet had penned it.  

"Shut up! Shut up you @$$holes!" Coby yelled back at them, as a parent on a neighboring field grimaced at him.  He shoved one of the boys against the fence, and the rest got the hint.  

They backed away victoriously singing Misty Musty Underwear, Ha Ha...

Alone now, Coby flopped down on the lone bleacher and looked out at her.  She came flying in on a bunt play and flipped the ball to first with all the acrobatics of a MLB ballplayer.  Her momentum leading her to a summersault in the dirt. Her teammates cheered her on. She looked up and saw Coby. He smiled and waved. 

Good job. Good job, Misty Musty Underwear.  

She smiled ear to ear. She never looked better, he thought.  


His hopes were dashed when a 7th grader asked if he liked Musty Underwear on Monday minutes after he got off the bus.  

All day, different jokes were aimed at him. His girlfriend's appearance and the pathetic nickname had gone viral before anyone had any concept of dial-up internet.  

All week he held his head low. He could call her at home and end it, but he'd have to deal with her dad answering the phone....

So Sunday came, and he dreaded what he had to do. He tried to get her alone to say what he had to say.  

Finally, in the garden behind the foyer, they were alone. She had all the anticipation of a girl expecting her first kiss. She hadn't changed one bit. Innocent, sweet, competitive, and cool with whatever happened, she grabbed his hand. It still felt just as electric as the first time.  

"Misty, I don't think you want to hold my hand."  

"Why do you have a cold or something?" 

"No...I umm.  I umm.  I-THINK-WE-SHOULD-BREAK-UP."  He said in one syllable.  

Probably would've been more sincere than how I did it. 
"What? Really? Why...What did I do?"  

"You did nothing, Misty. You did nothing. I'm sorry. I just don't want a girlfriend anymore..."  

Coby ran to the Aerostar that his parents never locked, and did not look back. He shut the sliding door and lay in the back seat sobbing uncontrollably. He loved her, he thought. But he did what he had to do. He couldn't go out with Misty Musty Underwear. After a few minutes of self pity, he did wonder how she was taking it. But he'd never know. She did not come back to church for months. And when she did, she never looked him in the eye. Neither would her sisters or her father.  

What he and Misty had, never existed, they lied.  

He lost more than a first love that day. He had betrayed his feelings because of his reputation. He wasn't true to what he believed, and ultimately defamed his name. He lacked something his father talked about often at home and from the pulpit: integrity.  

Mom figured it out after church, of course. She always knew when something was wrong. Even Ben seemed sympathetic. Dad took them to the corner store and told Coby to get whatever he wanted...even if it was over a dollar. Nobody asked any details.

Coby returned with an orange Gatorade.  It left the familiar bitter taste in his mouth, but he hoped it would replenish something he had lost along the way.   


  1. *pretends to be smart* I cant help but to find the colors of the bracelets fitting. The yellow representing the devine purification of a youthful mind and the orange representing an evolution to a more passionate though impure being

    1. PCHHHEWWW: Mind blown. haha.

      I don't know if we knew what they meant then...but that's pretty accurate.