The Coolest Friend Ever

The Coolest Friend Ever

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Be The Best You Can Be

The Coolest Friend Ever

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

~Winston Churchill

When I turned twelve, I hung out with a kid named Raymond Sproat. We became friends and classmates in the eighth grade. Raymond was willowy and dark-skinned, and had eyes the color of cinnamon toast. He was the coolest kid I had ever known. He used foul language, smoked cigarettes, and could hit a baseball farther than anyone I’d ever seen. He would do the wildest things and take the craziest chances. Raymond cheated on exams, cut classes, and picked fights with kids twice his size. He had a scar on his chin from where he dove from a bridge and hit the bottom of the river.

We hung around a lot together that year, even though we weren’t very much alike. Neither of us had other friends. I think we had an unspoken respect for one another.

I admired and envied Raymond. He was fearless, confident. He never backed away from trouble. I wanted to be more like Raymond because I was tired of being picked on. I was sick of bullies hawking snot on my shirt and then howling like monkeys when I tried to wipe it off. I had had enough of being taunted with nicknames like Dork Face whenever I walked past them.

My faith in Raymond was boundless. I remember riding down the steepest streets in town on the handlebars of his rusty old bicycle. We flew down those streets. If we had hit a rock or a pothole I would have been ground into the pavement, probably splitting open my head in the process. But I wasn’t worried. He led me into danger many times, but he always led me out again.

Raymond and I did some wild things together. Sometimes we would hop aboard a lumber train headed south and ride it for several miles, with the poison heat of the diesel exhaust sweeping back into our faces. I always went along with whatever he said. I never questioned Raymond’s judgment.

That is, until one day just before the start of school.

It was the first week of September. The weather was unseasonably cold and damp. A drab cloak of low clouds had swallowed the town and sunk down against the earth itself. I woke early, tugged on my jeans and T-shirt and headed for Raymond’s house. I knocked and he came out.

“Let’s get out of here,” he whispered, letting the door close softly.

“Where are we going?” I asked, but he didn’t answer. With Raymond leading we headed east, toward the edge of town. By then I knew where we were going.

Our clubhouse was located deep in a forest of second growth redwood. The woods were thick there, branches coming to within four feet of the ground in many places. There was no path leading to the place. It was well concealed, hidden away in the thicket. The clubhouse was little more than a few planks nailed together to keep out the weather, but it was ours. We walked along without speaking, pushing our way through a tangle of salal and blackberry vines.

At one point Raymond stopped and pointed to his jacket: “Check this out,” he said. The metal tip of a flat bottle protruded from a side pocket.

“What is it?” I asked. Raymond laughed.

“What do you think?” He pulled out the bottle and held it up for me to see. “It’s whiskey. I stole it from my old man.”

“What are we gonna do with it?”

Raymond laughed again. “We’re gonna drink it.”

I must have made a face because Raymond looked at me and said, “You’re not chicken, are you?” I nodded. I never thought of lying to him. He cuffed me on the shoulder lightly. “Don’t be scared. Booze can’t hurt you.”

I nodded again, satisfied. Raymond smiled and took off, climbing the hill with me in hot pursuit.

Halfway up the ridge it began to rain. Thunder whacked and cracked. Lightning flashed so close that I could smell it, and not far away there was a splintering, rending sound as a tree fell.

We reached the clubhouse and crawled in through the entrance. It was damp and dark inside, and laced with a myriad of spider webs that clung to my face. With a wave of my hand I brushed them aside, shuddering at the thought of a spider making tracks along my neck.

Raymond removed the bottle from his jacket, unscrewed the cap and took a long drink. He handed the bottle to me.

“Try it,” he said. “You never tasted anything like it in your life. Tastes like fire.” Bravely, feeling privileged and adult, I took the bottle and raised it to my mouth. Then I stopped.

“No, thanks,” I told him. “I don’t want any.”

He looked shocked. “What do you mean?”

“Just what I said.”

I realized that my refusal to drink with Raymond was testing the limits of our friendship. That he might not want to pal around with me any longer. But I also knew that a true friend wouldn’t force you to do things you didn’t want to. I had already seen what liquor did to adults, how it brought out the worst in them and made them act irresponsibly. I wanted no part of that.

Raymond sat there for a moment, just staring at me. Then he shrugged and said, “That’s okay, Tim. I understand.”

It was the coolest thing I’d ever heard my friend say….

~Timothy Martin

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