Fourteen-year-old Daniel Robinson sprinted down the final 100 meters of Meadowbrook Middle School’s rubberized track. Out of the corner of his eye, Daniel could see that his best friend, Kyle Hanson, was on his tail, inching his way closer and closer to passing him.Not gonna happen, Daniel thought, his eyes fixated on the finish line.
Sweat covered Daniel’s face and stung his eyes but he didn’t dare take the time to wipe it off. He had to beat his best time for the mile from earlier this year, 4:25. He and Kyle were both planning to join the cross-country and track teams at the high school, and Daniel wanted to maintain his 8thgrade mile record.
With his last remaining burst of energy, Daniel raced ahead of Kyle and buzzed past their tanned P.E. teacher with her stopwatch poised and ready.
As he wound down his sprint into a jog, Daniel could feel the heat from the track through his shoes. He focused on his breathing to make sure he didn’t pass out.
Kyle slowed down to a jog next to him. “We’re gonna kick butt at cross-country next year!” Kyle said as he caught his breath. Daniel nodded in agreement then spat onto the soccer field in the center of the track.
The two boys made their way around the track once more to cool down as the other students in the class worked their way through the mile. “Did you hear my time?” Daniel asked.
“4:20,” Kyle replied.
“Yes! That’s five seconds better than last time. What about you?”
“4:28,” Kyle said. “I guess running the river trail with you paid off.” The two continued their jog around the track as the other students finished the mile.
The bell rang. Adrenaline shot through Daniel once again. It was the part of P.E. he dreaded the most: the locker room. Sure, he could get undressed in one of the bathroom stalls, but it was the whole shower thing that really made him uncomfortable.
Like all the other boys in his grade, Daniel was entering the strange and awkward world of puberty. Every day brought new discoveries each time he looked in the mirror or got undressed. Thanks to the onslaught of adolescence, his once smooth forehead showed the incoming signs of acne.
Daniel, Kyle, and the other boys filtered their way into the cavernous locker room illuminated by flickering fluorescents. The space echoed with the sounds of talking, opening and closing lockers, and flushing toilets. For some reason the concrete floor was always wet, which made the metal benches between the rows of lockers a much-needed luxury when it came to putting on your shoes and socks.
“Man, it’s hot out there,” Kyle said as he pulled off his shirt and slung it over his shoulder. Unlike Daniel, Kyle wasn’t the least bit shy about what was happening to his body. In fact, Kyle’s mom had to stop him from showing off his newly grown-in pubic hair to friends and family.
Despite Kyle’s launch into manhood, he was still a few inches shorter than Daniel. As Kyle moved closer to his locker, he went from being just shirtless to only wearing his shoes and socks. While he opened his locker, Kyle popped off his shoes, peeled off his socks, grabbed his towel and Old Spice body wash, and headed for the showers.
Daniel remained seated on the metal bench by their lockers, his heart beating as fast as when he’d finished the mile. He wasn’t as brave or as bold as Kyle when it came to this sort of thing. All year long he had waited until the very last minute to shower and change so he wouldn’t have to be naked in front of everyone. He planned to just wear a bathing suit, but another kid tried that and eventually transferred out of their P.E. class. Daniel did not want that type of ridicule and humiliation aimed at him.
As the other boys left the shower, changed, and exited the locker room, Daniel opened his locker. On the inside of his locker door was a small mirror that he used to style his hair each day. He preferred this tiny one to the larger one in the bathroom at home. Here he didn’t have to see what was happening to his body each day.
Earlier that morning, after Daniel had gotten out of the shower, he’d stood naked in front of the bathroom mirror. As he stared at his tall, thin frame with his short brown hair and green eyes, he raised his arms over his head. Hair had started to grow under his arms. His legs had already begun their journey to hairiness months before.
Then there was what his mom called the “swimsuit area.” That had started to grow and change as well and was probably the most awkward thing of all. Even though no one could see it, Daniel could feel the changes and reactions going on down there; especially when he looked at girls now. Or at any other time, for that matter.
Daniel heard Kyle making his way back to his locker. Kyle talked and talked and talked with the other boys from the minute he got into the shower until he got back to his locker next to Daniel’s. He kept everyone laughing as a way to make them more comfortable with an already awkward situation. Despite this, Daniel could never join in.
Kyle sat down next to Daniel, his towel around his waist. He had shaggy blonde skater hair that fell into his eyes. Kyle leaned close to Daniel’s ear. “There’s two guys left in there,” he said. “See ya outside.” Kyle stood, tossed his body wash to Daniel, and started to get dressed.
Daniel grabbed his towel and began walking toward the showers. By the time he got there it was empty. He made his way to his favorite spot – in the corner – and showered.
With only a few minutes left before the bell rang, Daniel slipped on his Batman boxers with the yellow and black Batman symbol printed on them and pulled on his favorite Batman shirt and his tan cargo shorts. He ran gel through his damp hair, spiked it the way he liked it best, closed his locker, slung his black Jansport backpack over his right shoulder, and exited the locker room with a sigh of relief.
Another day in the middle school locker room down, Daniel thought as he pushed open the door, four years in the high school locker room to go. Daniel quickly blocked this thought from his mind.
Kyle was waiting outside by the drinking fountains. Daniel got to him just as the bell rang for lunch. “Come on,” Kyle said. “I have something to show you.”