PUNCH BUGGY • by J.C. Towler

Everyone knows the four rules of Punch Buggy:

• If you start the game, you can’t be the first to quit.
• Convertible bugs are worth two punches.
• No blocking hits.
• When playing with a girl, you don’t hit hard.

Karl broke the fourth rule.

From the back seat, I watched Liz do her best to be brave, but a tremor in her lower lip hinted strongly at her pain. Karl knew he’d fucked up. He danced back and forth between being apologetic and trying to play it off like it was no big deal. Neither approach drew Liz out of the angry silence she’d folded into. The Bug rattled past us heading north.  Surfboards strapped to the roof with bungee cords threatened to fly free at any second.

I fought the urge to jump into the situation. Karl and I went back a ways but when Liz came into our lives things became awkward.  We both liked her, she liked us, and that was fine as long as we were just friends. But it’s tough staying just friends with the hottest chick at Stonewall Jackson High. Karl is a big meaty guy who laughs easy and he makes girls feel safe around him, so unsurprisingly she gravitated his way.

I hoped his unsportsmanlike punch would knock her out of his orbit.

“Hey Liz, there might be some ice in the cooler if you want,” I said.

“I’m okay,” she replied.

“Get some for my hand,” Karl said. “Her damn thigh is like a rock. What’s with you swimmers anyway, Liz?”

She cut her eyes at Karl then turned back towards me, her face softening.

“Thank you, James. You were kind to offer.”

As much as I loved hearing my name from her lips, I did feel a little bad for Karl. He didn’t mean to hurt her. I know from experience. My Pops, when he slugs Mom, now he’s trying to hurt. It’s always when he’s drinking, which is why I don’t drink. And it’s always after she says something like “I never shoulda settled for you.” Which is why I try not to let words bother me too much. Thinking about my parents reminded me of why I was glad to be away with my friends and how I didn’t want this stupid thing with their game to ruin our Ultimate Summer Road Trip.  We were headed to Avon to meet up with half the senior class for the fireworks.  Sun, sand, surf, and no chaperone. I’d been dreaming about it for months.

Karl gave up trying to make amends and slouched sideways in his seat, gripping the top of the steering wheel in one hand. After a minute he cranked up the radio to about 90 decibels, blasting us with “1999” which, no disrespect to The Purple One, I was tired of hearing. It’s 1999. We get it. Party on.

Liz rolled down her window and stuck a bare foot out, wiggling her toes in the wind. Over the next thirty miles I contented myself with studying her calf, ankle and foot and decided there were far worse ways to pass the time.

***

A fat water balloon thwapped against the windshield as we pulled up to the beach cottage. Liz bailed before the tires stopped rolling and hobbled over to a cluster of girlfriends who screamed and laughed like they hadn’t seen her in a decade.  A couple of guys two-fisting Solo cups met Karl and me at the front door. I took one to be polite. Working our way through a gauntlet of backslaps, hugs, fist bumps, and high fives we claimed a pair of couches in the living room then raced out to the beach. Although barely after four, a bonfire was already roaring. The sharp hiss and crack of butterfly rockets punctuated the boom of heavy surf.

I was so damn happy in the moment I almost forgot about Liz, but then I noticed her strolling toward the ocean in her Daisy Dukes and a pink bikini top. Karl was looking her way too so he didn’t catch me staring.

“Chicks, man. Chicks. Do one dumb thing and… man.  Go figure.”

“Yep,” I said.

Karl chugged his beer then jogged toward a pickup football game.  Liz glanced our way and gave me a slight finger wave before plunging in the ocean.

***

Fireworks from the show at the Avon Pier burst overhead, bathing everyone in a fleeting glow of reds, whites and blues.  I lay propped up on my elbows in the sand munching on a s’more when a familiar pair of feet stepped next to me.

“Hey you,” Liz said.

She dropped to her knees, sloshing beer from her cup on my shoulder.

“Oh shit, sorry.”  She wiped the beer with her hand, succeeding only in spreading it down my arm and across my chest. “Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,” came out “Shorry. Shorry. Shorry.”

She giggled and kept wiping away. I laughed and put my hand over hers.

“Don’t worry, Liz. It’ll evaporate in two seconds.”

She turned her hand over. Her fingers entwined in mine. With profound, glassy-eyed sincerity she said, “You’re so nice. You know that? I always liked you.”

I couldn’t get a “thanks” out before she’d leaned in to kiss me.  It was a full-blown lip lock, swirling tongues and everything.  It was the kiss I’d fantasized about for the last three years except this was even better because she’d made the move instead of me.

But the longer we kissed the more I became aware of something wrong. I felt her… trying. There wasn’t anything behind the kiss other than a momentary drunken impulse. The fireworks in my head should have been louder than the ones popping off in the sky above us, and definitely louder than the echo of Mom’s voice mocking, “I never shoulda settled for…”

I sat up, pushing Liz gently away.

“Karl’s really sorry,” I said. “He just doesn’t know how to say it.”


J.C. Towler spins tales of mystery, suspense, science fiction and is particularly fond the deep, penetrating horror tale. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is his home which is odd considering he’s afraid of the ocean and doesn’t eat fish.


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 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • What? It’s mid-day and no comments? Oh well, I will be the first.

    Great story, J.C. It had an easy feel and nice detail–I was right there with James watching Liz wiggling her toes in the breeze. Great twist at the end.

    Welcome back to the writing side of things!

  • What? It’s mid-day and no comments? Oh well, I will be the first.

    Great story, J.C. It had an easy feel and nice detail–I was right there with James watching Liz wiggling her toes in the breeze. Great twist at the end.

    Welcome back to the writing side of things!

  • Glenn Mori

    Like the way you got us into the time and scene though it took me a while to understand how old they were because I always connect the punch buggy game with children, so my mind started with them as cousins or siblings riding with parents, but you clarified.

    The realism of James’ appreciation of watching her foot out the window and of his reaction to the kiss was great; I really connected with that, but I don’t think I could have shown the same kind of self control that he does at the end at that age; James is a better man than I.

    Nice story, great description of characters and setting!

  • Glenn Mori

    Like the way you got us into the time and scene though it took me a while to understand how old they were because I always connect the punch buggy game with children, so my mind started with them as cousins or siblings riding with parents, but you clarified.

    The realism of James’ appreciation of watching her foot out the window and of his reaction to the kiss was great; I really connected with that, but I don’t think I could have shown the same kind of self control that he does at the end at that age; James is a better man than I.

    Nice story, great description of characters and setting!

  • Benjamin Tyler Thacker

    I must say that this is the best story that I’ve read in the few months that I’ve been reading stories here at everyday fiction. I felt like I was there on the beach with them. Thank you for sharing.

  • Benjamin Tyler Thacker

    I must say that this is the best story that I’ve read in the few months that I’ve been reading stories here at everyday fiction. I felt like I was there on the beach with them. Thank you for sharing.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    It takes a lot of skill to make the reader feel right there with the characters. Good ‘un.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    It takes a lot of skill to make the reader feel right there with the characters. Good ‘un.

  • MPmcgurty

    Enjoyed this a lot. Voice is great. Tying in the parents’ situation at the end was nice.

  • MPmcgurty

    Enjoyed this a lot. Voice is great. Tying in the parents’ situation at the end was nice.

  • Interesting non-romance(?). I could see the parents’ situation having a more powerful effect than hormones. (Maybe 51/49%) 🙂

    I like the allusions to the past, as well, by stating that the song 1999 was being played often, we know it’s not yet happened. (Or maybe it is 1999, but still our past.)

    This is Avon, NJ yes? I’ve spent plenty of hours on that beach myself!

  • Interesting non-romance(?). I could see the parents’ situation having a more powerful effect than hormones. (Maybe 51/49%) 🙂

    I like the allusions to the past, as well, by stating that the song 1999 was being played often, we know it’s not yet happened. (Or maybe it is 1999, but still our past.)

    This is Avon, NJ yes? I’ve spent plenty of hours on that beach myself!

  • I enjoyed this although I had the same readjustment to make to the ages of the characters. After all I’m sixty three and still like very childish games 🙂

  • I enjoyed this although I had the same readjustment to make to the ages of the characters. After all I’m sixty three and still like very childish games 🙂

  • Deborah Bundy

    Smooth, flowing, carried me along like a summer breeze. Great job of making full-blown characters in a few words. My only nit was the beginning, I kept trying to figure out who was driving, their ages, the details of the game, etc. It kept me from diving in deep, until they arrived at the cottage. Best story I’ve read in awhile. Glad you’re back in the writing game.

  • Deborah Bundy

    Smooth, flowing, carried me along like a summer breeze. Great job of making full-blown characters in a few words. My only nit was the beginning, I kept trying to figure out who was driving, their ages, the details of the game, etc. It kept me from diving in deep, until they arrived at the cottage. Best story I’ve read in awhile. Glad you’re back in the writing game.

  • S Conroy

    Pretty much perfect, just one irritation which unfortunately takes up more words to explain than it’s worth.

    I think on it’s own merits the last line is excellent: “Karl’s really sorry,” I said. “He just doesn’t know how to say it.” But it clashed for me with Karl’s immediate reaction to his blunder: “He danced back and forth between being apologetic and trying to play it off like it was no big deal.” So he clearly had said sorry several times.

    Apart from this, the voice, the imagery and most of all the depth of the story had me from start to finish.

    • Frank Schulaner
      He said sorry lots of times, sure he did, just said it wrong. Or she refused to listen, or she'd been waiting the longest time for the chance to not listen.
  • S Conroy

    Pretty much perfect, just one irritation which unfortunately takes up more words to explain than it’s worth.

    I think on it’s own merits the last line is excellent: ‘“Karl’s really sorry,” I said. “He just doesn’t know how to say it.”’ But it clashed for me with Karl’s immediate reaction to his blunder: ‘He danced back and forth between being apologetic and trying to play it off like it was no big deal.’ So he clearly had said sorry several times.

    Apart from this, the voice, the imagery and most of all the depth of the story had me from start to finish.

    • weequahic
      He said sorry lots of times, sure he did, just said it wrong. Or she refused to listen, or she'd been waiting the longest time for the chance to not listen.
  • J.C. Towler

    Thanks for the words of encouragement and helping me see the rough spots. My first real story in about three years. The writer’s gears need a bit more WD40. I also forgot how tough writing flash can be. Lots of darlings left on the side of the road for this one to get down to 1000 words.

    @Axeminister:disqus: There’s an Avon here in North Carolina, too. I should have narrowed it down.

    • Tamera Norwood
      It's a gift to hear you say how tough writing flash fiction is. Some of your critique as an Everyday editor was pretty harsh, and seemed to lack consideration for the constraints of the form. Good for you for taking direction from others so graciously, and recognizing that your house could use fresh paint. If only every editor would dive back into writing every now and then...
  • J.C. Towler

    Thanks for the words of encouragement and helping me see the rough spots. My first real story in about three years. The writer’s gears need a bit more WD40. I also forgot how tough writing flash can be. Lots of darlings left on the side of the road for this one to get down to 1000 words.

    @Axeminister:disqus: There’s an Avon here in North Carolina, too. I should have narrowed it down.

  • Great summer story. I wish I would have read this yesterday when it was still nice out.

    At 47, there’s still a part of me stuck in the 80s. And this story brought me back to a lot of my best times from that decade, especially the romantic adventures. So, I was able to easily relate to the characters, particularly the MC. I could feel his pain when he realized there was nothing behind her kiss. Damn good work on this. You accomplished a lot in a short time.

    I might clean up some of the dialogue as it didn’t sound true in places (“What’s with you swimmers anyway, Liz?”, “Thank you, James. You were kind to offer.”“Don’t worry, Liz. It’ll evaporate in two seconds.”). Friends who are that familiar with each other rarely use each others names when conversing directly with that person. Does that make sense? In the three above sentences, I would have left out the names to make the conversation a little more natural.

    But that’s my ONLY criticism of this story. It’s now one of my favorites (and that’s a very short list). Thanks for sharing.

  • Great summer story. I wish I would have read this yesterday when it was still nice out.

    At 47, there’s still a part of me stuck in the 80s. And this story brought me back to a lot of my best times from that decade, especially the romantic adventures. So, I was able to easily relate to the characters, particularly the MC. I could feel his pain when he realized there was nothing behind her kiss. Damn good work on this. You accomplished a lot in a short time.

    I might clean up some of the dialogue as it didn’t sound true in places (“What’s with you swimmers anyway, Liz?”, “Thank you, James. You were kind to offer.”“Don’t worry, Liz. It’ll evaporate in two seconds.”). Friends who are that familiar with each other rarely use each others names when conversing directly with that person. Does that make sense? In the three above sentences, I would have left out the names to make the conversation a little more natural.

    But that’s my ONLY criticism of this story. It’s now one of my favorites (and that’s a very short list). Thanks for sharing.

  • Katherine Lopez

    Nothing to complain about as far as the writing, very smooth and clean. Characterization was strong, perhaps cliched, but hey, they’re kids. My complaint is with the story situation. I’ve seen this story in movies and read it in stories enough times that it didn’t really say anything new or fresh. And that’s too bad because everything else was there but that.

  • Ruth Schiffmann

    Great story! Real characters. Vivid setting. I was right there. For me, the line “Karl Knew he’d F***ed up” identified the characters as teens right away. No crits here. Love this one.

  • Ruth Schiffmann

    Great story! Real characters. Vivid setting. I was right there. For me, the line “Karl Knew he’d F***ed up” identified the characters as teens right away. No crits here. Love this one.

  • johnvandermyde

    Not much worse than having the first kiss suck… no pun intended. 😉

  • johnvandermyde

    Not much worse than having the first kiss suck… no pun intended. 😉