by Will Wright
I rarely criticized Bease's taste in girls. Claudia was gorgeous, and unlike many beautiful girls, she never had an unkind word for anybody. Maybe that's why Bease hoped she'd go out with him. Most of the girls in our school kept their distance from Bease. One told me she wouldn't spit on Bease ‘cause he might think she was trying to kiss him. Though awkward, and perpetually lovesick, Bease remained irrepressibly hopeful.
Bease's real name was Thomas. He'd been Bease since second grade when Jeremy Del Clate noticed that his scrunched-up features and thick glasses made him look a little like Mrs. Beasley, the doll that the little girl, Buffy carried on the show, Family Affair.
Nine years later, only his mother and Principal Pappel called him Thomas. Once I heard his Mom slip and call him Bease. If the name bothered him, he didn't show it. All Bease seemed to care about was finding a girlfriend. He'd been that way back before most guys even wanted girls around.
"Claudia is nice," said Bease.
"That's true," I said. It was my policy to be honest with Bease. If he asked me if Claudia would go out with him, I'd tell him no, but I couldn't deny that she seemed like a nice person.
"And she doesn't have a boyfriend," he added.
"That's true, too," I said. As a matter of fact, I'd never seen Claudia with any guy. She didn't seem to be into girls either. She was always there, looking gorgeous, pleasant to all who spoke to her, but almost always alone.
I don't know about the other guys, but the reason I stayed clear of Claudia was because I found her intimidating. Any girl that nice and that good-looking was too good for me. I wondered if she was alone because other guys felt the same way.
"I think she's lonely," said Bease.
"Could be," I admitted, though it hadn't occurred to me until that moment.
"She's like me," said Bease.
"She likes you?"
"No, she is like me."
"Bease," I said, "how in the world is Claudia Diamente like you?"
"Well, we're both lonely."
"Bease, Buddy, you're doing it again. You're setting yourself up for another heart-break. Claudia will not go out with you."
"Because she's gorgeous!"
"And she's lonely - like me."
I might as well have saved my breath. Once Bease got it into his mind that a girl might like him, nothing stopped him short of crushing rejection. I'd been there to watch the inevitable disaster enough times to know, girls at school, girls in the neighborhood, the lifeguard at the pool, the girl at the pet shop.
Bease had a cage full of canaries from the summer he pursued Kaitlin from the pet shop. Kaitlin, two years older and a bird lover, was friendly to Bease longer than any other crush, largely because she couldn't believe that such a pathetic guy had any hope that she might be interested.
Hope was a commodity Bease had in abundance. Perhaps he had so much hope that there was no room left for common sense. I mean, he still wrote letters for heaven’s sake, but he only got one written reply. It was a stern letter from Emma Watson's agent telling him that Miss Watson was in a committed relationship and asking him to please stop sending her lyrics to love songs he had written.
Bease showed me one of his songs. It was predictably awkward, but I give him credit for finding so many phrases that rhyme with Hermione.
You had to figure with so many crushes that several of them must have overlapped. Could a guy be madly in love with two or three girls at the same time? For all his social failings, Bease had more capacity for love than any other guy I knew.
And that's how he was until one Sunday when he got involved with a female that was happy to love him back.
Her name was Stargirl; at least that was her name after Bease named her. Stargirl was a stray cat that must have lived with people sometime because when Bease called to her, she ambled right up to him. Stargirl was a gray tabby with a torn ear, two-thirds of a tail, and a sore on her side that didn't look good at all.
It didn't smell good either, or maybe that was Stargirl's natural scent.
"Really, Bease?" I asked as he picked up the putrid cat.
"She likes me!"
"She'd like you to feed her."
Bease held the cat towards me. Stargirl hissed. "No," said Bease, "It's me. She likes me."
A smelly half-hour later, the cat was still attached to Bease even though he hadn't fed her anything.
"All right," I agreed. "She likes you, but she's still an ugly, stinky cat. You should take her to a shelter."
"They'd kill her in the shelter!"
"They might be doing her a favor."
"Don't say that."
"You can't keep her, you know. You've got a cage full of canaries, and isn't your Mom allergic to cats?."
"Yeah," said Bease, rubbing his face into the cat's putrid coat. "Hey! we can keep her at your house!"
"No, Bease. I'm not having that stinky cat anywhere near where I eat, or sleep, or... brush my teeth."
"Well I can't just let her go."
"Why not?" I asked. "She was on her own until today; she'll be fine. Cat's do great in the wild."
"Not this one," said Bease as he pulled out the tail of his shirt to wipe the puss off the cat's smelly wound.
"Look - the cat doesn't even like me. Even if I was willing to keep her, she'd just run away." Stargirl gave me a look that I'm pretty sure was the cat equivalent to, Up yours, Fella.
"Aw," said Bease. "There's just gotta be a way."
You'd think somebody who'd been told, "No way," by so many girls would stop believing that there had to be a way. I breathed a little easier. The last thing I wanted at my house was a typhoid feline that hated my guts. If I wanted someone around who hated me, I could ask Mr. Learishaw, the gym teacher to live at my house. He'd probably hang a rope from my basketball hoop just to make me climb it all the time.
"Claudia," said Bease.
"She won't go out with you, Dude."
"No, but she's the answer."
"What's the question?"
"I'll give Stargirl to Claudia! Stargirl will have a good home, and Claudia will love me!"
I know it was cruel, but I couldn't help it. I laughed. "Bease, please! Think for a minute."
"That's the answer," said Bease. He must have been talking to himself because he was ignoring me, lost in his hopeful fantasy.
"Bease, are you hearing me? Claudia is not going to want a diseased stray! She's going to think you're weird or sick, maybe both."
"I'll do it at school tomorrow!"
"Bease, you can't bring a cat to school! At least not unless it's dead and soaked in formaldehyde, which," I sniffed at Stargirl and nearly got a claw across my face, "this cat almost qualifies. But you don't want to give the girl you like an animal to dissect in Bio. Nobody does that, Bease!"
"I just need a place to put you for one night," he said to the cat as she licked his nose.
Then both Bease and the cat looked at me. I swear, they did it together like some grotesque dance routine. One moment they were staring into each other's eyes, and then they moved in unison to point four eyeballs at me. For one eerie moment, they looked related.
"No, Man! I told you. I don't want a cat in my house! I don't like this cat. I don't like the way she smells. I don't even like healthy cats that aren't trying to scratch my eyes out. There is no way I'm running a hotel for diseased hell cats."
I was as firm as I knew how to be. That's why two hours later I was moving boxes and junk in the basement.
I'm not sure if it was the sound of moving boxes or the yowling and hissing that brought Mom down.
"What is going on down here?"
I was doing my best to coral Stargirl into a corner. I didn't want her wandering around all night. Cats, I was learning, were not easy to contain.
"Is that a cat?" asked Mom.
"Yeah," I said, "but it might also be an evil zombie."
"What is he doing here?"
"She actually. Mom meet Stargirl."
"You got a cat without asking? You don't even like cats!"
"I don't want her, Mom. Bease picked her up from the street. He's going to give her to a girl at school."
"Oh... Surely not."
"That's his plan."
Mom stared at Stargirl, taking in her numerous deficiencies. "Your friend," she said at last. "It just breaks your heart."
I suppose it's possible that Mom's heart was breaking for Stargirl, but I think it was more likely for Bease, who never seemed to find a reasonable way of showing his affection for girls. Never-the-less, Mom applied her considerable compassion on the stinky hell cat, cleaning her wound, combing her fur, making every effort to make Stargirl less hideous.
For her part, Stargirl didn't hiss at Mom or try to scratch her as she did with me. Maybe the can of tuna had something to do with that.
Bease was jumping up and down when I answered the door next morning. He didn't need to pee; he was excited.
"Where is she?"
"Down in the basement."
"She didn't sleep with you?"
I didn't have to answer. Bease was already bounding down the basement stairs. I heard Stargirl make a hideous sound that might have been hell cat for 'where have you been?" Moments later Bease was running back up the stairs with Stargirl mounted triumphantly on his shoulder.
Even after all of Mom's work the night before, the cat looked disgusting, but she was a happy disgusting, that was clear. She and Bease had made a connection. I shook my head. There was no way this was going to end well.
We ended up walking to school because even Bease recognized that Grundy the bus driver wouldn’t let Stargirl on her bus.
Jeremy Del Clate, the top jock in our school, and the class Romeo pulled over his Mercedes convertible when he saw us. In many ways, Jeremy, who had given Bease his nickname, was the anti-Bease. Girls swooned over him. Freshman year, he had taken three dates to the same dance, and none of them complained.
I hated him. I don't know how Bease felt. Jeremy was always a jerk to him, but Bease's focus never strayed from the current girl of his dreams. I wasn't even sure he noticed Jeremy.
Maybe that's why Jeremy was such an ass with Bease. Jeremy didn't like being ignored.
"What's that on your shoulder, Bease," he asked, "VD of the esophagus?" Not content to hurl an insult and drive on, Jeremy slowed his German status symbol to our walking pace.
"This is Stargirl," said Bease. "I found her yesterday."
"How, was it clogging your plumbing?"
"No," said Bease, looking unannoyed and still walking purposely towards school. "She just walked up to me."
"So you're putting her back?"
"No, we're bringing her to school."
Jeremy shot me a look of amused contempt. Unlike Bease, I was not immune to scorn. It was so unfair. I wasn't bringing Stargirl to school. I was just there for moral support. But if I said that in front of Bease, that wouldn't have been very supportive, so I just kept my mouth shut and tried to think of at least one snappy come-back I could hurl at Jeremy.
"Hey Bease," said Jeremy. "I think the road kill is supposed to be dead before you dissect it."
Alright, I felt a little ashamed there. I had had almost the same thought the day before, and as embarrassing as it was being Bease's best friend, there was no way I wanted to be like Jeremy!
Half a mile from the school parking lot, Jeremy finally pulled away. "He's probably gone to make trouble for you, Bease," I said. "You're really not supposed to bring pets to school."
"I'm just bringing Stargirl to Claudia."
"And what if Claudia doesn't want her?"
Stargirl's head, previously resting on Bease's chest as she rode his shoulder, rose up to look Bease in the eye. "How could Claudia not want her?" he asked.
I had a lot of answers to that question, but I knew Bease, and my answers wouldn't mean a thing to him - if he even heard them. I was there for moral support. Bease wasn't looking for advice.
By the time we got to school, Jeremy had raised a small welcoming committee. Nine or ten guys - mostly jocks, gave us a mock cheer as we walked onto the grounds.
"Is that your girlfriend, Bease?" asked Jordan Strong.
"Maybe it's his sister," said a kid I didn't know.
Just as Bease was deaf to unwanted advice, he seemed not to hear abuse either. He looked happy and proud as he marched through the gauntlet, up the steps, and into the school. With Stargirl firmly attached to his shoulder, he walked by the school office as if he had nothing to hide. If it had been me, Vice Principals would have streamed out of the office, zip tied my arms and legs, and carried me off to permanent detention.
With Bease, nobody said a word. I wondered what the homeroom teacher would say, when Claudia came around the corner.
"Hey, Claudia!" said Bease.
"Hello, Bease," said Claudia.
"What?" said Jeremy, who I hadn't realized was right behind me. "Is he hitting on Claudia now? Nobody's good enough for her!"
"She turn you down, Jeremy?"
"I caught her on a bad day."
Claudia was still talking to Bease, but I couldn't hear what they were saying. Bease was holding Stargirl, and Claudia was petting the cat hesitantly.
At least Stargirl wasn't hissing or biting.
"He brought a stupid cat to impress a girl!" said Jeremy. "What a Beasely!"
That's when Claudia kissed Bease - not on the forehead, or even the cheek, but right on the mouth!
"What?" said Jeremy. "She's just being nice."
"Claudia is nice," I agreed.
Claudia took the stinky cat from Bease's arms, and you would have thought she'd been given an academy award, she looked so happy. The two of them - no three of them walked off as if there were in a world of their own.
"Uh," said Jeremy.
"What can I tell you, Jeremy," I replied. "Some guys got it."
Stargirl looked near dead the Sunday Bease found her, but it was eight years later when she finally passed peacefully away. I was there with Claudia and Tom (Claudia got everyone to stop calling him Bease,) and their two children (who thankfully resembled their mother,) as they laid her to rest in their back yard.
Bease was still girl crazy, but his affection was limited to four girls now, Claudia, his little girls Leia and Uhura, and Novagirl, a cat they kept from Stargirl's last litter.
Like her mother, Novagirl smelled bad and hissed whenever I came near. I didn't mind.
I'd learned never to criticize Bease's taste in girls.