This is a one-chapter excerpt from “Finding Roland McCray”, book 3 in the “Adventures of Roland McCray” series and is fully copyright protected. Use or reproduction of any part of this is prohibited in in form, electronic or print, without the author’s written permission. Use for educational purposes is welcomed, but please contact the author before doing so.
“One imagines the birth of happiness to be accompanied by some great spectacular upheaval. One can imagine it flowering in the most luxurious setting. Yet happiness is born of a trifle, feeds on nothing.”
Saturday Night at the Drive-in Theater
“Alright, Butch,” I said as he pulled his Chevy Impala off the road at the end of my drive. “Thanks for the ride.”
“You sure you don’t want me to drive you to the house?”
“No, but thanks anyway. The lane is dusty and full of pot holes.” I grinned and patted the dashboard. “I wouldn’t want you to mess up the suspension or get dust all over your car,” I said. Butch was proud of his ’66 Impala and he kept it in perfect condition. He’d even bought a vanity tag: “MY66 CHVY”.
“I did wash and wax her today,” he said with a laugh.
He looked down the quarter-mile-long dirt lane that led to my house. “But it’s awfully dark down there, Roland.”
I looked in the same direction; with no moon, it was a dark night but I could only make out the even blacker tree line because the stars were above it. “Yeah,” I said, “it is. But I walk this lane every day so I know where all the holes are; I can walk around them. Besides, I’m not afraid of the dark, Butch. You know that.”
“I know, Roland, you’re not afraid of the dark. All I’m saying is that I wouldn’t to be out here when it’s pitch black,” he said then looked at me. “I like to at least be able to see the ground right in front of my feet.”
“There’s starlight,” I replied. “My eyes will adjust. And there’s nothing between here and my house to be scared of; except, maybe, tripping in one of potholes,” and I laughed. I knew Butch from when I’d lived in town, but my family had moved to the farm before I turned eleven so I was used to not having street lights. Butch wasn’t, though, and apparently he was afraid of the dark, or of what he couldn’t see, at least. Which surprised me, since I’d never known him to be afraid of anything.
Butch was looking at the field across the road. “What’s with that fog over there?” Butch asked. “That’s strange… it doesn’t even go down to the ground, but kind of floats above it.” I looked, but already knew what he was talking about.
“It does that,” I said. “When the air cools at night, the ground stays warm for a while. Then damp air flows out from the woods and fog condenses out of it, then sort of rides over top of the layer of warm air.”
“That’s pretty cool,” he said, “you can see under it almost all the way to the woods.” Just then, we heard noise coming from the opposite direction, the woods behind my house. It sounded like a cross between a woman’s scream, a baby’s crying, and a cat’s growl. Butch snapped his head around and looked at me. “What the hell was that?”
“That’s a bobcat. Indians believed that bobcats come with the fog,” I said and shrugged. “I don’t know if that means anything or not. I don’t hear that bobcat very often, and there’s fog like this over the fields a lot of nights. They hunt at night, and only make that sound when they’re mating, or looking for a mate. It sounds almost like a woman’s scream or a baby crying, doesn’t it?”
“It sounds like something, “he said, “but I’m not sure what. I didn’t know there were any bobcats around here. They’re dangerous, aren’t they?”
“There aren’t a lot of them that still live around here, but that one lives back in the swamp. And no, they’re not very dangerous.”
“That one?” he asked. “There’s only one?”
“Yes, one. They mark their territory and others usually stay out, except during mating season and that’s usually early spring and sometimes, again in mid-summer. So if you hear one, it will probably be the only one for miles around. And I don’t mean they’re not dangerous, at all, just not to people or large dogs. They mostly eat small animals. Birds when they can catch them, but usually rabbits, or mice. And sometimes, my aunt will lose one of her chickens.”
“I thought bobcats were the same thing as lions,” Butch said. “I know there’s supposed to be some of those up in the mountains, but I never heard of any around here.”
“No, you’re thinking of mountain lions, and there are some of those left, way back up in the mountains. I don’t think there have been any of them around here for at least a hundred years, though.”
“If they’re not like mountain lions, then what are they?”
“Well- they’re in the same family,” I said. “They’re ‘big cats’, but much smaller than lions and tigers. Nowhere near big enough to attack a person, or even a grown dog.”
“So, you aren’t worried about your dog going missing some night?”
“No, I’m not worried about my dog; she can take care of herself. And a bobcat wouldn’t waste time going after a dog when there’s lots of smaller prey for them. Unless it’s a really small dog, maybe, or a puppy. They hide from people and will run if a dog chases them. Not that a bobcat couldn’t take on a dog, if cornered. They are cats, after all, and cats have claws.”
“Have you ever seen it?”
“No, but I’ve seen pictures of them in the encyclopedia. They come out at night and hardly ever leave the woods, so it would be really hard to actually see one of them.”
“Then how do you know it’s a bobcat,” Butch asked.
“My aunt told me. When we first moved here, I’d hear them at night and it sounded to me like a woman or a baby crying in the woods. But my aunt said ‘those are just bobcats, Roland, they won’t trouble you none’. So I looked them up in the encyclopedia and it said that when they’re mating, their growls sometimes sound like a woman’s scream or a baby crying. At least from a distance.”
“Then how big do they get?”
“Maybe as big as a mid-size dog,” I said. “I’ve never really liked cats, but bobcats are beautiful animals; I’d love to have one as a pet.”
“You don’t like cats?”
“Not really. We used to have two, a black male named ‘King’, he was mine, and my sister had a tabby she named ‘Cindy’. Since the tabby was female, Dad made sure she was ‘fixed’ before my sister could have her. King was a beautiful cat, but he’d lay still in tall grass near the hedges and snatch birds right out of the air. I hated that.”
“It’s what cats do, Roland; they eat birds.”
“I know. But I never realized before just how good they are at killing things. Mom wouldn’t let them stay inside, but they could get into the crawlspace under the house, so they didn’t have to sleep out in cold weather. When the cats were about three years old, we had a really cold winter and they’d sit on top of the fireplace chimney to keep warm. They both got sick and Dad said it was from breathing the fumes from the fireplace.” I remembered burying both cats at the end of the field, near the woods. “We haven’t had any cats since then. But a pet bobcat- that would be something!”
Even with the strange sounds that come from the woods, especially back toward the swamp, I liked living on the farm. Without street lights, there were more stars in the sky than I’d ever seen in town and on a clear night I could see the Milky Way splashed across the sky. Sometimes I’d even walk down the path behind my house into the woods at night. But only when the moon is bright enough for me to see the ground, of course; I like the quiet peace of the woods at night, but I’m not stupid!
“I think a walk in the fresh air will do me good, anyway,” I said.
He laughed. “I bet it will! At least tuck in your shirt and make sure your hair’s combed, in case your Mom waited up for you.”
“It’s after midnight, Butch, and she has church in the morning. She won’t be up this late.” I thought for a minute. “But, knowing Mom, she may get up when she hears me come in, to see if I want her to warm up something for me to eat. Dad might still be up, though, watching TV in the living room, but he probably won’t care that I stayed out this late, especially since it’s a Saturday night and I don’t have school tomorrow.”
“You don’t go to church anymore?”
I shook my head. “I stopped going when I was twelve.”
“Your mom let you do that?”
“Not really,” I said. “When I told her I didn’t want to go to church anymore she argued with me for a while, but then Dad told her I was twelve years old and in some cultures, that made me an adult and that I should be able to make my own decisions about religion. Actually, I was kind of surprised when he told my Mom that it was my decision whether or not I wanted to go to Mom’s church.” I knew how my Dad felt about ‘organized’ religion, and that if I went to no church at all until, after I was an adult, I decided to join a religion of my own free will.
“We never went to church,” Butch said, referring to his family. “But I don’t think I would’ve liked it if I’d had to go. I don’t like dressing up, and all that stuff.”
“Yeah… especially having to wear that clip-on tie and not getting my shoes scuffed!”
Butch grinned. “For me, I think the worst thing would be getting up early on Sunday mornings and going out in the cold!”
“Well, thanks for giving Gina a ride home, Butch” I said. “I really appreciate it; I had a great time tonight and if I hadn’t run into you, it would’ve been miserable! I’m sorry I barged in on your date night with Pam, though, but I haven’t seen Gina for a long time, and I really didn’t want to go back to my ‘date’.”
“No problem, Roland,” he said. “Actually, Pam was glad to see you.”
“Yes, really,” he said. “And don’t worry, Roland, you didn’t ‘barge in’; I invited you, remember? You know you’re always welcome; I’m glad that you and your ‘unexpected’ date joined us.”
“Good,” I said. “That makes me feel better. Pam’s always been real sweet to me, anyway.” Butch cut eyes cut toward me. “I said- sweet to me, Butch, not sweet on me.”
“I know what you mean, Roland,” he said and looked up at me with a grin. “Pam thinks you’re sweet, and real polite. Like a Boy Scout, or something.” Butch laughed, but the way he almost spit out the words ‘Boy Scout’ reminded me that he thought guys who acted like Boy Scouts were strange. I never thought of myself as a Boy Scout; I just did what I was taught. I tried to be nice to other people and to always to do the right thing. But I understood why Butch felt the way that he did: most of his friends were from town and liked to party a lot, so I’m sure they felt the same way about guys who acted like Boy Scouts.
I laughed and shook my head “I’m no Boy Scout.” I hesitated. “I was a cub scout, though, but I only went to one meeting.”
“You went to one meeting and then quit?”
“I didn’t quit; I wanted to be in the Scouts. But the next meeting was the following week and I forgot to remind my Mom until it was too late to take me, so she said that if I couldn’t remember it on my own, she wasn’t going to do it for me.”
“How old were you?”
I shrugged. “Six, maybe seven; I’m not sure. I knew who you were because I used to see you over at Curtis’s house.” Curtis was about the same age as Butch, but I knew him because he lived across the street from me when I lived in town. Actually, I already knew Butch’s name before I’d ever met him. The street I lived on was a downhill slope to a dead end, and some of the older kids in the neighborhood like to ride their bikes down it. Butch was one of those ‘big kids’; he’d changed the front end of his bike to the tire extended out like a chopper. And he was probably the best one at skidding to a stop at the end of the street and throwing loose gravel into the empty lot. Everybody in the neighborhood knew who Butch Jordon was.
“I heard that Curtis’s dad had a handgun, so Dad didn’t like me going over there,” I said. “I thought only bad people had guns, but Curtis’s Dad was nice to us.”
“He does have a handgun, Roland. He showed it to me once, but he wouldn’t let me hold it. He says that kids shouldn’t handle guns.”
“Well, you wouldn’t have wanted to hang out with a bunch of little kids, anyway.” Butch was about three years older than me and when you’re kids, the difference between six years old and nine years old was big.
“No,” Butch said, “I wouldn’t.”
“I do remember the Cub Scout meetings were every Monday at five,” I said. “But I didn’t think to keep track of what day of the week it was, except for Saturdays, when I watched cartoons, and Sundays, of course, because we had to go to church. I think Mom just didn’t want to have to drive me to the meetings and then pick me up. I don’t think she likes driving at night.”
“Probably not,” Butch said. “My mom doesn’t won’t even drive after dark, so Dad takes her to the drive-in and picks her up after she closes it. I guess your mom’s probably the same about driving after dark.”
“Yeah… I don’t know why, though; Dad drives at night whenever he needs to.”
“So Roland, what happened to your girl you were dating- Patty, right?” Butch asked. “Did you break up with her?” I’d taken Patty to a party once and Butch and Pam had met her then.
“Patty? She wasn’t my girlfriend; we went out a couple times, but she wanted to go steady and I didn’t.”
“Pam was glad to see you with someone else, tonight” he said. “She didn’t like Patty, and says you deserve somebody better than her.”
“Pam thinks I deserve better than Patty?” I asked and he laughed.
“Gina seems really nice, Roland” he said, “and she’s a lot better looking…” He grinned. “I think she’d be a great girlfriend for you.”
“Gina’s not my girlfriend,” I said and then smiled, “yet. It’ll take more than one date.”
“That’s not what it looked like to me,” Butch said and flashed a lecherous smile. “By the way, we watched the movie, so if you want to know how it ended…”
I felt my face flush. I’d gone to the drive-in theater with a friend from school, Andrea, and her boyfriend. Andrea said that a girlfriend was staying with her for the weekend, and Andrea’s boyfriend wanted to see a movie at the drive-in theater. Andrea didn’t want to leave her friend home alone, and since her friend didn’t have a date, she asked me if I’d be her friend’s blind date as a favor to her.
“Debbs is really sweet, Roland,” she’d told me.
“Debbs? What kind of name is Debbs?”
“Well, her name is Debbie, but she goes by Debbs. She’s cute, Roland, and really sweet.”
“Really sweet usually means not very pretty,” I’d said. Truthfully, though, I liked girls for who they were, inside, rather than for what they looked like. I’d already learned that beauty really is only skin deep with some girls.
“But she’s as cute as can be, Roland,” Andrea had said. “I promise you’ll like her.”
So, she wouldn’t be too pretty, that didn’t really matter to me and as a favor to Andrea, against my better judgment, I’d agreed to go on a blind-date with her friend, along with Andrea and her boyfriend, Billy.
They picked me up at the end of the lane in Billy’s pickup truck. Andrea reached over from the center of the seat and pushed open the passenger door, where her girlfriend sat. Some guys might’ve thought ‘Debbs’ was cute, in a way, but I didn’t. But Andrea had said Debbs was sweet and that would be fine with me.
“Hi Roland,” Andrea said. “This is my friend, Debbs.”
“Hi Debbs,” I said, “I’m Roland.”
As soon as Andrea had introduced us, Debbs said a curt ‘hello’, then looked at Andrea, cocked her eyebrow and didn’t try to hide the fact that she rolled her eyes. I turned and started to walk away, but Andrea gave me a look that said Please, Roland…, so I stopped.
“You can squeeze in, Roland,” Andrea said. “Debbs will slide over this way.”
So Debbs wasn’t ‘sweet’ at all; she was arrogant and pretentious. And not all that cute, either. But, I didn’t want to ruin Andrea’s evening, so I climbed up into Billy’s truck, doing my best not to be too close to Debbs. I didn’t like her from the moment we met, and I’m sure the feeling was mutual.
“So, Debbs,” I said, “where do you live?”
“River’s Bluff,” Debbs said, as though she was talking to a servant or someone beneath her. River’s Bluff was a gated community, the only one in the area and that was where the ‘rich’ people lived.
“Really? How nice.” I replied then mumbled- “nouveau riche“.
“New- what?” Billy asked. Guess I’d said that louder than I’d intended.
“Nouveau riche,” I replied. “It means ‘new money’; you know, people who don’t know how to handle First Class.” I only knew that because I’d heard it in a movie, but I wasn’t going to tell them that.
Debbs just looked at me, completely clueless about what I’d said.
Billy laughed. “Nouveau riche,” he said, “that’s pretty good.” And we both smiled. But Andrea gave me that pleading look again, so I figured it was too late to back out of the ‘date’ then. She was going to owe me big for this.
“So what’s it like, up there on the Bluff?” I asked Debbs.
She ignored me for a few moments. “It’s nice,” she replied. “Better than living out in the boonies.”
“Well I like living out here,” I said. “It’s better than being crowded in a neighborhood, surrounded by a bunch of corporate lawyers.”
“My father is a corporate lawyer,” Debbs huffed.
“Don’t worry, I won’t hold that against you,” I said. “You can’t help what your father does for a living.”
Billy snickered and Andrea tried to suppress a laugh.
“And just what does your father do?” she asked.
“Nothing, right now,” I said. “He was hurt on the job, so now he can’t work anymore.”
“In other words, you’re poor,” Debbs said.
“Not poor, Debbs. I said he can’t work anymore. I didn’t say he doesn’t have an income; it’s just not as much as he’s used to getting. But, we’re not poor.” I could’ve told Debbs that my Mom and Dad own several houses that they rent out for extra income. Dad insists that the properties that he and Mom own put us in the ‘rich’ category, but I have a hard time believing that. I mean, we have been on vacations to Disney World and rented cottages on the beach. But that was when he was still working. We don’t live like rich people.
“He doesn’t like to spend a lot of money just to impress other people. We live in my great-great grandfather’s farmhouse, because that’s where Dad wants to live.” That wasn’t entirely true, but I felt the need to take up for my Dad. “But he collects and restores antique cars for a hobby,” I said. “Ever seen a mint-condition ’59 Lincoln, or ’56 Buick? Dad has both, plus about a dozen other antique cars, most of them luxury models. But he drives a seven year old Dodge and Mom has her ten year old Ford Fairlane.”
“I don’t believe you,” Debbs said. “If he has such nice cars, he wouldn’t be driving an old Dodge and he certainly wouldn’t make your mother drive a Ford.”
“He drives the cheaper cars because he isn’t stupid,” I said. “Why would anyone want to drive an antique Lincoln just for running errands?” I thought about where Debbs lived. “Well, your father might, just to show people that he has money. My Dad couldn’t care less what other people think.”
Dad did collect antique cars, and the money he spent on them was always a point of contention between him and Mom. And I loved that black, fin tailed Lincoln; it reminded me of the Batmobile. He let me start it up about once a month and move it ten feet or so on the driveway, to make sure everything’s still working. I’d try out all the buttons on it, the power windows and locks, plus the air conditioner; it seemed like that car has a button for everything! And all that chrome inside and out was blinding when struck by the sun. I’d make sure the seat still moved forward and back and that the doors opened and closed. I liked to pretend to be driving, but Dad would never let me take it on the road. He said that’s what his Dodge is for, so sometimes he’d let me borrow that.
I liked the Buick, too. It was a two door model, red with white side panels and chrome air intakes on both front fenders that were just for show; they don’t do anything. The hood ornament was a chrome jet airplane with swept back wings and the car is huge inside. It wasn’t as fancy as the Lincoln, but it looked sportier. When I was younger, Dad sometimes drove the Buick when we went to visit his mother, who lived about three hours away, and riding in the backseat felt like we were flying up the highway. Mom always complained that he drove too fast, though.
Once we got to the drive-in, I planned to sit outside; there was no way I was going to stay in the truck, pressed up against Debbs. When we got to the drive-in, my friend’s mother was at the window where you paid to get in. I leaned over and smiled so she’d see me.
“Oh, hi Roland,” she said, “you haven’t been by to see us much, lately.”
“Hi Mrs. Jordon.” I replied. “I’ve been pretty busy, but I’ll try to come by soon.”
She smiled and shook her head. “Teenagers,” she said. “Well I expect a visit from you soon, Roland,” she said, then raised the gate and waved us through.
“Cool, Roland,” Billy said. “Andrea said that you know everybody!”
“Not everyone,” I said. “I do know a lot of people, but I think even more know me.”
Billy parked us in the second row back, closer than I’d wanted, but I wasn’t driving so it was his choice.
As soon as he parked, Debbs got out and walked to the Snack Shack to make a phone call, and I looked at Andrea.
“Why did you set me up with her?” I asked. “She’s kind of cute, but, she’s also kind of a, uh…”
“Bitch,” Billy said and laughed.
“I’m so sorry, Roland” Andrea said. “She’s not usually so rude.”
“But, you’ve never been on a date with her,” I replied. “Maybe she’s like that with every guy she dates; and if she is, I doubt she gets many second dates.”
“Roland, if I had known she’d act this way I wouldn’t just left her at home. I owe you big for this.”
“Yes you do,” I said and then smiled to let her know it was alright. “That’s okay, Andrea- I won’t forget! But as soon as she gets back, I’m going up to the Snack Shack and get a cold drink. As you saw at the gate, I know the family that owns the drive-in, and the woman’s son is a good friend of mine. He works here. But… I’m not going to rush to get back.”
Billy laughed. “I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t come back at all,” he said. “But if you’re not here when the movie’s over, I’ll look for you up at the Snack Shack and give you a ride home.”
When Debbs got back, I got out. “I’m going to get something to drink,” I said to Andrea and Billy, ignoring Debbs entirely, and headed for the Snack Shack. As luck would have it, Butch was there, but wasn’t working that night. He was on the customer side of the counter, picking up drinks and fries.
“Hey, Butch,” I said. “How’re you doing? Not working tonight?”
“Roland! Haven’t seen you in a while,” he said. “Yeah, I’m off tonight, so I brought Pam to see the movie. Are you here on a date?”
I nodded. “A blind date,” I said. “I should’ve known better. She’s back at the truck with my friends, but I don’t want to go back there. That girl’s a real, uh, bitch!” I really wasn’t in the habit of using curse words; I never heard them at home.
“Then don’t go back” he said. “Pam’s in the car, just come sit with us.”
“I don’t want to walk out in the middle of a date,” I said. “That would be rude.”
“No, it wouldn’t be rude. It’s a blind date, Roland. And if even you say the girl’s a bitch, she must really be bad!” He shook his head. “I’d say you don’t owe her anything. Let her friends take her home, but you’re coming with me.” He put his hand on my elbow. “Pam will be thrilled to see you again.”
I hesitated, then: “Yeah, you’re probably right. She’s rude, and I don’t owe her anything. She lives up in River’s Bluff and seems to think she’s too good for me. Billy and Andrea brought her, they can take her home.”
“River’s Bluff? That explains it then.” Butch smiled. “Let’s go,” he said, “I parked near the back, where it isn’t so crowded.”
I looked at the row after row of cars and wondered just how many people there were actually watching the movie. It was ‘The Night of The Living Dead’; not the kind of movie I’d ever pay to see. I wasn’t a fan of gore, and so far, this was probably the worst film I’d ever seen. I picked up my drink and followed behind Butch. It was a good thing that the movie screen was behind us; it lit the gravel enough for me to see where to walk. Since the ground was angled up in a small ramp at each row, so the cars would have a better view, it was difficult to see where to step without stumbling. We went between and around cars. In some of them was just a single couple, and not all of them were watching the movie; other cars had two couples in them and several that were packed with teenagers, since the admission price covered each car, no matter how many people were in it. Some people sat out on the hoods of their cars to get a better view, and fresh air, or to smoke cigarettes. On the hood of one car, several teenagers brazenly passed around a joint.
After passing between a car full of girls and another with a guy and girl in the front seat, but not really watching the movie, someone called out my name.
“Roland?” The voice sounded tentative, uncertain, but it was definitely a girl’s voice; I just didn’t recognize whose, though.
I stopped, turned around, and saw her looking out the front window of the car full of girls and a big smile came to my face. “Gina!” I’d been in the same advanced biology class with Gina in the 9th grade; the students were partners, two to a table, and she’d sat at the table right behind mine.
She smiled back and got out of the car she was sitting in with four other teenage girls.
“I wasn’t sure it was you, from the back,” she said then approached and gave me a hug. Gina had been gorgeous, back in ninth grade, and she was still beautiful, and had filled out in all the right places. I wasn’t expecting that warm hug, but I put my arms around her, hands in the small of her back, hugged her tightly and lifted her off her feet. I had an urge to spin her around then set her down, but I stopped myself. I didn’t know Gina well enough to do something that personal; I think that mostly I was just relieved to get away from Debbs, and to see a friendly face.
“Well,” Gina said, “that’s quite a welcome!”
The other girls in the car Gina had been in were watching and I felt a little embarrassed so I stepped back, but I couldn’t stop my smile. “It’s been a long time, Gina, and I couldn’t help myself; that just felt like the right thing to do. I’m sorry if I was out of line with that hug.”
A warm smile lit up her face as she stepped forward and took my hands in hers; she was even more beautiful than when I’d last seen her, and I felt my face flush warm over what I was thinking. I hoped it was dark enough that no one could see me blush.
“Did you hear me complain?” She asked looking up into my eyes. “I was just surprised, that’s all. You never even asked me out when we were in class together,” she said, pretending to pout. “But I liked that hug you just gave me, Roland; it was really sweet, and actually, I’m glad I ran into you.” I was relieved, then, and relaxed a little; resisting my first impulse, to literally sweep her off the ground and spin her around, had been the right decision. Of course, giving in to my first impulse might’ve been right, too, but I’d never know.
“So, I assume you’re here with a date?” she asked.
“Umm, I was,” I replied as I looked at the ground in front of my feet. “A blind date, and I regret ever agreeing to it; that’s why I left her back near the front with her friends who brought us and I’m not going back.” I hoped Gina wouldn’t think that was too callous of me; I mean, a date is a date and I’d agreed to it. But I comforted myself with the thought that Andrea had misled me about the girl she’d set me up with.
“That bad, huh? I hate blind dates,” Gina said. “I don’t do blind-dates. I know the kind of guy I like and I don’t need anyone else deciding who would be ‘perfect’ for me.” Now I knew she hadn’t judged me as unreliable, rude, or inconsiderate.
“Going on a blind date was my mistake,” I said. “But it won’t happen again. So…” I wasn’t sure if I should ask, but I had to, “are you here with someone? On a date, I mean.” I looked toward her car and only saw girls, but if Gina had a date with her, he could be gone for drinks or something.
Gina gave a quick shake of her head. “Just a girl’s night out,” she said, then- “You’re really not going back to your blind date?”
“Not a chance. I’m done with blind dates,” I replied, then- “Gina, this is my friend, Butch,” and he nodded to Gina, “and his girlfriend is in the car. Do you want to come and sit with me- us, if your friends don’t mind?”
She hesitated, and for a moment I thought I was going to be turned down, right in front of Butch. And I was sure there were many other people at the drive-in who’d recognize me, too. Then she smiled. ”Wait here a minute,” she said and walked back over to the car. The girls she was with were looking at me and I heard one of them giggle, and then handed Gina her purse, and she walked back toward me.
“Lead the way,” she said with a broad smile and took hold of my hand. Butch looked at me and winked, then we followed him the rest of the way. When we got to his car, I introduced Gina to Pam and then we got into the backseat. After we were in and I closed the door, I put my arm around her shoulder; I halfway suspected she might pull away, but she didn’t.
“I had such a crush on you,” Gina said, loud enough for Butch and Pam to hear. She was looking up at my face and I blushed a little. I was surprised at that, but thrilled, too.
“You had a crush on me?”
Gina’s smile was somehow shy and self-confident at the same time and it went straight to my heart. “Yes, I did,” she said. “Every girl in class did, Roland; you were the cutest guy in the class and you made us laugh so much that advanced biology was actually fun. Girls like a guy who can make them laugh. Especially when he’s a cute, friendly guy,” she said with a sweet smile.
“Gina, including me, there were only seven guys in that class,” I said. “So being the cutest guy in a group of seven nerds isn’t saying much.” I smiled as I said that, so she’d know I was just kidding.
“Roland, I thought you were one of the best looking guys in school,” she said. “And I still do. In fact, I think you’re the best looking guy there.” She pressed her body even closer to mine and I had to start doing some quick math calculations in my head to keep the feelings of lust in the background.
“I wish I’d known then that you had a crush on me, Gina. You were at the table right behind mine and I had no idea you liked me.”
“You had a girlfriend, Roland, so it wouldn’t have mattered, anyway.”
“Ah, it would’ve mattered to me, Gina. I didn’t have a girlfriend; that girl, Patty, wanted to be my girlfriend but I wasn’t interested. I tried to be nice to her, though; I don’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
“I guess I thought she was your girlfriend because I saw you talking to her between classes,” Gina said.
“Like I said, I was just trying to be nice; but you were the prettiest girl I knew.” I smiled, feeling a bit self-conscious. “I had a huge crush on you, Gina. I just didn’t think you would be interested in me.”
She’d been looking up into my eyes while she told me she’d had a crush on me and I realized that maybe she was nervous about saying it, especially in front of people she didn’t know.
“I was so stupid!” I said. “I had a crush on the prettiest girl in school and she had a crush on me!” I shook my head. “Guess I missed my chance.”
“What makes you think that you missed your chance, Roland?” she asked. “Everyone deserves a second chance. I had a crush on you then, but I thought you were taken.” She looked into my eyes again. “And you really aren’t dating anyone now? Other than that blind date you just dumped?” ‘Dumped’ sounded like a harsh word, but I nodded agreement. “Good,” she said with a smile and tilted her head up toward me. “Because I still have a crush on you.”
The car was dark, except for the changing shadows of light from the distant movie screen, since Butch had parked near the rear, but flickering light from the movie flashed from Gina’s dark eyes as she looked into mine. Her warm body was pressed against me and it just felt so right. I looked into her dark, beautiful eyes and she’d lifted her face toward mine, so I leaned in to kiss her. Her full, warm lips welcomed mine and I put my other arm around her and slid my hand over her stomach, then up her side to her wonderful breast. I couldn’t believe how good her body felt. But since Butch and Pam were in the front seat, I knew I couldn’t go as far as I wanted; that would have to wait until we were alone. I wasn’t usually openly affectionate in front of other people, and I didn’t think it would be fair to Gina to push too much. She’d just met Butch and Pam, not ten minutes earlier, and I thought it would be foolish to put her in the position of having to refuse my advances. Besides, I felt certain by then that if we were alone, she wouldn’t be reticent about some hot and heavy making out, though. But for the time being, a long, passionate kiss seemed safe enough, and after that first kiss, we didn’t, as Butch said, watch much of the movie.
After the movie was over, we went to a pizza place for a while, but didn’t stay long because Pam had a curfew. Butch drove Pam home and walked her to the door. Gina and I waited while they said goodnight and it seemed to take at least ten minutes, so rather than waste the time we kissed some more and when I slid my hand near her breast, she placed my hand right on it. After a minute or two, I reached up under her blouse just to feel the heat from her smooth skin. When Butch got back to the car, Gina straightened her blouse before he got in and we gave her a ride home. I walked her to the door and we kissed goodnight, a long, passionate kiss with my hands running up and down her back, through her hair and over her shoulders, completely outside of her clothes, and I held her warm, wonderful body close to mine. I didn’t want to stop and clearly neither did Gina, but then a light came on inside the house.
“That’s my father,” Gina said. “I better get inside before he opens the door.” She quickly tucked a folded paper napkin from the pizza place into the rear pocket of my jeans, gave me a quick kiss on my cheek and then went inside. Walking back to the car, I took the napkin from my pocket, unfolded it and found she’d written her name, phone number, and below that “Call me…” my heart almost skipped a beat. The girl I’d had a crush two years earlier had, and still has, a crush on me too! And I never would’ve guessed. I was so happy that I felt like was walking on air when I got back to the car.
“Damn, Roland,” Butch said as I got into the car.
“What?” I asked.
“I don’t understand it. Good things just seem to come to you and you don’t even have to try.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. At first, I thought it might be because I was an Honors student every year, and I made that look easy, but that was only because I loved to read. So, my grades couldn’t be it; Butch had already graduated high school and I’m sure couldn’t have cared less about me making Honor Roll. Then, I knew a lot of people, probably more than Butch, but that was because I made a real effort to be friendly with everyone I met.
“I mean- like tonight,” he said. “You go out on a blind date that turns out to be a big mistake, then you leave with a girl that looks like Gina! And it turns out that she’d had a crush on you and you didn’t even realize it.” He smiled. “I didn’t know you had it in you.” Butch sounded truly surprised, and I resented it a little that he didn’t think I was good enough to go out with the really pretty girls.
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “I guess I’m just lucky. Gina is really pretty, isn’t she?“ I said and smiled. “But most of the guys at school think Linda Wells is the prettiest girl in our high school. I don’t, but most of the guys do.”
“If there’s a girl in your school who’s prettier than Gina, she must really be something!”
“Linda Wells is a beautiful girl,” I replied. “She’s head cheer leader, blond and fills out her sweater well.” Butch grinned.
“But, she’s kind of an air head, too,” I said. “Gina’s more my type, and she just happens to be really good looking, too.” I hesitated a moment. “Sexy, too,” I added and Butch laughed at me, but it was a laugh of admiration.
“Roland,” he said with a smile. “That’s not like you at all, man!”
I suppressed a blush. “Come on, Butch,“ I said. “Everybody knows that Pam’s the prettiest girl in her high school, and she goes out with you!” I saw in Butch’s face that I might’ve hurt his feelings, so I laughed to let him know I wasn’t being serious. But I did know a whole lot of people in town, especially in the neighborhoods around where I’d lived. Butch was one of my childhood friends whom I had kept up with, and I’d met quite a few people through him. I had a few other friends besides Butch, but I still saw him more than anyone else in town.
If anything, I was jealous of Butch. He was big into sports, had played baseball on the school team and had that all-American, boy-next-door but-maybe-a-little-dangerous look. He was held back a year in grade school, so he was a nineteen year old senior when he graduated and could date any girl he wanted. But I was more the nerd-type: smart (at least that’s what they’d always told me in school), okay in sports but nothing special, always made Honor Role but I’d usually rather spend an afternoon reading than go up to Butch’s house to play softball with his friends, most of whom I didn’t know very well.
I was shy, I knew that, but guys like Butch intimidated me; I didn’t play on any sports team, or go boating and water skiing at the lake every summer and hang out with the cool kids, the clique that cheerleaders followed around. I knew I couldn’t just ask out any girl I wanted without risking the embarrassment of being turned down. And I really had a fear of being turned down; I’d usually felt like it was a flaw on my part. I was that nice guy, the kind who everyone wants to sign your yearbook, but instead of girls writing ‘Will miss you over the summer’ with a little heart beside it and their phone number below (as a lot of my friends got), but both the girls and guys would write something like: “A friend that can be trusted”, “To the most trustworthy friend I have”, or “Always stay just the way you are”.
I mean, that was nice and all, but nothing to make me think any of the girls would want to be more than just good friends. Maybe that’s what he meant: it was almost as though I had some guardian angel, or something, watching over me, keeping me from screwing up everything. I’d never really thought about it before, but I guess that is pretty lucky.
Up until that point, I’d only had three ‘girlfriends’: Elise, Linda, and Patty. Elise, from 7th grade Art class- she was cute, pretty, in her own way, and sweet, but also a little quirky, the way some artsy types can be. Then Linda, (not Linda Wells) who was in my 8th grade homeroom; she had long, straight, silky blond hair and blue eyes that sparkled like star sapphires. I fell for her based on her admittedly stunning beauty, but soon realized she knew just how pretty she was, and acted as though she was used to it, even felt entitled to get her way in everything and that was a little too controlling for my tastes.
Then, there was Patty, in ninth grade, the girl Gina had thought was my girlfriend. I shouldn’t really count Patty, though, because that relationship was more in her imagination than in reality. With her, it had started when she’d show up at my locker between classes ‘just to say hi’ and in around the second month of school, she’d invited me to visit her at home. So I accepted the invitation and had the pleasure of meeting her parents over the course of an excellent dinner. Her mother and father were very nice people, a little old, I thought, to be Patty’s parents. They both had a strong accent, what Dad would call Bohemian, though I didn’t know what that meant.
Despite the accent, they were down to earth people, extra friendly and quick to laugh; I admit I had a great time. But when I left, I got the distinct impression they expected to see me again. They appeared almost relieved to think that Patty had a boyfriend! I thought it possible that because they were old, they wanted Patty to have someone when they were no longer around. I also thought it was more likely that I’d misread them entirely. But, rather than take the chance that Patty might get the wrong idea, and have her feelings hurt later, I told her I liked her, a lot, but I didn’t want to “go steady” with anyone right now. I would’ve felt responsible if I’d let it go on and then really hurt her feelings. Patty was still hurt, I could tell, though not as much as she would’ve been otherwise. I think.
“So, how long’s it been since you last saw Gina?” Butch asked. “Did she say it was in the 9th grade when she had a crush on you?”
“Yes, we were in freshman year. Almost two years ago. I watched for her in the hallways last year, but the new high school is huge and I never saw her.”
“And she still has a crush on you? I guess you did something right, since she sure hasn’t forgotten you,” he said.
“I guess so,” I said. “I certainly didn’t forget her! We were in the same advanced bio class that year, and I thought then that she was the prettiest girl I’d ever met. Butch, Gina could’ve dated any guy in school if she wanted. And with all those jocks around, I figured she wouldn’t give me a second look.”
“I’m surprised she’d pick you, too,” Butch said with a laugh. “But now you know she liked you in school, and judging by tonight, she likes you even more now.” He looked at me in disbelief. “And you didn’t even know, man! She had to tell you herself!”
“Sometimes I have a hard time talking to the really pretty girls,” I replied.
Butch laughed. “Pretty? Roland- Gina’s got to be one of the best looking girls in your school and all you say is she’s pretty!”
“Well… that is kind of weak, isn’t it? Okay, Gina’s real pretty, and- sexy, too,” I replied.
Butch was right; saying Gina was just “pretty” was an understatement. She had a vaguely Mediterranean look, Italian, I think, with dark, beautiful, eyes and smooth, olive skin. Her long, silky hair, the color of the baker’s chocolate my Mom cooks with, cascaded over her well-shaped shoulders and onto her adult-woman’s breasts. And voluptuous was the perfect word for a body that had filled out in all the right places. I thought she was beautiful the first time I laid eyes on her, and, for me at least, still the best looking girl in school.
If I hadn’t taken that class, I might never have met Gina. I guess it was another one of those times Butch talked about, where things just seemed to work out for me despite what I do. I hadn’t originally signed up for advanced bio; I was in the second year French class when school started, but nearly thirty students had signed up for it, so at least seven of us had to switch to a different elective. I knew I could take French the following year, but my father insisted I only take the advanced classes so that limited my choices. I’d always liked science and so I thought I’d take Physics, since I knew the math in first year Physics wouldn’t be anything I couldn’t handle, but all that was still available was advanced biology. The whole scheduling problem turned out to be a lucky break and it was still paying off, almost two years later.
I was the smartest guy in that class, and I knew from experience that a lot of times other guys don’t like a smart kid who might make them look worse, especially when a teacher graded on a curve. So I’d gotten in the habit of being funny, since everyone likes to laugh. Our teacher in that class, Mrs. Braxton, was fairly young and liked the fact that I took the course work seriously, instead of it being only the girls who did well. And since I treated the work as important and usually, well, almost always, knew the answers when she asked the class a question, Mrs. Braxton let me get away with joking around a little, before I gave her the answer. I made a point of including her when I was kidding around, just as if she was one of us, the students. I think she appreciated that.
The main reason I did well in all my classes, except math, was that, beginning in 5th grade, I read all of my textbooks in the first two weeks every year, so I didn’t have to study as hard the rest of the semester to make good grades. I’d picked up my love of reading from my Dad: he subscribed to two newspapers, several trade journal and magazines, plus bought a copy of Popular Science several times a year. I’d read our entire set of encyclopedias by time I was twelve (but, to be honest, I’d skipped the few articles that didn’t appeal to me). Then I convinced Mom to but my .99 cent paperbacks at the grocery store once in a while. I even read everything on the cereal box at breakfast!
The only classes I had problems with was mathematics; even though I’d read the text books, I still needed help to even get a “B”. And if I’d gotten more than one ‘B’ in a semester, I wouldn’t make Honor Roll. That was one of the few things Dad actually praised me for.
I looked down the dirt lane toward my house; the whole way was shrouded in darkness. “Thanks again, Butch; I really did have a great time, but I should probably head home now.”
“No problem, bud,” he replied. “And I know you had a good time,” and he gestured toward the rear view mirror and grinned.
“I thought you said you and Pam were watching the movie; not me and Gina.”
“We did watch the movie, Roland. I told you I’d fill you in on what happened. But I couldn’t resist a quick glance now and then,” he said. “But you’re right, it’s getting late and I told Pam I’d stop back by on my way home. I guess I should get going, before it’s too late and I have to see her Dad.”
“Tell Pam I said thanks for everything, and I’ll talk to you soon.”
“Hey, you’re going to call Gina?” He asked with a smile.
“Definitely,” I said. “Probably on Monday; I don’t want to look too desperate,” I said and laughed. “Then again, maybe I’ll call her tomorrow afternoon. I’d hate to wait too long, you know.”
“Yeah,” he said. “A good looking girl like Gina probably has guys after her all the time. And you thought you’d missed your chance once already; don’t make the same mistake again.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m not going to let that happen,” I said with a smile. Butch started the car and pulled out onto the road. I stood there until the tail lights were out of sight, then turned and started toward the house. With no moon, only starlight lit the way, so I had to watch my step and miss the hard ridges of dried mud and the potholes left by cars and pickup trucks driving down the lane when it was wet. About halfway down the lane, there was an old wood post on each side, so I stopped and leaned back against one of them. The muggy heat of the day had dissipated and lent the cooler night air a clarity that’s only seen far from city lights. I looked up at the stars, so numerous against the sky they were almost overwhelming, and I traced out some of the constellations I recognized.
When I was ten years old, my Dad had bought me a six-inch reflector telescope for Christmas, and I’d spent a lot of nights finding the planets and looking closely at the moon; learning the constellations and the names of some of the stars just came along with that. I no longer had the telescope, but still knew most of the stars and constellations, and I could recognize the planets when one was in the sky. The brightest star, almost directly overhead, was Vega, in the constellation called the Lyre, which was something like a harp. It was right on the edge of where the Milky Way meandered across the sky. I knew how to trace the Milky Way north to the constellation Cassiopeia, the beautiful queen of Greek mythology, and I pictured Gina, reclining on the goddess’s royal sofa, draped in a satiny gown. That was how I felt about Gina that evening. It had just been so nice with her warm body pressed against mine, her beautifully formed breasts…
Just then I heard the woman/baby-crying, growling sound of a bobcat, calling from back toward the swamp, and I knew that cat must’ve found a mate. Lucky cat. That shook me from my daydreaming and reminded that I was just standing in the dark, so I double checked my pocket where I’d put Gina’s number, then walked the rest of the way to the house. I was infatuated with Gina, and just thinking about her smile and unbelievably wonderful body almost made me want to skip; something I hadn’t done since I was a child. I felt silly, but in a good way, a way I’d never felt before, and couldn’t wait for the next day to come so that I could call Gina, see her beautiful face again.
I looked across the field to the tree line that was black against the sky and noticed the fog beginning to roll from the woods out over the field. Until I moved to the farm I’d never seen fog like that: it was a band about five feet high and too thick to see through but floated about two feet above the ground, and you could bend low and look underneath it all the way to the woods. Bobcats and the fog, I thought; maybe the Indians were onto something.
As I finished the walk home, fighting the urge to kick up my heels, or do something else stupid, I thought about what Butch had said: that I was lucky, that things just seem to come to me, or work out for the best, without me even trying. Obviously, I couldn’t complain to Andrea for setting me up with ‘Debbs’ because if I hadn’t gone on that blind date with that pretentious snob of a girl, I wouldn’t have run into Gina. Andrea didn’t owe me for that favor at all; if anything, I owed her. That was clearly just one more time when what I’d thought was a big disappointment was actually what I’d needed, after all.
I realized then that Butch might be right: I had been lucky, I was lucky and things always did seem to work out for me. Especially when I wasn’t trying to force anything, but just accepted what whatever the day brought. I decided then that rather than let my lust control what I do (and with Gina, I knew there was a lot of lust involved), I’d wait until Monday to call her. I felt like calling Gina the very next day might be a bad idea, like I was pushing for something to happen before its time. And it probably wouldn’t be smart of me to try to force things, since if I just let what happens happen, I’d be happier with whatever came my way on its own.
After all, in that one day alone, a series of setbacks from what I’d planned, a lot of unintended and seemingly unrelated events over the course of nearly two years that had given me an incredible night with Gina, plus, maybe, more to come, whereas, if I’d pushed it two years before I might’ve screwed it up.
I guess I’m just going to have to get used to accepting things as they are, since despite what had seemed like problems, letdowns, and disappointments, the night had worked out better than I could ever have imagined!