How about a little short fiction again this week.
SOMETIMES THINGS TURN OUT ALL RIGHT
I thought I’d die when she walked up to me. Guys aren’t supposed to admit things like that, but, man, that’s the way I felt. Part of it was surprise, and part of it was pure excitement.
Graciela (I never called her Gracie like everyone else) and I had a history that stretched back to grade school. We’d started out yanking hair and kicking shins, but that switched to lipping off to one another as we got older. But I went virtually mute the first time I noticed she had breasts. One day she was built pretty much like me and the next, these knobby little things popped out on her chest. Kinda hard holding a casual conversation while sneaking glances at those awkward protrusions.
The real transformation took place our freshman year in high school. Those knobs became balloons. Her rounded hips made my throat go dry. Imp-face became Pixie-face. Right about then, Graciela discovered boys. Not this boy. Not the schmuck next door, but guys older than me. Guys with shoulders and biceps and pecs and Adam’s apples.
I used to hang around hoping she’d notice me. I’d head for school at the same time she did. I went to school dances … which I loathed … just to see her dressed up like a movie star. And in the privacy of my bedroom at night, I did my best to render myself blind while holding onto a mental image of her. And felt unclean afterward.
My senior year I used some of my hard-earned savings and bought an old Ford, a jalopy like you saw in the Archie cartoons but without the rumble seat. Guys that hadn’t given me the time of day got to be buddies, but Graciela didn’t give me a second glance.
One warm, pleasant Saturday afternoon about one-thirty, I breezed out of the house heading for my car in the driveway. As I reached for the door handle, Graciela materialized beside me. Surprised me. Scared the crap out of me, actually.
“Johnny,” she cooed. Only person I knew who could speak and coo at the same time.
“Uh … oh, hi. Didn’t see you there.”
“I need a favor. Please.”
She had the prettiest “pleases” of anyone in town. “What’s that?”
“I need a ride to the mall.”
Our only mall, The Eastside Mall, was – guess what – on the east side of town. I’d intended to head in the opposite direction to meet a couple of the guys at the municipal swimming pool. But screw the guys.
As she settled in the front seat beside me, my mind’s eye saw us holding hands and exchanging glances as I drove down Henderson Drive. Me, a man in control of his powerful automobile, and she, the woman at my side. My starter ground, shattering the image. Nonetheless, I got the old jalopy started and backed out of the drive, almost clipping the mailman as I did so. Anxious for something to say in the face of near disaster, I cleared my throat as I followed her directions and parked as close to Dillard’s as possible.
“I can hang around and bring you back home, if you want.”
“That’s sweet. But I don’t know how long I’ll be,” she said.
“I don’t mind. I can just … you know, hang.”
“I’m meeting someone.”
“Who? Marcy?” She and Marcy were as different as night and day, but they were tight. “I wouldn’t mind having a pretty woman hanging off each arm.” Did I really say that out loud? My cheeks felt like they were on fire. They actually burned. I didn’t dare glance at her.
“Not Marcy. Well, thanks loads.” She tossed the words at me as she flounced out of the car and slammed the door.
By the time I got my voice-box to working she was walking down the sidewalk toward a dork named Freddy Fleisher. Last year’s fullback … this year’s freshman at the community college. All shoulders, biceps, thighs, and a real Adam’s apple. With hair on his legs, to boot.
When they hugged, I felt like something tore loose inside me. He planted a kiss on her lips before opening the car door for her.
I’d driven her to her date? Why didn’t he pick her up? My blood pressure dropped twenty points. I felt used. Like a taxi driver who got stiffed for the fare. I sat there like dog doo on the bottom of a shoe, my eyes watching the two-year-old Olds convertible fire up. Freddie revved the engine before throwing the transmission into Reverse.
Movement caught my eye. A vehicle motoring down the lane was invisible to the couple in the Olds because of an SUV parked on their right. Mr. Flannery, the same postman I’d almost nailed, was headed to the mall’s substation. I could probably have honked a warning, but I didn’t.
I expected a big crash when Freddie came roaring backwards out of the parking space but it was more of a thud and a crunch. Freddie must have been flustered – decidedly uncool – because he slammed the Olds in Drive and shot forward, smashing his front end into the Chevy parked on his left.
Graciela and Freddie piled out of the car, both talking a blue streak. What I got out of the rush of words was that Freddie was wrapped up in the wreck of his dad’s wheels, while she was bitching about being late for an appointment.
I took a deep breath, eased my jalopy in gear and rolled past the scene of the accident. As Gracie tried frantically to wave me to a stop, I gave her a casual salute and went on by. A swim with a couple of buddies – boring though they might be – seemed like a good idea right about then.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, and let me hear from you.
New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.