“She likes you….”
I kept adding cans from the open case to the shelf as he lifted another he’d just brought from the stockroom and put next to me. He had mentioned the topic before and I’d pretended not to hear him. I couldn’t figure out how to tell him I didn’t want to ask his sister out.
Yes, she was pretty in a quiet, studious, church deacon’s daughter way. She was in my grade and really smart. I don’t think we even had any classes together. She took all the advanced subjects while I kept to the basics. It just felt weird that her brother was telling me I should ask her out. Whether a date with her went well or badly it would be awkward every time I had to work with him. And if I said I wasn’t interested; saying you think that she’s not your type is like telling a guy, “Your sister’s ugly.”
“How ’bout it…?” He pressed me again and I knew I had to answer.
“Okay.” I turned to him. I didn’t know if he’d been prompted by his sister or acted on his own (maybe he’d heard her say something about me). But when I said that he seemed like he’d done his duty.
The next day at school I asked her out for the coming Saturday night. I had learned, from her brother, that she liked Cat Stevens’ music. He wasn’t in my album and tape collection so before going to work that evening at Piggly Wiggly I stopped at the K-Mart next door and bought his greatest hits album. I listened to it on the drive home that night.
Saturday evening, right on time, I pulled up to her house in my 1965 Chevy Impala. I knocked on the door. Her dad opened it inviting me inside to go through that often tense moment when a young boy meets the father of the young girl he’s taking out. I must have passed inspection because soon he told me, “I’ll tell her you’re here.”
She came from the back of the house, I guess from her bedroom. I don’t know what it was but somehow I felt I had never seen her like this at school. She had a glow and her eyes glistened and seemed larger, deeper and darker. Her long hair—all the way to just above her waist—had the sheen of a silk curtain. She was beautiful.
I felt her father’s eyes on me as I looked at her. It broke my silent stare. I greeted her, shook her father’s hand again meeting his eyes and promised to have her home on time. As we pulled out of the driveway I saw him, with the drapes pulled back, watching us leave. I pushed the Cat Stevens 8-track tape in and turned it up.
We saw the early showing of Rocky (the Sylvester Stallone film released in December 1976) at the Paramount Theater on Central Avenue. We both enjoyed the movie and it got the heart pumping. We still had an hour and a half before I had to have her home. The sun had set and the marquis lights were on. I turned to her. “What would you like to do?”
She shrugged her shoulders and smiled at me. Again, those eyes. They caught the lights above.
“Let’s cruise for a while?”
She didn’t say anything. Just took my hand as we walked to my car parked a few blocks up. [Near The Black Orchid, a strip club where four years later I would earn extra money as a bouncer/doorman when home on leave from the Navy.] We were close to the north end of Central Avenue so I made the turn around the fountain by the Arlington Hotel to double back down Central. I hadn’t pre-planned it but at the end of Bathhouse Row I took the winding road up West Mountain Drive. Its several scenic overlooks were favorite parking spots for teens.
We got out and walked to one of the benches that dotted the cleared area of the overlook. The lights of the town were spread out below with the largest cluster circling the fountain we’d just driven around. I don’t even know how it happened or who moved first, but she was in my arms, then on my lap. She looked up at the sky and the full moon caught her face and shone in her eyes. She laughed and it was pure and carefree. A breeze drifted her hair over us as she leaned into me. I shivered as we kissed. It seemed endless… she was sweet… so sweet. I had never imagined this.
The next day, at Piggly Wiggly, I was kneeling in the canned goods aisle stocking Dinty Moore beef stew, reaching in to front the older date cans and put the new in the back. Someone slapped me on the shoulder and I looked up.
“So, how was the date?”
I stood and looked him in the eye. “It was nice. Real nice.”
“She said she had a good time.”
I nodded and started to get back to work.
“She said you’re going out again next Friday.”
I smiled. “Yes, we are.”
I had learned that sometimes the unexpected thing… is a good thing and you have to roll with it.