I was selecting my morning brew when Spooky by the Classics IV started playing.
“Great songs on my Pandora channel shuffle this morning!” I told Alpha and Beta who were at the kitchen table eating their cereal. Beta was mad at me for making her wear something other than a black, Batman t-shirt. I sat down across from them with my coffee. As the song ended, using my phone I turned the volume down on the Jambox Bluetooth speaker.
“It was winter. I was 17 and in 11th grade the year the new girl came to my high school.”
Alpha looked up at me, but Beta didn’t.
“She was in the same grade and I had English and World History with her. She was pretty, slender with straight blonde hair, blue eyed, but quiet. I guess that was to be expected… being new to a school and all that.”
I could tell Beta was trying not to listen to me.
“After about a month she seemed a bit friendlier but still not very outgoing. She had an air about her… the way she moved and carried herself. She didn’t appear to feel awkward or uncomfortable being at a new school and around people she didn’t know. Just quiet. Sometimes I’d see her in the parking lot after school, snow flurries in the air as she stood and just looked at people. When your eyes met hers, it felt like she was looking deeper into you than you could ever see into her. One of my friends, Josh, started talking about asking her out. And then he did. I had to work at Piggly Wiggly that Friday night. So I didn’t see him and her as I normally would as guys and girls made the rounds where we all hung out and cruised down Central Avenue from Burger Shef all the way downtown to the fountain in front of the Arlington Hotel and back.”
I got up to get more coffee and leaned against the counter. Alpha’s eyes followed me, but Beta’s didn’t.
“I worked that Saturday and Sunday and didn’t see Josh at all over the weekend. Monday at school, he wasn’t there. That’s when I found out he hadn’t come home Friday night.”
I saw that Beta now had her head turned just a bit toward me.
“There were police at the school to talk to his friends, me included. I saw them walking with the girl to the counselor’s office. That day after school, I stopped to see Josh’s parents who were freaking out. It was now three days and no one knew where Josh was. A week went by… then two.”
I took a drink of coffee.
“We never saw Josh again.”
Beta was definitely listening.
“One of my other friends told me he had asked the girl out. I shook my head at him. The girl had never said a word to anyone about Josh going missing after their date. It seemed—she seemed—weird to me. She had the same manner… the same little smile on her face. ‘You’re crazy man.’ I told him. But I saw them that night. Alex was making his moves on her, and I knew they’d head to West Mountain after the game to look down on the lights of Bathhouse Row and the beautiful lighted fountain in front of the Arlington. It was a favorite make-out spot for teenagers.”
Beta was now turned more toward me.
“The next day, early Saturday morning I heard the phone ring and no one answered it. This was back before cell phones and some people still didn’t have telephones in more than one room. We had just the single phone and it was on the desk next to the kitchen across from my bedroom, the only room on that side of the house. It kept ringing. I got up reluctantly, and answered it. It was my friend, Rob. ‘Alex didn’t come home last night… his dad just called my dad to ask if I’d seen him!’ I dressed and left; a group of us searched all over Garland County. Monday came, and no one had found or heard from Alex. The police were at school again, talking with me, all my friends, teachers and others… and the girl. My friend, Beth was working her way down the hall spreading the news that an FBI agent from Little Rock was with them and they were talking with the girl, now.”
Beta’s face was attentive, interested. She and Alpha had stopped eating.
“Two weeks more go by, and Josh and Alex still hadn’t turned up. My friends and I couldn’t believe it. We lived in a small town. Nothing like this had ever happened. The girl still came to school. No one talked to her. No one wanted to be around her. I know that seems mean, but something about her bothered me and others. She looked at people too long, too much; rarely talking and always with that slight grin on her face. Like there was a joke being played out or a secret that only she knew. One morning, as the halls cleared for first period, I turned from my locker to see her walking toward me. Books clasped to her chest and that half-smile. She stopped in front of me and brushed a long, straight, lock of hair from her face. ‘Would you like to go out with me?’ The fingers left her hair and pulled at her bottom lip. I stuttered, ‘I have to get to class… talk to you later.’ But I didn’t and made sure I kept on the move away from wherever she was for the rest of the day.”
I went over to the table, leaned down with my elbows on it between Alpha and Beta, and continued.
“That evening, I was about to go out when my mother opened the screen door to call to me before I got in my car. ‘Dennis, phone…’ I went back in. Mom, her hand cupped over the phone, whispered and smiled. ‘It’s a girl.’ I took the phone from her and waited for her to step away, which she did reluctantly and slowly. ‘Hello?’ I recognized the slight lisp; it was THE girl. She asked, ‘Would you like to go with me and see a movie?’ I gripped the phone and couldn’t speak. In the dead air on the line, I heard her breathing and then she said. ‘Alex,’ she giggled, and I heard a thrashing, choking noise in the background, ‘finally gave me your phone number…’”
Beta and Alpha had a wide-eyed look as I paused and held the moment. “Dad…” Alpha poked my arm. “Are you making this up?”
I looked at her and Beta for a heartbeat or two and then grinned. “Yes.”
Beta almost shouted. “I knew it!”
I smiled and patted her on the shoulder. “But I made you forget being mad at me.” I straightened and walked away singing… “She called me up and asked if I’d like to go with her and see a movie…”
After I shared this on Facebook, I had several old high school friends comment and send me messages like this: “I was reading and trying to figure out, ‘When did this happen, what was that girl’s name and who’s Josh’…. then I got to the end and you had me laughing–at the story and myself at being so drawn into it.”