It was a Sunday evening, and Noah Barton was shaking like a leaf. He was wondering how he could sound confident on a phone call while his voice had such a quiver to it. But after all these years, he had finally decided he would call up Betsy Davis and ask her for a date. He had had a crush…no…he had ‘loved’ the cute little blonde since sixth grade. And now, it was the spring semester of their senior year. Realizing that time for a high school courtship was running very short, he had mustered enough courage to call and ask her out. Of course, it didn’t hurt that she had just broken up with star quarterback Brandon Brooks, after the two of them had been going steady since their sophomore year.
“So…no kidding. Is that a ‘yes’ then? That’s terrific! I thought we might have a nice dinner at Carelli’s Steakhouse on Friday night. Would that be okay?...Super! Well, see you around at school, then.”
Fortunately, the only person who saw Noah’s silly celebration dance after he ended the call was his father.
“Good news, I take it?” the dad asked.
“Oh, yeah. Better than just good…it’s fantastic news! Maybe the best phone call I’ve ever had in my life! Takin’ Betsy out this weekend…to Carelli’s.”
“Dinner at Carelli’s sounds nice. If you want my advice, though…don’t take her dancing afterward. I just saw that little post-phone call demonstration…not a pretty sight.”
Noah dismissed the good-natured teasing and smiled. “Not to worry, Pop. I’ve dreamed about getting a date with this girl for years. I’m going to make everything absolutely perfect.” He went up to his room and laid down, but was too excited to close his eyes. It was nearly four in the morning before he managed to fall asleep.
On Monday, he went through the normal school routine, but during every available idle minute, he was thinking about what he could say and do to make a good impression on this lovely little cheerleader who had secretly been the object of his affection for so long. And there would be a lot of details to take care of before Friday…call for a reservation at the restaurant, get a haircut, buy a new shirt, wash the car…oh, and breath mints…definitely buy some breath mints!
By mid-week, Noah had already come up with a list of interesting things to talk about, and thought about how he could plant the idea of a second date, and maybe even a third. After all, Senior Prom was right around the corner, and he definitely wanted to be her escort.
Then, by Thursday, his imagination had already advanced his daydreams to higher heights…summer outings at the lake, ball games, horseback rides, stargazing up on Buckner’s Point. And eventually, the fantasy about having Betsy as a bride actually entered his thought process. “I’d have to figure out a way to both work and go to college as a married man. I need that engineering degree from State, but after waiting six whole years for the most beautiful creature on earth, I don’t think I could stand to wait another four years before asking her to marry me.” Yep. The love bug had bitten him hard back in Mrs. Bennett’s home room class, and the itch had never gone away.
Friday finally showed up after the longest five days of Noah’s life. All spiffed up, he drove his perfectly detailed car over to the north end of town to pick up his princess. This was to be the night that would fix his future forever. He once had doubts that life would ever give him total contentment, but the gods of good fortune had finally smiled on Noah Barton, and ‘happily ever after’ was just around the corner.
At the restaurant, Noah and Betsy were seated at a table for two near the front window, close to the fireplace, and just far enough from the piano stage that they could hear the music, but still have a private conversation. Some Dean Martin tunes…the soft yellowish glow from all the candlelit tables...the aroma of fine cuisine being prepared in the kitchen. Noah couldn’t have imagined a more romantic atmosphere for what he knew would be a magical evening. He was sure that the ‘Noah and Betsy’ chapter of life was off to a great beginning.
The waiter brought them menus, as well as water and some warm bread.
“Geez, Noah. I wasn’t aware that this place was so pricey. You sure this is okay? I mean…we could still leave and find a burger joint somewhere.”
“Absolutely not. We are going to have a nice dinner, and I’m not the least bit worried about the cost. Let’s just enjoy it.”
“Okay. If you insist.”
They both ordered the house salad and iced tea for starters. Betsy asked for the lasagna as an entrée, and Noah wanted the filet mignon. The waiter had not asked about dessert yet, but both of them had already mentioned that the crème brulee sounded like it might be a nice way to finish the meal.
By the time the salads arrived, Noah was already engaging his date using his ‘list of possible topics’ as scripted earlier in the week. Unfortunately, each of those discussions ended quicker than anticipated, and he was forced to go to a Plan B.
“So, baseball season’s coming up before long. Maybe you might be interested in taking in a Cardinals game over at Busch Stadium. Might even get there early enough to go over to the arch.”
“Nah…not really a Cardinals fan. I’m more of a Cubbies girl, myself.”
He wasn’t sure he heard correctly. “Uhh…I’m sorry. What?”
“Yeah, I’ve always pulled for Chicago when it comes to Major League ball.”
“Yep. Dad took me to a game at Wrigley when I was in the fourth grade. Junior Lake tossed me a foul ball, and I’ve been a dedicated Cubs fan ever since.”
“Uhh, well…no…I mean…we’re so close to St. Louis. Everybody likes the Redbirds around here.”
“Nope, not everybody. Could you pass me the salt, please?”
“Yep. Now, you want to talk about Cardinal fans? Caroline Fessler…this girl in my fourth hour Economics class…wow. She is hooked through and through. I mean, if there’s a St. Louis game on television, she won’t even leave the house until it’s over.”
Noah quietly finished his salad, and drank the rest of the water, just before the waiter came with a pitcher for refills. He looked over at Betsy, and watched her as she cut up an oversized bite of tomato on her plate. “What’s that?” he thought to himself. “She has a birthmark or something on her right wrist. I never noticed that before. You would think someone as concerned about looks as she is would have had a dermatologist fix that by now.”
He got sort of quiet at that point, so Betsy began to carry the conversation…first about school classes, and then about who got elected to next year’s Student Council, and then about the rehearsals for the all-school musical. She was mainly just chatting to fill the sudden silence at the table. Her date was only responding with an occasional “uh-huh” or a nod of the head.
Noah kind of woke up from his trance as he finished the last two bites of the steak, just in time to hear Betsy finish a story. “So, Susan…she gets all snippy about it, see, and I told her that I could care less about going to her lame party, anyway.”
“Couldn’t care less.”
“You mean you couldn’t care less. You said you could care less. That would mean that you do care about the party.”
“Oh…right…I couldn’t care less.”
He took another bite of his candied carrots, and again glanced up toward his lovely blonde dinner guest. “Oh, no!” he thought to himself. “This girl is a plate-spinner…one of those people who eat all of one thing on their plate, and then turn the whole dish around to start on the next item. Wow, some people just don’t know how to enjoy a meal…a little bite of this and then a little bite of that…the variation that makes it all taste so good. By the time she finishes the lasagna and the corn, her broccoli is going to be ice cold.” He just rolled his eyes in disapproval. She never noticed.
Betsy was most of the way through her detailed analysis of what life might be like in a college sorority just as Noah was applying a bit more butter to his baked potato. “Honestly, Noah, do you think you could ever be comfortable in one of those Greek houses on campus at State? Personally, I think they’re just a bunch of store-bought friends.”
“Uh…no. I probably wouldn’t care for that.” What he was really thinking, though, was “Man, does she realize that her blouse and her cardigan are two different shades of blue? Had the whole week to plan. Surely she could have found an outfit in her closet that didn’t have clashing colors.”
A glassy-eyed Noah continued to eat, while the pretty little blonde continued to share bubbly stories about life as a cheerleader. “…but we won the game, anyway, so I guess that’s all that mattered.” The tale was apparently meant to be humorous, because she laughed out loud at the end.
And that’s when he noticed it...the last straw. Stuck between Betsy’s right incisor tooth and the adjacent canine tooth, there was something awful. A rather large green leafy piece of spinach had apparently lodged there during the salad course, and she had failed to find it before opening her gob and displaying it to the entire room. Panic set in. Alarms began to go off in Noah’s head. He wondered what to do next. He had to take action, and do it immediately. He raised his hand, and in a loud voice said, “Check, please!”
On this particular night, there would be no crème brulee.
The drive home was very quiet, and they followed the most direct route between Carelli’s restaurant and Betsy’s house on Connell Avenue. Noah pulled up to the curb, shut off the car, and let out a deep sigh.
“Uh, Betsy…before we get out, we need to talk about something.”
“Sure. What’s that?”
“Well, I hate to just come right out and say it…but, I think maybe we should start seeing other people.”
The comment caught her off guard. She started to giggle, until she looked over and realized that he was not trying to be funny. “Ummm…okay.”
“I just think we’ve drifted apart, and we owe it to ourselves to explore other avenues for the future.”
By now, she was getting spooked. She thought to herself, “Drifted apart? Okay, this is just creepy. One date, and this guy thinks we’re John and Yoko. What have I gotten myself into?” Afraid to look away from the driver, she nervously fished around for the door handle on the passenger’s side. Then, out loud, she said, “Yeah. Well, I think I’m going to go inside now. Bye.”
He grabbed her by the arm to keep her from leaving before he had finished his explanation. “I mean, I hope you aren’t going to take this too hard. I know how girls often get ahead of themselves in a relationship. I hope you can be level-headed about it. You know, stiff upper lip, and all that.”
She pulled her arm away. “Uh-huh. Okay. So, goodbye.”
The perplexed teenager nearly jumped from the car, and quick-walked up to her house, stepped inside, locked the door, and immediately turned off the porch lights.
“Poor, kid. I hope she’s alright.”
Noah didn’t leave immediately. He sat there in the car in deep thought for a few moments. Finally, he started the engine and let it idle. He grinned, and then muttered to himself, “Caroline…what a beautiful name…Caroline.”