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Romance

This could be true 

[a short story by Keith Manos]

            This is not a true story, but some parts really happened. 

            Let’s say that I lived on a fifty-acre farm in Kansas, miles and miles away from any neighbors. My best friend was our dog Chestnut, a Labrador who licked my cheek when I petted him and barked whenever he heard a truck engine.  But Chestnut went missing when I was eleven. My older brother Freddie heard me sniffling that night in our bedroom as we went to sleep and explained that aliens had abducted Chestnut, that I shouldn’t worry. They’d eventually return him to us. Their spacecraft had also left those crop circles on the north fields. Dad was pissed. 

            Stop.

            I’m not very good at writing science fiction.

            The truth is we lived in a quiet, Columbus, Ohio suburb – Gahanna – with friendly neighbors up and down the street. Dad worked as an optometrist. He wore a dark jacket to work but put on a white coat at his office. Dad, Mom, Freddy, and I always ate together at the dinner table where Dad usually peered at our eyes, examining us to see if we squinted, like if any of us needed a new lens for our glasses.

            I hated my glasses. I didn’t want to be called “four eyes.” Jim Brown didn’t wear glasses. Neither did Mick Jagger. Nor Captain James T. Kirk. 

            Plus, most girls didn’t think boys who wore glasses were good looking. I wore my glasses at home but not at Gahanna High School. I didn’t care that without them, reading gave me headaches. I wanted Angela Spinelli to like me. To think I was handsome. We were both sophomores, and I had had a crush on her since the first week of school freshmen year when we shared a math class. I liked the days sitting across from her in third period math when Angela wore button-down shirts. Every now and then she’d turn just enough to open a space between the buttons so I could peek at her bra. I liked the black ones best. They made her seem more mysterious.

            Angela and I had talked a couple of times that first semester. We joked about Mr. Adams, the teacher, who we called Gomez after the character in the show “The Addams Family.” We complained about the homework – both of us rolling our eyes and then laughing. Once out in the hallway when she laughed at one of my jokes, she even leaned into me. Her boob casually brushed my arm, sending electric waves through my veins.

            I desperately wanted to kiss her.

            And to see her boobs. I’d heard a rumor that two other guys had already seen them. One of them, a senior, bragged he’d touched one of them. Sitting behind the senior table at lunch, I eavesdropped while he told his buddies about his date with her. He said her boobs – actually, he called them tits – were squishy. His buddies laughed when he said that. I bit into my ham sandwich, but he made me think of the way rotting peaches felt.

            In the spring of my sophomore year I finally had my drivers’ license. And one Monday morning in May, I stopped parting my frizzy hair at the side so I’d look more like David Cassidy and Scott Baio. Although they were slim and Mom bought my pants off the husky rack at department stores, the three of us had dark hair. I couldn’t, however, make mine fall smooth and wavy like theirs did with just my comb. That morning before I left for school, I soaked my hair with water from the bathroom faucet and parted it down the middle, just like they did. The mirror showed my hair glistening in the bathroom light, like I had just surfaced from underwater at the city pool.

            Those two descriptions about my frizzy hair and pudginess? They’re real. Even today I’m stocky, and my hair is wiry and thick on the sides. I hated my hair, but I refused to cut it no matter how many times Dad complained. The Beatles had long hair, and all the girls loved the Beatles.

            Plus, I wanted Angela to see the new me.

            Even though I had class down another hallway, I made sure to pass her that Monday morning – I knew the route she traveled every day to her classes. School posters proclaimed students should wear blue today to begin Spirit Week for the undefeated baseball team, so both of us did – Angela in a blue skirt and me in a blue sweatshirt my mom bought for me at JC Penny’s. Angela even wore a blue ribbon tied to her blonde ponytail. 

            I acted casual that day. That meant I gave Angela a slight wave when we were about fifteen feet away from each other. Like no big deal. Then I looked away for a moment, like I’d just been distracted by some event in a nearby classroom. I’d seen Scott Baio do that once in a show. You know, classic cool.

            “Kevin?”

            It worked. She’d noticed. Remembered my name.

            “Hey, Angela.” She wore a white shirt, which didn’t do much to conceal her white bra – Oh, God, did her bra have little flowers on it? Really? Her boobs pushed at the buttons. 

            Smiling, she sized me up. “You’re looking sharp, Kevin.” She moved her books from one arm to the other.

            “Really?” Staying cool. I looked past her down the hall, like I was needed elsewhere. Other students weaved around us. Angela kept her eyes on me.

            “Yeah.” The word kind of drawn out, the way a cheerleader would say it.

            I reached into my pocket, like I just remembered I needed my car keys. I waved them in front of her, told her I just got my drivers’ license, then asked if she wanted to go for a ride. You know, still being cool. Like only if she wanted to. No big deal if she didn’t. My mother let me drive her car to school that day. Mom didn’t go out much these days, spending most of her day at home in bed. She coughed a lot and stayed in her pajamas.

            Angela looked past me, her mind probably doing math, calculating the time that remained before the bell would ring and the distance she had to go to her next class. Yes, the bell would ring soon, but I didn’t care. Angela obviously did however. She quickly turned back to me. “Go for a ride where?” she asked, urgency in her voice.

            I froze. The keys seemed to gain weight in my hand. Yeah, like where, Kevin? Go for a ride, but where? “I don’t know . . . around.” Again, trying to be cool. Keeping it a mystery.

            “When?” She said that right away. She even leaned into me a little. She actually agreed to cruise with me. She would sit in the front seat and let me put my arm around her.

            My heart thumped. “After school?”

            “Okay, I’ll meet you by the gym.” She smiled, hugged her books, and hustled away to third period.

            I almost cut my next class to go wash the car. This was really going to happen. Like it was a date. My first date. With Angela Spinelli! In my mom’s Buick Skylark.

            Last period of the day in English, Angela kept sneaking smiles at me. Once, she rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue when old Mrs. Bradley read a John Donne poem, like are you kidding me? What kind of name is John Donne? He wrote poems? That was his job?

            After class, we met by the gym doors, as she directed, and then got into the Skylark. The warm day allowed us to drive with the windows open. First the Rolling Stones, then the Doors, then Ted Nugent played on the radio while I drove slowly to Huntington Ridge Park outside of Gahanna, trying to keep my eyes on the road instead of Angela’s bare legs. Her blue skirt inched up her thighs whenever I turned a corner. 

            After I parked in the lot, Angela took command. “Let’s go for a walk.”

            “Sure.” Why not? The day was warm, the park nearly empty with only an old man in a flannel shirt hunched over his metal detector and two moms in sneakers pushing infants in their strollers.

            Within minutes, Angela and I were holding hands and turning our chins to our shoulders to smile at each other. We laughed at each other’s stories about our parents’ crazy quirks. Her parents, she said, spoke Italian when they argued at the dinner table and wanted to curse at each other. I told her my parents prayed a lot but not to Jesus. 

            After walking down a dusky, gravel path through the woods, I squeezed her hand and stopped us. “There’s something I’d like to do if you’ll let me,” I said.

            Angela looked up at me, still smiling, like she already knew what I was going to say. “What is it, Kevin?”

            “I’d like to kiss you.” My chest squeezed my heart, making it stop for a moment. I still held her hand. If she let me, I would do what David Cassidy did all the time.

            Angela didn’t say anything. She just tilted her chin toward my face, closed her eyes, arched her back a little, and waited. 

            Isn’t this story going great so far? Angela and I are holding hands, neither of them sweaty even though the day is warm. She’s going to let me kiss her – the girl I’ve had a crush on for two years. Actually, it would be the first time I’d ever kissed a girl. I leaned down toward her waiting lips.

            Except we have to back up. All the way back to the school hallway when I ran into Angela – again, by design. 

            She started snickering when I neared her. I heard her, but I was doing the cool thing, you know, pretending to be distracted by something going on in a nearby classroom.

            “What did you do to your hair, Kevin?” she blurted out.

            My hair? I ran a hand through my hair like I’d seen John Travolta do on “Welcome Back, Kotter.” “Nothing, really,” I lied. I swiveled my head left and right, desperate to see my reflection in the window of a classroom door, and when I did, I saw that my hair didn’t look slick anymore; it had dried into a mess that resembled Larry’s from “The Three Stooges.”

            Angela continued to laugh, her eyes on my frizzy hair, and, gripping her books tighter to her chest, she asked, “Did you just get out of gym?” She covered her mouth with her hand to stifle her laughter. Angela was polite like that.

            “Gym? Uh . . . no, I’m just . . . you know.” I pushed my hand through my hair again. Laughed with her. Looked past her. Stayed cool. Remembered the bell would ring soon. I didn’t want to be late. Get a tardy referral. A detention.

            Angela scurried away from me then, like I carried a contagious disease.  She glanced back once, like she had to confirm she actually saw my hair combed like that. 

            After school the day Angela laughed at me, I drove home in my mom’s Skylark as fast as I could and washed my hair like three times, trying to get the frizz out of it. I then combed it from the side again. It didn’t help. I still looked like Albert Einstein’s son.

            I saw Angela at our ten-year class reunion. She’d gained a lot of weight, like sixty pounds, and married a dentist from Cleveland. He was even fatter than she was. But they smiled a lot at each other. 

            And I still wanted to see her boobs.

August 13, 2020 15:15

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