1974, Courtney, BC.
John and Adam, tenth graders, lingered against the wall of the gymnasium with the other boys, while the girls waited on the other side. Dimmed lights and amplified rock music changed the gym into a sock hop. John rubbed at a mark on his indoor running shoes with spit and straightened the hem of his new Lee jeans he’d ironed for the dance. His mom had told him how she had worn socks when she first danced with his dad at a school dance.
Across the room, Caroline swayed in a very short pink skirt, and he could trace the outline of her breasts through her white blouse. Her long blond hair shimmered in the low lights, and he wondered if her glistening lipstick tasted like strawberries. John hoped this would be his first and forever dance with her.
“You’ve got a stain on the back of your shirt,” Adam, his best friend, laughed.
John pulled on his shirt to look. He shouldn’t have worn the navy and white polo shirt.
“Just kidding,” Adam said.
“You won’t trip, will you?” John said, looking down at Adam’s frayed jean cuffs dragging on the floor. If only that would turn Caroline off and put her in his favor. But Adam’s devil-may-care ways enamored him with all the girls.
Adam scanned them. “There’s Caroline. I’ll bet she’ll dance with me before you, even though with your dreamy blue eyes, olive complexion and dark hair, you’re better looking than me.”
“You’ll have the nerve to ask her before I will,” John said and rubbed his sweaty palms against his jeans.
“Let’s toss a coin to see who gets to ask her first,” Adam said, and pulled a quarter from his pocket.
“Okay, you toss. Heads I win,” John said, crossing all his fingers behind his back.
Adam tossed the quarter in the air, chunks of his blond hair flouncing over his eyes. The coin spun, dropping and hit the floor with a wobble, before it flopped to a standstill.
“Heads, you win,” Adam said with a grin.
“I get first asking rights,” John said, repeating to himself: She has to say ‘yes’. She’s going to say ‘yes’.
“Yup. Let’s go,” Adam said, and started across the empty dance floor. John followed, clamping his sweaty armpits to his sides. Was Caroline looking at him or at Adam?
“Caroline, will you dance with me?” John said, before he could back out. His fingernails dug into his palms at his sides and he stared down at her spotless pink running shoes.
“What about Brenda?” Caroline said.
He looked up, fearing his opportunity vanishing. “What about her?” He’d never noticed before how hard faceted Caroline’s face close up was.
Caroline jerked her chin at her friend.
Brenda shrugged in her thick knit top. “Caroline, this isn’t necessary.”
John stared. Obscured by her heavy square glasses, Brenda’s gentle brown eyes were alluring and her face radiated kindness; she looked beautiful. Adam had noticed Brenda as well, and stepped in.
“That was my plan.” He offered his hand with a gallant sweep
Brenda backed away, pushing her black glasses against the tip of her nose. “You don’t have to do this.”
“Oh, but I want to,” Adam said, a hurt puppy dog look crossing his acne-scarred face.
“Okay, just this once,” Brenda smiled at Adam, who grabbed her hand and danced away, not hiding his high spirits.
“That was easier than I thought,” Caroline said.
“What do you mean? I don’t think she needed your help.”
“Of course she did. Look at her, wearing an old ladies kilt dress and no make-up.” Caroline thrust her chin toward’s the dancing pair. “Let’s join them?”
John nodded and followed her on to the dance floor. His feet felt wooden, but Caroline didn’t seem to notice, as she hummed out of tune and moved to her own rhythm. He’d been dreaming of this sock hop and having the first dance with Caroline, believing when their bodies came together, their pheromones and their auras would combine, and she’d be his forever. Now he wished the song would end faster. A slow song started up, and he made to get away, but Caroline’s arms went around him.
“Hmm, you smell good,” she breathed into his ear, his shoulder taking the weight of her chin. The song went on, and he turned his head, preferring the gym and sweat stench of the dancers to her off-lemony smell, along with that of her dinner.
“No, I want to talk to you,” she said.
He marshaled to face her and clamped his mouth shut.
“I wanted you to ask me,” she said.
“Why me?” he said, choking on his words.
“I just have a feeling that the two of us were meant for each other.”
Just what he’d dreamed of telling her. He moved his legs, trying to find the beat, and ignore her discordant jabs with her thighs into his own. As the song ended, he pulled himself away, but her arms cinched around him.
“Don’t go anywhere, Johnny. You’re all mine.” Her words amplified in his ear.
“But Caroline, the dance is over. Shouldn’t we be mixing?”
“No, neither of want that, now do we?”
Along with his own nose, he saw hers under his in double vision. “No, but….” Damn the coin flip. He regretted ever desiring Caroline. Adam and Brenda sailed past, smiling at each other. Brenda had taken off her glasses, softening her face, and exposing a sparkle in her eyes.
“Oh, there’s Brenda and your friend, Adam. They’re not worried about changing partners. It probably hasn’t even crossed their minds,” Caroline said, lifting her hand a moment to wave at Brenda, who didn’t see her. Caroline frowned. “She doesn’t have her glasses on. That explains it.”
The other pair stopped dancing. “How about we switch?” Adam said, looking at Caroline.
“Put your glasses on, Brenda. You’ll trip,” Caroline said, squeezing her arms around John, still caught in her embrace.
John tried to disengage himself and ask Brenda to dance.
“Caroline,” Brenda said, with a sigh. A moment later, she accepted an offer from Jeremy, a tall blond guy from the basketball team.
“Oh, no, I’ve caught my cutey-pie, Johnny and I’m not letting him go,” Caroline said, frog stepping him offbeat for another dance. For the rest of his life, he’d be joined with her at the hip.
At the end of the sock hop, he’d expected she’d go home with Brenda, since they were neighbors, but the dice had been rolled and he found himself walking Caroline home, trying to tune her out, and nodding his head, or shaking it, when she expressed dismay or surprise.
Outside her place, she drew him to her and kissed him. He pulled back, but felt the spiky edges of a hedge scrape against his back. He’d have to move her forward, but every effort pushed him into her embrace. After a tortuous half hour of lip manipulations and foul breath, his as much as hers, she withdrew her body from him, and exacted promises he’d phone her when he got home and in the morning, he come and walk with her to school.
At home, John lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. His parents were in the den watching TV and didn’t notice he’d kept the family phone off the hook all evening. He’d tell Caroline tomorrow the phone was busy.
After a while, he phoned Adam. “Hey, you looked in good spirits, dancing with Brenda.”
“I didn’t mind,” Adam said, a happy lilt in his voice. “How about Caroline? She was really into you, just like you said.”
“Yeah,” John said.
“You don’t sound too pleased?” Adam said.
“Well, tell me about Brenda? What was she like?”
“Friendly, and even pretty, close up.” She told me, Caroline has been dreaming about you for months now. Isn’t that funny, the two of you longing for each other?
John grunted… “You didn’t use a double-headed quarter, did you?”
“No, but I knew Caroline’s no catch. I’d have danced with her if I’d won, but nothing more,” Adam said. “We walking to school together tomorrow?”
“Er, Caroline made me promise to walk with me. It’s like she’s cement-glued herself to me. I can’t breathe.”
“Listen to yourself, ‘she made me…’”
“I really wish I hadn’t won that coin toss. Maybe I would have danced with Brenda. I saw her without her glasses. Wow!”
“Don’t be so fickle. Brenda is a nice girl, and I will not let her get picked up and dumped by you, in favor of the next shiny girl.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” John said, looking at the shadows of the tall trees falling over his windowsill. “I’ll figure out how to break off whatever this is with Caroline.”
“Oh, poor Caroline,” Adam said.
What about poor me? John determined he’d be ruthless if he had to.
He avoided a phone call from her all evening, but he knew he couldn’t manage that every evening, when his mom asked him later if anyone had called. The next morning, he walked a different out-of-the-way route to school, so they couldn’t possibly connect, but he couldn’t avoid being with her in math class before lunch. If he wasn’t close to failing it, he would’ve played hookie.
For months he’d tried to trade desks with other classmates, so he could be closer to her in the front. He slunk into his seat at the back of the class. Caroline was at the front speaking to their teacher, Mrs. Henry, who looked a bit exasperated, but eventually nodded her head.
“John, please trade seats with Kevin and sit next to Caroline,” Mrs. Henry said.
Kevin packed up his things and shuffled towards John.
“Why?” John said, trying to avoid Caroline’s gaze, and her jutting chin.
“Don’t ask questions. Just do as I say.” Mrs. Henry said.
Kevin stood in front of his desk, waiting for him to vacate, a smirk on his face. “What Caroline wants, Caroline gets,” he mouthed.
John stopped. How come he’d been so entranced he’d never heard this before, or even really observed her? He took his time walking to the front and frowned at Caroline, before he sat in the desk next to hers.
She pouted and put her hand on his arm.
He shrugged it away. What was she thinking? The entire class could see. What Caroline wants, Caroline gets ran through his mind.
He focused on Mrs. Henry, but the whole time, felt Caroline staring at him. Ironically, his math grade had slipped before, because he’d been so distracted trying to get close to Caroline. Now, seated next to her, she’d become his worst nightmare. You got yourself into this, you can get yourself out.
When class finished, he dashed out ahead, but she was on his heels and she caught him. “Where are you going, Johnny?” She caught his arm with her hand and clasped his hand in hers.
He stepped forward, catching her off balance and causing her to free his hand, which he jerked back to himself and fisted at his sides. “You’re going too far, Caroline. You and I, we’re not a couple.”
She laughed. “I see you’re shy of us around the other kids.”
He shook his head.
She batted her heavy, mascaraed eyelashes at him, and he feared she’d cry, but her crystalline eyes pierced his, and he knew she was being coy. “But Adam told Brenda, who told me you’ve been dreaming about me for months now, and you may not know it, but I’ve been dreaming about you. Don’t you see? We’re perfect for each other.”
Her fingernails dug into his flesh of his arms. He’d have to pry off one finger at a time. “I’m sorry, but when I got close to you on the dance floor, you weren’t the girl I’d been dreaming about. I can’t help it.” He felt like a heel, but also better that he’d spoken up for himself.
“I saw you looking at Brenda. You like her, don’t you?”
“Er, I don’t know, but I’m interested.”
“Well, when I tell her about how you’ve treated me, she’ll never look at you again. She listens to me and you’ll never dance with her in your life?”
“That’s not for you to say. Now let go of my arm.”
He thought she was letting go of his arm, but the next thing he knew, she had him in a bear hug, and was jamming her chin into his cheek and then she plastered her lips onto his, pushing with her tongue to gain entry, but he kept his lips closed.
“Let go of me now, or I’ll yell rape,” he said, in a moment of being able to release the suction between them.
“No one will believe you,” she said, and he heard the refrain, ‘what Caroline wants, Caroline gets.’
“Let go of me,” he said loud and clear.
She squeezed her arms around him. “Never, Johnny, you’re all mine.”
John raised his hand and yelled, “Rape!”
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