“I can’t go, Glen. Not this weekend.”
“But we haven’t been there all summer, Luke. This is probably the last chance we’ll have.”
“Sorry. I promised Jamie I’d take her to the movie tonight. And tomorrow morning I’m driving her to Stanton so she can do some shopping. And we’re going to the dance tomorrow night. You know how it is.”
“Yeah, sure.” I was beginning to know it very well. “Okay. See you at school Tuesday.”
“Aren’t you coming to the dance?”
“I doubt it. And even if I do go, you’ll be too busy with Jamie to talk to me anyway.”
“Oh, come on, Glen. I don’t spend every second with Lisa.”
“Well…sometimes it seems that way.”
“You’re crazy. Hey, look at the time! I’ll talk to you later. I have to pick Lisa up at the hairdresser’s in a couple of minutes.”
I put down the phone and made a face at it. I had known when I called that it was a long shot, so I wasn’t surprised. But I was bored. Only four more days before school started, and I didn’t have a single thing to do. Last year, Phil and I had driven over to Willard’s Peak and stayed for the weekend in his tent. But I had barely seen Phil in over a month, since Lisa Ramsdale had broken up with Tyler Stevens, and Phil had broken all speed limits stepping into Tyler’s shoes.
Personally, I think Phil’s crazy. Lisa’s the kind of girl who demands all your money, all your attention, and all your time. So what if she’s the head cheerleader and the most popular girl in the school? Anyway, what with carrying her parcels, taking her to the library, helping her baby-sit, buying her milkshakes, and driving her around, Phil had lost contact with all his old friends, including me.
There was no one else I wanted to call, so I decided to walk over to Ed’s Pool Hall and see if there was any action. Small towns are pretty dull, especially in the summer.
Mom was busy in the kitchen, so, since I vaguely remembered her having asked me to do something, I quietly headed for the front door.
How does she do it? Mothers and teachers seem to develop the ability to see through walls! Or maybe they just read minds.
“Yeah?” I replied, my hand on the doorknob.
Mom came into the living room. She was holding a big, round, white plastic container. “Glen, where were you going? I asked you to take this across the street for me.”
Despite the fact that she was wearing denim shorts and a sleeveless pink blouse, she looked flushed from baking on such a warm day. I felt a twinge of guilt, so I reached for the container.
She jerked back, out of my reach. “Glen! You can’t carry it that way! It’s an angel food cake. Don’t you remember my telling you?”
I grinned. My memory has never won me any awards. “Nope. Where’m I s’posed to take it?”
She walked to the window and I followed her. “All right. Do you see that brown and white house over there?”
“Sure,” I replied confidently, “Hastings.”
She sighed. “Hastings moved out last week. Remember?”
“Nope. Guess I wasn’t too interested. They were old enough to be my grandparents.” I thought of my fashionable grandmother. “Great-grandparents, maybe.”
“Well, anyway, they moved to the city to be closer to their son and his family. And yesterday, while you were out fishing, a new family moved in. The Thorntons. He’s a doctor and he’s going into partnership with Dr. McGrady. I think there’s a boy about your age.
“Now, carry the cake from underneath, like this.” She started to give it to me and then stopped.
“No. Go and comb your hair first. And you’d better change your shirt, too. You seem to have managed to spill some of your lunch on it.”
If I’d had more energy, I’d have argued. Instead, I went to my room and rummaged through the drawers until I found a clean T-shirt. Then I had to look for a comb. I finally found one on the floor near the bed.
Mom and I both have this sort of wavy but not quite curly brown hair that does pretty much whatever it wants no matter how often you comb it. I needed to get a haircut, because the longer it is, the more of a pain it is. Mom keeps her hair fairly short for the same reason.
I ran the comb through my hair and it stayed pretty well the same, but at least I could say I’d tried. Let’s face it, I’m not much in the looks department. I’m about five foot ten with a few muscles and ordinary features—nothing that stands out. But I don’t scare little kids when I look at them, either.
I put the comb on my dresser and went out to get the cake. Mom made me use both hands to take the plastic case from underneath. Then she held the front door for me. As I started down the sidewalk, she called out a final, “Do be careful.”
I grinned back at her. Then I felt annoyed. She had no reason to talk to me as if I was eight years old; I was seventeen, and going into my final year of high school.
I made it across the street without dropping the cake, and soon I was at the door of the Thorntons’ house. I was trying to balance the cake in one hand so that I could ring the doorbell with the other when the door opened and a guy about my age started out, then stopped and stared at me.
Embarrassed about holding a cake, I stammered something about my mother’s having sent it and he flashed a big smile, then held the door open for me to go in. He called to his mother, and a tall, slender, blond woman in a bright red skirt and jacket came to take charge of the cake. She said she’d go right over and thank Mom for it, so I pointed out which was our house, and then she took the cake to the kitchen.
I stood looking up at the boy who, at about six foot two inches had the biggest shoulders, the blondest hair, and the widest smile I’d ever seen.
He spoke first. “Name’s Charlie. Charles, really, but Charlie sounds friendlier.”
He stuck out a large well-tanned hand and I grasped it. His grip was painfully strong.
“Glen Sauten,” I mumbled back. Then I didn’t know what to say.
“You go to high school?” he asked eagerly.
I nodded. Then, feeling more was expected, I added, “Senior year. How about you?”
If possible, his smile got wider. “Same. Say, is there anything to do around here? Maybe if you’re not too busy you could show me around?”
“Sure,” I replied enthusiastically. Then I remembered I had no car, and my face turned red—the way it always does. “Er—that is, we could walk downtown. It’s only eight blocks.”
“Walk?” He laughed, a big laugh that started in his stomach and worked its way up. “Charlie Thornton never walks! Come on. I’ll show you how we get downtown.”
I envied the way he just left without his mother’s coming to see where he was going or asking him to do something first. We went into the garage and Charlie, with a flourish, opened the passenger door on a gleaming red Mustang. I got in.
With a bow, he shut the door, then walked around to the driver’s side. In no time, we had backed out of the drive and were on our way.
I leaned back, relaxing against the soft cushions. This was the life. Without turning my head, I asked Charlie, “Hey, this isn’t yours, is it?”
“Sure it is. I may trade it in on a newer model, though. Dad got me this one when I turned sixteen, so it’ll soon be two years old.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Here this guy had had a new Mustang for two years, and my Dad wouldn’t let me buy a five-hundred-dollar Chevy even though I’d saved the money! Unreal!
We stopped at the pool hall, and I took Charlie in. A couple of friends of mine, Mac Robertson and Brett Lovansky, were there. They’re both in my grade, and I’ve known them forever.
Mac is fairly short—about five foot seven, and skinny, with reddish blond hair and a face full of freckles. Brett is about my height, but he’s a lot bigger than me. According to his doctor, he’s about thirty pounds overweight. But Brett doesn’t worry about it.
Anyway, they’re both good guys. Nobody you’d notice, just ordinary good guys. They’ve lived next door to each other all their lives, and they’ve been best friends all that time. And they’ve been friends with Phil and me nearly as long.
After I made the introductions, we had a few games of eight ball. Charlie was the winner and I came out on the bottom. Pool never was my game.
Loser was supposed to buy Cokes, so the four of us went over to Harry’s Restaurant and I blew most of my ready cash.
While we were there, I learned something more about Charlie. The four of us were in a booth and Charlie was telling stories about the city where he used to live and asking us what it was like to have lived in a small town all our lives, when I realized we had become the focus of attention for nearly every girl in the place.
Not that they were really obvious about it, but still, they were having a good look. Now, I knew it wasn’t me they were interested in, and I didn’t think it was Brett or Mac, so that left Charlie.
He seemed to be ignoring them.
Finally, Brett and Mac said they had to be going or they’d be late for dinner. We watched them go. Then Charlie got up, slowly, and I followed.
“Don’t forget the bill.” He nodded toward the table.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, the bill.” I grabbed it and paid at the counter.
Meanwhile, Charlie went over and started to talk to the prettiest girl in the place. Not wanting to butt in, I stood at the counter, pretending to read a notice that was pasted on the glass. They looked over at me once and Sheila, a redhead who was in one of the other senior classes, shrugged. Finally, Charlie came over and we headed out the door.
As we got in the car, I kept myself from being nosy. After all, I’d only known the guy for a few hours.
We drove home and stopped in Charlie’s driveway.
“I hope you aren’t busy tonight,” he said as I reached for the doorhandle.
I stopped, then looked at him. “Huh?”
“I said I hope you aren’t busy tonight.”
Sure I was busy. First I was going to watch television. Then I was going to read the paper. Or maybe I’d read the paper first and then watch television. Or I could do both at the same time. “Not anything important,” I replied.
“Good. I’ll pick you up at seven-thirty and we’ll take in a movie.”
I had to laugh. “In this town it’s the movie.”
He laughed, and I got out and headed across the street, hoping Mom wasn’t holding up dinner for me.
She was, of course. She often did. Sometimes for Dad, but usually for me. I have this habit of forgetting to look at the time. I think she tries extra hard to be nice to me so I’ll feel bad. Like waiting dinner. Sounds nice, but she always manages to say something like, “The potatoes were even better until I had to warm them up,” or “The meat got a little greasy while I was keeping it hot.” So it sounds like, because of me, everyone’s dinner is spoiled.
Not that you’d ever know it, though. If for no other reason, my mom could go down in history as a great cook. Of course, I was the sixth kid she’d had to practice on, so by now she could do it with her eyes shut.
While we were eating roast potatoes and fried chicken and biscuits and broccoli and lettuce salad with home-made dressing, Mom said Mrs. Thornton had dropped over to thank her for the cake and that she seemed nice. Apparently, she’s an interior decorator and since there isn’t much scope for her talents in Wallace, she’s going to open a store in Stanton and drive back and forth. Stanton is a small city half an hour west of Wallace.
Then Mom asked if I’d met Charlie.
“Yep,” I replied as I stuffed in another forkful of potatoes.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” said Dad as he reached for seconds. I hope I have the same tendency to stay skinny as he does—because he eats as much as I do.
“She asked me,” I mumbled.
“What was he like?” Mom asked.
“Okay.” I continued eating.
“Can’t you expand on that a little?” Dad asked in his slightly impatient tone. I think he sometimes wonders why, after five intelligent, capable kids, he had to finish up with me.
I reached for more milk. “I guess so.”
“Well, what about him?” Mom asked. When I didn’t reply right away, she added, “Is he your age?”
“Did you like him?”
“Will he be in your grade?”
“Was he friendly?”
“Were you? Or did you even speak to him?” Dad said.
I looked up, set my fork down, and grinned, “They could use you two down at the police station. Yes, I was friendly. And I spoke to him. In fact, I spent the afternoon with him, and I’m going to the show with him tonight. I will also confess that he has a two-year-old Mustang, red, with a white interior, a radio and CD player, and a lot of horsepower. He is over six feet tall, with blond hair. He seems to be very popular with girls. And he beat me at pool. Anything more?”
Mom smiled. “Thank you for—what is it—’squealing’ to us. And doesn’t everybody beat you at pool?”
Dad nodded. “You may as well take your money and throw it in the nearest creek as play pool. I’ve never seen anybody so bad.”
I gulped down my third glass of milk before answering. “It’s nice to have parents who defend you. What’s for dessert?”
Mom took a pie—apple—out of the oven, and I put cheese on it.
After we’d finished eating, she told Dad and me to go play some Ping-Pong while she cleaned up.
Never ones to argue, we scrammed before she changed her mind.
Dad wanted to bet a dollar a game, but I refused—said it would be too much like taking candy from a baby, me being the baby. And, anyway, I had spent all my cash that afternoon. He won three games in a row, so we called it quits and sat down to watch TV.
Almost immediately, Mom was yelling that someone was there for me. I remembered that Charlie was coming at seven-thirty and looked at my watch. Seven-twenty-nine. I took the stairs two at a time.
I could hear voices in the living room. Charlie was saying things like, “Very much, Mrs. Sauten,” and “I’m certainly going to enjoy living here.” I paused in the doorway. I had changed my T-shirt after lunch, but I had worn this one all afternoon and during dinner. Mom wasn’t beyond sending me to change right in front of Charlie. Hastily, I pulled a clean shirt out of my drawer, slipped it on, and started for the living room.
Charlie was sitting, perfectly at ease, talking to Mom about where he’d lived before. I was immediately glad I’d at least changed T-shirts. Charlie was wearing a pair of good brown pants and a brown and orange sports shirt.
When I came into the room, he jumped up, said he was pleased to have met Mom, and led the way to the door.
I gave directions on how to get to Sheila’s. Although she lives on the other side of town, there are only about two thousand people altogether, so it’s just a few minutes’ drive.
We soon found her parents’ red brick house. This was the “old but good” section of town. We also have “old but okay” and “old and grungy” sections, besides the newer ones like where Charlie and I live.
We parked in front, and Charlie got out. He started toward the house, then stopped and looked back at me. “Well, come on,” he said.
Surprised, I said, “That’s okay. I’ll wait here.”
Charlie stared, then grinned. “Don’t be a dope. Both girls are here. Sheila said her friend lives down the street and would come over. Hurry up.”
He went on, and I had to follow. I was a dope, all right. It had never occurred to me that Charlie would fix me up with a date. I’d gone places with Phil all the time, and if he took a girl I did the driving.
The only time I’d ever dated a girl was some Sadie Hawkins dance when she’d asked me. And then it had been Lottie Perkins, the dumbest girl in class. I didn’t want to go, but my mother blackmailed me.
It wasn’t that I was afraid of girls or anything. I’d just never felt any real desire to get to know them. I mean, I’m doing okay without them. I’m only seventeen—plenty of time left. Why, my dad didn’t get married until he was twenty-six! That gives me nine more years.
The door opened.
“Oh, Charlie, I wasn’t sure you’d actually come,” said Sheila, giggling between every word. “I wondered if maybe I’d just dreamt I met you at Harry’s.” She took a few steps forward and then squealed. “Oh, Charlie, is that your car? It’s gorgeous!”
Ann Porter had come out behind Sheila, and when Sheila introduced her to Charlie, she stared, giggling. Then, rather pointedly, Sheila said, “And here’s your date, Ann. You can come closer, Glen. She doesn’t bite.”
Ann is a tiny blond who lives down the street from Sheila. She’s okay, I guess, but I’ve never said more than two words to her in my life. Nor did I ever intend to say more.
I coughed, mumbled something—don’t ask what—and was relieved to hear Charlie say, “Let’s go,” to the girls.
In a few seconds, I was in the back seat with Ann. Fortunately, she joined in the conversation between Charlie and Sheila, and I was free to sit back and relax.
When we got inside the theater, I pulled out my wallet. Uh-oh. I had about eighty cents.
Charlie was paying for his and Sheila’s tickets.
“Sort of. I forgot to get more money.”
“No problem,” he said, and handed me two twenties.
I told him I’d pay him back the next day, but he said not to worry. I just shook my head.
We found seats in the back row of the theater. Charlie sat on Ann’s other side, so I didn’t have to talk to her.
In a way, it was just as if Charlie had brought two girls, and although I had a hunch it bothered Sheila, it sure didn’t bother me.
I saw Phil and Lisa. They were at the back on the far side. They were totally preoccupied with each other.
The movie wasn’t bad—some kind of detective story and war story combined. I forget what happened, but there were two really good chase scenes.
When it ended, Ann asked Charlie if he’d been to the Peabody Diner yet, and of course he hadn’t, and he’d love to see it.
So we piled back into the car, and both girls gave directions. We got there eventually. In a town the size of ours, you’d get anywhere eventually. A lot of cars were already parked around the tiny building.
The Peabody Diner is just a local joint, owned by an older couple named Smith who take off for a few months in the winter and shut it down. I guess if we were on any kind of major road, we’d have had a chain burger place like MacDonalds or Burger King by now, but because we don’t have any major highways nearby, we’re still stuck with local joints.
Of course, if we have a hankering for chain food, we just have to drive to Stanton. They have one of everything.
The Peabody Diner is a small restaurant with only three tables inside. But it has a large parking area and some outdoor picnic tables. Most people eat in their cars or at the outdoor tables.
The girls wanted milkshakes and French fries, so Charlie and I got out to get them. He offered to do it, but I needed the fresh air.
We had to walk by a carload of girls, and you could hear them giggling. One of them leaned out and said, “Hi, Glen,” in a very friendly tone. It was Marta Billings, someone else I’ve known all my life.
When we were little, I think we played together a bit. But she got kind of weird as she grew up. She has coal black hair, which she wears long and straight, and she dresses mostly in black pants and baggy black sweaters and she wears a lot of make-up. On the whole she looks—well, kind of scary.
I think this was the first time in years she’d spoken to me other than to tell me to get out of her way, or to whisper some sarcastic comment when I gave a wrong answer in class.
I ignored her. If she wanted to meet Charlie, she’d have to do better than that.
“Friend of yours?” Charlie asked.
“No,” I replied truthfully. “We mutually can’t stand each other.”
Charlie laughed as we got into one of the two lines at the counter. “How can you not stand a pretty girl?”
“Is that her name? Marta? I like that. You’ll have to introduce me. But later. Not in front of Sheila and Ann.”
I didn’t say anything, because a couple of the girls who had been with Marta in her dad’s car had come up behind us. Sharon and Dianne are okay—not totally weird like Marta, but nothing great either. Standing behind us in line, they acted as though they didn’t even know we were there, but you could tell they did. They were just making themselves available in case we—or rather, Charlie—wanted to talk to them.
Apparently he didn’t. He talked to me about cars—mostly his—and then asked about our school’s football team. Fortunately, we have one, and not a bad one, either. Maybe having a lot of strong farm kids helps. We finished second in our league last year and lost a heartbreaker in the playoffs. Charlie sounded really interested.
But just then we got our turn at the counter. Charlie did the ordering. Since it was a busy night, there were French fries already cooking, so we got our order in a few minutes.
Sheila and Ann were giggling about something when we got back to the car. They wouldn’t say what. Charlie started teasing them and they lapped it up.
Girls are—well, I’ve only known one or two who don’t act silly. I guess they’re okay, but they sure get strange around guys they want to impress.
But Charlie didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he seemed to be acting just as silly, only in a different way. I couldn’t be bothered—even if I knew how—and even if Ann was the least bit interesting.
So I drank my milkshake and ate my French fries and enjoyed watching the three of them.
A little after eleven-thirty Sheila reluctantly said she had to go home soon. There was a dance the next night, and her dad wouldn’t let her go unless she was home by midnight tonight. So Charlie had to know about the dance.
I thought he was going to ask her to go with him, and I think she did, too. But he didn’t.
We took the girls home. Charlie parked halfway between Sheila’s and Ann’s houses, so we each walked our date to her door. Charlie and Sheila went hand in hand.
Ann started off in the direction of her house. I followed.
“Nice night,” I offered.
A pause. “Movie wasn’t too bad, huh?”
“I guess so.”
I went on for a few steps before realizing I was alone.
I turned, and she slowly caught up. “Are you a good friend of Charlie’s? Did you know him before?”
“Nope. Just met him today.” We walked together now.
“Where did you meet him?”
“At home. He lives across the street.”
“Oh.” She thought it over. “So he doesn’t know anyone else yet?”
I caught on to what was going through her mind. Should she be friendly to me or wait until
Charlie got settled and maybe chose new friends?
She must have decided not to take any chances, because she smiled. “Well, it certainly was a nice evening, Glen. Maybe I’ll see you at the dance tomorrow?”
“This is where I live.” She stopped. “Well, good-night Glen. See you tomorrow.”
I waited until she’d gone in. That’s what Phil always does. Then I wandered back to the car to wait for Charlie.
I sat in the car about fifteen minutes before he showed up. He was whistling as he got into the driver’s seat.
“So, Glen old buddy, what do you think?”
He laughed. “Ann, of course. Any good?”
“Good for what?”
He laughed again. “What a joker! Good for what! Hey, Sheila’s not bad. Not bad at all. Nice house, too. And her dad’s a lawyer. Good family, and good-looking. I just might give her another call soon.”
I didn’t say anything. If he wanted to date Sheila that was okay with me. Just as long as I didn’t have to.
We were on our way by now, but instead of heading home we went back to The Peabody Diner. Marta’s car was still there, and Charlie drove up behind it and got out. He looked at me through his open window.
“You coming?” he asked.
“I thought we’d get some girls for tomorrow. What’s her name again? Martha?”
“Yeah. How about it?”
“Uh, well, you go ahead. I’ll wait.”
“What do you prefer? Blond, brunette…?”
I cleared my throat but my voice still sounded hoarse when I said, “None.”
Charlie laughed. “No preference, eh? That’s how I feel, too. Give them all a chance.”
“That’s not what”
An annoyed female voice interrupted me. “I don’t know why you’ve stopped here. There are some empty spaces. And I’d like to back out.” It was Marta.
Charlie paused just long enough to wink at me before he turned to face her. He hooked his hands into his belt loops and leaned against the Mustang. He took his time, looking her up and down before drawling, “Well, hi there.”
She put her hands on her hips. “Are you planning to move your car?”
“When I’m finished what I came for.”
“Well, I thought maybe you and a couple of your friends might like to go for a drive tomorrow afternoon. I’m new here and I haven’t seen much of the countryside yet. Maybe you could show me around?”
“Why should I?”
“Why shouldn’t you?”
“I don’t know if I want to.”
“I can only take three passengers. One of my old man’s rules is one to a seatbelt.”
“That’s only four.”
“You forgot my buddy Glen here.”
She stared into the window. “You mean Glen Sauten?”
“If you say so.”
“No. He just doesn’t seem your type.”
“How about you?”
“He’s not my type, either.”
Charlie laughed. “You know that isn’t what I meant.”
She crossed her arms and looked at him closely. “Maybe. What time tomorrow?”
“You want three of us?”
“The more the merrier.”
“Well, I’ll see. Where will we meet you?”
“How about if you come to my place at two? You know where Glen lives? Well, I’m just across the street. And, by the way, my name’s Charles Thornton. You can call me Charlie.”
“See you tomorrow, Marta.”
Charlie got back in the car and in a moment we were on our way home.
“Say, you didn’t have any plans for tomorrow, did you, Glen?”
“Naw. I quit work Wednesday so I could goof off a couple of days.”
“Yeah? Where’d you work?”
“Grocery store. Filling shelves and carrying stuff. And deliveries.”
“Well, you need some relaxation then. We’ll meet the girls at my place. Go for a drive. Take in the dance at night. These dances any good?”
“Okay, I guess.”
“Many girls come alone?”
“So we’ll go stag. Might find something interesting.”
We pulled into the garage and got out of the car. I said goodnight and started for home.
“I plan to work on the car in the morning. Come on over if you aren’t busy.”
“Sure.” I waved, then headed for home.
The key was in its usual place in the mailbox. I’d tried carrying one, but after I’d lost three, Mom decided to do it this way.
It was dark inside, and quiet. But as I went past Mom and Dad’s room, a soft whisper came to me.
“Glen, is that you?”
“Did you and Charlie have a nice time?”
“That’s good. See you in the morning.”
“Yeah. Night, Mom.”
I went into my room and got ready for bed. It had certainly been an interesting evening. And tomorrow we were going out with three girls. Up to now, my life had been fairly dull and ordinary—but happy in a quiet way. I had a vague feeling that having Charlie here was going to change my life. Whether for better or worse I just didn’t know.
Mom woke me the next morning. She had a list of about ten things I could do around the house to help her with the fall cleaning. My sister and her husband and their two little kids were coming in the afternoon and staying till Monday, so all the work had to be done by noon.
It was twelve when we stopped for lunch, so I didn’t get near Charlie and his car. I had looked over once and he was busy washing it.
Janice and Ron and the kids arrived just after one. The kids are cute. The older one is three and the little one is just beginning to walk. I don’t mind looking after them so long as I don’t have to change any diapers.
Ron and I had them in the back yard when Mom came to tell me that Charlie was out front with a car full of girls. Ron started making cracks, but I grinned at him and took off. To tell the truth, I’d have rather played with the little kids, but having told Charlie I’d go with him, I thought I’d better go.
Marta was sitting with Charlie in the front seat. Dianne and Sharon were in the back. They’d left room for me on the right side.
The three girls kept up a continual flow of talk with Charlie, so I was free to sit back and enjoy the ride—which I did. I like seeing all the fields and the farms and the ponds and groves of trees.
We’d been driving about half an hour when Marta said something I didn’t hear that got Charlie laughing. It must have been about the car because he suddenly gunned the motor and showed us what the engine could really do.
Dianne and Sharon started screaming, but Marta was laughing and urging him to go even faster.
The road we were on wasn’t that great—a two-lane gravel road. If there happened to be a car ahead of us, we would have to pass, and if there were any cars coming toward us at that moment, well, that would be too bad for us and them, too. And being a country road, there was apt to be a tractor or a slow-moving farm truck on the road.
“Charlie,” I yelled. “Slow down!”
He immediately dropped down to just a little above the speed limit. “Just showing Marta what this baby can do,” he said apologetically.
“Yeah,” I said. “Well, this isn’t the best road to do that on.”
“Scaredy-cats,” said Marta, her eyes dancing.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” said Dianne. “Now.” She giggled.
Sharon giggled, too. “That’ll teach you to drive so fast.”
Marta and Charlie started laughing.
I stared out the window.
It was about fifteen minutes before we found a small village with an old grocery store and a dirty-looking garage that had a small cafe at one end. We went in and the girls took turns going to the tiny one-stall bathroom. We bought drinks and surprisingly good doughnuts, and took them outside where there was a single well-weathered picnic table. We sat around and talked and laughed. Okay, they talked and laughed; I listened.
When the food was gone, we piled back into the car and drove around some more. Charlie kept pretty much to the speed limit; the girls talked to each other and him; I was able to relax and enjoy the scenery.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad way to kill an afternoon. Charlie and the girls were kind of entertaining, the food was okay, the car was great, and I always like being in the country. Dad says the stork goofed and I should have been delivered to a farmer instead of a bank manager.
We got back to town just after five. I said I’d go with Charlie to the dance, and he said he’d pick me up around nine—no sense being early.
For once, I was on time for dinner. It was another good one—roast pork with baked apples and baked potatoes and green beans, topped off with Mom’s lemon pudding. Ron kidded her by saying next time he and Janice had a fight, he was going to run home, except he’d run to his mother-in-law instead of his mother. Then he had to tell Janice she was almost as good a cook. So what with joking and eating and doing dishes and looking after the little kids and just plain having a good time, I forgot all about Charlie and the dance until he knocked at the door.
Dad answered and asked Charlie in. He had on a pair of good black pants and a pink shirt with a white sweater. Mom took one look at my blue-jeans and hustled me off to the bedroom. Between her and Janice, they found my best pair of khaki pants and a blue shirt made of some shiny material—don’t ask me how I got it—and made me change.
When I got back, Charlie was talking to Dad and Ron, and they all seemed to be enjoying themselves. But Charlie jumped up when he saw me.
We were half way to the car when Mom called me back to give me a sweater. Where she’d found it, I don’t know. I think it’s one my grandmother gave me last Christmas. At least, I remember she gave me a sweater, because I’d been hoping for some CDs.
As far as dances go, I guess it wasn’t half bad. There were a lot of kids there, having one last bit of fun before school started. Personally, I’ve never been much on dancing. Maybe it’s good exercise, but I’d as soon jog. So any time I go to a dance, I find a few other guys who think like me, and we have a good time telling jokes and talking about cars and sports and just watching everybody else jump around as though a bunch of fleas had been let loose on them.
This time wasn’t much different. Charlie got me to dance once with some girl—I think it was Mary Lou—so he could ask the girl she was with—Peggy. But after that I figured he could manage by himself, so I left him to it. Every so often he came over to ask me about someone, or I saw him on the floor and he waved. He seemed to be having a good time dancing with every girl in the place.
Two of the people he asked me about were Phil and Lisa. Okay, he was more interested in Lisa. I looked at her, trying to be objective. She’s about five foot seven and very athletic. Not skinny like some girls, but with curves in all the right places. She’s done a lot of gymnastics, and makes a great head cheerleader, but she also does track and swims. She has short, straight black hair, cut in what I think is called a pixie look. She isn’t what you’d call beautiful, but you do look at her when she’s around. She knows how to use makeup and dress, and she always seems to act a few years older than she actually is. Anyway, Charlie was interested.
“Nope,” I said. “She’s one girl you should forget about. She and Phil are going together. Phil wouldn’t like it if you tried to cut in.”
“So who’s this Phil?”
“Well,” I said. “He’s sort of my best friend. I expect you and he will be friends, too. He’s good at sports, and he’s got a car he looks after like it was a baby, and—well, he’s a nice guy.”
We both looked over where he was dancing a slow one with Lisa. You had to admit that they made a good pair. Phil’s about six feet, with a very muscular build from working out with weights a lot and playing several sports. His hair is as dark as Lisa’s, but very curly. He wears it in sort of a 50s look, with sideburns. His skin is dark, like he always has a tan. He usually wears jeans and a black leather jacket, so I guess some people would say he looks like a motorcycle gang member. But a very good-looking one.
He’s probably the most popular guy in town, and Lisa’s the most popular girl, so it’s sort of right they should be going together now.
“So you wouldn’t like it if I stole his girl, huh?” Charlie said.
I started to say, “as if you could,” but held back. So far as I knew, Phil had never had trouble getting or keeping girls. But then, he’d never had to go up against Charlie.
Anyway, for now Charlie seemed content to dance with every other girl who was there, including Sheila, Ann, and Marta, each of whom seemed to want him to spend more time with her and less with the others. I saw more than a few dirty looks aimed at the backs of other girls.
I managed to introduce Charlie to Phil and Lisa, but other than that I didn’t get a chance to talk to Phil. He and Lisa were never more than arm’s length from each other.
All in all, I had a reasonable time talking to Mac and Brett and some other guys, so I guess we were all satisfied.
I thought Charlie might want to take a girl home, but he didn’t. We gave Mac and Brett a lift, then were home ourselves by one o’clock.
Charlie asked me what we could do the next day.
All I could think of was a game of golf, but Charlie said that wasn’t much fun. We settled on tossing a football around in the afternoon since Charlie thought he’d sleep in.
Ron and Dad woke me at seven in the morning to go golfing. That was fine with me. Golf is one of the few games I can almost hold my own in. We had a quick breakfast and then managed eighteen holes before lunch.
Mom had barbecued a chicken, so we ate out in the back yard and had a real good time. When Charlie came, Ron said he’d like to toss the football with us for a while, so we went to the street and took turns punting and catching. Charlie was good. He said he’d been a quarterback the year before, and since I knew our top quarterback had graduated, there was definitely room for him to make the team.
After we’d worked up a sweat, Charlie and I went to the The Peabody Diner for drinks, but there wasn’t much action. He wanted to drive around and find some girls in the evening, but I said I thought I should stay home because Ron and Janice were there. He seemed disappointed, and I asked him to come over because we’d likely play some games, but he said no thanks; he’d drive around by himself.
So we separated, and I didn’t see him again until the next afternoon.
It was Labor Day, and the stores were closed. Janice and Ron left right after lunch, and Mom suggested I should walk over and see if Charlie wanted to toss the football for a while.
I knocked on the door and after a few minutes Charlie answered. He said he’d been listening to music and asked me in. He had a complete home theater right in his room, with all the latest equipment—plus a huge music and movie collection. He also had more clothes than I’d know what to do with, a whole wall covered with trophies and ribbons, and another wall covered with pictures of girls.
We listened to music for a while, and then the phone in his room rang. It was Phil. He’d called my place and Mom had told him where I was. He and some kids had decided to have one last fling at a small lake about half an hour away. They were going to drive up for a wiener roast, then swim or play baseball.
Charlie wanted to go, so I told Phil we’d be there. Since we had Charlie’s car, we offered to drive some other people and Phil said he’d call back and let us know.
Charlie found his bathing suit and towel and his baseball glove, and then we went out to the kitchen to see if there was anything we could take along. His folks were out, but he found a couple of bags of salt and vinegar chips and some pretzels. Then, since we had a couple of hours to wait, he told me to go get my stuff and we could play catch for a while. We left his door open in case the phone rang, and then went outside.
Phil did call back, so at five-thirty we loaded ourselves in the car and went to pick up Brett and Mac.
When we got to the lake, Phil and Lisa were building a fire, so we all pitched in and soon had a good one blazing. The girls unpacked the food and Phil opened the drinks. All in all, there were about twenty-five or thirty kids there—mostly from the senior classes, with a sprinkling of younger kids and a few who were out of school.
I found Charlie helping Sheila put a frankfurter on a stick. Ann was waiting.
Marta came up with her stick. “You’ll have to help me, too,” she said. “I can never get them on right. They always fall into the fire.”
Charlie laughed. “You’ll have to get in line.”
Marta’s lower lip broke into a pout.
Charlie laughed again, but after he got Ann’s stick ready, he put an arm around Marta and helped her.
“Now how do I keep it from falling off?” she asked.
“I guess I’ll just have to help you.”
“I need help, too.” Sheila almost stuck her stick into Marta’s face.
“Be careful!” Charlie said. “I’ll help both of you.”
“And me.” Ann wasn’t going to be left out.
I shook my head and wandered over to Mac and Brett. If Charlie wanted to spend his time with those idiot girls, that was his business. But ten minutes in their company made me feel sick to my stomach.
We ate until we were stuffed, and then just sat around for a while. A couple of the guys think they’re comedians, so they entertained us. Charlie got in the act, and he had some funny stories, too.
A few kids went swimming, including Phil and Lisa, who did a few laps together and pretty well ignored everyone else.
The water was cold, so most of the girls didn’t go in past their knees. But they got a lot of exercise yelling and squealing and running in and out.
Personally, I’m not much for swimming. I’d as soon lay on an inner tube and just float around. But Charlie is the real thing. He was diving off the raft and really enjoying himself. Of course, any of the girls who hadn’t yet met him couldn’t help getting interested. He’s just that kind of guy.
Later, we got two ball teams organized and had a pretty good time. As usual, I got stuck out in right field, but I don’t mind. I can just enjoy the fresh air and the breeze—like I said, I should have been born on a farm. Charlie, though—he started out on second base and ended up pitching after the other team had scored eight runs in two innings.
After that, we won. They got four more runs, mostly because Charlie pitched real easy to the girls, but we got fourteen—with Charlie being involved in a good many of them.
Phil and Lisa were on the other team, Phil at shortstop and Lisa at third.
Neither of them likes losing, and I heard them arguing about a missed ball and a bad swing. I also saw Phil give Charlie a look that said, “I’ll remember you.”
After the game, we went back to the fire and roasted some more marshmallows and finished off the drinks, and by the time we’d packed up it was after ten.
A few kids wanted to stay longer, but we still had a half hour drive home and tomorrow was the first day of school, so most of us thought we’d better head back.
Several girls looked longingly at Charlie’s car, but Mac and Brett and I got in and we had a good drive back, telling jokes and talking about the evening and laughing. We didn’t drive too fast, so it was eleven by the time Charlie and I pulled into his drive. I said I’d pick him up for school in the morning. When I got home, I got a short lecture about being in bed by ten-thirty on school nights. Mom wasn’t really mad—just keeping in practice.
I called for Charlie at twenty-five to nine. Mom had dragged me out of bed and seen that I was on time. He was ready, so we left. He wondered about taking his car, but I said it wasn’t worth it today, and anyway, we only lived a few blocks from the school. So we walked.
He wanted to know about the teachers, and I told him about the ones we’d had before. I thought there were a couple of new ones this year, so I didn’t know about them.
Then he wanted to know about girls—were there any he hadn’t met yet? I really couldn’t think of any. Well, just a couple who I didn’t think he’d be interested in—one dumpy girl who never takes part in anything, and Joyce Burgess, who wears glasses and is kind of chubby and sort of plain. Girls seem to like her, but I’ve never noticed any guys that were at all interested.
And then I remembered her. Why I hadn’t before, I don’t know. She’s everything Charlie could want, and no doubt she’d like him, too. At least, she might. With her, you never can tell.
Charlie noticed that I’d stopped talking. “What are you thinking about? Remember somebody?”
I didn’t know whether to tell him or wait until he spotted her himself. I decided to wait. “Nothing special. If I’ve missed anyone, you’ll soon find out.”
At that moment, we turned a corner and the school came in sight. Charlie forgot about girls and started to laugh. “That’s it?” he said. “It’s so small!”
Wallace High School is next door to Wallace Elementary School. Both schools are gray one-story buildings made with concrete blocks and flat roofs about twenty-five years ago. I guess they were state of the art at the time. Now they’re kind of depressing. But then, what school isn’t depressing?
Apparently, the school Charlie went to before was a sprawling two-story building with over 2,400 students. Our high school is lucky to hit 400. About half of them come by bus from farms and villages in the area.
When Charlie was through laughing, we headed for the front doors and he followed me down to room ten. That’s the room for seniors who are academically inclined. The other two senior rooms are for those who plan on going into a trade and those who are taking the commercial program.
Charlie had told me he wanted to be a doctor like his dad, so it was easy to see why he was in the academic class. Why I was there is a different story. My dad made me. I wanted to take the easier course because, well, it’s easier. Not to mention that my grades have never been anything to brag about. But Dad said every other one of his kids had gone to a good college and he’d be hanged if I wasn’t going for at least a year, especially since I have no idea what else I want to do. So, there I was, but I’d told Dad that if I fail, it will be his fault.
Anyway, we went into the room and found desks about half-way up. Charlie’s idea—I prefer the very back. We talked with others until the bell rang and Mr. Jackman came in. Everyone immediately sat down.
I had already told Charlie about Mr. Jackman. He’s stout, about fifty, nearly bald, with small beady eyes. He smiles occasionally, but not much. His kids—two boys—are both grown and doing well. His wife is a friend of my mom’s and one of the prettiest and nicest people I know. But Mr. Jackman is neither pretty nor nice. Of all the teachers I’ve had, he is the one I really listen to. His is the one class I never daydream or talk in. Not that I like history—I don’t. But no one fools around in Mr. Jackman’s classes. Not that no one ever has. But if you’ve done it once, you don’t do it again.
So now, everyone quietly sat down. We’ve never had him for home room before, but it looked as though we were stuck.
He started calling the roll, and it was then I realized that two of us were absent. Not entirely absent, because there were notebooks on two desks near the front. But the desks had no one sitting in them, and he didn’t call out their names; he simply made a mark in his book.
He’d finished the roll and was starting to give us our timetables when the door opened and two girls came in carrying books. They took the books to his desk and he nodded as they left them there and went to their seats.
Charlie was behind me. He poked me in the back and whispered urgently, “Who is that?”
“Which one?” I countered, knowing that nobody in his right mind would care who Joyce was.
“The blonde, of course.”
“Oh, her. I thought you meant Joyce. Let’s see now. The blonde, eh?”
He poked me again.
“Oh, yeah, I remember. Her name is Nicole.”
Mr. Jackman frowned at me, and I tried to pay attention to what he was saying.
Charlie waited a few minutes and then poked me again.
I leaned back as far as I dared.
“Her name is Nicole?” he whispered.
“Yeah. Nicole Elizabeth Grant.”
I sat up and began taking down something Mr. Jackman was saying.
Charlie poked me again, but I ignored him. I looked at Nicole. She was wearing a green skirt with a matching sweater and her long golden-blonde hair shone against the green like a field of wheat against a forest of trees. As always, she was smiling as she looked at Mr. Jackman. I couldn’t see her eyes, but I knew they would be smiling, too. They always are. In my opinion, Nicole is not only the prettiest girl in the school, but the nicest too.
And it seemed to me from the past three days of observation that Charlie was going to be number one among the male population—at least as far as the girls were concerned. But there was just one small thing. Nicole isn’t that interested in guys. Oh, she dates now and then, but I know for a fact that she’s refused to go out with Phil and most of the other senior guys.
I couldn’t help wondering if she would refuse to go out with Charlie. I had a feeling that if she did, he wouldn’t shrug his shoulders and find someone else the way Phil had. No, the more I thought about it, the more I decided that Charlie’s presence in town was definitely going to add some interest to my life.
Charlie finally quit trying to get my attention, so it wasn’t until Mr. Jackman had finished his instructions and we were looking at our timetables that he got a chance to talk to me.
He kept his voice low. “Her name is Nicole?”
“Do people call her Nicky?”
“How come you didn’t tell me about her?”
“Forgot, I guess.”
“You forgot her?”
I shrugged. “Ask my mother. She’ll tell you my memory stinks. Are you taking physics?”
“Yeah. But how come I haven’t seen her before? Why wasn’t she at the dance?”
“I’ll tell you later. Oh, rats, I hate having chemistry right before lunch!”
Charlie gave me a dirty look, but he paid some attention to his timetable and then started talking to Marta and Sheila and a couple of other girls.
After a few minutes a bell rang and it was time for the first class. Since most of us were taking history, we just stayed put and Mr. Jackman gave us a preview of our history course and told us what else we’d need for it. The bell rang again and we went on to more twenty-minute classes—the teachers just saying their names and handing out books and telling us in general what we’d be doing and what we’d need. Before long, it was time to leave. School would really start the next day.
Charlie and I were barely out of the building before he was bombarding me with questions about Nicole.
“All right, who is she and why haven’t I seen her before today?”
“I told you—Nicole Grant.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Why haven’t I seen her?”
“Because she’s kind of different.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I don’t think she’s ever been to a dance—town or school. I’ve only seen her at a couple of movies—one was a Walt Disney matinee and the other was a movie her dad’s church sponsored.
“Yeah. Her father’s the minister at a church in the new area northeast from where we live. They moved here about three years ago.”
“So she goes to church, does she?”
“Yeah. Her whole family does. And, like I said, I’ve never seen her at a dance, and she doesn’t go to many movies. And she doesn’t ride around in cars much, either. There are a couple of guys she dates now and then, but I think they go to the same church. So, if you’re heading in that direction, you’d better hold on. She just isn’t your type.”
“Every pretty girl is my type, and she’s the prettiest one I’ve seen here yet. I bet she’s smart, too.”
“Yeah. She and Greg Johnson are always at the top of the class.”
“Well, old Charlie Thornton will be right up there with them this year.”
I didn’t comment. If I passed I wasn’t unhappy. At least until I got my report card home. Mom and Dad both have the idea I should be turning those Cs and Ds into As and Bs. But they don’t complain as much now as they used to. I think they’ve finally decided that maybe I’m not the same as my brothers and sisters. I don’t know why it took them so long. I’ve been getting those Cs and Ds since back in elementary school.
Anyway, we got home and Charlie said we’d go downtown after lunch and pick up our pens and such. That was fine with me, though to tell the truth I’d always let Mom take care of it in the past. I was apt to forget half the things I needed and then blow the rest of the money on pool.
But Mom said it was okay for me to go with Charlie. I guess she figured he’d see that I got the right stuff.
He did. He’d made notes of what each teacher had said, and then he’d made a neat list of everything he needed. We stopped first at the bank so I could take some money out of my account and pay him back the forty he’d given me Friday night. After that, we went to the drugstore and whatever he got, I got, too. We managed fine.
We met a group of about five girls including Sheila and Ann, and all of us went to Harry’s Restaurant and killed about an hour goofing around before Harry kicked us out. He’s always kicking us out, so it was no big deal. We dropped off a couple of girls, and then went home.
Mom was really pleased to see how well I’d managed. She said she sure was glad Charlie had moved here.
After dinner, Phil called. “A bunch of us are going down to the school to play football. You want to come?”
“I looked for you after school, but you were gone.”
“Lisa needed help getting some stuff ready for the cheerleaders. They’re holding tryouts next week.”
“Oh. Where is she now? Isn’t she coming to play football?”
“Don’t act dumb. She had some things to do at home. She said it wouldn’t hurt for me to start getting ready for football season. So—are you coming or not?”
“Yeah, I guess. I’ll see if Charlie wants to come, too.”
“Yeah? You think he’d take a chance on messing up that pretty face?”
“Yeah, right, Phil.”
“The guy looks—well, like a creep. That smile—it’s like he pastes it on in the morning and keeps it there all day. He reminds me of a wooden mannequin from a store window. It’s a wonder he can move.”
“He played baseball okay, didn’t he?”
“Give me a break, Glen. Like that was a serious game! Or didn’t you realize we had girls playing who didn’t know a double play from a bunt?”
“I still think I should ask him to come. After all, he’s new here and just getting to know people.”
Phil snorted. “Getting to know people? Don’t you mean getting to know girls? And he seemed to be doing okay from what I saw.”
“Yeah, well, this would give him a chance to know some guys, too.”
“So, bring him along if you have to. I don’t care. Just make sure he knows it’s football we’re playing, not hopscotch.”
Charlie was eager to go, so we drove to the school parking lot and walked over to the football field. He examined it closely and said he was surprised at how good it was.
About ten minutes after we arrived, Phil and the others appeared. Soon there were enough guys for a good work-out. Charlie and I and Brett were on one team; Phil and Mac on the other. As usual, Phil was quarterback for his team.
About fifteen minutes in, we were getting bombed, so Charlie offered to take over as quarterback for our side.
Man, was he hot! I forget the final score, but it was pretty lopsided in our favor.
Phil didn’t say much, but the rest of the guys were all excited over Charlie’s playing. They figured that with him calling the plays the school team would be unbeatable this year.
Charlie took it pretty well. He just said we’d have to see what the coach thought about his playing first, and maybe somebody else would be better.
I went over to Phil, who was standing a little apart from the crowd around Charlie. “Looks like maybe he does know how to play a little,” I said casually.
Phil took the time to glare at me before he picked up his football and walked toward his car.
Charlie and I dropped in at The Peabody Diner later, but there wasn’t much happening, so we drove around town and I pointed out where the Grants live. Charlie parked across the street and we read the sign on the church next door: Wallace Community Evangelical Church. It was a fairly small building, but new and not bad looking. The Grants’ house was new, too—a bungalow similar to mine.
Charlie wanted to know more about the Grant family, so I told him there was a mother, a father, a brother—Paul—in his second year of high school, and two younger sisters in elementary school. You could see Charlie’s brain working, figuring all the angles. I felt sure he was enjoying it, too. He was like a general planning his campaign strategy.
So far, every girl he’d met had fallen all over herself being nice to Charlie. That included Lisa, though she hadn’t been as obvious as some of the others. Nicole hadn’t even spoken to Charlie this morning, except to say, “Hi,” after he said it first. She showed no interest in him at all. So now Charlie was ready to do battle. Like he’d said, every pretty girl was his type, and he wanted Nicole to know it.
The campaign began at school the next day. We were barely inside the building when we saw Nicole and Joyce at their lockers just outside our homeroom. Charlie, a perfect gentleman, offered to carry Nicole’s books.
She gave him a little smile, then said, “Thanks, but I can manage.”
“Your name is Nicole, isn’t it? I like that. Did you know it means ‘victorious one’?”
She smiled but turned to Joyce. “Come on, or we’ll be late for homeroom.”
I remembered that our teacher was Mr. Jackman. “Yeah, come on, Charlie. We don’t want to be late.”
Charlie was staring at Nicole’s back, but when I spoke he quickly organized his books and shut his locker.
Morning classes weren’t bad. I guess school is usually fun for a couple of days. After that it’s downhill all the way.
Nicole and Joyce were with a group of other girls during lunch, so Charlie didn’t get a chance to talk to Nicole. He was stuck with trying to extricate himself from Sheila, Ann, Marta, and several other girls who all wanted to sit with him. Phil was with Lisa. He even carried her tray over to the table and went back to get his own. Man, but she had him hooked.
I sat with Mac and Brett and we watched Charlie. He was pretty smooth. He talked to all of the girls by turns, not singling out any of them, but apparently keeping them all interested. It made me tired just to watch. I was glad when it was time for phys ed.
When the last bell rang, we were stuck in shop, so Charlie had to hurry to get to Nicole’s locker before she left.
I tried to hide my grin as I followed along behind. Life certainly was getting more interesting.
“Hey, Nicole,” Charlie called, “wait up!”
She was just shutting her locker. When he called, she paused and looked back. She shifted her books from one arm to the other and waited.
“Just wanted to ask if you’d like a ride home. I’ve got my car here today. You look like you’ve got a lot of books.”
She laughed. “Oh, not too many. Thanks for the offer, but no thanks.”
She walked off with Joyce.
Charlie stood watching them for a moment. Then he turned to me. “Well, come on. What are you waiting for?”
We drove home without talking. I knew Charlie’s mind was in a whirl. Nicole had to be the only girl in the school who would turn down a ride in his car.
Charlie had no more luck the next day. He asked Nicole to go for a Coke after school, and she said she had to go straight home. When he offered to drive her home, she politely said, “No, thank you.”
The following day he got sidetracked with tryouts for the football team. As I’d expected, after the coach saw him throw and run, he was a shoo-in for quarterback.
Phil was pretty upset. Not that it was obvious, but Phil and I have been pals for quite a while, so I know the signs. He’d assumed, before Charlie came, that he was the logical choice for quarterback, but he was no match for Charlie.
Charlie had dragged me out to the tryouts with him. I did my best, but when the coach asked me if I’d like to be the team manager, I knew what that meant—looking after uniforms, finding lost gear, fetching water or whatever.
I said, “No, thanks, Mr. Wilton. I didn’t really want to be on the team, anyway.”
I guess it sounded like sour grapes, but it was actually the truth. I didn’t want to be on the team. Oh, I don’t mind doing some punting and catching for an hour or two, or even having a scrimmage now and then, but I don’t need those practices at seven in the morning or after school. Nor do I need to try to remember patterns and numbers and positions and all that stuff. Not to mention getting the broken arms and the sprained ankles and assorted other injuries that I’ve noticed are an all-too-frequent part of the game. I’d tried out because Charlie wanted me to, but I was whistling when I went home to see if Mom had baked any cookies that day. Friday is her day for baking.
That night, Charlie was pretty high, what with being named quarterback and his dad’s having given him an extra fifty bucks for making him proud or something. I’d like to see my dad just hand me fifty bucks.
Oh, well, some of us have it made, and some of us have to struggle on.
We blew most of the money at the diner. Charlie found some girls and I guess we made a lot of noise. Peggy—a blonde with big blues eyes and a well-developed figure—said her mom wouldn’t mind if we went to her house, and by the time the word passed around, about twelve of us ended up going there. Peggy’s mom didn’t seem too concerned—she just set out lemonade and chips and left the room.
Somebody put some music on and there was a ready-made dance. Fortunately, there were a couple more guys than girls, so I was able to look after changing CDs, and I could sit back and watch without anybody saying a word. We left around midnight.
I had to work Saturday morning. Dad had asked me to trim our bushes and trees, and I knew several neighbors who’d pay me to trim theirs. So I was up at seven and worked until eight at night. I made ninety dollars. Not a bad day’s work.
Mom said Charlie had called while I was out, so I wandered over to his house and knocked on the door. His dad answered. I hadn’t seen him before, but you couldn’t mistake him. He was just an older version of Charlie—same build, same color hair, same grin. He had a half-empty glass in his hand and he was laughing about something. When he saw me, he said, “Well, hey, you must be Glen! Charlie’s told me about you. Sure nice of you to take him under your wing and show him around. Sorry he’s not here right now though. Some girl called him and he took off. Don’t know when he’ll be back.”
I said thanks and went home. I’d worked pretty hard all day, so what I really wanted was to have a shower and go to bed. I was glad Charlie had found something to do.
Sunday morning I got the shock of my life. I was still asleep when Mom knocked on my door and came in to say that Charlie was there with a suit on and he wanted to see me.
Now, Sunday is my day for sleeping in. But I got up and put on my robe and went out to the living room. Sure enough, there was Charlie in a dark blue suit with a tie and all. I guess I looked kind of dazed because he laughed.
Then he said, “I couldn’t get you last night. Come on. Grab some clothes. Don’t you know this is Sunday morning?”
“Sunday morning. Where do people go on Sunday morning?”
“How should I know?”
“They go to church, man. Like to the Wallace Community Evangelical Church.”