Unpredicted Romances 1
I was sitting in the back of the typing class, not really caring about the quick brown fox that jumped over the very lazy dog, when a female voice whispered my name from outside the room. Seeing who it was and noticing the teacher was reading a newspaper, I quietly got up, took two steps and pulled a temporary disappearing act.
“I have a question for you.” Janice, one of the high school’s cheerleaders, grabbed my arm and pulled me toward an exit door at the end of the hallway.
“Where are we going?” I was mildly confused. Was she going to kidnap me? Make wild, passionate love to me? I should be so lucky.
“Just come with me,” the cute brunette who was about five-four and had a terrific shape whispered loudly and continued holding my arm.
“What’s up?” I asked after we stepped out of the building and stopped on the landing of the fire escape. Outside of the Italian class we were taking together, she and I had rarely talked with one another. Nevertheless, I began to fantasize her begging me to go out with her for a hot date. But that wasn’t likely to happen. After all, I wasn’t in any of the cliques at school.
What Janice said next would eventually change my life. “I heard something. Are you and Janey Moscowitz secretly going steady?” Staring directly into my eyes, she crossed her arms. Apparently, there was a juicy rumor going around the school that had to be verified.
Momentarily confused, I shrugged and wondered about that for a moment. I didn’t think I was going steady with Janey. Was I? Of course I wasn’t. “No,” I said, shaking my head. “I don’t even think she and I ever talked to each other.”
Going steady with Janey Moscowitz? The idea of even going out with her had been beyond my fantasies. In my opinion, she was one of the prettiest cheerleaders in our school. And her reddish-brown hair and cute figure added to her attractiveness. But I wasn’t a football player or on our basketball team. Cheerleaders were usually attracted to the jocks, not the guys who hung around on street corners at night with nothing better to do than talk about the girls who didn’t want to go out with them.
A half minute later, apparently satisfied I had told the truth, Janice left. So I went back to my class and soon forgot the matter while caring even less about whatever the quick brown fox was doing.
* * *
Since the next day was Saturday, I had to do the weekly grocery shopping for my mother. Much to my surprise, Janey Moscowitz was walking in my direction on the avenue a few blocks from my house. And she looked just as pretty as ever. The only difference was she was wearing a pair of nicely fitting jeans, which we weren’t allowed to wear in school, a bulky, knitted, green sweater and a lightweight, blue jacket that was open in front.
“Hi, Janey,” I said, even though we hadn’t spoken to each other before that day. She sure was pretty. And her shape wasn’t bad either, not that I hadn’t already checked her out at basketball games. But maybe I was seeing her differently that day.
There was something about cheerleaders that turned most of the guys on. Maybe it was the short skirts they wore. Apparently, a girl had to have fantastic legs to be a cheerleader. Or maybe it was the way they threw their arms back and hunched their hips forward while jumping up during certain cheers. It was almost as if they were offering themselves. Whatever it was, they were usually off-limits to common guys like me.
“Oh, hi.” Possibly having forgotten my name, a light blush tinted her face. “Um…where you headed?”
“Grocery shopping. You?” Not in a hurry to buy corn and stuff like that, I wanted to continue talking with her. After all, we were supposedly going steady. Wondering if she’d heard that rumor, I considered mentioning it, but changed my mind.
“I have to buy a notebook.” Janey seemed to have something else on her mind and blurted it out. “You’re not going out with Barbara Dundorff anymore?” For some reason, she was clasping and unclasping her hands.
“No.” I sighed and averted her gaze for a second or two. “We split up.” I didn’t want to tell her why we had ended it or why Barbara’s mother had insisted we stop seeing each other. “But I have a question for you,” I said to change the subject and wondered why I had done that.
“What’s that?” There was a gleam in Janey’s voice while her alluring, honey-brown eyes were boring into mine.
It was too late to back out now, so I asked the question. “Have you heard any rumors about you and me secretly going steady?” If Janice had heard that rumor, it was highly possible half the students in our school had, too.
Her eyebrows arching, she looked at me questioningly. “No! Have you?” She was apparently as surprised to hear that as I had been.
I grunted a laugh and nodded. “Janice Veruli asked me about it. I told her we had never even talked before.”
“That’s strange,” Janey said slowly and thoughtfully. “Janice knows I have a boyfriend.” The incredulous look that was emanating from her eyes suggested she was wondering if I had made that up.
My first thought was I had offended her. Now what? “Did I upset you with that?” I hoped I hadn’t.
“No.” Shaking her head, she looked at me from under arched eyebrows. “It’s just kind of strange.”
Noticing we were standing in front of a jewelry store and deciding to turn the whole issue into a joke, I shrugged and made a suggestion. “Well, since we’re supposedly going steady, shouldn’t I buy a friendship ring for you?” What the hell, the worst she could do was smile and politely refuse my silly offer.
Following the direction of my gaze, Janey chuckled devilishly and shrugged. “Why not?” she said thoughtfully and paused. “Yeah. Let’s do that. It’ll be a goof.”
* * *
“We want a friendship ring,” I told the man behind the counter a minute later and resisted the impulse to hold Janey’s hand. Why press my luck? She was probably just there to humor me.
“I have lots of them,” the man said and smiled at us in a way that suggested he thought we were a couple of young lovers.
“But nothing too expensive,” I added with what must have been a dumb look on my face. “We don’t expect to stay together very long.”
While Janey was giggling, the man looked at me curiously and said, “Whatever you say.” Probably not having heard that one before, he smiled at us again.
After measuring Janey’s ring size, the jeweler removed three gold bands from a tray, laid them on the counter and asked, “Do you like any of these?”
It didn’t take her long to select one that was decorated with clovers. Looking at me through unreadable eyes, she timidly thanked me in a near whisper.
“You’re quite welcome, my dear,” I said, sounding as phony as a three-dollar bill. Wishing we really were going steady, I bowed my head slightly. True, Janey Moscowitz was out of my league. But who said a guy can’t dream?
“You’re funny,” she said and giggled in a way that made me want to kiss her. Damn, she was pretty.
“May I?” I picked up the ring and slipped it onto the third finger of her left hand. There. Now our love for each other would be assured until the end of time. Well, maybe for the next few minutes.
The man behind the counter smiled.
* * *
When we walked out of the store, Janey was wearing a ring that had cost me five dollars. “This is too funny,” she said and shook her head. “I guess I’m going steady now.”
“Looks like it.” Shrugging, I grunted a laugh. The situation was kind of funny. An hour earlier, Janey and I hadn’t as much as spoken a word to each other. Now we were pretend sweethearts.
“And to think…” she began, “you haven’t even met my mother yet.”
“And won’t she be surprised when you bring me home?” Since we were in a goofy mood, I took an even bigger chance. “Now that we’re going steady, shouldn’t we kiss?” That was really pushing my luck. But as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Janey looked at me through seemingly thoughtful eyes and said something that surprised me. “I guess a little kiss will be okay.”
While the tips of Janey’s fingers were resting against the fronts of my shoulders, and the tips of my fingers were resting against the sides of her waist, I ignored the people who were passing by us in both directions and touched my lips to hers. Not having expected her to respond the way she did, I kissed her a bit more enthusiastically.
Now, I’d kissed girls before. And I don’t only mean at parties while playing spin the bottle. My ex-girlfriend and I had even gotten into it heavily. But Janey’s lips were the sweetest I’d ever tasted. Did we really have to stop?
“You know this type of behavior in public is against the law, don’t you?” a man’s voice snapped, startling us.
Janey gulped audibly when we separated and had a worried look in her eyes. She apparently thought we were in trouble.
I looked to my right and saw two police officers who often played basketball in the schoolyard with my friends and me on weekends. “I hope you’ll excuse us, guys.” Grabbing Janey’s left hand, I showed it to them. “But we are momentarily in love.”
While Phil said nothing, Jim looked at Janey and shook his head sympathetically. “I’m sure a beautiful girl like you can find someone better than this guy.” He playfully tapped my butt with the side of his nightstick.
“Ohhh, that’s mean.” Realizing they knew me, Janey smiled at him while still holding my hand.
About a minute later, I realized it was time to face reality, end our little charade and do the grocery shopping for my mother. “Well, my beautiful darling…” I lifted Janey’s left hand and ceremoniously kissed the back of it. “Thank you for allowing me to love you for a moment on the clock of eternity’s time. But parting is such sweet sorrow. You may keep the ring so that you will always remember me with your heart.”
“How corny,” Phil groaned.
After Janey thanked me and giggled, we walked in opposite directions, probably leaving the two police officers wondering what the hell was going on.
But if that had seemed strange to them, it seemed even stranger to me. I was going steady with Janey Moscowitz, a girl I hadn’t spoken a word to before that day. Then again, we really weren’t going steady. It wasn’t as if we were going to start dating. Besides, hadn’t Janey said she had a boyfriend? Lucky devil, whoever he was.
It would have been nice to go out on a few friendly dates with her though. There wouldn’t be any harm in us going to a movie or for a walk. If her boyfriend didn’t go to school with us, we might even go to one or two of the school’s weekly dances together. Dream on, John boy. Dream on.
* * *
That night, I went to the diner in the hope of seeing some of the guys. There wasn’t usually much to do on a Saturday night unless you had a girlfriend. I was dating a girl, but she had to do something with her mother that night. So I sat near the front end of the counter and ordered a Coke.
I had another girlfriend once upon a time, but she dumped me, and now she was going out with someone else. I didn’t know him and didn’t care to. It was probably better that way. At least he wasn’t one of my friends.
Barbara and I had dated two years with intentions of eventually getting married. Then I made the mistake of being completely truthful with her regarding something very important. Well, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you’re in love with someone? Maybe not. Maybe honesty isn’t always the best policy because her mother made her break it off with me. It certainly hadn’t been the best policy in our case.
It didn’t make sense. We were so close back then. We went for walks, to movies, took day trips to New York City together. We double dated and were never more than a few inches apart at parties. Now I couldn’t even go to any of the parties for fear of her being there. Damn, even though I was a year ahead of her in school, we had even done our homework together in my kitchen while managing to hold hands. What a shame we weren’t still together.
When I noticed a slight breeze coming from the front of the diner, I glanced in that direction and groaned. The last person in the world I had wanted to see was walking through the doorway. Pretending not to have seen her, I studied the bubbles in my glass of soda.
“Hi,” Barbara said timidly and sat next to me.
If only she weren’t so pretty—straight, blonde hair the color of straw flowing over the fronts of her shoulders, eyes the color of emeralds under the bright light of a jeweler’s lamp, high cheekbones and full lips. And her shape belonged in the centerfold of one of those magazines I often read without my father’s knowledge.
“Hi,” I said without glancing at her. As much as I wanted to look at her, I just couldn’t. Why hadn’t I stayed home that night?
“How have you been?” Barbara asked.
“I’m okay,” I said and resisted the urge to tell her to get lost.
“Nothing to do tonight?”
“Nope.” I continued to study my glass of soda as if it would answer the questions that had been plaguing my mind. I’d once heard about women who could look at tea leaves in the bottom of a cup and tell someone’s future. Maybe the bubbles in my glass of soda could tell what lay ahead of me.
“Where are the guys tonight?”
“Don’t know,” I said, wishing she hadn’t decided to stop in the diner just then. There would be no sleep for me again that night.
Barbara ordered a Coke, waited for the counterman to leave and asked, “Can we talk?”
“About?” I really didn’t want to talk to her. I didn’t even want to see her, not ever again. Just thinking about Barbara was painful enough as it was.
“About us.” She unwrapped a straw, dipped one end into the soda and slid her beautiful, full lips over the other end.
“What about us?” There was no more us. It was over. She knew that. It had been her idea or her mother’s idea or the lady’s down the block for all I knew.
“Johnny, I’m sorry we had to end it. But my mother—”
“Can’t prove that by me,” I interrupted, ignoring whatever she was going to say about her mother.
“Will you please listen to me?” Barbara sounded annoyed, which was unusual for her. She had always been so even-tempered.
“Sure.” I still couldn’t bring myself to look at her. Had I done so, I probably would have started to cry the way I cried almost every night for weeks after she had destroyed my ability to love anyone.
“I’m sorry about the way we had to end it. But…” She paused to take a sip of soda. “Can we still be friends?” There was a pleading intonation in her voice.
I felt her eyes burning into me. In the past, they seemed like such warm eyes, happy eyes, loving eyes. How could I be just friends with a girl I had once been so in love with and probably still was? How could I not want to hold Barbara and kiss her whenever we were together?
I thought about the countless times we kissed in the park that overlooked the Hudson River, and the times we kissed at the bottom of the stairway that led to her second-floor apartment. There were times those kisses had gotten us so sexually aroused that we were tempted to do it all. And now it was over.
Then I thought about the time we had our first argument. As soon as Barbara started to cry, I lost it. Holding her in my arms, I kissed her tearstained cheeks and apologized a dozen times for having upset her. Now it was I who wanted to cry. Would she hold me and kiss me if I did start crying? Well, I wouldn’t let her.
“I don’t know if I can handle that,” I murmured and finally looked at her.
Barbara put a hand over my wrist and spoke shakily. “How about if we go out some night?” Lacing her fingers with mine, she squeezed them.
I wasn’t sure if I’d heard right. Maybe my mind was just a jumbled mess. Had Barbara asked me to go out with her? Did she want to get back with me? The first thing that came out of my mouth was, “Don’t you have another boyfriend?” The next thing I wanted to do was kick myself for having asked that.
“He’s in the Army.” This time, it was she who wasn’t maintaining eye contact.
So was she looking for a playmate until he came home? Would she dump me again when he did come home?
There was an unspoken code my friends and I lived by in those days. You didn’t mess around with another guy’s girlfriend. And Barbara’s new boyfriend was in the Army. He was defending our nation, for Christ’s sake. Even though there was no war going on, that didn’t matter. The guy deserved some respect.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea.” I didn’t want to tell her what I thought about girls who cheated on their boyfriends when they were in the Army or the Navy or the Marines or even in the Boy Scouts.
“How about if we just go to a movie?” she suggested, apparently not wanting to lose me completely.
“Why would you want to do that?” That was another stupid question, but my head was heavily into stupid mode at the moment.
Barbara finished her Coke and swiveled around on her stool to face me. “Johnny, I miss you,” she said with more sincerity than I’d ever heard coming from her. “Let’s go out just once. If you can’t handle it, we won’t have to do it again.”
I looked at her eyes, her pouting lips, those lips I’d kissed hundreds of times; and I melted. Rather than wait for a movie, I suggested we go for a walk.
* * *
Much to my surprise, Barbara was holding my arm while we were walking toward the boulevard that overlooked the Hudson River as if we hadn’t separated a few months earlier. There was also a park up there, a park in which she and I had spent many hours talking about our future together. But was there a future for us? That was highly doubtful.
“Are you still doing the construction work with your grandfather?” Although she apparently wanted to make conversation, there was a hint of uncertainty in her voice.
“Yeah.” There was uncertainty in my voice, too. I wasn’t sure why we were together. Barbara hadn’t said she wanted to pick up where we had left off. She hadn’t said she still loved me. So why were we together that night? Why were we walking toward the park in which we’d shared countless kisses under the stars?
“Want to go in?” Barbara asked, jarring me from my thoughts. Looking at me questioningly, she said, “We’re here.”
Blinking my eyes, I realized we were standing in front of the entrance to the park and wondered if Barbara was going to suggest we sit on the bench we’d often sat on. Of course she was. She was already leading me toward it.
“Nice night,” I said as soon as we sat. I could have said something else, but couldn’t think of anything else to say at the moment.
“Is this making you uncomfortable?” Barbara asked. Girls have a way of knowing things like that.
“Some.” Once again, I couldn’t look at her. So I pretended to be watching the headlights of the cars across the river on New York City’s West Side Highway.
“Are you going out with anyone?” She grabbed the hand that was resting on my thigh.
“Um, yeah.” I really didn’t want to talk about Carol then. A part of me felt guilty for being with Barbara, even though Carol and I weren’t in love. We liked each other and got along well enough, but it wasn’t love.
“What’s her name?”
“What’s she like?”
“She’s okay.” Perhaps I should have said Carol was fantastic. Perhaps I should have said I was madly in love with her. But perhaps I didn’t want Barbara to know that.
Releasing a sigh through rumbling lips, Barbara grabbed my arm and shook it. “This isn’t what I was hoping for when I saw you in the diner tonight. What’s wrong?”
If she wanted to know what was wrong, I would tell her. “What’s wrong is you killed me.” That sounded overly dramatic, but I had to say it.
“I didn’t kill you, Johnny.” There was a pleading intonation in her voice. “I just broke it off. Lots of couples do that and get back together again. Can’t you give me a chance to prove I still have feelings for you?”
She had feelings for me? Not love, just feelings. Once again, I wondered if she was just looking for a temporary playmate until her new boyfriend came home from the Army. Then it might be “Goodbye, Johnny” again. Glancing at her, I said, “I need some time,” and looked across the river again.
“Then we can go out again?” Had Barbara been sitting any closer to me, she would have been on my lap.
“I told you we could go to a movie.” Suddenly, I didn’t want to be there. “Mind if I walk you home now? I have to get up early tomorrow to help my father.” That wasn’t true, but it worked.
* * *
I hadn’t really wanted to go into Barbara’s vestibule, and I didn’t really want to kiss her goodnight. But Barbara surprised me, not for the first time that night.
Her arms remained curled around the back of my neck after she released the lip-lock she’d thrown on me. “You seem to be out of practice,” she said, apparently trying to sound as if that had been a joke.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” I said and noticed my hands had been exploring the deep taper of her waist.
“Well, get ready this time,” she said and kissed me again.
Not only was that kiss passionate, but it was a lot more demanding than her kisses in the past were. Maybe it was true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Well, maybe that was true for Barbara, but I didn’t seem to have the same feelings for her I had in the past.
“So when can we go to a movie?” Barbara rested her forehead against the front of my shoulder.
“I don’t know,” I verbally shrugged. “I’ll call you next week.”
“Don’t leave yet? Hold me a little longer?”
So I held her a little longer, and we kissed again. And I held her a little longer.
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