"Anyone planning to go to the Bicentennial Dance at the community center tomorrow night?" Josh Riker asked as he reached for the next to last piece of pizza.
"I might," Stephen Scott answered, "if Laurie wants to go."
Much to the annoyance of his friends, Stephen was practically incapable of answering any question without pointing out that he was the only one of the group with a steady girlfriend.
"Hey, is it true that you have to ask her permission to go to the bathroom too?" Jack Lawrence chimed in.
"Fuck you, Lawrence," Stephen shot back, "I don't see you having a steady girl to go out with every weekend."
"That's because there's only one of me and it's not fair to confine that to only one girl," Jack retorted.
"Keep believing that," Stephen countered.
It was a point of contention among three of the four young men sitting around the back table of Scarpacci's Pizzeria as to whether Stephen was actually getting some from Laurie. They'd all known each other since grade school, with Stephen and Laurie being a couple since sophomore year of high school.
"How bout you, Simon?" Josh asked the last of the group who had been content to just sit there and drink his soda.
"I think I'm just about Bicentennialed out," Simon Clarke said after putting his soda down. "I think I'll pass."
After a senior year in which just about everything from the yearbook to the colors for graduation revolved around the fact that 1976 was the two hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Simon wasn't the only one who felt that way. And the actual 4th of July was still a week away.
Still, it had been a fun filled senior year, even if, unlike Stephen, he didn't have a girlfriend. His eighteenth birthday was still a few months away, so when he started college in the fall, he would still be seventeen. Chronologically, he was always the youngest kid in his class, with his birthday falling on the last day the school district picked as the cut off point for a school year. If he'd been born a day later, he'd just be finishing junior year.
"What about you, Josh," Stephen asked, "you going?"
"Might as well," Josh answered. "After all, what else is there to do around here on a Saturday night?"
Stephen and Jack nodded in agreement. The summer was only beginning and they were already bored. They figured this year would be different, after all, now they were eighteen and men - or at least three out of four of them were.
The last of the pizza now gone, the quartet made their way out of Scarpacci's. Stephen excused himself, saying he had to go and meet Laurie.
"Yeah, we know," Josh and Jack said almost in unison, as he hurried off to meet her.
"You think she's really putting out for him?" Josh asked for what had to be the hundredth time once Stephen was out of earshot.
"Damned if I know," Simon answered, "but even if he hasn't ever said she does, he certainly acts like it."
Even if Stephen wasn't, Simon well knew his friend had certainly lucked out with just having Laurie for his girlfriend. Back when they were kids, Laurie had been the proverbial skinny, pigtail-haired girl. Add to that braces and glasses and you had a pre-teen that only a mother could love. Still, Stephen lived just across the street from her and they'd become best friends, no matter what anyone else thought. Then came high school, the braces came off, her eyes grew stronger, and Laurie filled up and out, sprouting a respectable bust, the nipples of which were, under the right conditions, visible even through her bra and blouse.
"You know what I think?" Jack offered.
"If we said no, would you not tell us?" Simon replied.
"I think he hasn't even gotten to second base with her," Jack stated, ignoring Simon's question. "In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if mister big shot Stephen spends his nights whacking off to her picture."
"And whose picture do you use?" Josh asked Jack.
Both he and Simon laughed at the retort, so true that even Jack finally joined in. Not that he would admit it, Simon would be happy to regularly get to second base with a girl. That was a place he'd only been twice. First with a another counselor at the summer camp he'd worked at the last few years, and once with Cindy Lyman. And just about everyone had been to second base with Cindy.
"We're gonna head over to Jack's house and hang out," Josh said, "you wanna come?"
"Nah, I promised my uncle I'd stop by and help him with a few things," Simon replied.
"Okay, we'll see you later then," Josh said, "let me know if you change your mind about the dance, we'd probably have some fun."
"Okay, I'll do that," Simon offered as the two older boys headed down the block.
Simon's uncle, Ryan Peterson, lived on the second floor of the same apartment building that his family lived in. In fact, both his father's and Ryan's parents had lived there since before either of them were born. So it was no surprise that Ryan had married Donna Clarke soon after he came home from the service. Despite Ryan being six years older, they had practically grown up in each other's apartment.
His Aunt Donna had passed away fourteen months before at the age of sixty-four, but Simon was till close to his uncle, even if that relation had only been by marriage. His own father, the youngest of the previous generation, had died in a car accident when Simon had been ten. In the seven years since, Ryan Peterson had done all he could to fill that void.
"How's it going Uncle Ryan?" Simon said as he walked into the living room of his uncle's apartment after letting himself in with the key he'd given him.
"Can't complain," Ryan replied with a smile, "and even if I did, who'd listen?"
"I would," Simon grinned back.
"Yeah, you would," Ryan agreed.
"My mom said you had some things that you needed moved," Simon said.
"Just a box with some of your Aunt's old things," the seventy-one year old said. "I want to donate them to the senior's center, I'm sure someone over there can use them."
"No problem," Simon said as he walked over to one of the boxes Ryan had indicated and tested its weight. "I might have to borrow your shopping cart to take these," he judged,
"You know were it is," his uncle replied.
"Anything you want me to bring back?" Simon said after getting the cart and loading the two boxes into it.
"No, I'm fine," he insisted.
"I noticed that you haven't been going to the center that much lately," Simon pointed out. "I know you like to play cards with the guys there. You feeling okay?"
"I'm feeling fine," Ryan insisted, "or at least what passes for fine when you get to be my age."
"Then how come you haven't been going?" Simon repeated.
"Well if you must know," he finally answered. "I've been trying to avoid running into Helen Petrowski."
"Why would you want to avoid her?" Simon asked further.
"I have my reasons," Ryan said without elaborating further.
"I don't understand," Simon replied, "You've been going to the center since before Aunt Donna passed away. Why stop now?"
"Because she makes me uncomfortable, that's all," Ryan quickly said.
"She makes you uncomfortable?" Simon repeated. "How could she..."
He paused in mid-sentence as it hit him. Mrs. Petrowski, whose own husband had passed away last year, was hitting on his uncle.
"Uncle Ryan, you should go for it," Simon said after his uncle had confirmed his guess, feeling a sort of role reversal in giving the older man dating advice. "There's no reason you should be alone if you don't have to be. I know Aunt Donna wouldn't want you to be."
Simon vaguely remembered Mrs. Petrowski from back when he was a Cub Scout. She had been one of the den mothers but had left when he was about nine. Still, what he remembered of her was that she was a really nice woman.
"It's not easy to explain," Ryan said.
"You can tell me anything, you know that, right?"
"If she was just looking for someone to keep company with, well then that would be fine," he began to explain. "After all, we grew up in the same neighborhood and have a number of things in common."
"Then what's the problem?" Simon asked curiously.
"She ... she wants someone in her bed too," he finally answered after hesitating a long moment.
"Well, nothing wrong with that," Simon smiled.
"Damn thing doesn't work."
"I said the damn thing doesn't work," he repeated. "hasn't worked in years. It didn't matter to your Aunt, she hadn't been interested in that part of marriage for a long time."
"Well maybe that wouldn't matter," Simon offered, "You said Aunt Donna wasn't interested, maybe she isn't that interested either."
"Oh she's interested all right," Ryan corrected him. "She was very specific as to what she had in mind the last few times she's invited me over."
Curious as he was, Simon thought it best not to ask what she had so specifically said.
"I still think you should take a chance," Simon offered. "What do you have to lose?"
"Only my pride," Ryan insisted. "It's not like I could take a magic pill and suddenly act like I was eighteen again."
"I'm almost eighteen and I don't get to act like that," Simon thought before turning his thoughts back to the matter at hand. "Suite yourself then," he added as he took hold of the cart and said goodbye.
"Do me a favor, if you see Mrs. Petrowski at the center, tell her something that would make her leave me alone."
"What should I tell her?"
"I don't even care if you tell her the truth," Ryan bellowed, "as long as it gets her off my back so I can play cards again."
"I'll try and think of something," Simon said as he closed and locked the door behind him.
The charity organizers at the center were happy to get his uncle's donation. They assured him that his Aunt's old things would certainly be put to good use. On his way out, Simon passed the card game his uncle so missed and one of the men involved recognized him, calling him over by name.
"How's your uncle doing?" Douglas Myer asked once Simon came up to the table. "We've missed him around here. He's not sick, is he?"
"No he's fine, Mr. Myer," Simon replied. "He's just been a little busy lately, that's all. He should be back soon."
"I figured he was just tired of losing," another man Simon didn't know said. "I miss his money."
Simon smiled, glancing at the table at the piles of change in front of each player. If his uncle were the worse poker player possible, and having been in the Navy before and during the war he was hardly that, he could play and lose all afternoon and only be a few dollars behind. Money he could easily afford to lose.
"I'll tell him you asked about him," Simon said, ignoring the fact that the man hadn't given him his name. He was sure Ryan would know who he was talking about.
Saying good-bye to Ryan's poker buddies, Simon again headed toward the door on the other side of the community center. He had just stepped outside into the parking lot when a voice caused him to stop.
"Excuse me, but did I hear one of those men say you were Ryan Peterson's nephew?" a woman asked.
"Yes I am," he replied.
"Well it's nice to meet you," she replied as she offered her hand. "I'm Helen Petrowski."
"You're Mrs. Petrowski?" Simon asked in surprise.
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
"No, I just didn't recognize you, that's all."
"Should you have recognized me?" she asked.
"Well, when I was a kid, you were one of the den mothers in my pack and, well I thought I'd, I guess I just thought I'd recognize you, that's all."
"Simon Clarke," the older woman said as if to jog her own memory. "Simon Clarke, yes now I remember. You were a sort of quiet little boy, kept to himself a lot."
"Yeah, that was me," Simon admitted.
"Well, it's certainly obvious that you've outgrown all of that," Helen said as she looked him over again from head to toe. "You've turned into a fine young man, a very handsome one as well."
"Thank you," he said, not sure what else to say in reply.
Several possibilities did present themselves however, none that he felt he should use. The foremost of which was that she was hardly the old lady he expected.
Not having seen Mrs. Petrowski since he wore Cub Scout blue, Simon had formed a much older image of what she would look like now. Back then, anyone older than thirty might as well have been on the same level as his grandparents. He knew from his uncle that you had to be at least sixty-two to belong to the senior center, but if he hadn't know that, Simon would've guessed Helen Petrowski to be a lot younger.
Simon stood five six and the woman in front of him looked to be at least three inches taller. She had rich blonde hair without a trace of gray, but that only meant that she frequented the hairdresser much like his own mother did. Unlike his mom, or most of the older women he knew, Mrs. Petrowski didn't look either too fat or skinny as a rail. The medium sized breasts that pressed against her flowered dress hardly seemed to sag at all either. There were of course some soft lines on her face that showed her age, but an almost professional application of makeup lessened the effect, including deep red lipstick that matched the polish on her nails. face and there was no doubt she was older, just different somehow.
"I was asking how your uncle was," Helen said, making Simon realized it was the second time she'd asked.
Taking a breath, Simon gave her the same answer he had given at the poker table. Helen listened, then gave him a look that seemed to say she didn't believe him.
"And here I thought he was avoiding me," Helen said, confirming his impression.
"Why would you think that?" Simon said, adding a forced laugh.
"Well, if he hasn't told you, I don't think I should either," Helen mused. "Just tell him that I'm still waiting for him to give me a call."
"Will do," Simon said as he turned to walk away.
But before he took a single step, Simon turned back around. Mrs. Petrowski had also turned to leave, but the sound of her name brought her back as well.
"Did you want something else, young man?" she asked.
Simon paused for a long moment, having no idea what he was going to say next.
"No, I guess not," he began, causing the older woman to begin to turn away once more. "No, wait," he called out much too loud.
Helen now had an impatient look on her face, prompting Simon to say something, anything.
"Look, Mrs. Petrowski, my uncle did tell me what was going on between the two of you," he began.
"Did he now?" she asked.
"And it's not that he doesn't like you, he does believe me," Simon went on, "it's just that, well, it's just that he can't do what you want him to do."
"What is it that he can't do?" she asked.
The memory of his uncle's telling him to even use the truth flashed across Simon's mind. Then it was replaced with the idea that a tall tale would do just as well. At least one that wouldn't be as much of an embarrassment to Uncle Ryan.
"Well, you know that during the war my uncle was in the Navy, right," he said.
"Yes, as were many of the men we grew up with, the Army and Marines too," Helen observed.
"Well, a lot of those men were wounded, some even disabled," Simon added. "Some not always in ways that people could always see."
As soon as he had said those words, Simon wondered if he was going too far. Then he decided he wasn't. After all, his uncle actually was wounded in battle and had the Purple Heart to show for it. The scar from that wound just happened to be a few inches higher than he placed it now.
"I hope you understand," he finished, hoping she put all the pieces together and drew the conclusion he wanted her to.
"Oh that poor man," Helen said as she did indeed put one and one together and got three.
"I hope you understand that this is a very sensitive subject for my uncle and..."
"Don't say another word about it," Helen insisted. "who could find anything bad to say about a man who sacrificed so much for his country."
"I'm glad you understand," Simon said, feeling pretty pleased with his ingenuity.
"And I have to say you show amazing sensitivity for a young man of your age, handling such a personal subject so well."
"Well, thank you."
"I actually have to say, it's almost a relief to know there is a very good reason why your uncle hasn't responded to my invitations," Helen went on, taking a turn that Simon hardly expected. "It was almost enough to make me think I was too old to interest a man anymore."
"I don't think you're that old," Simon said without thinking of what he was saying, other than it seemed the right response.
"Well, as I'm sure as your uncle confided in you, I was perhaps a little brazen in my invitations," Helen said, her voice dropping in volume as she moved closer to the young man. "I actually suggested an evening with me was, what is it you young people call it, a sure thing?"
"Something like that," Simon replied, thinking that it certainly applied to his former scout leader.
"Well, when a man turns down a sure thing, a woman had to worry, didn't she?"
"What did she just say?" Simon heard himself asking in his head.
"A young man like you wouldn't do such a thing would he?" she went on.
"I said a young man like you wouldn't turn down a sure thing if it was offered to him, would he?"
Not for the first time since this conversation began, Simon had absolutely no idea how to respond.
"Oh I've embarrassed you, haven't I?" Helen asked.
"No, I just, I just don't know."
"You don't know what?" Helen asked. "You don't know if what I just asked was a genuine question or just some old lady going on and on about nothing?"
The mute expression on his face said it was something like that. Along with the wish that he was somewhere else right now.
"And after all, I'm not just some lady on the street but someone who knows your family and probably runs into your mother now and then," she continued. "It wouldn't do to say something inappropriate because of some vague statements that you simply misconstrued would it?"
Without realizing he was doing it, Simon nodded his head yes.
"Well then, I guess the simplest thing to do would be to remove any ambiguity, wouldn't it?"
Again Simon considered the fact that he should be somewhere else, but try as he willed it to be, his feet didn't seem to want to move.
"Do you have a girlfriend, Simon?" Helen asked.
"No," he answered.
"But you do go out with girls, don't you," she added, "you're not one of those boys who like to hang out down in the Village are you?"
"No, not at all," he quickly replied, a mental image of the time they had visited Greenwich Village in Manhattan and the gay population they had seen there filling his head for a moment.
"Well then, have you ever been with a woman, intimately I mean?"
"No," Simon heard himself say, wondering why he simply hadn't said yes and ended whatever this was.
"Well, I'm sure a strapping young man like yourself would be eager to correct that condition, especially since he'd be starting college in the fall."
Of course the answer to that question was yes, Simon thought, what guy his age wasn't looking to pop his cherry as soon as possible. There had been nights when the guys had even joked about getting some money together and going to see a pro. But none of them really had the nerve to treat such a suggestion as anything other than a joke.
"So," Helen said, standing so close to the teenager that her breasts were only inches beneath his face, "if a young man were presented with a sure thing, even with a woman somewhat older than he was, one that wasn't into the silly games girls his own age play, what would a young man do?"
Helen pause a moment than said, "What would you do?"
"I'm not sure," came his reply.
"You're not sure," Helen repeated.
Taking a deep breath, she stepped away from Simon. She had gone a few steps, then turned and walked back to him.
"Well I'll tell you what," Helen smiled, "Since they're using the center for the teen Bicentennial Dance tomorrow, I really don't have any plans for the evening. If between now and then, you do decide what you would do, why don't you stop by my house and we can discuss it."
Simon let out a deep breath. Not knowing what to say was becoming a habit.
"And if you do decide to stop by, say about eight o'clock," Helen concluded, "whatever we, lets say what ever we talk about, would be between just you and me. No one else has to know. Not even your uncle. Do you understand?"
She paused to let her words sink in and then repeated, "Do you understand?"
"Yes," Simon managed to say.
"Good, now run along," Helen smiled with a voice as soft as if she was again a nine year old's Den Mother. "And when you see your uncle again, tell him that I understand and won't be bothering him any more."
With that, she turned again and this time disappeared back into the community center. Leaving behind a totally discombobulated Simon.
"Fuck!" was all he could managed to say as he stood there all alone.
The brief conversation with Helen Petrowski remained very much on Simon's mind the rest of the day, continuing through the night and the morning beyond. He went over it word by word so many times that he was beginning to be afraid that he wasn't remembering it as it happened. Had she really been coming on to him, or had that just been his imagination?
Waking up in the middle of the night, Simon had found himself going through the boxes in his closet that were filled with mementos of his younger years. Finally he found what he was looking for, a group photo of his Cub Scouting days. There, standing at the far right of the second row was Mrs. Petrowski.
Looking at the photo in the light of his desk lamp, Simon realized he was oh so wrong in thinking she was old back then. True, she was over that thirty year old line that most people under it seemed to draw between young and ready for the grave. Yet even in her mid-fifties, Helen looked better than his mother did now in her mid-forties. Something that hardly would've occurred to a nine year old.
Crawling back under the sheets, Simon was surprised, and not a little uncomfortable to discover he now had a hard-on. Not so embarrassed, however, not to take care of it in the tried and true method most teenagers handled such situations.
Since it was Saturday morning, no alarm clock woke Simon and his first awareness of the new day was just about ten minutes before it turned to afternoon when his mother walked into his room with a small pile of clean laundry. To the seventeen year old's horror, he became aware of her presence only seconds before he remembered the three crumpled up tissues lying on the floor next to his bed.
"Your Uncle Ryan stopped by about an hour ago," Susan Clarke said, not noticing, or at least pretending not to notice the sticky tissues scattered across the hard wood floor. "He said he didn't want to wake you but wanted to thank you again for talking care of that problem for him. What was that all about."
"Oh yeah," Simon said as he sat up, brushed his hair back and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "That was nothing really," he offered as he collected his thoughts and tried not to think about the evidence of his night's activity by his left foot, "guy stuff."
When he had brought back the shopping cart last night, Simon had confessed what had seemed at the time, creative way he had gotten Helen off his uncles back. To his relief, Uncle Ryan had laughed and said he wished he'd thought of that. The conversation between the older woman and him after that had gone unreported. Afterwards, he wondered if it had, would his uncle had said "go for it" to him as well?
"Guy stuff, huh," his mother said as she put the laundry down and turned to leave. "Well in the future, I'd ask you to kindly hit the basket with your guy stuff."
"Shit," Simon muttered under his breath as he scooped up the tissues and tossed them into the wastebasket he'd earlier missed by inches.
After showering and dressing, putting on a pair of blue shorts, a white and gold t-shirt and black sneakers, Simon grabbed a quick bite to eat and then headed out to run the errands he'd promised his mother he'd run, taking her dresses to the dry cleaners, stopping by the drug store and stopping by Flanagan and Son's to pick up their weekly meat order.
"Here you go, Simon," Alan Flanagan said as he passed the box of carefully cut and wrapped meats over the counter, "tell your mom I added some nice veal cutlets this week that I got a special on, I'm sure she's going to like them."
"Will do, Mr. Flanagan," Simon said to the seventy-five year old who had worked in the butcher shop since his father had opened it back in 1924.
"By the way, I saw you at the center yesterday, talking to Mrs. Petrowski," he mentioned as he rang up the sale and again reached over the counter with the change.
"You did?" Simon asked, worried for a second that he might've overheard as well as saw.
"I just happened to turn and see you on my way in," the older man said, closing the cash draw. "That Helen Petrowski is still something else," he mused out loud. "I remember back when we were all young and..."
A noise from the back room reminded Mr. Flanagan that Mrs. Flanagan had gone back a few minutes before to bring out some more wrapping paper and he abruptly changed his comment.
"Of course that was before I met Mrs. Flanagan of course," he grinned.
"Have a good day, Mr. Flanagan," Simon smiled as he exited the store, just as Mrs. Flanagan reappeared.
On the walk home, Simon couldn't help but wonder what it was that Mr. Flanagan had been about to say.
The hours between getting home and dinner were occupied in taking care of his own chores. His mother had always been pretty strict about that. She had always allowed him a lot of leeway, but only as long as he pulled his own weight. Especially after his Dad had died.
"Are you planning to go to the dance?" his mother asked as together they cleared the dishes.
"Josh and the guys are going, but I don't think I'm really in the mood," he replied. "Maybe I'll just go to the movies and see 'Rocky' again."
"How many times have you seen that movie now?" his mother quipped as she put the dishes in the sink to soak.
"Twice," Simon laughed, "but it's a great movie."
"If you say so," she smiled back. "but don't be disappointed if a year from now no one even remembers Rocky whatever his name was."
"Balboa," Simon said.
"Well have a good time then," Mrs. Clarke said, "and try not to stay out too late."
"I'll be home by midnight," Simon promised.
As he headed down the stairs and out into the street, Simon really wasn't sure where he was going. The old street clock across the street showed it was ten to eight. The movie, according to the timetable in the Daily News, started at eight-thirty.
Both the bus stop to take to the theatre, and Helen's brownstone, which she'd given him the address for, were in the same direction and Simon began walking down Ninth Street towards Fifth Avenue. It wasn't until he reached the library on Sixth Ave that he paused and realized that he had to make a decision.
The smart one to make, he realized was to keep going down Ninth to the bust stop and again watch Rocky match fists with Apollo Creed. The crossing light turned green and he took one step into the street, then again paused. He looked down Sixth Ave towards Seventh Street where Helen lived. This had to be the craziest situation of his life.
"Oh fuck it," he muttered under his breath as he quickly crossed the street before the light could change again and raced down the block to catch the bus.
Putting the last of the dinner dishes into the dishwasher, Helen glanced up at the clock, taking note that it was twenty-five after eight. Part of her let out a loud sigh of relief.
"What had she been thinking," she asked herself as she closed the door and hit the delayed start button, "coming on to that boy like that? He must've thought I'd turned out to be some crazy old lady?"
It would be too easy to blame the three glasses of wine she had during lunch with the girls, saying that was the reason she had been so loose with her tongue. No, she had to admit she'd found the interplay exciting. That was the reason she'd gone so far.
In her entire life, no one could ever accuse Helen Petrowski of being a prude. And since her husband's death, she had hardly been celibate. But that had all been with men nearer her own age. The thought that she might have an encounter with a man, a teenager really, one who was only two years older than her oldest grandchild was at best a secret fantasy. The sort of thing you might consider late one night when you were alone in bed. So why was it that she'd let it see the light of day when talking to Simon yesterday?
The answer, if she chose to look for it, was near enough. It was because men her own age were just that - her own age. Helen well knew that she was an exception among her peers, at least as far as her sex life went. Most had put such things behind them for various reasons. Many of them had barely been interested in it during their prime years. Coming of age before the age of sexual enlightenment, a number of the girls she grew up with never got beyond the grin and bear it attitude they had been taught to expect from sex by their mothers.
Even back in her late teens, during the depression, Helen had been know as a 'fun girl'. The only reason that hadn't progressed to a reputation as a 'bad girl' was that she was quite careful as to who she partied with. Young men who couldn't keep there mouth shut never got the chance to sample her charms.
She'd married young, before the war, to a man ten years her senior and learned that the marriage bed needn't be the boring place that most of her married friends told her it was. That she brought some measure of experience and a willingness to try anything was something her new husband valued rather than condemned. A heart attack took him from her much too soon, not long after the birth of their son. After which, as per convention, most people expected her to settle down into the role of widowed mother.
But Helen had never been one for convention and was not about to see her life over at twenty-seven. During the war, she did her part to entertain the boys in uniform, many of whom carried the memory of her company to their deaths on distant shores. When the war was over, she'd met Daniel Petrowski who fell in love with both her and the son she was raising alone. Three more children added to their family in the years after, the youngest of which was now in her mid-twenties.
Like her first husband, Mr. Petrowski enjoyed her adventuresome attitude in the bedroom. One that extended to the kitchen, the living room, and even the bathroom. The physical aspect of their marriage continued right up to the day he'd died. That he'd passed in flagrant delicato was not something that haunted Helen, preferring to just remember he'd died with a smile on his face.
A smile that reflected now on Helen's face as she remembered all of the wonderful days they'd shared together. Memories that brought a tingle between her legs as she remembered the nights as well. Reminiscences that were abruptly interrupted by the loud ringing of the doorbell.
"Now who could that be?" Helen asked herself as she lowered the television she had just turned on.
Looking through the small peephole her oldest had insisted on putting in the door, Helen was stunned to see Simon standing on her front doorstep. Her first thought, born of panic, was to simply act like she wasn't home. Then she realized that standing right at the door, he had to have heard the sound of the television set before she lowered it. She couldn't just let him stand out there, could she?
Simon had indeed heard the sounds of the opening theme for 'Chico and the Man' as he rang the doorbell and the sudden silence and long pause with no answer to the bell made him wonder if he'd made a foolish mistake. He'd actually gone two stops on the bus before getting off and walking all the way back here. He wasn't totally sure he was doing the right thing, but was certain if he didn't at least show up he'd be wondering what might've happened the rest of his life.
"I'm going to count to ten and then go," Simon promised himself, already deciding he had his answer.
He'd gotten all the way to eight when the porch light suddenly came on and he heard the lock being undone.
"Simon, this is a surprise," Helen said after opening the door. "What brings you to my door?"
"You invited me," Simon said, wondering what was going on. "Don't you remember?"
"I did?" Helen asked in return, trying to give the impression that she really didn't recall the invitation, and by implication, the conversation that had gone with it.
"Maybe I was mistaken," Simon replied, thinking that this had been a bad idea after all.
"No, Simon, wait a minute," Helen said as he started to turn back down the two steps to the walk, "I do remember something like that, please come in."
As Simon did just that, Helen mentally asked herself what the hell she was doing. The solution to her problem had been handed to her on a silver platter and she was only complicating matters.
"Would you like a soda or something to drink?" Helen asked, giving the young man the impression that he was going to be there long enough to drink it.
"Soda would be fine," he replied.
As she led him through the hall into the kitchen, Simon took note of the white blouse and black skirt she was wearing. Nice enough, but not exactly what he would've expected if she really was planning to seduce him. Then again, what did he expect her to be wearing, a robe with nothing beneath?
"Let's see," Helen said as she opened the refrigerator to see what she had, "there's Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew or if you'd like, I have Reingold if you'd care for a beer instead?"
Simon thought about it a second and decided what the hell, he'd have the beer. Even though he was still a few months away from being legally able to drink, Simon, like just about every kid in the neighborhood paid little attention to that law. In fact, he'd been buying beer for his uncle at the corner grocery since he was twelve. Every once in a while, his uncle would share a can with him, deciding he knew better what was in his nephew's best interest than some faceless bureaucrat. Like his own father had done, Ryan introduced Simon to drinking responsibly.
Opening two bottles, Helen poured the contents into two tall glasses and set one down at the center place at the kitchen table. Holding her own still in her hand, she sat down in the empty chair in front of the open window. Ryan followed and sat in the chair next to her. A warm breeze from the backyard made the drink more appreciated.
Helen waited a few moments while Simon tasted his beer, taking the time to think what she wanted to say. She then bought herself a further respite by waiting to sample her own until he was done.
"Good beer," she said as she put down her glass, having emptied almost a quarter of the glass. "Just the sort of thing you need on a warm night."
Simon nodded his head in agreement.
"Of course it's important to always remember to drink responsibility," Helen went on, "and to remember that it really doesn't take much to lower you're inhibitions at times."
Simon said he agreed, noting that was one of the things his uncle had stressed to him as he got older.
"Smart man, your uncle," Helen said as she took another drink.
Simon again agreed as he took one as well.
"The reason I bring that up," Helen said as she put the glass on the tabletop, now more than half empty, "was that I had perhaps a little too much wine at lunch yesterday. Do you drink wine, Simon?"
"Not really," he replied.
"Well with some people, it can be a lot more potent than beer," Helen offered.
Simon didn't know if that was true or not, but wondered why she was bringing it up. A moment later she answered his curiosity.
"The reason I mention that was because of having drank a little too much, I may have said some things yesterday that I really shouldn't have."
What escaped Simon's notice for the moment was that Helen had said things she shouldn't have said, not things she hadn't meant.
"So you were just playing a game with me then?" Simon said, the hurt in his voice quite evident.
"No, definitely not a game," the older woman assured him, "I would never do that. I just said some things that were inappropriate, that's all."
This time, Simon picked up on the fact that she hadn't said her statements had been wrong, just inappropriate.
"But you did mean what you said, even if you shouldn't have said it, didn't you?" he asked, his tone stating he at least wanted a honest answer.
An answer that took a long time in coming as Helen chose to finish her beer before giving a response. Simon didn't complain, he was going to at least get the truth if nothing else.
"I guess I did," she finally answered. "I guess I just got a little carried away, that's all."
"So if I didn't freeze up when you asked me what I would do, you'd have done the same things with me that you offered to do with my uncle?"
Helen let out a loud sigh. That certainly was direct, she thought.
"Simon, everyone has fantasies from time to time, even old ladies like me," she said, trying to put the situation into a more relaxed mode. "Just like I'm sure you've sometimes wondered what it might be like with someone older, as many young men your age do, I've occasionally thought what it might be with a young man."
"I guess so," Simon said, his tone again changing to one of seeming acceptance.
"Have you ever had thoughts about an older woman, Simon?" Helen unexpectedly found herself asking.
"I guess so," he admitted.
"And who would that have been?" Helen continued. "One of your teachers, perhaps or one of your friend's mothers?"
"One of my friend's mom," Simon confessed, his voice almost a whisper.
Curious as she was, Helen resisted the urge to ask who that had been. She knew just about everyone in the neighborhood and was sure she would recognize the name if he said it.