Just because Stacy and I went to the local Junior College don't think that we were stupid; neither of us were even close. Stacy wanted to become a nurse. She was in too much of a hurry to start helping people to go through a four year program.
I wanted to become an engineer. My family was too poor to afford to send me, even after a scholarship. So, I went to school, worked, and saved every penny while I lived at home.
We met at old Quarterlane High (Quarterlane being the street our college was on), so I won't complain. It was even in our first class, the dreaded eight AM calculus. She came in late, while our instructor, Mr. Barney, was handing out the syllabus. He didn't even look up as she slid into the desk next to me.
I recognized her, even if I didn't know her name. She was a cheerleader for a school in the suburbs. I had been a benchwarmer on my school's team, which had given me a chance to look at the other team's cheerleaders. She was one of those exceptionally pretty ones who lingered in my memory well after the game.
She was petite with dark, wavy hair and brown eyes, just as I remembered her. Her full bust filled the tee shirt. I stared for the moment between her opening her notebook and looking up to the chalkboard. I turned away a moment too late to not get caught.
I blushed so hard my cheeks literally burned.
The next day, I came in after she had. She was in the same chair she was in on the first day. Still feeling embarrassed about having stared at her, I walked to the far side of the room where I sat down without a glance in her direction.
I occupied myself with taking my books out of my satchel. When I looked up, I saw her carrying her book bag over to the desk next to mine. She placed it on the floor and retrieved her notebook. She held it open, and before she could get it on the desktop, her pencil rolled off and landed on the floor.
It continued to roll and stopped at my feet. I hesitated a moment caught in her smile like a rabbit in the gaze of a dog. After a moment just staring at her I picked it up from the floor. As I handed it to her, I said, "Hi."
"Hi. I'm Stacy."
"So, Kenny," she said as she sat. "I thought you liked me."
"But then you sat way over here." Her eyes sparkled. "Don't you like me? Kenny?"
"Too bad if you don't. 'Cause I think you're cute.".
I doubt that I could've of said enough beyond that to have actually turned our conversation into a dialogue. Fortunately, the instructor showed up and spared me the need to find a word to go with 'I.'
By the time the lecture ended, I had not only decided on a different tact but found enough courage to act on it; I asked if I could buy her a cup of coffee in the cafeteria. She told me no. She did, however, let me buy her a cup of tea.
If every penny wasn't going into the bank, I would've asked her out for real, and our relationship may've developed beyond drinks in the cafeteria for the first few months. As it was we spent most of our free time between classes together. We talked, studied, and made friends.
They were a mix of classmates from each of our old schools. Not all had been our friends then, but it was nice to be around familiar faces. After a while some of the other kids joined our group, mostly guys who were interested in Stacy. She was polite but always turned them down.
About midterms, the autumn weather struck. In those parts, that meant rain and chilling winds. In short, it was not the best sort of weather to wait for the bus in. Naturally, that was the sort of weather I waited for the bus in. Stacy caught me doing just that one day.
"Whachu doing out here, Kenny?"
"Being wet and cold." As you can tell, I learned to speak around her. I could even be sarcastic. "What does it look like?"
She rolled her eyes. "Okay, and could you please explain to this rather dim ex-cheerleader why a rocket scientist like you would be doing that?"
I explained how because of my lack of a car I had to rely on public transportation. I added a little homily on the ecologic virtues, a practiced speech to disguise my poverty. She smiled through the whole thing. She didn't buy it, but she, at least, pretended, too.
After I finished, she said, "Would you like a ride? I'm on my way home too."
"I don't want to take you out of the way, Stacy."
"Never mind that, Kenny. I don't want to see you freeze. Grab your stuff and follow me."
I grabbed my stuff and followed her to one of those little imported SUVs. She unlocked the doors, shut the alarm, and started the car with a push of the button on the remote. I tried to look unimpressed. She gave me a little wink, so I guess I blew it.
I haven't the least memory of what we talked about during that short trip. I imagine that it was about not much of anything. When we pulled up to my house, I got a little embarrassed about my shabby neighborhood with the uncut grass and abandoned buildings. There was even a place that had been a crackhouse.
Still, there were enough places that were kept up. The place my parents raised me was one of them. The shrubs were trimmed, the leaves were raked, and the walls were painted. Momma even had a small flower garden; though the cold weather had killed it.
Poppa was still at the shop, but both Momma and my brother were home; I would have heard about it if I didn't invite Stacy inside to introduce her to everyone. She didn't need to be anywhere and agreed quickly. Momma was waiting at the door, drying her hands on her apron.
After I introduced her to Stacy, she yelled up the stairs, "Juan, come down here and meet your brother's friend."
He rushed down, stilled dressed in his black and white checked pants and stained white chef's coat. The front of his coat was unbuttoned though, but he had an undershirt on.
"Juan, this is Stacy." He took Stacy's offered hand. "Stacy, this is my big brother, Juan."
"Sorry about the way I look, Stacy," Juan said as they hands. "I just got off work, and I haven't had a chance to clean up, yet."
"Oh, I understand." Stacy asked, "Where do you work?"
"He's the afternoon broiler cook at the Highlander," I said. The Highlander was the best restaurant in town. "Though, he's going to be Sous chef soon."
"The head chef's assistant. Though, I have a lot of work to do before that happens." Juan tousled my hair. "My little brother brags too much."
"He does?" Stacy glanced in my direction. "I've never noticed."
"Well, he does about his family. He's a little too humble about himself."
Stacy laughed. "Now, that I have noticed."
Juan joined her, as did Momma. I blushed a little.
"Anyway, it's been nice meeting you, Stacy, but I need to take a shower." He took her hand again. "I'll see you later."
As Juan retreated back up the steps, Momma asked, "You will be stay for dinner, won't you, Stacy?"
"Thank you, Mrs. Gamera." Stacy reached into her purse and took out her cellphone. "Let me call my folks and let them know."
"I'll set another place, then. And call me Maria. You're too old and I'm too young for you to be calling me 'Mrs. Gamera, ' Stacy."
"Yes, ma'am." Stacy giggled. "I'll try to."
She took off her coat, and I gave her the grand tour. She noticed not all the trophies were Juan's. Most of mine were awarded for effort. The rest were for academic stuff. I pointed out that Juan's were for actually being good at sports. She just told me to give myself credit for something.
"You work hard, Kenny. Not everyone does, you know." She stopped at a shadow box with Poppa's medals. "What are these?''
"My father's medals. He was in Vietnam. He served two tours."
"Wow, he must be pretty brave."
"He claims that he was just too poor and too brown. He also says that the medals prove he was loco on top of it." I smiled. "But for what it's worth, he keeps them where people can see them."
"Yeah, my dad was there too. Is that him." She pointed at an old back and white snapshot. I nodded. "Who's that with him?"
"A buddy of his. I guess he was killed over there." I crossed myself. "My parents named me after him."
The silence was awkward until Momma came in and told us that dinner was on the table. Papa had come home while I had Stacy in the family room. He still had on his security guard uniform when he sat down to lead grace.
Papa and Juan both chuckled when Momma started to bombard Stacy with question about everything from her family to her church. I just groaned, especially, after Momma reminded her that I wasn't seeing anyone. After dinner, Stacy helped Momma clear the table, while Poppa went upstairs to change.
When they were all gone, Juan pulled me to the side and said, "Little brother, take this." He handed me a twenty. "And ask that girl out."
"Juan, I can't take it."
"If you want to save every penny of your money, that's great. But that's mine, and I can do what I want with it." He closed his hand around mine, forcing it into a fist around the bill. "I want you to take it and have a little fun."
"Okay," I said with resignation. "But you'll have to take it back after she turns it down."
"What makes you think she would."
"She doesn't date. Every time someone asks her she turns him down."
"Little brother, I think you'll be surprised."
Before I could say anything to refute him, Stacy and Momma returned. I shoved the money into my pocket. Giving me a wink, Juan asked Stacy if she wanted to stay for a movie. She quickly agreed, so Juan excused himself to make a selection. As he left, he jabbed me in the ribs with an elbow and mouthed so only I could see, "Ask her."
"Stacy, I--" I glanced over to Momma, who was beaming. She spun around, heading to the kitchen.
"I'll go start the dishes."
"I'll help." Stacy turned to follow.
"No." Momma stopped Stacy with a hand. "You're a guest. Go watch the movie with the boys."
When we got to the family room, Juan had a tape ready for the VCR; it was a program he recorded off cable, the one where the robot puppets make fun of bad movies. He had picked a Japanese monster movie about the giant flying turtle (yes the one I picked my pen name after). He dropped into the easy chair, which left the couch for Stacy and me. I sat down at one end, and Stacy took a seat right next me. I looked over at him, and he smiled at me. Thank God, Stacy didn't notice.
After the movie, Stacy announced that she needed to go home. I got up and accompanied her to the door. Before I passed Juan, he mouthed "Ask her" one more time. I sighed and decided to do it. At the door, I took Stacy's coat from the peg and helped her into it. As she zipped up, I cleared my throat.
She looked up and said, "Yes, Kenny?"
"Well, I was wondering if, maybe, we could go out for a pizza or something this Saturday." I couldn't believe I sounded so stupid. I had asked girls out before, but I felt like a junior high kid asking his first crush out. I gave an internal cringe when I said, "You don't have to."
She squealed and wrapped her arms around my neck.
"Of course, we can," she said. "I'd love to go out with you."
She used her arms to pull my face down level to hers. I let her guide our lips together. They met with a gentle touch.
She pulled away and said in a soft voice, "I've been waiting for you to ask me for a long time."
Again, she pulled me to her lips, and we kissed. This time she forced her tongue into my mouth. It skimmed along my teeth for a moment and then slid inside. After a moment, my tongue responded. I moved my arms around her and hugged her tight against me. We parted quickly at the sound of my mother walking up the steps.
"See you tomorrow, Kenny."
She walked out the door. I closed it. From the window, I watched as she unlocked and got into her car. After she had started it and pulled out into the street, I shut out the porch light and trod upstairs to my bedroom. Juan was leaning against the door of his room. He flashed me a thumbs-up.
"Told you so, little brother."
I just nodded. He turned into his room. I heard him flip his light switch, I assume, to go to bed. I took off my clothes and placed them in a folded pile on the chair to my desk. I turned off the light and lay down into bed, but not to sleep. In the dark, I just stared up into the ceiling the entire night.
I felt awful the next morning and was wishing that I didn't have to go to work after my classes. I spent the bus trip to school trying to nap. I didn't. Stacy bounced into calc with a degree of enthusiasm that only a cheerleader could find within herself. Before she sat down, she gave me a kiss on the cheek.
"Do you work this weekend, Kenny," she asked.
"No. I work Friday afternoon, but I have Saturday off." The music store I worked at was closed on Sunday and Monday. The owner does record shows on Sunday and wants to have at least one day off a week. "Why you ask?"
"Well, I was so excited about you finally asking me out, that I forgot my church's youth group is having a ski trip this weekend. So, I can't do pizza with you." She looked at me with her big brown eyes. "I hope you might be able to come along with us."
"Well, I--," I bit my lower lip. "I really can't ski. And I don't own any, anyway."
"Don't worry. It is just cross-country. It's easy to learn. And my family has lots of extra skis, too. I'm sure we can find something that fits. And you'll get to meet my brother, Mark, too. He's coming along with his girlfriend."
Her eyes pierced into me with a look that I had only gotten from my mother before. "I won't take no for an answer, Kenny."
I had to laugh. "Okay, you win. I get out of work at four on Friday."
"Good, we leave the parking lot at St. Celia's at six. Can I pick you up at work?"
"Sure, if it's okay with my parents."
She laughed and started to say something but the instructor walked in. We went separate ways after class. I called Mamma and told her about the invitation. She didn't have a problem. When I got home after closing the record store, Papa didn't have a problem either. Juan just gloated about being right and handed me another twenty.
Over rest of the week, I discovered that Stacy became increasingly affectionate. She, also, became very quiet in a nervous sort of way. The day we were leaving, I asked her at a shared lunch what the matter was. She became a little defensive and snapped at me. After a pause, she apologized.
"It's just that my brother and his girlfriend are going to be there and--." She sighed. "It's just that I want you and my brother to get along. It makes me nervous."
"It shouldn't be a problem." I played against her brother, Mark, a couple of years ago. Granted it was all of two minutes, when the guy who started ahead of me fouled out, but he seemed like a nice guy. He was the best player in our city and was at a big name college for the last two years, where he was a starter. He wasn't heading to the NBA or anything, but he was a very good college player. "We can always talk about basketball."
"I'm not worried about that." She shrugged. "It's just I think you are special. I hope he thinks you're special, too, and I want you to think he's special, too."
"I don't think you need to worry about it." I looked at my watch. "It's time for me to go. I'll see you at four?"
She nodded and smiled at me. I stood and picked up my satchel. I leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek after saying my good bye. Work crawled. Mr. Wheeler even tried to get me to stay late, but about ten minutes before my shift, Stacy showed up. After saying hello to me, she went over to the used DVDs to flip through them.
Mr. Wheeler pointed at her. "That the girl you going on the trip with?"
He shook his head. "Get your coat and get out of here. I'll see you on Tuesday."
I ran to the back and grabbed my coat and pack, before he could change his mind. I put it on as I moved up to Stacy and grabbed her arm.
"Okay." When we got to the door, she gave me a kiss. "My mom called and Mark and his girlfriend just got home from college. They'll be waiting for us when there."
"Good." We stepped out in the gently falling snow. "I'm glad I'll get the chance to meet him for real instead of having him wipe the court with my sorry brown butt."
She slugged me in the upper arm hard enough to hurt. "Quit putting yourself down so much, Kenny."
She stopped at the door to her SUV and stared at me. After a moment, she said, "Did you mean that?"
"I--." I stopped for a moment and thought for a moment. It suddenly seemed so obvious. "Yes, I think that I do."
She squealed. She hugged me. She cried into my shoulder.
"Kenny, I liked you from that first day in class. The way you blushed when I caught you staring was so cute. After awhile, I really hoped you would ask me out, but I was glad that we got the chance to know each other as friends first. That is when I fell in love with you."
"I--." I stammered (what else is new). "I thought you wouldn't be interested in me. You are so beautiful. I couldn't see what you would want with me when you were turning down every cute guy at school."
"Kenny, I was turning them down because of you. You dimwit." She pulled away from my shoulder to look up into my eyes. "You are sweet and kind and treated me like a human being."
"Well," I answered, "you are."
"Not to every guy. And you are just too sweet to understand what I mean." She giggled as tears flowed down her cheek. She kissed me softly on the lips. "Now, we better get going. We still need to get you some skis."
We were silent on the trip to her place. I was thankful because it gave me a chance to not think, but to put things together in my mind, which may be the same thing, but... never mind this sentence has gone on long enough. She just smiled at me, between glances at the traffic. The radio played Christmas songs to the beat of the wipers.
We pulled into Stacy's drive after the third song. One door of the garage was open, displaying a black sports car. A mini-van was parked in the open. The back door was open, and it was filled with several bags. Just as Stacy shut down the engine, a longhaired brunette in a sweater and down vest stepped from around the closed door and waved at us.
Stacy popped out of the car and ran over to the girl. They met in a squealing hug. As they exchanged kisses to their cheeks, Mark came around. He walked over to me and held out his hand.
We shook hands. Stacy came over with the other girl. Their arms were wrapped around each other's waist.
"Kenny, you know Mark from basketball. This is Amber, Mark's girlfriend."
Amber broke loose from Stacy and held a hand out to me. I took it. Her hand was soft, but her grip firm.
"Hello, Kenny." Her voice was slightly accented. "I have heard so much about you from both Mark and Stacy. It is nice to meet you at last."
"I hope to get as close to you as I am to Stacy."
Stacy grabbed my arm and pulled me away. "Excuse us. We need to get Kenny a set of skis."
Several of them were lined up on the wall. With her first try, Stacy picked a set that match up pretty well, with my feet. They were a set that her father used to use. Both her parents were out, but Stacy promised me that I would get to meet them when we got back on Sunday morning. It turned out I was going to mass with them, too.
We arrived last at the church parking lot. Stacy introduced me to Fr Jeff, her assistant pastor. He was leading the trip up since he had the later of that Sunday's masses. Stacy also claimed that he was better with the high school and junior high school kids that made up the youth group than their pastor, Fr Tom. He told me that Mark and I would share a room at the lodge we were staying at and Stacy and Amber would share another. Our rooms would be next to each other, between the younger skiers, who were also divided by sex.
As Stacy and Mark were his assistants, he placed us at the end on the convoy to keep an eye for stragglers. Mark drove on the trip up. I sat with him in the beginning. We talked about how his school was doing in their pre-conference schedule and the local teams. He even remembered playing with me. He claimed his coach worried about me, thinking of me as the best bench player in town. The girls sat in the back and giggled.