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."
.... There is more of this story ...