I looked down at the legal pad on the desk and rolled the pen between my fingers as I tried to organize the words in my mind. It would have been much easier for me if I was at a keyboard in front of a computer. When at the computer my thoughts seemed to flow right to my fingers and the words would quickly appear on the screen. Hit 'print' and it would be done. Neat, single spaced lines of 11 point Times New Roman that would say it all, but to me that would be too impersonal. I needed for this to be personal; I needed what I was going to say to be an expression of "me" and so I would do it in my own handwriting. As one part of my brain tried to organize what I was going to say another part was busy remembering what it was that led to my need to say it.
I had known Grace since the fourth grade. She moved in two doors down from me and we were the same age so we ended up in the same class at school. Even at nine there was something about Grace that pulled me to her. At that age most boys were still thinking of girls as "yucky" but I never felt that way about Grace.
We didn't see much of each other when we weren't in school. She was busy playing with dolls with her girlfriends while me and the other guys my age were playing "cops and robbers" or "cowboys and Indians" or sandlot baseball. It wasn't until I was twelve that I started noticing girls and Grace was the one I seemed to notice most of all.
It was the eighth grade when things changed. Our school wasn't all that big and the boys and girls had to share the gym for the physical education period. Usually the guys would have the gym one day and the girls would have the swimming pool and the next day the girls would have the gym and the guys would have the pool.
It was the boy's day for the gym, but when we got there the gym teachers had a surprise for us. The boys and girls were going to share the gym that day. They were going to teach us to dance! Boys and girls were paired up, a record player started playing and they started teaching us the waltz. I was paired up with Susan Jaffery and Grace was paired up with Dale Harding. I didn't know why, but I got upset watching Grace dance with Dale. At the end of the period it was announced that for the rest of the school term the boys would have the gym on Mondays and Thursdays and the girls would have it Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesdays would be dance class and that we would keep the same partners. That news upset me a lot. Not that dance class was bothering me, but that I was stuck with Susan and Dale would have Grace.
And that was the start of it. Dale had Grace and Dale kept Grace from then on. The two of them were inseparable. By the tenth grade I was eating my heart out over Grace. What made things really bad for me was that Grace, probably unwittingly, led me on. Dale's parents were both teachers and they always traveled on summer vacations and were usually gone for two and a half to three months. While Dale was gone Grace asked me to take her to a party that Dale was supposed to have taken her to. We had a good time and when I asked her for a date she said yes. I dated her for the entire time that Dale was gone. She was receptive to my kisses and our necking got pretty hot and heavy at times. After two months I asked her to go steady with me and she said:
"Oh come on Rob; you know I'm Dale's girl."
That didn't stop her from necking with me though and she kept dating me until Dale got back from vacation.
Three months into the 11th grade Dale and Grace got into an argument over something or other and they broke up. Grace asked me if I would be her escort to a couple of parties she wanted to go to over the holidays and I of course said yes. We dated right up to Christmas and then one night when I went over to her house to pick her up to take her to a party her mother answered the door.
"Grace isn't here Rob. She left with Dale about half an hour ago."
I went to the party alone and when I got there I saw Grace and Dale dancing. I went up to them and tapped Dale on the shoulder to cut in and he turned and told me to go away.
"Not until Grace and I talk."
"She's not going to talk to you so beat it."
"Okay; I wanted to do this quietly and not make a scene, but if a scene is what you want then a scene is what you'll get." I turned to Grace and said loud enough for everyone to hear, "Would it have killed you to call me and break our date instead of letting me show up at your front door and have your mother tell me that you had already gone?"
Grace looked away from me and Dale pushed me and said, "Get the fuck out of here Rob."
"Keep your hands to yourself Dale."
"Oh yeah? What are you going to do about it" and he shoved me again.
"This" I said as I hit him as hard as I could. It broke his nose and blood sprayed all over Grace's green dress as he went to his knees. "Hey, red and green" I said as I pointed at Grace's dress. "Very Christmassy." And I turned and left the party.
Grace called me around noon the next day. "How could you embarrass me like that? And my dress is ruined. I can't get the blood stains out."
"Your own fault Grace. What did you think was going to happen when what you did was leave me standing on your front porch? You think I was going to worry about how you felt when you couldn't have cared less about how I was going to feel when I rang your doorbell and you weren't there? Thanks for calling Grace" and I hung up on her.
About three weeks into the spring term I came out of Burger Heaven where I had a part-time job and found Dale waiting for me by my car. He had eight or nine people with him, including Grace and a few other girls. As I walked up to my car Dale said:
"You and me have some business to settle. You sucker punched me that ni..." and I hit him. He wasn't expecting it. I guess he thought I'd just stand there and listen to him spout off until he decided to swing, but I wasn't having any of it. I stepped up and hit him again and broke his recently reset nose again. His hands flew up to his face and that left him wide open and I hit him three more times and was going for more when I was pulled away from him.
"Sucker punching is when someone hits you from the blindside when you aren't expecting it. I was facing you at the party and after pushing me the second time you should have been expecting me to do something. You came here tonight looking for a fight so you should have been expecting it tonight too. Stay away from me Dale. Your nose can only be broken so many times before it starts looking like a pancake in the middle of your face."
I looked over at Grace, but she looked away. I got in my car and drove on home. Dale did stay out of my way from then on and eventually Grace stopped looking away whenever I glanced her way.
Just before the end of the term I was sitting at a table in the library doing some research for a paper that was due when Grace sat down at the table with me. I looked up from the book I was reading as she looked at me. Didn't say a word, just sat there and looked at me. I waited a few seconds and then I shrugged and went back to reading the book. Maybe thirty seconds later Grace said:
"What happened to us Robbie? We used to be such good friends."
I looked up and answered, "You know what happened to us Grace and you also know that it was your fault. A phone call could have prevented it, but you didn't make that phone call."
"I'm sorry Robbie, I really am. I can't even give you a good excuse. I was just so glad when Dale called and told me that he missed me that I just didn't think of anything else. It was wrong of me not to call you." She stopped talking for a second or so and then she said, "Actually, it was wrong of me not to have told Dale that I had a date for the party and that I would see him the next day. I'm sorry Rob and though it is a little late, I apologize."
I looked at her a bit and then I said, "Want to walk over to the Shack and get a milkshake?" It wasn't a magical moment by any stretch of the imagination, but Grace and I were talking again.
The term ended. Dale went off with his parents on their long summer vacation and that left Grace at loose ends so I was not surprised when one day she called me and asked me if I would take her to a party the next night.
"I don't want to go alone."
That was the start of it. I started keeping steady company with Grace, but I was a little older and just a tad wiser that time. I knew I was just standing in for Dale and I knew that if I was sitting on her front porch swing kissing her and Dale pulled up in the drive she would push me away to make room for him to pick up where I left off.
Grace was using me only this time I knew it. But she still caused my heart to beat faster when I looked at her so I dated her and hoped that Dale would get struck by lightning or get run over by a train.
Toward the end of summer I started slacking off on calling Grace for dates. I had gone a week without calling her or seeing her and she called me and asked me where I'd been.
"Just working at Burger Heaven and working on my tan in the backyard."
"Why haven't you called me?"
"Dale is due home anytime now and I don't want to be in the middle of something and have you walk away."
"Bullshit Rob! That will never happen again and you know it. I want you to take me to Hillary's birthday party tomorrow. Please?"
.... There is more of this story ...