I delivered newspapers after school for five years, from the summer before eighth grade, when I was twelve, until my graduation from high school five years later. I owe the job a lot. It made me wealthier than the average teenager, won me a partial college scholarship, and introduced me to a few lifelong friends. It also taught me something about sex — not technique, though there was some of that, but the way girls and women exert their sexual power over young boys, especially a bookish boy without the strength or the experience to handle it.
I was a prime target, too — the kind of kid who would later be known as a geek, though, in my own little Catholic boys' school hell, that haven of Christian love and acceptance, I was known by the all-purpose put down "faggot." It was bad enough I got good grades and had a vocabulary that I didn't have the sense to suppress, but when I let slip that I liked Beethoven, my life was over. Nothing offends the teenage demand for conformity as much as a dissident taste in music, and I never heard the end of it. Between the name-calling, the occasional beating, and the guilt over masturbation, I led a miserable existence.
Mindy was the first girl on my paper route to notice me, though Risa, her childhood friend and next-door neighbor, wasn't far behind. Both of them overheard me talking to their parents, who approved of me as a bright, articulate young man, and both of them realized I could be had without repercussions. I was the classic "good kid," and they knew instinctively I could be counted on to keep my mouth shut. We had no friends in common, so I couldn't ruin their reputations. If they subjected me to the occasional sexual experiment, who could I tell?
One a cool Saturday afternoon in October, I had just finished my deliveries and was trolling back through my route, my empty bag hanging from my shoulder, my payment book in my back pocket, collecting money from the few customers I had missed when I made my rounds on Thursday and Friday nights. It's hard to remember after so many years exactly how old I was, but I had probably just started my freshman year of high school, which would have made me a week or two shy of my fourteenth birthday.
I don't know if Mindy planned the encounter. Her mother might have told her I'd be stopping by, or she might not have thought it important enough to mention. In any event, she — Mindy's mom — had promised me someone would be home to pay me my seventy-five cents for the week's deliveries.
Like most of the homes on my route, Mindy's was a twin. It was divided from Risa's by a party wall. Their front doors shared a concrete stoop and a front walk that led past short lawns to the street. I climbed the steps, stood with the storm door propped against my ass, and rang the bell. Nothing happened. I got up on tiptoe and peered through the fanlight. The inside vestibule door was open, and the place looked empty. All I could see were the back of a couch, and grandmother clock that stood against the party wall, and beyond that, the stairs to the second floor.
I rang the bell again. Again, there was no answer. I was turning to leave when I heard a window go up and Mindy's voice calling out, "Who is it?"
As I said, the homes were twins. The front doors were set side by side into a kind of brick projection surmounted by a miniature, slate-covered saddle roof. The upstairs window, blocked by the mini-roof, wasn't visible from the stoop. If I wanted to look at Mindy while I talked to her, I had to go down and stand on the lawn.
"Paper boy!" I called out. I took a leaping stride off the bottom step, turned around and saw Mindy leaning out the bedroom window, her arms folded on the sill.
Her shoulders were bare, partly hidden beneath the falls of her frizzy, red-brown hair. Her face swarmed with dark freckles, and from what I could see, the population had migrated from the nest, like ants, and colonized her upper back.
"Just leave the paper in the railing," she said. I had already done that. The thin Saturday edition was tucked in the cast-iron curlicues of the railing that was bolted to the front steps.
"I'm collecting," I said.
"I don't have any money," she said.
"Your mom said she'd leave it for me," I explained. This was true. Mindy's mom kept her change in an antique secretary in the living room.
"But I can't come down right now," Mindy said.
"Because I haven't got a stitch on."
Boing. My heart kicked at the words. Her breasts, I calculated, were tucked behind her forearms, and the way she was leaning, her butt was thrust out, pointing across the room.
"That doesn't bother me," I called back, trying, geek that I was, to sound mature and nonchalant. But I didn't know what I was saying. I just wanted to keep her in the window, to look at her and think about her standing there naked.
"OK!" she said brightly, with a mischievous music in her voice and a mischievous smile on her face, and she pulled her head back into the room. Something round and white jiggled as the sash went down, but so fast I couldn't tell if it was anything that belonged to a girl's naked body. Bright clouds reflected on the window, turning it opaque, and the dream was gone.
I was still looking up at the window, hoping to catch another glimpse of heaven knows what, when the front door swung open into the empty house. There was no other movement, no sound. I walked up the steps again and looked through the storm door, cupping my hands around my face to block the glare. The place was just as dark as before.
"Hello?" I called, pulling the storm door open and raising my foot to the threshold.
Nothing. I stepped inside the vestibule, and the storm door closed behind me with a hiss and metallic slap. This was a lot of work for seventy-five cents.
I was past the coat closet, stepping into the living room, when the big inside door swished shut behind me. I spun around, and there she was.
Naked. A live nude girl. The first live nude girl of my loser life.
"I thought you said it didn't bother you," she said. I can't imagine what my face looked like, but it felt like I had thrust it into an oven.
"I lied," I said. "You can never trust anything I say."
I can be really glib when I'm as embarrassed as hell.
Her back was flat against the door, which took all of her weight as her legs, parted, inclined at a low angle. Her hands were clasped behind her. The vestibule was dim, but daylight poured through the fanlight above her head, transforming her hair to a reddish halo. Somewhere on the way down the stairs she'd pulled it back into a ponytail that rested on one shoulder in a mass of corkscrew curls, leaving her breasts exposed. They were high and full, and their concave slopes were sprinkled with freckles. Wide rings of dogwood-pink surrounded her nipples, which were a deeper shade of pink, and hard like penny candies, and pointed in slightly opposite directions. The hair at the inverted V of her legs was darker than the hair on her head, the shade of dried blood, and deep inside was a pair of puffy, white vertical lines, like an equals sign tipped on end.
I wanted the moment to last forever, but Mindy broke the spell.
"So what do you want?" she said casually, as though she was standing there in a T-shirt and jeans.
"I'm, uh ... I'm just uh, I mean I'm..." I was stammering on purpose, to keep her there. Really.
"You're collecting for the paper. How much?"
"How much what?"
"How much do we owe you?"
"Seventy-five cents," I said. "Your mom said she'd have it for me." And all the while I was thinking, your breasts, freckles all over them, and your short legs and your hips and your pussy hair. Naked. A naked girl. God will damn me but I do not care. I felt the desire in my mouth, as an itch at the points where my jaws come together. I pressed my tongue into one corner, then the other. The itch only got worse.
Mindy breezed past me to the secretary in the far corner of the room. She bent over the open drop leaf, rifling through the cubbyholes and giving me a very generous view of her ass. She took her time. She was loving this.
"Here it is," she said. She straightened and turned and threw out her chest and walked back to me and held out a dollar bill. I say it like that because time had slowed down and separated into discrete, frozen moments. The soft stuff in my head had swollen, crowding my consciousness into a singularity, a bright nude body surrounded by pitch-blackness. I felt one of her hands lifting mine, the other pressing the bill into it. The darkness became total.
Her voice came from far away: "Can't take it, can ya?"
I discovered that I was on the floor, my back against the end of one of the two sofas that faced each other by the front windows. Mindy was handing me a glass of lukewarm tap water. She was standing over me, still nude. My eyes were level with that triangular patch of hair.
"Boys," she said. "You act all cool, but when we give you what you want, you just can't take it. Am I the first girl you ever saw naked?"
"Yeah," I said. "Thanks." I handed the empty glass back to her, and she put it down on the coffee table between the sofas.
"Can you get up?" she said.
"Yeah, but I'd rather not."
"Rather," she repeated. "You talk weird. If you're gonna stay here, you gotta show me what you got."
"This isn't like a trap, is it? You haven't got a bunch of kids waiting in the kitchen to come out and laugh at me?"
"Uh uh. It's just us. Come on."