"I figured we could go somewhere special since I won't be taking you to the Junior-Senior," I said magnanimously.
"That won't be necessary," she said.
"Huh? What do you mean? I know you wanted to go but..."
"I did and I do. Since you refused to take me..."
"I explained all that. You're a senior. I'm a sophomore. I wouldn't fit in. You'd be embarrassed to be with me amongst all your friends. With graduation coming up you'll all be talking about college and plans. I'd be a weight around your neck."
"How many times did I tell you that didn't matter to me?" she asked.
"Truth be known, I won't feel comfortable." I looked at her. She looked at me with tears in her eyes.
"I want to go, Rickey. With or without you, I really want to go. It's my last Junior-Senior. My guidance counsellor set me up with a nice Citadel Cadet..."
"Citadel Ca.DET? What the...? You're going with a CaDET? Well, you just have yourself a merry old time. Don't you worry about me. I'll be just fine. You go out with your damn caDET. See if I care!"
I made my way to the front door yelling at her. She was trying to apologize, tears streaming down her face. I turned my back, whipped open the door, walked through and slammed it with all my might. Half running to the tan can I was still yelling about those damned Citadel cadets. I half expected her to come after me but she never even cracked the door. I slammed the car door and shoved the key into the ignition. When it cranked I threw it into first gear and turned the wheel all the way to the left stomping the accelerator. With the wheel turned hard left and the engine receiving all the gas a pedal to the floor would give the tan can squealed around the corner leaving a small trail of rubber on the street. I fishtailed around, my hands beating the wheel to right the car. I sailed to the stop sign without stopping. I flashed across the intersection without incident. Reaching the street leading to G's house I punched it into the turn burning more rubber on the street. My car seemed to find G's house immediately. I hit the brakes slamming it to a halt in a cloud of sand, soil and grass.
I hopped out and walked up to G's front door.
"Whatchoo mad about?" It was G. standing in the half open door wiping his mouth with a napkin.
"My girl's going to the dance with damn caDET."
"Told you to stay away from that girl. She's too old for you.'
"Yeah, but I'm in love."
"Ha, yeah, I hear ya. You can come in but we're eatin'."
"Nah. I just wanted to know if you wanted to take a trip down to Florida?"
"Now. I gotta get outta town. I can't stand the thought of her with a damn Citadel caDET."
"How long we be gone?"
"Til we get back."
"When ya leavin'?"
"Soon as I can throw some clothes in a bag."
"Sure your folks will let you take the car that far for that long?"
"Yeah. Why wouldn't they?"
"It's their car? You're only sixteen? I don't know why they wouldn't."
"How about I come back for you in about thirty minutes?" He looked inside then at me.
"Sounds good to me. See you in thirty."
My mind was black with thoughts of the Citadel as I drove home. At the house I ran into my room with a grocery bag snagged from the kitchen. Rummaging through the chest of drawers I grabbed a handful of clothes tossing them into a bag.
"What's going on Rickey?" It was my mother at the door.
"G-- and I are going to Florida." it was a presumptive statement to say the least.
"How are you going to do that?"
"I'm taking the car," I said.
"I think you had better ask your dad about that."
"OK. Fine." I faced dad. "Can I take the car to Florida, dad?"
He looked at me from his easy chair. He spoke very little. When he did, you listened. He looked at me for a long time without a word. He was studying me. Finally, he spoke.
"You think you can make a long trip like that?"
"Will you be responsible with your mother's car?"
"Will you drive safely if I say yes?"
"Go ahead, son. Think before you act and be safe."
With that I was free to go.
With gracious good byes I grabbed my grocery bag full of clothes and ran to the car. I was off and gone before dad could change his mind.
G-- was ready when I got there. Before he closed his door I was leaving a cloud of rocks and sand in front of his house. At the corner, I spun around onto the road leading south. We were on our way.
My goal was to reach St Augustine. Before leaving I had sneaked in a call to a girl I knew there. She had been glad to hear from me. When I told her I was driving down, she said she'd love to see me. I was gonna get my own back. If my girl was dating a caDET, I would see an old flame. I'd show her.
G-- and I hit a storm midway in Georgia. The rain and wind were horrendous and keeping that light Corvair on the road was a battle at times. We persevered crossing the state line early in the morning. When we reached St Augustine dawn was approaching. I parked in a lot for cars visiting the local Spanish fort. We climbed out and walked over to the walls. Looking to the east we saw the dark clouds we had just driven through. The sun was inching above the horizon richly coloring the straggler clouds into a deep red and orange display. The calm. We were tired from a night of driving but the warmth and promise of the painted sky filled us both with a sense of joy.
"Wow," I said.
"Yeah, that's something. I don't think I've ever seen so many colors in the sky before." G-- was entranced as I was.
"How about some breakfast?" I was looking around for a restaurant.
"Sounds good. What time you gonna call V--?"
"Around nine I was thinking."
"Yeah let's eat. By the time we finish you can call."
"We had a leisurely breakfast at a local all night diner. G-- was asking the waitress if there was a motel near by.
Her smile was inviting. G-- was planning on accepting the invitation. He followed her with his eyes as we talked.
"Hey, look at the clock. Go call her while I talk the waitress into a date. We can double."
There was a phone booth at the entrance. Fishing ten cents out of my pocket I closed the hinged door then dropped my dime into the slot.
"Hello." Good she was up.
"Hello. We made it." The excitement in my voice was obvious, but on the other end there came a long silence.
"Hello. Are you there?"
"Uh, yeah. I tried to call you to tell you not to come."
"I called your house but your mother said you had left. I tried to stop you. I can't see you, Rickey."
"But... We had a connection before you left. I thought we could get it back."
"Yeah, I know. I felt the same but I've been gone a long time. I met someone here. We're going steady. I can't see you. I'm so sorry."
I hung up.
G-- was holding the waitress' hand looking up at her with those puppy dog eyes. Her's looked hungry. He'd worked his magic again while I'd struck out.
"Let's go," I said.
He looked at me in disbelief.
"Don't wanna talk about it. Just wanna go."
He looked at her then me. "But..."
I had the keys ready when I closed my door. G-- slowly walked to the car with longing looks through the plate glass window. Our waitress was giving me a dirty look when her eyes weren't riveted to G--'s.
"Come on. Get it."
"You just ruined my evening. Where you gonna go?"
"We're heading west, young man, west."
Before I-10 was built there were many roads to ride goin west through the Forida panhandle. We took them all, even the sections of interstate completed. Highway 90 lead us into the small town of Milton where we stopped.
G-- pointed to the Rexall on the corner. We went in. His first act was to engage the girl behind the counter in conversation. The girl in the black and white checkered dress was very helpful. She told him where we could stay for the night and where to eat.
"Thank you, miss," I said trying to pry G-- away. He bought a camera with film. His first picture was of her. Her smile was an invitation to stay. Once again I broke the spell.
G-- left reluctantly.
We contiued west to Penacola along with the white sand beaches. Our ride led us to Fort Pickens, the imprisonment site of Geronomo in the 1880's. As dark descended we found a motel and slept the night.
At breakfast we talked about where to go next.
"Let's go north," G-- said.
"How about North Carolina? We can visit Maggie Valley. They have a ghost town on top of one of the mountains. I remember from a vacation my parents took."
"I'm along for the ride."
We turned north and spent the day on the road. Upon arriving in Maggie Valley we checked in to a motel. The small cafe beckoned with the smell of hamburgers and fries wafting through the air.
"Let's get a good night's sleep then hit ghost town," I said spitting hamburger with my words.
The sun set earlier in the valley since the mountains blocked its descent.
The next morning we caught the bench to the top. It hung by a single metal rod to the wire inching us along, thirty feet above the slope of the mountain. Back then it was an adventure. Today I might have a bit more trouble sitting on a board moving in air so far above ground.
Ghost Town was a blast. It was the afternoon before we returned to the valley. We ventured into a local cafe to eat.
"How about some souvenirs?"
"There are lots of those around," said G--. "Let's start over there."
There was a nice little shop just beyond the cafe. Inside there were all manner of gifts on sale. Some guaranteed to be made by the members of the Cherokee tribe. Standing amongst the tourists was the most beautiful girl I've ever laid eyes on. Her outfit was authentic Cherokee dress.
"Hello," I said. "You work here?"
"What do you folks do at night for fun?" I asked her.
Her smile lit the room. "We go over to the next county. This one is dry so over there you can buy beer and dance all evening."
"Would it be possible for you and a friend to show us the way?" I signalled G-- to come over.
"G--. This lovely young lady says she'd like us to take her to Gatlinburg for some dancing."
"Well, I'm all in. Got a girl wants to dance with me?"
She looked at G--. "I think it can be arranged."
We made decided to meet there and head over to Tennessee that evening. This was hog heaven we decided.
"G--, I think I'd better call home to let my folks know we're alright."
"You're gonna mess this up, aren't you? We got two gorgeous girls, Indian girls, who want us to take 'em dancing and drinking and you're gonna mess it up. I just know you're gonna mess it up."
"I'm just gonna call to say we are fine."
"Dammit, Rickey. I know how this is gonna end. I'm gonna go tell the girls we won't be goning."
"Hold up, G--. Just a heads up call."
He stood beside the phone booth as I dialed. He watched my smile of hello slowly alter. By the time I hung up I was staring across the valley with a lost look.
"We gotta go, G--. My dad's in hospital."
"Dammit! Dammit! dammit! You couldn't wait one more day to call. Dammit!"
"Guess we better go tell the girls."
"Dammit!" G--'s vocablualry was extremely limited at this precise moment.
I found my Native American beauty and with great reluctance explained that we would not be able to take them across the stateline. She said that was OK and turned her attention to a customer. I don't think her disappointment matched G--'s and mine.
Our drive back home was interrupted by a cop knocking on the window at two in the morning. We'd pulled into a rest stop to catch a bit of sleep.
"Can't sleep here, fellas," he said. "Find a motel somewhere but not here."
Thanking him I cranked her up and pulled back on the highway. We made it back to Charleston in the wee hours of the morning. Happily my dad's condition was not too serious. His hospital stay was short.
G-- has never let me forget the chance of a lifetime we had with the two beautiful Indian girls. I'm not so happy about that loss either.