It was 1963. I was seventeen and a Junior, finally, at James Island High School. One more year, we all told ourselves, and we could blow this taco stand. Being almost grown was heady stuff. I was full of myself like every other teenage boy. The songs on the radio were our anthems. They changed every day. The Beach Boys were the rage.
"Wish they all could be California girls!"
California girls. They were the ideal, the elevens in a range of one to ten, the brass ring, the pot of gold, or so we were told and eagerly believed the Beach Boys as they blasted from our radios.
The new school year was beginning. New students were arriving. Most of us had been through grammar school and beyond into High school. Our community was practically a family. We had been through it all together--six years at Riverland Terrace School then onward to James Island High. We all knew each other, so new students were always of interest. One of these new students was a girl from California. Once again the Beach Boys song came to mind when I was told that.
"Yeah, she's from California." I heard this on the breezeway as I walked to home room. My ears perked up.
"California?" I asked stopping to catch the gossip.
"Yeah. Her family moved here in July. She is starting today."
"Have you seen her?"
"No, not yet. Only know she moved from California."
"Hot dog!" I yelled. Everyone stopped to look our way. I looked at the ground and walked on.
'A California girl' is all I could think as I turned into homeroom.
"Did you hear?" asked my friend.
"The girl from California? Yeah, I heard."
"Look! That's her walking along the breezeway now!"
All the boys ran to the window pointing.
I slipped out and quickly walked in her direction.
"Hi, My name's Rickey. What's yours?" She was cute. "Can I help you find your homeroom?"
She was quiet and took a moment to answer. Stopping, she looked though her books. Findin what she was looking for, she shyly held it in front of me.
"I'm L... This is where I was told to go." My home room was written there.
"No problem. That's my home room too. Can I carry your books?"
She smiled, then held her books out to me. "Thank you," she said
I noticed a small diamond ring on her left hand.
"Is that an engagement ring?" I asked trying to hide my disappointment.
"Uh, yeah. My fiance is still in California."
"Oh." I said. " Instantly The Safaris tune Wipeout played through my mind. The laugh was aimed at me.
We made small talk as we continued to home room. The sparkle of such a tiny diamond blinded me and I resigned myself to missing out on a California girl.
Our friendship grew over the next few weeks. We met on the breezeway most mornings. I carried her books. We talked of school and music mostly. One day as we met she handed me her books. That blinding light from her left hand was missing. She held it out longer than necessary to hand me her books. It didn't register with my innocent mind.
"Yeah," I said taking her books.
She wiggled her fingers at me. Still not understanding, I continued to wait for her to explain.
"Don't you see?"
"See what?" I asked, not being the brightest teenager.
"My ring. I took it off. I'm not engaged any more."
"Huh?" Still no ding! ding! ding! in my vacant mind.
"I wrote my EX-fiance. I'm not engaged anymore."
"I'm free to date." Her exasperated tone was detectable at this time.
"OH! Hey! That's great!" The light finally came on. "So we can go out now. On a date?"
"Yes. I've been wondering how long it would be for you to notice."
"How long have you not been engaged?"
"A week. I thought you would have realized it."
"Gosh, I didn't. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" I emphasized each stupid with a smack to the forehead with her books.
"So, we can date now!" I stated.
"Yes! How many times do I have to say it?" I'm sure she wondered how she could want to date such a dense boy.
"Well, how about Friday?" I asked.
"OK. That sounds good," she said with a bright California smile.
I picked her up Friday evening in the Tan Can, my affectionate name for my mother's Corvair.
"We're gonna pick up R... and his girl. Hope that's alright with you."
It was. We picked them up and headed for the newest teen hangout. Hardee's and the ten cent hamburger.
It was the first of many dates. The world was flush with wonder. The future was wide open and rosy.
A few months into the school year I was stopped on the breezeway on my way to class.
"Hey Rickey. The man wants to see you."
"What's it about? My shirt tail being out again?
"No, I don't think so. There's someone in the office says he wants to talk to you."
"A visitor? Who'd be visiting me?" I turned around and walked to the principal's office. Mr. Kizer was standing at the door.
"Uh, Ricky, have you been seeing L..?"
"Yes sir. Why do you ask?"
"Well, there's someone in my office requesting to see you. Says he's L...'s fiance. He's hitch-hiked from California to see you. Were you aware she was engaged?"
"She was, but she ended it a couple of months ago. Even sent him his ring back."
"Hmmm. Come on in then. I'll introduce you."
"Alright," I responded.
He was sitting in a chair in front of Mr. Kizer's desk. His fingers were tapping on the arm rest of his chair. He rose as we entered.
"So you're Rickey," he said. Looking me over, he continued. "I'm glad to meet you face to face."
"Yes." I extended my hand which he ignored.
"I can't discuss my business with you here. Is there a place we can meet after school?" He smiled.
I shrugged my shoulders saying, "We could meet in the Terrace at a place called five points after 3:30 in front of Eddie's." I gave him directions. He wrote them down.
"After 3:30 then. I'll be waiting. I've come a long way to see you and L...."
He walked out the door. I began to follow him but Mr. Kizer grabbed my arm.
"Wait here, Rickey. I need to talk to you." He walked out to escort the man off school property. When he returned he motioned to the chair. I remained standing.
"What is it, sir?" I asked.
"Are you going to meet him after school?"
"Yes sir. I told him I would. No choice."
"You can't. I forbid it."
"You can't forbid me. I gave my word." Forbid me? I thought. Who are you to forbid me?
"I think he means you harm. He hitch-hiked across country from California over the last month. I don't think he wants to congratulate you and wish you well."
"I'll find out what he wants after school."
"I can't let you do that."
"You don't have any say so."
He pointed to the chair saying, "You sit while I call your parents. They have to know about this."
"Mr. Kizer, they are at work. I don't want to disturb them."
"You really don't... Alright. Where does your dad work? I believe I need to contact him."
I sat. I gave him the number. He dialed it. The conversation lasted a while. His eyes kept darting over to me. Finally, he handed the phone to me.
"Here. your dad wants to speak with you.." He smiled victoriously.
I took the phone and said hello to dad.
"Is everything alright, son."
"You remember everything I taught you?"
"Alright. Remember and watch yourself. See you tonight."
"Thanks dad. Bye." I handed the phone back.
"What did he say?" asked the principal as he took the phone and laid it in its cradle. He was still smiling.
"Be careful." I turned and walked out. His smile had faded.
I went to class and stared out the window for the rest of the hour. During that time I saw L... walking toward the office with a friend who had her arm around her. She appeared to be crying. This class was a study hall so I got up and hurried along the breezeway to catch up to L... She was taken behind closed doors in the office. I wasn't able to see her. The secretary told me to return to class.
For the next couple of hours I wondered what was going on. She was till in the office when lunch began. My friends had heard something was up. They came over to ask. I explained everything I knew. One of L...'s friends came over when she saw us.
"Rickey, are you alright?" she asked.
"You're not worried?"
"About what? L...'s old boyfriend? He just wants to talk."
"You really are dumb aren't you? Didn't L... tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
"She got a letter from him after she sent the ring back."
"She never told me anything about a letter."
She sighed. "She probably didn't want to worry you, then. She didn't think he'd come."
Puzzled I asked, "Would you please tell me what is going on? She never said a thing."
"Linda got a letter from him saying he was coming to South Carolina to kill you and, then, her. She never told you that?"
"No." It seemed the situation had become a little more serious. No wonder Mr. Kizer was so concerned and felt it necessary to call my dad while I was there.
The girl shook me and said, "Will you still go?"
Stupidly, I answered, "I gave my word. I don't have a choice."
My friends looked at me, turned and walked in all directions. I felt utterly deserted as I stood outside under the shelter of the breezeway thinking about 3:30.
I was called into the office, again, around two. L... was there with her mother. They had both been crying.
"Rickey, I'm so sorry," L... said between sobs. "I never wanted you to get hurt."
Her mother looked at me with concerned eyes. She said, "Rickey, don't go near him. He's a little crazy."
"I don't have a choice, now," I repeated.
"Go back to class," said Mr. Kyzer.
It was three when the bell rang to end the day. I picked up my books and walked out the back door. I turned toward the bus in a daze knowing I had to meet a nut job at five points in half an hour. I didn't notice the guys running past me until one of them knocked my books out of my hand. I bent over to pick them up. Fragments of conversation began to pelt my ears.
"Hey! We gotta meet at five points!" Someone yelled.
"Why?" another voice quizzed.
"J... said Rickey needs help!"
"Yeah, he's got the football team piling into his car. Grab a stick or something. We're all gonna beat up some guy who's come to kill Rickey and his girl friend!"
"The football team?"
The yelling to and fro continued as I walked slowly to the bus.
"Who is J... helping?"
"Rickey! He's in trouble."
"Who cares who he is. We're gonna stomp somebody's ass!"
The yelling and running to cars continued as I made my way to the bus.
An old battered grey Ford slammed on brakes in front of me. The cloud of dust was settling when I realized it was J..., the James Island Rams quarterback. We'd known each other through eleven years of school.
"Ricky! Get in! We're going to take you to the Terrace to meet this guy with you!" J... had been passing the word throughout the day about my plight. He had guys piled in cars all over the school grounds. They were whistling and beating the sides of the cars yelling to get the show on the road.
I jumped in the front seat, dumping my books beside me. All of a sudden I felt very comfortable as J... ripped up a column of dirt behind swerving along the exit. There were seven cars pulling in behind us with heads poked out of windows hooting an hollering all along the way.
We arrived at five points a few minutes before 3:30. There was no one to be seen. We walked over to Eddie's bar and grill. It was overrun with high school students looking for a fight. He wasn't there.
I walked over to the Amoco Station across the street to ask Lyde, a friend of Clyde's, if he had seen the fellow. I described the man and the situation. The answer was no, but he offered his help if it was needed. I thanked him and walked back outside. Just as I did a Police car came to a halt in front of me.
"Is your name Rickey?" the officer at the wheel asked. When I said yes, he told me to get in. I saw everyone gathering outside Eddie's watching me get into the Police car. As the officer left the Amoco station, I watched everyone run to their cars . They pulled out to follow.
We arrived at the police building which had once been a part of the old Citadel. I was led into the main lobby which was open to the street. I was told to take a seat. I sat facing the open door. Every two minutes I saw one of the cars in the caravan pass by the door. The guys in side were waving and giving a thumbs up sign.
"Rickey?" Startled, I looked up at the desk Sergeant.
"Son, are you aware of how much danger you were in?"
"No sir. What do you mean?"
"This young lady," he pointed at L..., "and her mother informed us of the situation concerning her fiance from California. They told us he threatened to kill both of you."
"I wasn't told about that," I said looking at L.... She looked away with tears in her eyes.
The Sergeant looked at L... with a frown and said, "Well, we were told. We have to take such threats seriously. We have him in a holding cell now. We will release him in a couple of days with warning to stay away from you two. We will also suggest that he return to California instead of sticking around here. L...'s mother had us pick you up because she was worried about you. She wanted you to understand this whole situation. We're sorry you both had to go through all of this but it will be alright now. You are free to go."
L...'s mother came over to apologize for everything. I thanked her and walked over to L... and held her close. She was all cried out at this point. Her mother touched her arm, letting her know it was time to go. They walked through the door.
I ambled over to leave when another car in the caravan passed by.
"Friends of yours?" asked the Sergeant who was drinking coffee in the doorway.
"Yeah," I said with a big grin.
"You're a lucky fellow. Keep out of trouble. All of you," he said with emphasis. He smiled and returned to his desk.
The old grey Ford stopped in front of the door. I walked down the steps.
"Everything alright?" J... asked.
"Yeah, everything is alright." My smile was wide.
"Well, hell, hop in. We could use a drink."
I got in. J... drove back to the Terrace and into a solid memory.