She is going!
Ah, silver tongued devil. You talked her into it, a day of skiing and barbequing. Yessiree, I lured her in and sprung the trap. And now I’m sharing the day with her. Just me and her. Hot diggity dirt.
My words were accompanied by a jig and a smile until I tripped over my feet. The other kids in the breezeway stopped to laugh at my clumsiness but, heck, I didn’t mind because she was going with me to the family gathering at the lake house.
I looked over at her. My sheepish grin and reddening face must have made her smile as she shook her head then turned to go to class.
“Need help getting’ up?” asked my best friend.
“Naah, I got it,” I said pushing myself into a sitting position.
“What was that stupid dance all about?” he asked.
“My happy dance.”
“Yeah? Happy about what? The quiz this period?”
“Heck no!” I looked at him slyly. “She said yes.”
I told him.
“No way. She’s way out of your league.”
“That may be but she said yes.” My grin showed all thirty-two of my teeth.
“Wow! You lucky dog. What’re y’all gonna do?”
“You know the cabin my uncle has at the lake?”
“He’s having a barbeque.”
“Big deal. We can do that here.” He shifted the books to his other hip.
“Yeah, but you don’t have a boat and skis,” I said with a triumphant smile. “And you know what that means…”
He looked at me with questioning eyes.
“No, what does that mean?”
“There will be water sports… swimming and skiing.” I almost gave the knowing wink I had seen my dad give when he was privy to secret information.
“Yeah, it sounds like fun.”
I could see he didn’t understand. It was hard being sophisticated at thirteen. Even my wink would not have been clue enough.
I started to elaborate when the second bell rang. We were going to be late to class, a definite no-no for a quiz day.
“Come on! We better run!”
Our teacher was at the door drawing it shut as we skidded up to her.
“You know you shouldn’t be running in the halls,” she said to us with a smile.
“Yes, ma’am,” we replied in unison.
The rest of the day I was walking on a cloud thinking about the smile I had received. A yes, accompanied by a smile. I was the luckiest guy in the world.
The final bell rang. The school week was over with that bell. Tomorrow was Saturday. The cabin at the lake was a night away. As I walked to the bus I saw her sitting at the window seat in the bus going to her neighborhood. I ran over and slapped the side as I jumped up for an eye to eye glace. Though startled, she turned to see my face across the window sill. She followed it as I landed back on solid ground. She smiled. I smiled back.
“Don’t forget!” I shouted.
“Tomorrow at ten, right?” She leaned over the window opening.
“That’s right! Don’t forget your bathing suit if you want to go skiing!”
“We’ll see,” she said. “I’ve never skied before. I don’t know that I could.”
Her bus jerked into motion.
“But you can swim if you don’t ski!” I shouted at her. She withdrew into the bus. Her hand waved back at me.
My bus stopped in front of me. The doors opened.
“You ridin’?” the boy from the senior class asked holding the door handle ready to close it. The bus behind beeped. He began to close the folding doors.
“Yeah!” I yelled. I pushed the flaps back and clamored on board.
He jammed the accelerator as I was making my way down the center aisle. I fell forward into one of the students sitting on the aisle side of his seat.
“Watch it!” he yelled pushing me off of him.
“Yeah, OK. Sorry.”
The bus stopped abruptly sending me back into him. I heard the driver chuckle as the boy shoved me back into the aisle a second time. The seat behind him was empty so I plopped myself into it and tossed my books onto the seat.
My mind was filled with Saturday’s events. I’d only just tried skiing the last time we had spent time there. It wasn’t easy getting up on those things but once I did the rush was overwhelmingly wonderful. Sliding along on a glassy lake zigzagging behind the power boat was the most fun I had had since turning thirteen.
It took me several tries to hold the rope and control the two slabs of wood attached to my feet. The last time I was about to fly through the skis when my uncle eased off on the engine just enough for me to gain my balance. Then I was up skidding atop the lake. I held on for dear life as he gunned the outboard. I could hear the power increase in a split second. I felt the rope whip taut and I was flying behind the wake of his four-seater with the biggest grin I could muster plastered across my face. I was buzzing along directly behind the motor. I was happy enough but started thinking of the things I had seen others do so I leaned just a bit to the right and began to cross the wake out to the left of the boat’s trail.
The skis slapped over the outside wake as I leaned to the left and began an arc over to the other side. It was easy I laughed to myself leaning once again to the right. Up into the air ever so slightly my skis smacked across the churned water and up again to settle unsteadily on the other side. My balance was lost. My body smacked into liquid concrete. Stunned, I tried to breathe. There was no air, only water. Panicking, I tried to right myself. The skis were no help. Pulling my feet clear I kicked for the surface. My uncle was circling the area when my head popped up.
“Get the skis!” he yelled at me over and over.
I looked around. Seeing one I scissor kicked toward it. When I had it in hand I hand paddled in a circle until the other one came into view. A few stokes in that direction brought it into my hand.
“Put ‘em back on! I’m going to come past you so you can grab the rope.”
He crossed my path keeping the engine well away from me. I saw the wake that the bar at the end of the rope made as it came close. I reached, caught the bar and lifted the rope over my ski so it was between them and started to yell, go.
My uncle didn’t wait for my order. He gunned it. I held on tightly, leaned forward then back trying to achieve a balanced stance. Just at the point of being jerked from the skis I found that balance and was once again slicing through the wake behind the boat. The time skimming the lake seemed far too short but it came to an end as he eased off the outboard. The boat slowed into the sand. My skis did the same. I stepped out of them, picked them up and carried them to the boat.
“Not bad for a beginner,” said my uncle. He tied the boat to an anchor he had spiked into the sand.
“Do you always gun the engine like that?” I asked him while I propped the skis against the boat.
“Makes it fun for me,” he said with a laugh. “Now we need to get your mother on those skis.”
“I don’t think that will happen,” I replied.
One day my mother did try it. She never did again. She found no fun in his gunning the engine. My uncle just laughed. My dad didn’t.
I was in front of the TV when my parents got home. After they settled down and a pot of tea was on the table I spoke up.
“We’re still going to the lake aren’t we?”
Dad looked at me.
“Why do you ask?” he said.
I looked at my mother who told me she would discuss my bringing a friend. Asking directly was usually followed by a big fat no. My mother had always interceded important requests so that he might say yes. It depended on his mood.
My mother smiled at me a nodded as she poured the tea.
“I… I kinda asked somebody to go with me. I hope that’s OK.”
“Your mother mentioned something about a girl. You want to ask a girl to go along with us?”
“Uh, yes sir. If it’s OK,” I stammered back.
“Did you ask her already?”
“Yes sir. She’s really something and I…” I stopped. His mind was made up. I’d have to call her to apologize.
“Well, if it means that much to you, I don’t see why not.”
Wonder of wonders! He said yes! I was stunned. My face must have registered shock.
“Aren’t you going to say thank you?” It was my mother urging me onward.
“Uh, yes ma’am. Thank you, dad. Thank you,” I blurted out.
“That’s alright, son. What time did you tell her we were going?”
“Ten o’clock. In the morning.”
“Alright, then. I believe we should leave here by 9:30 then. In the morning,” he said smiling at me.
“Yes sir. Can I phone her to remind her?”
The night couldn’t go fast enough. Barbeque. Ice cream. Swimming. Skiing. And the prettiest girl in the eighth grade. With me! Oh man! The best day ever.
Dad drove over to her house to pick her up. We went straight to the cabin on the lake from there. The entire trip I told her about the last time we went and I learned how to ski. I didn’t include the disastrous fall, however.
Dad finally turned on to the dirt road leading to the cabin. It was small. It was mainly front porch, screened in to keep out the mosquitoes with an inner room containing cots, a table and appliances, a stove and a refrigerator. It had electricity even in its rustic state.
I may have over romanticized the place to my friend. She didn’t seem as impressed as I had hoped, but she smiled. We stopped in front. I took her bag and then her hand to help her out. She looked around at the sandy ground surrounding the shack. Patches of grass and weeds dotted the unpromising lawn.
The screen squeaked when dad pulled on it stepping aside for mom and my friend to enter.
My uncle’s loud voice could be heard from the back.
“Well, well. There’s the Limey. We were thinking you wouldn’t make it again.”
“Traffic was heavier than usual. And we left a little late to pick up the boy’s friend.”
My uncle’s lascivious eyes raked over her. I could see a chill run up her spine.
“Mighty pretty, Rickey. Mighty pretty. Too pretty for you,” he added.
I took her hand and led her over to the corner.
“How ‘bout a drink, Al?” he shouted directly at my dad.
Dad smiled and declined.
“A bit early for me,” he said.
“Never too early for a man,” said my uncle with a smirk.
I asked my friend if she would like to walk over to the lake shore. She agreed.
“We’ll be back later,” I said as we walked down the gray aged steps.
“You be sure and bring her back now,” yelled my uncle at our backs.
“You’ll have to ignore him,” I told her as we walked side by side.
“I think there is one in every family,” she said.
We walked bare foot along the shore chatting the morning away. As the sun grew hotter and higher in the sky we began a slow meander back to the cabin.
“Are you getting hungry?” I asked.
“Yes, I am,” she answered.
“Silly question. Who isn’t.”
The grill was throwing off a wondrous aroma of roasting chicken slathered in barbeque sauce. We arrived in time to have plates shoved into our hands.
“You children go ahead. There’s cole slaw and potato salad along with iced tea inside on the table. Get some of that chicken first though.”
We filled our plates. Inside we piled on the afore mentioned foods. I led her to a place to sit and went back for ice tea. The screened porch allowed a cool breeze to blow through while we ate. It was a leisurely lunch followed by a card game or two while our food settled.
My dad was sitting over in the corner quietly having a smoke. While I watched him an idea came to me. I was thirteen and full of spunk and I wanted to impress the girl I had brought. So gathering up courage I looked over at him and said, “Hey Dad!”
He looked up.
“I have a proposition for you.”
“And what would that be?” he questioned.
“How about I get to hit you in the arm as hard as I can?”
“To what end?” he asked.
“I don’t know. It’s what guys do,” I said. I realized how ridiculous I sounded but it was too late.
“I don’t think you want to do that,” he replied taking a drag on his Lucky.
“Yeah, I think I do.” My courage was up.
“You know that if you do then I get to do the same in return?” He looked at me with a smile cracking his face.
“Uh… yes sir. I know.” My voice lost some of that confidence.
“I want you to think about this, son.”
My uncle chimed in.
“Naah, you don’t have to think about it. You know you wanna hit your daddy,” he wisecracked.
“Um… you get to hit me in the arm just like I hit you?” I asked hesitantly.
“You want to hit me as hard as you can? Is that right?” He had sat forward to ask me.
“Y..Yes sir,” I slouched back in my chair.
“If you really want to do this then I will agree but I want you to understand that since you will hit me with all your strength I will do the same. Do you understand?” He looked very intently at me.
“Uh, yes sir,” I barely squeaked out.
“Alright then. You go first. And hit me with everything you’ve got.”
“Yes sir,” I said. Rising from my seat I looked back at the girl I thought I would impress and very sorry I had even wanted to.
Dad walked to the middle of the room.
“Al, you don’t really mean to do this, do you?” asked my mother who was beginning to rise from her seat.
“Sit back down, dear. The boy wants to be a man. Let’s let him do it.’ Dad rolled his sleeve up bearing his prominent deltoid. I approached slowly.
I looked at his arm. It looked like rippled iron pipe. Mentally I looked at mine, baby fat over tender muscle. The sweat began to bead on my forehead as I watched those muscles come alive and tighten down.
“Oh, come on kid. Give your dad your best shot.” My uncle kept egging me on.
I looked around hoping someone would laugh and say, oh stop it you two. It wasn’t going to happen. I took another step forward.
“Are you going to take all day about it, son?”
“I’m getting there,” I whimpered in reply.
“You can still change your mind,” dad offered. He flexed his rock hard arm once more as if to deflect my intention. I remembered having seen him lift the back end of a Volkswagon clear of the ground to allow someone to work on it. That had only been a few months ago. Only an arm of steel could perform such a feat. I looked up at dad, then at his arm.
I reared back tightening my fist. With all my might and weight behind it I slammed my fist into that arm. It felt like my fist cracked. Pain shot through it. I looked up at my dad who rolled down his sleeve. He smiled.
“I thought you said that screen kept the mosquitoes out,” said my dad to my uncle. Then he looked at me holding my fist.
“My turn,” he said. “Prepare yourself. Let me know when you are ready.”
I never wanted to hear that screen door slam behind me so badly in all my life. I had probably injured myself for life slamming my flimsy hand into his tree trunk of an arm. Yet, I had made a deal. There would be no running away. There would be no begging. There would be no help from the audience. I was alone bolstering my courage to meet my fate. The fate I had brought upon myself. I looked at my mother who sat back with a sad look on her face. I looked at my friend who looked at me with puzzlement across hers. And then I knew. It was all for naught. I rolled up my sleeve. I tensed my arm as solidly as I could.
“Go ahead,” I said resignedly.
The wall on the other side of the room slammed into me. He had just tapped me without full force or follow through and, yet, I had sailed across the room crumpling at the base of the wall. The birds circling my head were multicolored and tweeting in unison.
Dad was at my side.
“Are you alright, son?” He was very concerned.
“Did we get the tree alright?” I asked.
“Tree?” He looked perplexed for a moment. “Oh, the tree. Yes, we got the tree alright, five years ago.”
“What’s he talking about?” asked my aunt.
“We went for a Christmas tree in Georgia. He got knocked out. I guess he thought we were back in the Georgia woods again,’ explained my dad.
“Come on. Let’s get up,” said dad. “Do you know where you are?”
I looked around. I shook my head and looked again.
“We’re at the cabin.”
“That’s right. Do you remember what happened?”
“Oh, yeah. I challenged you.”
“That’s right. Did you learn anything today?” he asked.
“Uh, think before I speak?”
“That’s a good one to learn,” he said letting my arm go. I was woozy but stayed on my feet. I tried to keep that lesson in mind but sometimes I still forget.
To be continued…