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There were two nights during the week that all of us looked forward to during our high school years; Friday and Saturday. It was important during the school week to arrange your plans so that on either of these two nights you weren’t sitting at home all by yourself, or almost as bad, with your parents and younger siblings. One Friday night, the planets had all lined up in such a way that all my usual friends had other plans that didn’t include me and it was looking like I would be at home, missing out on who knew what.

At the last-minute, the phone rang. It was Red. He wanted to know if I wanted to go riding around with him. Although Red and I were teammates in baseball, we didn’t normally hang out with one another off the field; he must have been bored with working out in his basement and decided to call me. I was desperate to go out, so it didn’t matter who called me I would have probably said yes. He offered to drive and I was fine with that. Red had one of the few cars that I can recall that actually had a nickname. It was a yellowish Corvair, very unusual in regard to the cars commonly seen driving around town, but it was a decent ride and reliable. It wasn’t a hot rod or souped up classic car like many of the other guys had, and I think the nickname came from him, as he seemed to be embarrassed about driving it. Everyone followed his lead and affectionately called the Corvair the “Yellow Banana”.  He came by to pick me up and off we went.

Riding around was exactly how it sounds; we rode around town looking for other kids that we knew, especially members of the opposite sex, and once we found them we either stopped in a parking lot and chatted for a while, or we all piled into one vehicle and continued the ritual. Garrison and Central Avenue were the usual routes, with an occasional diversion to Municipal Park or Mr. Quick’s Drive-In. For some reason, Red decided that we’d go to Municipal park and pull off the road and park (being low on funds could explain the strategy; instead of riding around looking for others, we’d sit in one place and make them come to us). I was a little confused; it seemed to me that all the action would be on the main drag, but it was his car and he was driving, so there we sat.

One very important part of the riding around experience was learning to identify people by the car they drove. Because it was normally dark and impossible to tell who was driving by facial recognition, we became very adept at recognizing automobiles. You didn’t need to know the individual that well; you just had to know their cars. At the end of the night you might have “seen” twenty different people, but only talked with a couple of them. Sometimes, if it was someone you really didn’t want to see, spotting their car in the distance allowed for a quick getaway and an avoidance of an uncomfortable encounter.

As Red and I sat there in the dark, listening to the radio and talking, we noticed a car’s headlights coming our way. When it finally came close enough, we recognized the brown Ford LTD. I knew right away who was driving and my heart rate escalated and I became extremely nervous. Since Red was driving, Linda initially pulled up beside us and began a conversation with him. I made sure to say hi from across the vehicle, but sat listening to the two of them for a few minutes. Finally, Linda decided to park next to us and the three of us piled into her car (it was actually her parent’s car, but was clearly identified with her).

Linda was the sister of one of my classmates, Jim, and was just beginning to attract a lot of attention from the boys, having just turned sixteen. I had noticed her long before this night, but my crush on her was secret and unknown to anyone else with the possible exception of my best friends Jim and Andy. I was extremely shy with all girls, so my distant admiration would remain unrequited, forever it seemed.

I met Linda when she was an eighth grader and I was in ninth; she was thirteen and I was fourteen at the time. One day, out of the blue, I received a phone call from her. I was stunned to say the least. She asked me if I would deliver her paper route while she was out-of-town on a family outing. One thing that was very hard for me was to say no to a girl’s request. Why she called me, since I had never officially met her, was a mystery, but Jim must have suggested me as a last resort, knowing that I would probably say yes. I rode my bicycle to her house so that we could walk the route together, excited and nervous at the same time. With blonde hair, blue eyes, and an engaging personality ( Linda was always smiling and laughing); I was smitten.

We walked the paper route from house to house, talking and laughing the entire time, and then it began to rain. I remember the exhilaration I felt as we both got soaked in the rain and ran from house to house, trying to stay dry, occasionally waiting on a covered front porch until the heavy rain had subsided. She was upset about her hair becoming all wet, but I thought she was all the prettier because of it. I was having the time of my life and was oblivious to any and all things that were going on around me. I doubt she felt any sparks flying that day, but I sure did.

So, fast forward a couple of years and here I was in Linda’s car, Red and Linda in the front seat and me in the back. We talked back and forth with me leaning over the back seat, so I wouldn’t miss any of the conversation. Somehow the talk got around to dating and I blurted out, “I’ve never kissed a girl before!” If I had completed the sentence with what was actually going through my mind, I would have said this directly to Linda, “I’ve never kissed a girl before, but I sure would love for my first kiss to be tonight with you.” I didn’t say it, but I hoped the inference would be enough. I was surprised by Linda’s response. “You’ve never kissed a girl before?” she giggled. She seemed genuinely shocked. What happened next I could only have created in my dreams.

Linda exited the driver’s seat of the car and joined me in the back. Red stayed in the front seat and I’m really not sure what he ended up doing, I was a bit preoccupied at this point. As Linda sat next to me she offered to teach me how to kiss. Being an apt pupil, I was eager to learn. I realized that Linda didn’t really see anything attractive in me; it was more like a scientist finding a rare species of bird and being giddy and excited at the prospects of observation and experimentation. I was more entertainment for her than anything else.

As we embraced for the first time, I took to it rather naturally. At least from my perspective, it was a rather passionate kiss and when we separated Linda had a look of astonishment on her face. “You’ve never kissed a girl before! Are you sure? You kiss really well.” I tried my best to convince her that this was indeed the first time for me. What she failed to realize is that I had spent the past four years listening to all my friends describe the art of kissing ad nauseam; I was an expert by this time. All I had to do was put all that knowledge into action, and I did. She must have wanted to see if I could repeat the effort and we kissed again. About this time the headlights of an approaching vehicle illuminated the inside of the car and we immediately sat up straight, not knowing who was behind us. As the car pulled next to us, I recognized my best friend Jim.

Jim was the last person I expected to see, especially considering the activity in which I had just been engaged. You see, Linda and Jim just happened to be dating; you know boyfriend girlfriend, a couple, going steady. I knew this all along, and as far as loyalty went, I was one of the most loyal friends anyone could ask for; but the opportunity, the raging hormones, and the fact that I had always had affections for her, trumped my normal allegiances; I was clearly out of my mind!. Being in this tough situation, caught in the act,  I was at first choked up and unable to speak, but I quickly decided to go on the offensive. I jumped out of the car and immediately greeted Jim, “Hey buddy, how did you do at the track meet?” Like nothing had ever happened. He asked us what we were doing and we made up something plausible and at this point I was in the clear. Linda locked her car and jumped into the front seat of Jim’s car, sliding right next to him as they both drove away.

Red and I were relatively quiet on the drive home. I was being torn apart inside; the devil on my left shoulder reminding me of the kisses and how much pleasure they had given me and the angel on my right shoulder telling me how much of a louse I had been and that I needed to come clean with my friend. These thoughts stayed with me throughout the night, in addition to the lingering smell of Charlie perfume, as I tossed and turned, hopelessly trying to fall asleep.

The next day I just happened to be spending some quiet time with Jim. The guilt was heavy on my soul and I wasn’t acting normal. Like a tea kettle of water about to boil, I needed to release the pressure, so I told him. His reaction wasn’t what I had expected. He said, “I’m glad you told me Ronnie.” Gracious as usual. He wasn’t mad at me, but rather he was forgiving. I wondered if he had already known, whether Linda had told him. It didn’t matter; he had let me off the hook. I was a free man once again. Having experienced my first kiss, I enjoyed it so much that I was bound and determined to try it again.

This story is an excerpt from Always a Little Heathen, to be released in the fall of 2014.

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