I need to remember this, so baby give me just one kiss. -Don Henley
Ninth grade math must be the most boring class in the known universe. I mean it is math, after all. But the alternative would be geometry and I’m a junior and I nearly flunked Algebra when I was actually in the ninth grade, so here I am in Mr. Denton’s ninth grade math class, bored out of my mind. I’m doodling on a sheet of notebook paper while Mr. Denton is working math problems on the blackboard. Jennie Beth is gazing over my shoulder, admiring my artistry. I admire things about her too, but that goes without saying.
Mr. Denton drones on. I am sketching the pirate from the "Draw the Pirate and Win An Art Scholarship" ad. Not bad. Hmm, something about him looks familiar. I begin to outline the profile again, but larger. Who is this guy? I fill in the facial features leaving off the mustache and the pirate hat. Holy Cow! Jennie Beth stifles an incredulous giggle. Mr. Denton looks our way. We have disrupted this class before. Two juniors have no business in a class full of ninth graders. They worship us and find our every utterance falling-down funny.
He stares at us, certain that we are the source of the unseemly noise. Jennie Beth, brow furrowed, is copying the problem from the board in her most studious manner. I myself am staring at the blackboard with rapt attention, unable to believe the precise
calculations of this man of science, this mathematical marvel of a man. Honestly, I don’t know how the Drama Club survived before we came along.
He turns back to the board. I return my attention to the notebook. The resemblance is uncanny.
"It’s him!" Jennie Beth breathes near my ear. As a rule, I would come unglued if she breathed in my ear, but she’s right. It’s a perfect caricature of Denton. I can’t help but notice the similarity to a young Hermann Goering. He has the same blond, jowly profile, the same low-slung brow, the same piggy little eyes.
Achtung, mein Reichsmarschall!
I begin to shade in the day’s worth of stubble Denton always seems to have. As I admire my handiwork, a warning jab hits my ribs. I become aware of movement in front of me. Oh, oh. He’s spotted me. In a few strokes, without thinking, I pencil in an eye patch and pretend to be outlining the hat.
"You’re supposed to be copying the problems on the board."
"Uh, yessir, I’m sorry. I was just trying to win a scholarship."
"You might be better off if you concentrated on the subject you’re actually in class for."
I’m saved by a suppressed snort of laughter two rows over. My little ninth-grade buddy Troy is finding the whole thing unbearably amusing. Denton turns on him.
"Mr. Cowsner, settle down and get back to work."
Outside in the hall after class, Jennie Beth nudges me with her elbow.
"Ooh, you were nearly a goner there, boy."
"I thought I was pretty smooth, with the eye patch and all."
"Right. Well it looked to me like he stared at it an awful long time. I bet he really knows and he’s just saving it up for later." She put on her best mean Southern sheriff face, "You in a heapa trouble, boy!"
Troy and one of his partners eases over to us. "What were you guys doing over there?"
I produce my masterpiece, from which I have removed the eye patch and vestiges of a pirate hat. He and his little friend guffaw, nearly falling over each other in the process. Like I said, by the time we’re seniors, we’ll be gods around this place. We leave ‘em in stitches.
"Are you going to Puka’s party?" Jennie Beth asks.
Puka is our friend whom I have gone to school with since second grade. Puka is not his real name, but a derivative of a childhood nickname, Pookie Bear, which we have latched onto, and not being as cruel as we might (he’s our friend!), have bowdlerized into something semi cool-sounding.
" She’s going to be there."
She, of course, was the incredibly lovely Juanita Henson, my ex, whom I had caught sitting on the knee of a supposed good friend of mine, with her treacherous wench-like arm around his shoulder, giggling into his ear. He was eating it up, the dog.
"So, are you going or not?" I ask.
"Wouldn’t miss it," she grins her evil-witch grin.
Puka’s parents have this nice house out in the country, in the middle of the family farm. His dad is nowhere to be seen, and his mom is pretty cool, actually. She was one of our room mothers in elementary school. She tells me there’s drinks and chips and dips over on the picnic table on the patio, so I wander on over to where I see a couple of my classmates standing and join them in the middle of a tall tale being told by Albert Turbeville, our all-district halfback. He halts his story to greet me with the famous Turbeville smirk.
"Boy, I hear you been misbehaving in math class again."
"Nahh, that’s just an exaggerated report from a bunch of easily impressed ninth-graders."
"Hey." Somebody pokes me and I turn to see Jennie Beth, looking mighty cute in a sleeveless pullover and a pair of not-too-conservative shorts.
"So, are you trying to show off your beautiful legs or something?"
"They are beautiful, aren’t they? Thank you. You’re very cute yourself." I knew it was a lie but let it pass.
"Kin Ah git yuh some chips and dips, Miss Jennie Beth, Ma’am?" I ask in my best bashful Southern-boy voice.
"You may." She extends her hand in her most gracious Southern lady manner. It is a game we made up our first year together in Drama Club, when she was a transfer student.
I return with the food, and she points to the driveway. Juanita Henson is arriving with a couple of her cheerleader cronies in tow. I focus my full attention on the chips and dips, ignoring the spectacle.
"So where’s Puka?" I ask.
"Don’t look now," she replies.
I turn and Puka is welcoming the latecomer to the party. He is performing above and beyond the thoughtful host call of duty.
"Let’s take a walk," Jennie Beth suggests. I agree and we wander around the side of the house. The cottonfield is in full bloom, red and white blossoms blending their fragrance with that of the warm night air. She slips her hand into mine. Good friends comfort each other like that. She has this little ole girl-hand that is soft and squeezable. Good friends, right? We stop at the edge of the yard, staring down the long cotton rows in the moonlight. She leans up against me, and I hang my arm over her shoulder. I feel her nose nuzzle against my cheek and turn to kiss her. Did I mention that her kisses are like fire? I could fall in love with a woman who kisses like this, but it would be a shame to mess up this really great friendship.
"Let’s do something mean," she whispers. I grin, glad she is my friend. We begin to walk back toward the front of the house.
"Come on, put your arm around my waist," she instructs. We approach the patio where Juanita is standing with a group of our friends.
"Laugh like I said something really funny," says Jennie. I do my best horse laugh. I mean, it’s not Ricky Ricardo, but it’s pretty raucous. Juanita turns to look, and Jennie Beth grabs my face with both hands and plants a big ole kiss right on my mouth; tongue and
all. Juanita stares for a moment, then stalks off down the driveway, leaving the field to the victors. Game, set and match. We gloat, while trying not to be too obvious about it. Like I said, I’m glad this girl is my friend.