Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Kisses Like Fire, Part 2: Crime, Punishment and Heartbreak

And let me take a long last look, before we say goodbye.
-Don Henley

Monday morning, it’s back to the grind as Denton carries on with the drone and we work to stay under his radar. Everything else is a piece of cake. Business English? How much trouble can it be to address an envelope? History? Please. I’ve been reading this stuff in The Book of Knowledge since I was nine years old.

"How about the Maroon-White game?" I ask Jennie Beth.
"How about it?" This is what we term a non-committal answer.
"Wanna meet-up there?"
"Good idea."
"Thanks, ma’am. I figgered yuh’d like it."

Sue Groves and her jerky boyfriend from Central, Ken, are sitting in the front row of the bleachers when we get to the game.
"Hey, y’all."
"Hey," they reply in unison. What a really cute girl like Sue is doing with a knucklehead like Kenny is one of those mysterious questions that has no answer. Not even Sue knows. Anyway, he is being his usual smart-alecky self, being kinda mean to Sue and all; you know the type. We send him to the concession stand so we don’t have to put up with him for a while. That's when Jennie Beth and I decide to punish him. J.C., one of our Drama Club buddies, has shown up and agrees to help us. The condemned man, uh make that Kenny, returns.
"Hey, thanks man," I say.
"Who would take care of you guys if I didn’t," he replies. See what I mean?
Jennie Beth and J.C. are engrossed in conversation. I’ve swapped places with her and lean across Sue to whisper to Ken.
"Hey man, ask ole J.C. over here if his sister still watches Batman on T.V."
"Yeah. Go on and ask him."
"I don’t even know this guy." Ken looks doubtful, as if that ever stopped him from being obnoxious in the past.
"Ah, go on. It’s a big joke we have. He’ll think it’s hilarious." Convinced, Ken looks over at J. C. with his smirkiest simpering grin.
"Hey, man," he smirks. J.C. gazes at him, all innocence.
"Hey, does your sister still watch Batman on T.V.?" He’s really smirking now, as though he just delivered the killer line of the year. In an instant, J.C.’s expression becomes one of utter seriousness. He leans toward Kenny with a mixture of hatred and disgust rising off him like steam.
"I’ll have you know," he grates, "my sister is blind."
Now J.C. has no sisters, only three brothers, but Kenny doesn’t know this. Have you ever seen one of those movies where, at the end, the bad-guy’s face literally melts and slides down off the front of his head? This is like that. J.C. is still pretty serious looking, and Ken just looks kinda sick,
but Jennie Beth and I are cracking up and Ken can see he’s been had. He jumps up and storms away. Sue looks as if she isn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.
"You’ll thank us for this, later," I reassure her.
"Honey, I promise you can do better than that," Jennie Beth chimes in. It’s odd, I guess, but she and Sue become really good friends after that.

Now, it’s getting pretty close to three or four weeks before prom, and it occurs to me that I don’t have a date. It also occurs to me that I should ask my great good friend, Jennie Beth. I mean, who better than my partner in crime and fellow avenger? She’s not in school the day this brainstorm hits me, so I walk the several blocks from school to where she lives. She answers the door looking like she doesn’t feel so good and I nearly chicken out. I summon my courage, however, and after the usual chit-chat, ask her straight out:
"Hey, you wanna go to the prom? It’s only a few weeks away."
She doesn’t look at me, which I take for a bad sign. She’s looking down and I think she’s crying at first, but when she looks up, there’s this incredibly sad expression on her face.
"Rick and I are getting married this weekend." She gives me a sad-eyed little smile.
Rick Gibson, who graduated last year. I know they’ve dated a couple of times, but this catches me completely by surprise. I smile back, somehow, my heart at shoe-top level.
"Uh, well. Congratulations. All the best to you guys." I’m not sure how sincere this sounds, but I’m trying really hard, regardless.
"Thanks," she replies softly.
"Well, look. I gotta get on out of here. I’ll see you around, huh?" I turn to go.
"Hey?" I turn back. "Can I have one of those sweet kisses of yours?" She asks with that sad-smile.
Unable to reply, I reach out to touch her face and a teardrop rolls down my thumb. Our lips touch and it’s like fire. This girl can kiss like fire and even if she is breaking my heart, I’m burning from the top of my head to the soles of my feet and right now all that matters is this kiss. I pull back finally and gaze into those eyes for a moment. Isn’t it funny how, sometimes, you don’t realize things until it’s too late?
"Uh, I’ll be seeing you." I step off the porch.
"Bye." Her voice is barely audible. I don’t look back this time.

I saw her one more time. I’d heard she’d had a baby, a boy, that December in what would have been our senior year. The summer after my freshman year in college, I ran into her in the grocery store. She had her little boy with her. Jennie looked a little rough. You know, kind of tired and unhappy. I’d heard she and Rick weren’t getting along.
"Boy, you still breaking little girls’ hearts up there in college?" She asked, grinning a little bit like the old Jennie Beth.
"You bet. They love me," I grinned back.
We chatted a while longer, then we both had to go. Later on, that fall, I heard that she and Rick had a fight and she drove off in her car, upset and crying. She ran a stop sign and a pickup slammed into her driver’s door. We were having mid-terms and I couldn’t make the six hour drive home for the funeral. I heard it was real nice

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