My dad and I sit in the rec room watching football on the sixty-inch plasma TV bolted to the wall. Announcers yell and refs blow whistles. Play stops and starts and stops again. I don’t get it, but my dad worships the game so I take my cues from him.
“Dammit!” my dad yells. His beer spatters. “Interception my ass! You believe that, Gordy?”
“Yeah, I know,” I say, even though I have no idea. Red and blue and white and silver uniforms and helmets surge back and forth across the screen. “I don’t believe that.”
“Jesus H. Baldheaded Christ,” he says, shaking his head.
“Yeah, I know. Jesus.”
My dad tips me a wink and takes another swallow of his beer. “You’ll get the hang of this game yet, Gordy. See if you don’t.”
I can’t help but grin. I know he’s wrong, I’ll never understand this game as long as I live, but his offhand compliment rings in my ears.
It’s taken me a month but I finally get the courage to ask Rhonda LeClerc to the Harvest Moon dance.
“Hey,” I say as I catch up to her in the hallway between first and second period. She’s coming out of the biology lab with her books clutched to her chest. She wears big, round glasses that give her a perpetually surprised look. Her dark brown hair is cut in a bob that frames her face like a Rembrandt portrait. As usual she is looking at the floor.
“Hey,” I say again. We walk together. “So, yeah. I was wondering…there’s the dance this Friday…”
Words slide out in a run-on sentence. “Yes I want to go with you that would be great I’m really glad you asked me.”
I’m twenty pounds lighter.
We walk together some more. Kids pass us on either side. I love Rhonda’s run-on sentences. I try to get her to talk again.
“Yeah,” I say. “Okay, that’s awesome. Yeah. How’re classes going so far?”
She nods and her bob bounces. I could watch it all day. “They’re going great getting A’s so far but Mr. Dunphy my Communications teacher is kind of weird but that’s okay I guess.”
My dad’s a building inspector for the city. He notices things. It’s his job. He takes his job home with him a lot.
“You got a girl, Gordy?” he asks, peering at me across pot roast and broccoli. He’s peering at me. “You look like you got a girl.”
I feel my face turning red. My two younger sisters both stare at me, smirking. My mom beams.
“No. No girlfriend. No time.”
“Bullshit,” he says. “You got yourself a girlfriend, Gordy. I can tell. Is it that LeClerc girl?”
I spill gravy. “You know about Rhonda?” It’s out before I even realize it.
My dad spears roast triumphantly. “Rhonda LeClerc! I know her father. Brad LeClerc. Good man.”
My little sisters snort laughter. I don’t know if it’s at me or at our dad. My mom just keeps beaming. She looks so proud of me. My left foot starts twitching under the table. I try to clean up the spilled gravy.
“You taking her to that dance?” my dad says.
“I don’t know. Maybe.” I drop the napkin I’m using to clean up. I bend over to pick it up.
“Bring a condom, Gordy,” my dad says. I freeze, still bent over. “Use protection.” Out of the corner of my eye I see him pointing at me with a forkful of dark green broccoli. I see my mom nodding in beatific agreement.
I straighten slowly. I don’t know what to say. My little sisters are watching. They’re only eight and five.
I plaster on a smile that I don’t feel. “I will for sure. Hey, when’s the next game?”
He chews his broccoli like a hippopotamus. “Tomorrow night. You in?”
I catch up to Rhonda after first period again.
“Hey. I’m psyched about going to the dance tomorrow.”
She stares at the floor. “I can’t go I’m really sorry my dad said he talked to your dad and your dad said something about condoms and so my dad freaked a little bit and said I can’t go.”
My heart stops. “That sucks, that really sucks. That’s crappy.”
She walks a little faster but I keep up. She doesn’t say anything.
“You sure? You sure you can’t go?” I must sound pretty emotional because Rhonda suddenly stops and turns and looks straight at me. Her eyes are wet. She has a birthmark on the left side of her forehead shaped like a spiral galaxy. I’ve never noticed it before.
“My dad’s a jerk and he won’t let me go and I hate him for it and I’m so sorry Gordy I really want to go I really do!”
I’ve known Rhonda since third grade. On her first day the teacher introduced her to the class and she stared at the floor. She had big glasses then, too. She walked to the desk right next to mine. She looked over at me and smiled, just for a second. That was it for me.
For the last seven years I’ve been thinking about her.
There’s a smile like a supernova on her face and I realize I just said that last sentence out loud.
“I’ve thought about you all this time too Gordy and it makes me happy that you’ve thought about me too and I wish my dad wasn’t such a jerk.” She reaches out and touches my cheek. Kids pass by around us, oblivious to my rapture. Unbelievable.
In the next moment I am kissing her, there in the school hallway between periods one and two. She is warm and alive and tastes like strawberry lip balm.
Reluctantly we break the kiss. Some kind of knowledge has passed between us. Alchemy has happened.
She speaks first, in a whisper. “We have to go to the dance. You know that, right?” It isn’t a challenge, just a question.
My dad eats Sour Cream and Onion-flavor Ruffles, washing them down with cold Budweiser. Crumbs spill down the front of his shirt. In front of us, the uniforms charge back and forth across the screen. Play starts and stops, seemingly at random.
“Her dad says she can’t go to the dance,” I say.
“That so?” my dad replies. He munches chips.
“Yeah,” I say. “She says it’s because you talked to her dad.”
“Yeah?” he says. He swigs Bud. “Dammit! That ref is blind.”
I pick up the remote and turn the TV off.
My dad stares at me. “What the hell’d you do that for, Gordy?”
“I’m going to that dance with Rhonda. Just so you know.”
“The hell you are. If her dad said no, that’s it. End of story.”
I nod. “Sure, dad.” I turn the game back on. It’s an Old Spice aftershave commercial right now. “Football makes no sense. Running back and forth across a field and running into people. What’s the point? What’s the fucking point, dad?”
He spills his beer. I’ve never sworn in front of my father before. I stand up. He looks up at me with a strange expression.
“Well, enjoy the rest of the game, dad,” I say as I drop the remote in his lap. “I hope your side wins.”
Rhonda and her brother, Ray, pick me up at 8:13. I get into Ray’s beat-up Chevy Cavalier when it pulls up to the curb. My family watches from the living room window. I can’t see anyone’s expression.
Ray LeClerc is a big dude with biceps like flak guns. When he drops us off outside the gym he grabs me by my suit lapel before I climb out.
“That’s my sister right there,” he says in a near-whisper. Rhonda is already out of the car, standing next to the gym door where lights and music pour out and kids pour in, perfect in a floral-print dress. Her birthmark glows in the orange sodium-arc lamps of the parking lot. “She’s a sweet kid.” Then he lets me go without saying anything more. He doesn’t have to.
As he pulls away from the curb he honks twice and waves out the window. “Be good, you two!” he yells. “Midnight! Be here!”
Later Friday evening
The dance goes about the way these things usually do. It’s awkward. For a few minutes, we sit at one of the round, paper-covered tables and listen to the music together. It’s loud, and when I finally get the nerve to ask her to dance with me, I practically have to shout.
“Want to dance?” I yell in her ear.
“Sure that would be great Gordy do you mean right now?” Somehow she manages to maintain a volume that’s audible over the music.
“Yeah,” I say into her ear. “You have great lungs, by the way!”
She smiles, and my knees tremble.
We walk to the dance floor together, weaving around tables and people. The current song is “Love is a Battlefield,” classic Pat Benatar. Neither of us knows how to dance, so we improvise. Her touch on the back of my shirt is electric. We manage to get almost all the way through the song before I step on her foot. She winces.
“Oh, shit, I’m sorry!” I tell her, hoping she won’t remove her hand from my back. There’s a few inches of space between us, my hand is on her shoulder, and all I can think about is holding her closer.
“It’s all right I’m okay but let’s sit down for a little bit okay?”
We weave back to our table. All the while, I’m silently calling myself every name for idiot I can think of. We sit down. She reaches out and finds my hand with hers and gives me the slightest of squeezes. She’s looking at me, not with her usual dazzling smile but with a faint curve of her lips that I can’t quite read. The gym is warm even though it’s fall outside. Hundreds of teenage bodies packed into one room, that’s what happens. The DJ must have a great subwoofer setup because the bass thuds through my chest like a second heartbeat. Rhonda’s hand feels sweaty in mine. She’s holding tight. I’m sweating a little, too. It trickles down into the collar of my Oxford shirt, tickling the fine hairs on my neck. Rhonda’s big glasses reflect the twirling spotlights the DJ has set up, warm reds and oranges to enhance the fall harvest theme. Rhonda doesn’t seem to want to look at the lights, only at me. This makes me extraordinarily happy.
We leave the dance early and walk to cool off. My tie is loosened. We keep holding hands as we walk. It’s late, maybe ten-thirty. Her perfume catches my nostrils and holds them gently.
Eventually we reach a pocket park a mile or so from the school. We sit together on the wet grass. I hardly notice the dampness seeping through my suit trousers because moonlight is making Rhonda’s birthmark glow and she is looking at me and her eyes are trying to tell me something that she can’t come out and say in one of her magical run-on sentences.
I have a raging erection that I try to ignore. I’ve brought condoms in my wallet. We kiss. We fumble. The grass is cold on bare skin. She still doesn’t say anything. Neither do I. Our bodies carry us.
The condom is harder to manage than I thought it would be. Eventually, with Rhonda’s help, I manage to put it on. She smiles gently at the awkwardness of the situation. She relaxes me with her smile. I breathe. She lays down in the moonlight. She takes off her glasses and she becomes Cindy Crawford and Marilyn Monroe and all the ancient love goddesses rolled into one. I want take time, to explore her with my hands, my fingertips, my tongue, but then she slides her skirt above her waist and suddenly a single desire crowds out all others. She guides me and I enter her. She cries out sharply, then collapses into a long moaning. I’m moaning too, I realize. We rock back and forth, slightly out of sync like two boats bobbing next to each other on choppy water. There’s a rhythm of some kind, but I can’t quite pick it up.
Abruptly, and much too soon, I climax. It’s amazing. Then it’s over.
Very early Saturday morning
We get ourselves together with quick, efficient movements. It’s a few minutes past midnight, and we need to get back. We walk back to the school.
When Ray pulls up and we get in, he turns and gives me a hard stare. I manage to meet his gaze. I’m sure he can tell. But he just turns back around and drives us away.
Ray drops me off at my house. I go in. Everyone is asleep. I go to my bedroom, peel off my suit, put on some pajamas I drag out of my laundry hamper, and crawl into bed. I lay awake for a long time, looking at the moon through my window.
I catch up to Rhonda as she comes out of the biology lab. Her birthmark is an amoebic blob.
“Hey,” I say.
“Hey,” she says back.
“Did you sleep at all on Friday? I didn’t.”
“Yeah I slept okay I’m sorry you didn’t did you have fun at the dance I did I thought it was nice.”
Her run-on sentence is hard to follow but I detect the question inside it. “Yeah it was pretty cool,” I say.
“I’m glad you think so too I gotta get to Communications Mr. Dunphy you know how he is.” She scoots off before I can sort out what she’s just said. Maybe I’ll ask her later if we run into each other.
DR. BRIAN KIRCHNER holds a doctorate in Geology and teaches Earth Science at a college near Detroit, Michigan. He is 46 years old and has been writing as a hobby for several years. He writes short fiction and poetry. He lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, USA.