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The Hero Experience - Chapter 15

 
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Bud Brewster
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 20, 2015 10:36 pm    Post subject: The Hero Experience - Chapter 15 Reply with quote



____________________________________________


Chapter 15


Saturday arrived faster than a speeding bullet.

My apprehension was more powerful than a locomotive.

I was very jumpy. (You guessed it. I could leap tall buildings in a single bound.)

At six o’clock Saturday evening I was staring at my reflected image in the restroom mirror, trying to summon up a miracle. After a hot shower, a good shave, and a flawless part in my reddish-brown hair, I knew I looked my best. This was such a depressing thought in view of the mediocre results that I considered bribing my mother to call Ann and tell her I had the bubonic plague and would have to stay in bed for a few weeks.

Maybe with the right clothes . . .

Ten minutes later I was standing in front of my bedroom mirror, fully dressed but not very impressed with the results. I didn’t think Ann would be either. Over my shoulder in the mirror I spotted my framed picture of Green Lantern on the wall. He was muscular, handsome, and smiling smugly about it. I made a mental note to burn that picture first thing in the morning.



I trudged over to the bed and collapsed, suddenly weary from all that rigorous hair combing and face shaving. The problem, of course, was Ann. She was so cool and composed. She left too many silences that invited me to insert stupid remarks. She moved too gracefully, spoke too concisely, and thought too clearly. She made me yearn for her approval so badly that I drooled like an eager puppy.

Poor Ann. She had a date with a drooling puppy.

I heard the phone ringing in my parents’ bedroom across the hall, then I heard my mother call out from the kitchen, asking me to answer it because her hands were wet. If it turned out to be Ann on the phone, I decided to disguise my voice, pretend to be my father, and claim that I had disowned myself because my son had disgraced his father’s family.

Naw, that wouldn’t work. Just getting all the pronouns right would give me a headache. I picked up the phone, said “Hello,” then I gritted my teeth as I waited for Ann to tell me she could never love a man who would disgrace his father's family and callously abuse pronouns.

“Hey, Jones! I thought I’d wish you luck. Big date, eh? Dixon the Vixen.”

Oh, Lord. It was Jenner the Comic.

“Bad poetry. Just what I needed. Sir, you’re speaking of the girl I love. I demand satisfaction.”

“Okay, we’ll settle this with a duel at dawn. Bows at twenty paces.”

“Right. Walk ten paces, then turn and duck.” I was certainly getting no sympathy or support from this guy.

Stan’s tone changed a bit as he said, “Good lord, relax Jones! That girl crazy about you.”

It was just what I wanted to hear, but not who I wanted to hear it from. “I wish that were true, but . . . well . . . “

“No, really! She’s probably been writing lewd praise about you on the girls' restroom wall. Exaggerated claims about your prowess as a lover. Stuff like that.”

This one produced a giggle, but I didn’t want to encourage him, so I kept it quiet and just said, “How could you possibly know what's written on the walls of the girls’ restroom.”

“I have my sources,” Stan said in a low voice. “All those dark secrets that women keep from men are written on the walls of the girls’ restroom. They’re like the tombs of the pharaohs — a treasure trove of ancient secrets.”

A sudden mental image of Egyptian hieroglyphics scrawled on the walls in the girls’ restroom flashed into my mind. Some of the hieroglyphics were pretty lewd — which made them pretty funny.

“Hey, Jones, you still there?” Stan broke my trance and brought me back from the Land of the Sphinx.

“I gotta go. I have a date.” I paused for effect. “Do you?”

There was a long silence. Finally. “Jeez, I try to cheer up a friend, and what do I get?”

In a deep voice, I said, “You get my undying gratitude, Oh Mighty Pharaoh,”

“Wow, thanks,” said Stan, sounding less than convinced. “Good luck, okay? Be sure to use plenty of deodorant. What brand do you use?”

“Right Guard.”

“Uh-oh. That stuff won’t last more than an hour. Bring her home early.”

“Good-bye, Stan. Have a nice life.” I hung up the phone, drew a deep breath, and blew it out through flapping lips that made a rude sound. Ah well . . . my chariot awaits.
___________________________________________________________

I pulled up in front of Ann’s house ten minutes early, despite having driven twenty miles per hour all the way just to prevent that very thing. Rule number one from Brad Jones’s Handbook to Romance: Never appear overanxious.

Here’s another helpful hint from the aforementioned book. If the car you’re driving has a bench seat that features one of those fold-down armrests between the driver and the passenger, put it down before picking up your date. If the girl likes you, she’ll push it back up when she gets into the car so she can sit close to you.

But if she doesn’t push it up, you’ll know right off that she’s not attracted to you, or she’s playing hard to get, or perhaps both — the worse case scenario. Then you can fake a headache and take her home early, thereby saving yourself time, money, and a broken heart.



I got out of the car and headed reluctantly toward the front door. That part was easy. I rang the doorbell, which was a breeze. I greeted Ann’s father when he let me in, and I said hello to her mother, who looked me over carefully as if she was estimating my future career potential and longtime earning power. That part was no picnic, but I got through it.

But then came the hard part. Ann entered the living room like a Greek goddess. I stood there transfixed by Venus in a blue knit top and a gray cotton skirt. She stupefied me. I went schizophrenic, wanting to run away and rush to embrace her, both at the same time.

I compromised by saying, “You look terrific,” in a good imitation of a normal voice.

She smiled beautifully and replied, “Thank you, handsome. So do you.”

My heart raced madly, and I suddenly remembered that Right Guard was flammable. Oh God, please don’t let my armpits explode!
_______________________________________________________

We left the house after receiving strict orders about curfews, along with confusing directions about how to get to the theater. I opened the car door, and Ann entered like Cinderella boarding her coach to the royal ball. Brad, the transformed mouse, hurried around to the driver’s side. As I got in, Ann was lifting the armrest with a knowing smile, but she didn’t move over to the center of the bench seat.

Obviously, she was wise to that cheap armrest trick. No points scored. Round two.

I cranked up the car and pulled out of the driveway with reasonable competence. It was, I decided, time for light chitchat. Rule number two from the Handbook to Romance: Make light chitchat. Girls like to talk. Guys tend to ramble when they’re nervous with a girl, and that’s a big mistake. Guys should be willing to listen while the girls do the talking. Guys should only ramble in their heads — like I was doing now.

“How was your day?” I said lightly and then pressed my lips together and forced myself to listen.

“Fine. Yours?”

“Fine. Just fine.” I stared at the road ahead and wondered what to say. There I was, all ready to listen and not ramble, and she wouldn’t talk. I decided that my light chitchat had been too light. I needed to think of a subject. Ask a specific question. Say something out loud, instead of all this mental babbling!

“Your folks seem nice. What does your father do for a living?” That sounded pretty good. Show an interest in her family. Act like an adult.

“He works in the records department of the Atlanta Police Department.”

Sweet Adeline! He works for the cops! No, wait, don’t panic. Records, filing, he’s just a clerk, not a detective. No problem. Calm down.

“Oh, really?” I said, trying not to sweat. “How long has he been there?”

“Years and years. He used to be a detective, but he didn’t really like it. Now he’s in charge of the records section. That’s how come I know so much about the Bowmen. He’s read all the case files about them, and he’s told Mom and me about the investigation.”

Suddenly the last thing I wanted to talk about was the Bowmen. The fact that we had case files in the records section made me wonder which would happen first — my high school graduation or my conviction for multiple crimes against society.

I was getting more nervous by the minute. My Right Guard was dangerously close to detonation. Just to change the subject, I said quickly, “My father works for an airline.”

“Oh, really? Is a hea pilot?

“No, he works on the jet engines. He’s really smart.”

“I’ll bet he is,” Ann said casually. “You know, I told my father about your theory that the Bowmen are just teenagers. He says there are men on the police force who agree with you.”

“Aha.” Open mouth, insert foot. Why had I told her that?

“One of the uniformed policemen saw the Bowmen at the traffic accident, but they snuck off while he was helping some of the more seriously injured people.”

Right. Good old Officer Wilkerson. So that's the story he gave his superiors when they asked him why he hadn't arrested the Bowmen. He was obviously a great guy, but he’d seen all of us, and those masks we wore didn’t hide our faces much better than the bulky horn-rims Clark Kent wore to fool the myopic Lois Lane and the rest of her blind cohorts.

“What clued you about their age?” Ann said, gazing at me with the same dispassionate look the district attorney would give us at our trial.

I swallowed hard and tried to remain calm. It was a lost cause. “Wishful thinking. I have a Walter Mitty mind.”

“Gosh, I do that constantly,” said Ann, her voice turning soft, wistful, and very easy to fall in love with. “I mean, fantasizing about romantic places and exciting adventures. Dad says I’m a tomboy.”

A tomboy? Her? Jeez, no wonder her dad was no longer a detective!

“I’m kinda surprised, Ann.”

“Why?”

"Well, you're so feminine . . . but strong and independent, too." I didn’t mention gorgeous, but I was certainly thinking it.

She assumed a coy pose, tipped her head forward, and smiled at me as she fluttered her eyelashes like a classic femme fatale. "Why, thank you kind sir."

"You'd make a wonderful damsel in distress," I told her.

“Oh, I love romantic novels. I even used to read comic books when I was a little girl. Not the funny ones. I mean like Superman and Batman.”

I nearly strangled. She misread the reaction as ridicule, and she grew defensive. She gave me that dangerous look of hers and said, “Hey, girls have imaginations too, buddy! Superheroes are cool.”

“Sure, I was just — ”

“If you’d ever read any of the Spider-Man comics, you’d know that he had family problems and girlfriend problems and social problem with kids at school — just like real people!” She was getting all fired up on the subject, while I sat there trying to agree with her.

“I think Spider-Man is my fav — ”

“And don’t try to tell me that masked crime fighters can't exist, because the Bowmen have put that myth to rest once and for all!”

I held up my hands in mock surrender for a moment and then grabbed the steering wheel again as I said, “Whoa! I’m on your side. I still read comic books. I think they’re great.”

“What?” she looked startled as she pushed back a lock of hair that had drifted across her face while she was preaching to the choir.

“I agree with you. I got caught reading a Spider-Man comic in Mrs. Hensley’s class the last week of school.”

“Oh.” She made a visible effort to restore her normal composure. She smiled sheepishly. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to go nuts on you.”

“Quite all right. I admire your devotion to literary excellence.” We smiled at each other, then I turned my gaze back to the road while I mulled over the fact that I was with a lovely girl who staunchly defended the integrity of comic book superheroes. This was clearly on the unbelievable side of incredible. I debated the wisdom of proposing to her on our first date. Hmmm. Nope, better wait until the second date.

Then something she had said came back to me, and I sat there squirming as I fought the urge to ask her about it. Temptation won out.

“You said the Bowmen had proven that masked crime fighters could actually help society. Does your father agree with that?”

“Actually, what I said was they had disproved the myth that masked crime fighters can't exist. There’s a big difference. And no, my father says they aren’t helping at all. He says the police are having a hard time convicting anybody the Bowmen have stopped from committing a crime, because the Bowmen don’t stick around to give the police a statement. So, in a way they’re more of a hindrance than a help.”

I cursed myself for asking the question. The more we talked about the Bowmen, the more I felt like a criminal. But I had to make some reply, so I said, “Well, maybe they’ll quit soon.”

She was quiet for a moment, then she said, “Yeah . . . but I kind of hope they don’t.”

That one caught me by surprise. “Why not?”

I glanced over and saw her smiling at me. “Because,” she said lightly, “I stopped reading comic books when I was thirteen years old. But the Bowmen are beginning to make me think I gave them up too soon.”

I smiled back at her for more reasons than she knew. I suddenly understood exactly what Clark Kent felt like when Lois gushed about what a great guy Superman was — while Clark had to stand there and act like a mild-mannered reporter.

It was definitely time to stop talking about the you-know-who, so I took a deep breath and said, “Tell me about this movie we’re going to see.”

She launched into a detailed explanation of why she loved old movies like The Sea Hawk, complete with a black-and-white picture and a cast whose grandchildren were about our age now. Ann said that she had seen The Sea Hawk on the late, late show about two years ago when her father had let her stay up to watch it with him. He had seen it with his parents back in 1940-something.

A small theater on the north side of Atlanta specialized in showing old movies, and that’s where we were headed. Things went well for the rest of the trip. I perfected my light chitchat. Even my driving was improving. All was right with the world.

We arrived at the theater, and I bought two tickets. We loaded up on snacks and found two seats smack in the middle of the theater. I felt sorry for all those other guys in the crowd with their plain Jane dates. I was proof positive that superheroes got the prettiest girls.

The lights dimmed, the movie started, and Errol Flynn started giving me lessons on how to be dashing. I learned that Sea Hawks were English privateers who attacked Spanish ships and stole their cargo, most of which they then turned over to Queen Elizabeth to help her finance the British navy.



I was impressed. I was learning history while watching a cool movie, sitting next to a gorgeous girl, and eating popcorn. Why couldn’t the knuckleheads who ran the schools figure out how to teach math, English, and science like this?

Just imagine a big classroom with a snack bar. Hundreds of students sitting in the dark, learning science from movies like Forbidden Planet while they practiced their male/female social skills under the watchful eyes of the teachers circulating up and down the aisles to make sure the boys didn’t try to turn the science lesson into an anatomy lesson, using the girls as teaching aids!

Thirty minutes into the movie, I had an interesting thought. The Sea Hawks were patriotic citizens who volunteered their services in defense of the crown against the enemies of England.

By gum, that’s just what the Bowmen were doing! We were civic-minded citizens who were volunteering our services to the police in defense of the enemies of society.

This wacky thought made me sit taller in my seat and I puff out my chest a bit as I watched Errol Flynn and the crew of his ship, the Albatross, set sail for Panama so they could steal a bunch of gold from those dirty Spanish guys who were stealing it from the Aztecs. I figured the Aztecs would still be around today if they’d just had sense enough to institute a paper-money system, based on a gold standard like the United States — instead of flashing all their gold around in the form of jewelry and art objects.

By Jimbo, I was learning about economics as well as history! And I hadn't even finished my popcorn!

As the movie progressed (not to mention my education), I noticed a young couple a few rows closer to the screen and a few seats further to the left. The boy had his arm around his date’s shoulder, bold as brass and twice as shiny. And yet I was just sitting there staring at the movie and nibbling at my popcorn. I tried to get up the nerve to raise my arm and put it around Ann’s shoulders.

The idea terrified me. Ann might have some strict notions about what should happen on a first date. I'd heard stories at school about girls who went berserk if a guy got too bold. What if Ann screamed and called the cops? Unlikely, sure, but a guy could never be too careful. After all, her father worked for the police. One word from him and I’d be thrown into the slammer without the benefit of legal council or a normal jail cell that had a key. They’d just weld the door shut and walk away and slid food through a slot once or twice a week, like in The Count of Monte Cristo. I’d finally stumble out of my cell in twenty years with a long beard and ragged clothes that were two decades out of fashion.

After fighting against all these fearful thoughts, I finally gathered my courage and took Ann’s hand in mine. Her palm was cool and dry. Her hand was relaxed, not exactly committing itself to any passionate squeezing. Ah, well . . . so be it.

Mine, on the other hand (if you’ll pardon the pun) got itself damp in the palm area, pronto. I tried to will my nerves to stop all their senseless jittering, but they refused. I held her hand more loosely to let a little air get in between them. Maybe she would take the gesture as suave reserve.

Fat chance. She could read minds.

Ann leaned closer and brought her tender shoulder against mine. The soft, feminine contact completed some kind of electrical circuit, and I felt the batteries connected to my nervous system take on a charge that was dangerously close to overload. Ten or fifteen minutes of such voltage would fry my wiring and send smoke pouring out of my ears.

Ann’s dynamo shoulder was also having a marked effect on my body temperature. My hand was cooking itself, basted in perspiration. Corrective action was needed before the heat set off the sprinkler system in the theater. What would Errol Flynn do in a situation like this? Probably just give the girl a lusty farewell kiss and sail away on the morning tide. That was all well and good for Errol, but this landlubber didn’t have that option. I was on my own.

“What are you thinking about?” Ann said softly, leaning even nearer and pushing my voltmeter closer to the red line. Yikes! She really could read minds! Goosebumps marched up my arms and stood at attention, waiting for inspection by the Queen.

I smiled at Ann in the dim light and tried to keep my voice from cracking as I whispered, “I was thinking how nice you’d look in one of those fancy dresses they wore back then.”



Good lord! Where did that comment come from? I had no idea, but the bright smile that shone in the darkened theater made me think that Errol would have approved. My heart took wing — flap, flap, flap. My hand went airborne, too. It rose from hers, charred and smoking, to pass behind her head and place itself on her shoulder. She leaned even more firmly against me . . . and the world tilted on its axis.

Don’t faint, boy. It would be hard to explain. I tried to concentrate on the movie. Errol Flynn put to sea on a dangerous mission for the queen. Brenda Marshall, the delectable heroine, vowed to wait for him. Brave girl.



I noticed my nostrils twitching, and I realized that I was growing increasingly aware of Ann’s perfume. I leaned toward her a little and sampled the fresh smell of her hair. Her shoulder felt unbelievably round and soft beneath my hand.

The movie, Brad . . . the movie. Concentrate!

Errol and his loyal crew were captured by the Spanish and sentenced to be chained to the oars of a Spanish galley ship. The movie made such a fate look so horrible that merely being sent to jail would be Christmas in Connecticut by comparison. After all, the guys in jail weren’t whipped when they didn’t meet their daily quota of nine thousand oar strokes.

I yearned to leap up from the audience, dive into the movie screen, and kick some Spanish butts!



Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Ann looking at me. When I turned toward her, my nose was inches from hers. Report from schnoz: perfume still intoxicating. Report from eyes: she looked even better than she smells.

Her eyes were two emeralds from the Crown Jewels. Her lips were rose petals from the gardens of Spain. The faint smile she wore belonged to Mona Lisa. Or vice versa. One of the two.

“What are you thinking, princess?” I whispered.

“I was thinking how dashing you’d look in one of those costumes with a cutlass on your hip.”

I just stared at her and tried desperately not to imagine my skinny legs wearing tights and black shoes with big buckles. She held my befuddled gaze with a poker face that could win her large piles of chips in Las Vegas. Finally she giggled, squeezed my hand, and turned her gambler’s gaze back to the screen. My insecurity battled with my ego, each claiming a different interpretation of her remark. In confusion, I turned back to the movie.

Errol Flynn and the evil Lord Wolfingham squared off for the final confrontation. Sword against sword they fought. Steel rang on steel while Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s rousing music blasted out with lusty volume, thrilling our ears and blowing our hair back with the force of a stiff wind



Finally Errol’s sword found Wolfingham’s black heart and stilled it forever.



At the moment of the climax, I forgot myself completely.

“Yes!” I yelped — and I was instantly embarrassed by the outburst. But Ann’s eyes never left the screen, and her hand choked mine with impressive strength. She was just as engrossed by the movie as I was!

Errol was knighted for his noble efforts by the queen, while Brenda Marshall stood nearby looking shy and gorgeous and proud of her beloved. The final strains of the music thrilled my young heart and rattled the building’s rafters.

The End

Wow. What a movie.

The lights came up in the theater while Ann and I participated in some spontaneous applause from the loyal movie lovers around us. After wallowing in the exciting world of cinema fantasy for two hours, the dullness of reality came rushing in on us from all sides. But Ann’s presence took all of the usual sting out of facing reality after a great movie had ended. Once we made our way out of the theater, across the parking lot, and into the car, I asked Ann where she would like to go.

“Oh . . . someplace quiet, I guess. We can talk about heroes.”

My paranoia returned, with accrued interest. Just which heroes was she talking about? The Sea Hawk or the Bowmen? I pondered the problem of where to go, then I suggested the Shoney's, back in our neck of the woods.



She agreed and we headed off. During the drive, we discussed the highlights of the movie. I didn’t mention a few highlights that occurred to me, such as a soft round shoulder, sweet perfume, fragrant hair, and eyes that were like emeralds backlit by tiny light bulbs.

At the restaurant the hostess gave us a terrific table, way in back, far from the maddening crowd. But she looked a bit peeved when we only ordered two Cokes. I flashed her my best Errol Flynn smile and she softened visibly. After she left, Ann dropped the bomb.

“Hey, ya know what just occurred to me?”

“Nope. Shoot.”

“The Bowmen are kind of like the Sea Hawks.”

Good Lord, she was reading minds again! I could hear the Twilight Zone theme playing in my head. To cover my sudden pallor, I said, “Hmmm. How so?” I could just picture how guilty I looked.

“They battle the bad guys in an unofficial status. They have the support of the general population, but they always face the possibility of arrest.”

I nodded intellectually, trying to look objective and academic while Ann calmly discussed the fact that I was wanted by the police. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to blow the tension out through my nose.

“Maybe some situation will arise that will force the police to actually need the Bowmen’s help.” I was trying to reply in the spirit of her analogy to The Sea Hawk.

The waitress came with our Cokes and left quickly, probably wishing she was on a date with some handsome guy, being served Cokes by somebody else for a change. I felt sorry for her. She had probably been attractive fifteen years ago when she was on the cheer leading squad and trying to decide which member of the varsity football team would take her to the prom and treat her like the belle of the ball.

Ann was studying the bubbles in her Coke while she pondered the scenario I had presented concerning the Bowmen. After a moment she looked up, her eyes shining with glee, and she spoke in a secretive tone. The corners of her mouth were lifted by the joy of her conspiratorial plans.

“I get it. You mean like if there was a spy for organized crime who worked for the police department, and the chief didn’t know who to trust, so he asked the Bowmen to help him find out who the spy was?”

I bit my tongue and held her gaze while I tried to decide how to respond. My experience as Captain of the Bowmen had made me see the whole superhero idea in a new light. Comic book stories were wonderful. Reality was something very different.

“Well, yeah . . . like that . . . “ I said slowly. “But I was thinking of something more . . . realistic.”

She grew serious for a moment and then said, “Oh, okay. Not Hollywood, huh? Real life. Ummm, that’s tougher.” I watched her puzzle with the problem, and I was tempted to say something dopey like, You’re beautiful when you’re puzzled. Thank goodness I resisted the urge.

“Got it!” she said suddenly. “Suppose the Bowmen witnessed some incident where a patrolman shot a suspect, and afterwards there was some doubt that the shooting was necessary. You know, what the police call justifiable homicide.”

I went all slack-jawed and dumbstruck by the concept. Then I said, “Right! And because we witnessed it, we would be the only ones who could testify that the shooting was justifiable as self defense or whatever!”

She held my gaze for a long moment, still smiling, and I wondered why she didn't say anything. Finally, she said one word. "We?"

I didn't get it. "What?"

"You said we. We're talking about the Bowmen, right? Not you and me."

My face turned as red as a ripe apple when I realized the magnitude of my monumental slip. My voice was hoarse as I whispered a desperate denial.

"No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did." Her smile widened. My guilt increased.

"Oh. Well, I meant they." My red face felt sunburned as I tried to lie and look innocent — and doing it very badly.

"You did ?" She was still smiling, but she was clearly puzzled.

"Of course I did."

She demonstrated both compassion and pity for a man in torment when she said, "Well, then that settles it. I'm sure you did."

Again she was wearing the smile which had made Mona Lisa famous for centuries — and which was making me very nervous right now. Just to be on the safe side, I blanked my mind to guard it from being read. But the look in her eyes gave my guilty conscience a good reason to stay up all night and stare at the ceiling.

The waitress came with refills for our Cokes, and I could have kissed her for providing a distraction I could use to escape this embarrassing situation. While she filled up our glasses, I tried to think of a way to change the subject without arousing further suspicion. Fortunately, it turned out to be unnecessary. Ann took a sip of her Coke and then said, “What are your plans for the future?”

I had to study the question for a moment before I said, “Career-wise, you mean?” She nodded. I wondered if her mother had told her to ask. After debating various answers, I replied, “Well, I like to draw. Maybe I’ll be an artist.”

She nodded for a moment, then she said, “Have you ever considered being a writer?”

I held her gaze and fought the urge to tell her I would be anything she wanted me to be. Then I became convinced she was looking inside my head again and she liked what she saw. I suddenly had the insane urge to tell her that Bradford Jones, mild-mannered high school senior, was actually one of the Bowmen, fighting a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.

I swallowed the confession whole, and in it’s place I said softly, “I’m just a wide-eyed dreamer. Probably never amount to anything.”

Ann held my gaze with hypnotic force as she replied, “First-class dreamers are rare indeed. We need more of them.” Her emerald eyes were beaming.

I was woefully short of breath, but I managed to whisper, “But the job don’t pay so good.”

“Depends on what you do with your dreams.” Her voice was Webster’s definition of soft. See also: feminine. I suddenly became aware that someone off to my right was trying to get my attention.

Oh, right, the waitress.

I forced my head to turn in that direction, but I had trouble focusing my eyes. They had just returned from the Emerald City.

“Would you two like another refill?” she asked.

She looked as if she hoped we would break down and order a couple of Shoney's famous Big Boy hamburgers. Anything that would promise a bigger tip than two Cokes with endless refills. I looked at my watch and decided that it was time to raise anchor and set sail.

“No, thank you. We need to go.”

She made out the check with elaborate boredom, but when I thanked her with a nice smile, she smiled back. After she left, I pulled a five-dollar bill from my wallet and put it on the table. Chalk it up to the magic of the moment and a sympathetic appreciation for working women everywhere who daydreamed about their high school proms while they waited for quitting time to finally arrive.

I tried not to be obvious about dragging my feet as we headed for the car. I was in no hurry to end this evening. Several times on the way home I caught myself driving twenty miles per hour. Ann must have noticed and understood, because she snuggled close and laid her head on my shoulder. After that, I caught myself going fifteen miles per hour. I wondered if I might be arrested for obstructing traffic. Or for going no-way on a two-way street.

Despite my efforts to the contrary, we reached Ann’s house a few minutes before eleven. A thought suddenly hit me. Would she kiss me goodnight? It was only our first date. That meant she probably wouldn’t. But we had grown close in a short time. That meant she might. But she wouldn’t want me to think she went around kissing every guy who bought her a Coke. And after all, this was just our first date.

I was back to Go.

I got out and hustled around the car to hold the door for her. She took my arm as we strolled up to the front door.

“Brad, I had a very nice time.” She said it with a sincerity that noodled my knees.

“So did I.” We reached the front porch and she turned toward me, green eyes weaving their magic spell. I stood there like a goof for a moment, getting very confused and indecisive about my next move. Finally I spoke in a low and husky voice.

“May I kiss you goodnight?”

The Mona Lisa smile came out again. She seemed to frame her reply carefully. “This was our first date, Brad.” Her voice was soft and gentle.

“Oh.” I looked down, embarrassed. "Right."

“I don’t usually kiss a guy on the first date.” She wore the look which tender nurses used when telling terminally ill patients not to make long range plans.

“Sure. I understand.”

“I’m glad you do,” she whispered.

And then her lips came floating up toward mine. At the last second I understood what she meant, just in time to turn my head slightly to the side to prevent our noses from colliding. The kiss was short enough to be proper, but long enough to be a kiss and not just a peck on the lips. She pulled back and said quietly, “Good night, Brad.”

She turned, opened the door, and was gone.

As I walked back to the car, I had to consciously place one foot in front of the other. The drive home was interesting. My view of the road ahead had a second image superimposed over it. Ann’s face repeatedly floated up to mine, her lips were tasted and re-tasted for that brief-but-endless moment, over and over.

I caught myself humming as I pulled into my driveway. I didn’t recognize the tune, but I loved it. When I got out to raise the garage door, the starry sky looked like something from a great painting. I didn’t recognize the artist, but I loved it.

I parked the car without mishap in our basement garage — a minor miracle — and floated upstairs to greet Mom and Dad as I passed through the den where they were watching the news. They probably asked me about my evening, and I probably answered. Hard to say. My mind was elsewhere. I crawled into bed as I pondered the great fictional heroines from the world of comic superheroes — Lois Lane, Iris West, Mary Jane Watson. Every hero needs a heroine. I decided that a green-eyed blond heroine would suit me nicely, yes indeed.

I drifted off to sleep while telling myself I was a silly fool for making so much out of one evening and one date. I scoffed at my own wild reaction to a few flirtatious gestures. Tomorrow I’d probably realize I had acted like a lovesick puppy from the time I'd picked her up to the time she'd given me a small kiss, simply to thank me for a nice eventing.

Just as I began to wonder if Ann was thinking about me at that exact moment, I fell into a deep and relaxing . . .

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Is there no man on Earth who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?
~ The Space Children (1958)
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