August 28, 1964 – THE INVITATION
By Shari Weiss
This is the ultimate rush. We’re speeding down Aurora Road at more than 100 miles an hour, and my whole left side is squeezed up next to Arnie Buckner, the most gorgeous guy in Mayfield High School. Wow! What a birthday present. I just want this to go on and on forever. I’d give anything if it could.
Everything outside is blitzed in green, and I can close my eyes and see the scene we make. Arnie’s red Thunderbird is the flame of a rocket breaking every barrier — light, time, and speed. We’re shooting stars in the sunlight. We’re characters fast forwarding in a movie . . . and I’m practically hugging Mr. Movie Star. It’s too good to be true. The hardest part to believe is that Lyle suggested it. In all of his sixteen years, he’s never been so nice to me. But even selfish, creepy big brothers like Lyle can be okay if their best friends are as good looking as Arnie and they dream up bright ideas like this drive in the country to celebrate my 14th birthday.
I shocked my best friend Tina yesterday when I called to tell her about the invitation and cancel our plans to see the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night. She understands. She knows how crazy I am about Arnie — that wavy dark hair like Fabian’s, those blue blue eyes, those muscles bulging out from under t-shirt sleeves. He’s just so cool.
“You’re going to have a blast, and I’m jealous as heck,” Tina had said, acting annoyed, but I know she wasn’t really. She likes Arnie, too; so do all the girls we know going into the ninth grade. But no one likes him as much as I do. No one else keeps a list describing his six shirts and five pairs of pants and the days he’s worn them. No one else has gone to Euclid Beach Park and ridden the “Thriller” ride six times a row with him — in her diary. No one else knows that if they had Arnie Buckner, they would never, never need anything else in their whole life.
“Here, you thought he didn’t even know you were alive,” Tina said last night. “Remember, Monica, you have to tell me everything,” she begged before we hung up.
The force of a surge beneath the car causes me to open my eyes and realize that Lyle’s just said something to Arnie. A dare to break 120, I think. Lyle looks at the speedometer and then at me, “You ain’t seen nothing yet, Moan-y.” Moan-y. I hate when he calls me that. Maybe Arnie won’t notice. Lyle treats me like such a baby. It isn’t fair, especially not in front of anyone else. Sometimes I feel like kicking him, really hurting him, but how could I? Besides, today is different. Today we’re more like friends. I’m not going to let anything get to me.
“Come on Arnie, punch it up there,” Lyle says, smirking right in my face. “Get ready, sis. This T-Bird’s made for speed.” My brother turns to the windshield, leans forward on the dashboard, and rests his chin on his fists. “This is living right, man,” he says, and I have to agree.
Arnie’s so cool, though, he doesn’t have to say a word. Those sexy muscles in his right arm have stiffened, and I can imagine him flexing them for a centerfold in one of those body building magazines. He’s so manly that it scares me. Everything inside me holds its breath so I can be as still as a statue.
Arnie’s a statue, too. He concentrates so hard. I picture this neon light above his head blinking Do not Disturb, and I want to giggle, but don’t. Sound is not allowed. The boys don’t talk. They don’t even play the radio. And all this silence makes everything sharp and dramatic, like life inside the car has paused so I can hold onto every moment. That wouldn’t make sense if I said it to Lyle, but I bet Arnie would know just what I meant. He hasn’t said much to me yet, but I feel something growing between us that has nothing to do with words.
Lyle has started talking across me to Arnie, and I sense the car slowing. What are they planning now? The green blurs are trees again, miles and miles of trees along both sides of the road, but it’s strange; there are no houses, no barns, no road signs, nothing but trees and road. It’s like we’ve driven into a story from the Twilight Zone.
“Your turn, young’un,” Arnie says. He pulls the car to a perfectly smooth stop on the side of the road. My chest starts pounding, but then I remember that my brother is six months younger than his best friend. I swallow with relief and hope that Arnie hasn’t seen my moment of panic, but he’s grinning at Lyle and takes the keys from the ignition. Moving to open the door, he leaves an emptiness, a chilling empty place, there at my side. I feel weird and wonderful at the same time. He has left me, but it is like he’s pulling me with him. It’s the feeling I’ve had so many times: when I’ve written the notes to him I’ve never sent; when I write his name over and over in my notebook; when I go to sleep, hoping to dream of him.
“Hey Dopey, you getting out or what?” Lyle says. I haven’t noticed that he’s also gotten out of the car, but he sticks his head back in to talk to me and pinch my arm.
“Ow, you cree. . . What’s going on?” I ask, and rub the smarting spot which I’m sure will turn black and blue. “I thought you were going to take a turn driving, and I was just going to —”
“Yeh, yeh, yeh. That’s the plan. You’ll get to see Lightning Lyle, the He-man of the Highways blast off into the sunset.” Lyle is standing all cocky-like, outside the car; he gazes at his right hand curled in front of his mouth, then huffs on the fist before brushing it against his chest like braggers do.
Behind us, the trunk has creaked open, the top bouncing twice, and I realize Arnie is removing something from the back. I slide over the seat towards Lyle, step out of the car, and see that Arnie has set two six-packs of Schlitz on the ground by the back tire. An army blanket rolled under his left arm, he’s shutting the trunk. Lyle goes back to pick up the beer, and they both head into the trees.
What am I supposed to do? Have they forgotten about me?
Oh no, how could I be so dumb. It’s a picnic, a picnic special for my birthday. Wow. Super cool! Tina’ll never believe me. She’ll think I made it all up. Lyle has never done anything nice for me before, so it can’t be all Lyle. It has to be Arnie’s idea. I knew he liked me. I just knew he did.
Lyle is trailing Arnie through the trees, though I don’t see any path. I guess I’m just supposed to follow along, too. I touch the bark on the trees I pass; it’s like a game to make friends, so I start to baptize each one with a name. John . . . Paul . . . Ringo . . . George . . . This is fun. It’s different, but I feel like I’m making things happen. My feet want to skip, but I remind myself to look carefully at the ground in front of me. I don’t want to trip over any roots or rocks or do anything to keep the party from being fun.
I walk under a small tree branch but don’t duck my head fast enough, and a twig scratches across my head, pulling a few hairs. I look back up and see that the boys have gotten out of sight. Darn. What have I done? For sure, they’ll think I’m just a kid if I call out to them. Darn. Darn. Darn. This has been perfect so far.
“Hey, Moan-y. Beer’s getting warm.”
Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you, God. They’re close. I was always good at directions. Funny how easy it is to panic when nothing’s really wrong. I think back to Arnie in the car next to me, our bodies squeezed side by side. He smelled so good. Was it an aftershave? I stumble on a rock, but don’t fall.
“Careful there, sis.” Lyle has seen me before I reach the small clearing where the two of them sit on the blanket, each with a beer bottle already opened. “Sit down, birthday girl,” says Lyle, motioning to a spot facing them. He hands me an opened bottle of beer while Arnie takes a big gulp of his, not looking my way, not noticing whether I’ve come or not. It’s like that feeling growing between us has died, disappeared like a ghost, or maybe it never really was.
I sit down on the blanket wondering if I ought to be here at all. The wool material is scratchy, and the ground is hard. There’s a big sharp rock under me that I try to smooth it away, but I can’t, so I move and have to sit closer to Lyle, who smiles at me like he likes me.
“You going to hold that beer or drink it?” he asks.
The only time I ever tasted beer before, I hated it. But now that I’m fourteen, maybe I can develop a taste for it. I close my eyes and take a sip. The beer is cold and bitter. I still don’t like it, and it reminds me of the macaroni and cheese mom used to make us eat. I’d gag and throw up sometimes when I was a kid, or if nobody was watching, I’d hide it under the sofa in the den. But now I like macaroni and cheese, and I bet I’ll like beer, too, if I give it a chance. I feel very grown up.
Lyle chugs the last of his first beer and grabs for a second. He offers it to Arnie, who shakes his head and fumbles in the pocket of his t-shirt for something. He takes out a hand-rolled cigarette, a marijuana cigarette. Arnie is going to smoke a joint! The beer in my throat chokes me; I start to cough; my eyes water, and my stomach pitches into itself. Drinking beer is one thing, but smoking pot is against the law. I don’t even know what marijuana smells like. Once Tina told me the restroom of a movie theater we had just walked out of reeked of pot, but I hadn’t noticed.
No one says anything to me as Arnie draws in a breath of smoke and passes the cigarette to Lyle, who does the same, then passes it to me.
“Wh-Wh-What do I do?” I ask looking only at Lyle and hoping he won’t say something like ‘Smoke it you dope’.
“Watch me,” says Arnie in a surprisingly gentle voice as he takes the cigarette from me. “You just inhale. It’s called taking a toke,” he says, placing the cigarette between his pursed lips like he’s whistling in instead of out. His eyes are closed and he looks like he’s dreaming. Then he opens his eyes, looks at me, and takes the cigarette from his lips like he’s handing me a kiss. “Your turn,” he says, putting the cigarette into my fingers while cupping my right hand for a moment in his left. He’s touching me! For the first time, he’s really touching me.
Oh God, I would do anything for him. I want to be very good. I don’t want to choke or disappoint him or make him think that I’m too young to have fun. I just want to be cool.
“Go easy, sis, or you’ll choke,” says Lyle as he opens a third bottle of beer.
I’m not a baby. I’m not a baby. I’m not a baby. I want to learn how to do things. I want Arnie to be proud of me.
“We all have to start sometime,” Arnie says winking at me like he likes me, too, like he really cares, like he’s reading my mind, and it’s okay just to be learning.
* * * * *
This is the cool-est birthday ever. I’m so-o-o happy, as happy as I could ever be; it’s like everything is silky and smooth, and no rough edges. I feel like I’m dancing around a big ballroom, and I haven’t even moved. Lyle and Arnie are my best friends. I like being grown up. I can inhale without even coughing.
I wonder if I look as cool smoking the roach as they do; the roach, what a stupid, stupid name. Roaches are ugly. Stupid me. I thought they saw a roach, and it made me scream. They laughed, but I did, too, and they thought that was cool.
Lyle is getting up and stretching his arms like he’s yawning. “Time to hit the road,” he says, grinning at us.
I look at my beer and see there’s more than one inch left in the bottle. And still two unopened Schlitz bottles in one of the six packs.
“Take your time, sis. I’m just going to take a spin on my own,” Lyle says.
He’s so happy he even winks at us. And I’m happy, too. Happy for my brother? That’s a switch. It must be part of becoming mature, or something. Maybe when he gets back, they’ll want me to take a turn driving. Oooh, I don’t know. But, that might be really neat.
“You know, you’re very pretty.” It’s the hunk, Arnie, my dream, my secret love, smiling and talking just to me. He’s so sweet, just like an older brother, who’s nice instead of mean most of the time, like Lyle.
“Really?” I ask, but don’t know why. Shouldn’t I say ‘Thank you’ or ‘You’re cute, too’ or something clever? Am I really pretty, pretty enough for Arnie to like me? If he says it again, I’ll know he means it. That’s very important — to be pretty. If I were really pretty I could have anything. Lyle says that about the pretty girls in school. Dad has said so, too. Even mom thinks it’s true. I remember when I started to bleed three years ago. I didn’t know what to do but cry. Mom saw my tears and told me how much prettier I was when I smiled. Then I told her what had happened and she looked like she’d done something wrong instead of me. She was apologizing when she gave me a sanitary pad to put in my panties. The next day I got an unexpected gift wrapped in red and blue foil paper with a gold bow. It was a book about sex and a box containing my first bra. I guess that was the beginning of my maturity.
“I like you,” Arnie says, handing me a bottle of beer he has just opened. He really does like me! Oh, God, my whole mind and body seem to be spinning. My chest gets tight and my throat feels like I can’t swallow. The sunshine streaming down through the trees lights up his handsome face, and he’s telling me he’s all mine. We’re in a dream with magic air, and we’re floating; it’s my dream, but it really is happening. I know that, and I know that my whole body is so full it cannot hold another thing.
I shake my head to refuse the beer but cannot find the right words, so I look away from Arnie’s movie star face and watch his hand put the opened bottle back in the cardboard container next to the Schlitz that’s still capped. They look just like a couple, the two bottles, like a bride and groom going down the aisle. What did Arnie say? It was nice. Did he say I was pretty again? Darn it, I can’t remember. Lyle just left us alone, like those two bottles of beer . . . two bottles of beer on the wall . . . two bottles of beer . . . if one of those bottles should happen to fall . . . one bottle of beer on the wall. . . What a dumb song. Arnie’d think I was really stupid if he could read my mind . . . He likes me, that’s what he said. I’m sure of it. He likes me. Is it too late to say I like him, too? Oooh, I’m starting to giggle; I can’t help it; I’m just so happy.
“I’m having such a great time, and I like you, too.” There, I said it, sneaked it in, so maybe he won’t even notice.
“That’s good. I mean, that’s great, but, you know, I was wondering –”
“That’s good. I mean, that’s great . . .” I start to echo him but I’m giggling too hard to finish. He’s so much fun to be with. I always knew it would be just like this.
“You know, you’re a lot of fun to be with,” he says, taking one of my hands and looking deeply into my eyes like he wants all of my prettiness for himself. We think just alike; we’re meant for each other. I squeeze his hand to let him know.
“What I was wondering . . . What I’m still wondering . . . ” he says, looking down at our hands. His voice is smooth like the water in a pond; it’s cute the way he’s struggling for the right words. Maybe he wants to go steady. What a birthday present that would be!
“If you could have anything you want for your birthday, what would you wish for?” he asks.
That’s easy, but a cool person would play hard to get, so I answer, “I don’t know.” I take my hand out of his and make a steeple with my fingers.
“Sure you do. Anything, anything at all . . . I know what I’d like,” he says.
“Tell me.” I cross my arms in front of me to challenge him.
“No, it’s not my birthday.” He takes my hand back and stares at me like I’m a mirror. I hear a bird’s chirping and crane my neck upwards to see where the song is coming from. “You sure are pretty,” Arnie says.
“Lyle says I look like a lizard hippo.”
Oh, God. Why did I say that? What a dopey thing to do. I’m getting confused. I don’t know if it’s hot or cold here. Am I too excited? Am I nervous? Is this what it’s like to be growing up? To be in the middle of a story and suddenly wanting to read the last pages to see how it ends?
“Lyle said you liked me,” Arnie begins to tiptoe his fingertips up my leg to the edge of my madras shorts. “You have beautiful legs,” he says, still looking down at them.
No one has ever said that to me. His voice is romantic, like he’s full of feeling and not just making things up. His words make me feel so strong, like I could do anything, like if I could look deeply enough into his eyes, I’d be able to read his mind, too. Then I could find out if he loves me like I love him.
“You know, you’re becoming a very beautiful girl,” he says, brushing a wisp of hair off my face where it had fallen across my eyes. “You have blue eyes, too. I love blue eyes.” His look tells me he almost does love me.
I turn away toward the trees, then down to his hand resting on my leg right above my knee. I notice a tiny wart on the knuckle of his little finger. But my skin is numb, and I can no longer feel his touch, nor can I think of anything to say. I’m certain that if I could find the perfect words, then I could make it happen; I could make him fall in love with me.
“Look up there,” he says, and takes his hand off my leg to gesture upwards.
My eyes follow his pointing finger towards the patch of blue sky inside the ring of tree branches, but my attention is drawn to the cool air tickling my skin where his hand has been. I’m not numb after all.
“Where? ” I ask, and cup my hand over my eyes to shield them from the sun.
“Can’t you see?” he asks.
“No, I don’t know what to –”
“It’s those tree limbs up there, the way they’re shaped like a wagon wheel.”
A wagon wheel? I squint but don’t see anything like a wagon wheel. What’s so special about a wagon wheel? My neck hurts from stretching, and I lift a hand to rub it when Arnie leans over in front of me. He looks up to the sky like he’s trying to see through my eyes.
“Won’t work,” he says. “You’ve got to see it from down here.” He puts both of his hands on my shoulders, gently pushes me backwards and places my back on the exact spot where he was sitting. I look up, but before I can really focus, I see Arnie’s face coming towards me, then bouncing off my lips. He’s kissed me. Arnie Buckner kissed me!
The smell on his face of beer and marijuana had zoomed in on me, but the touch of his lips was so faint that I wonder what I felt. Earlier, when Arnie had revved the engine, I remember the charge rushing through my chest, and I want to feel like that now. But I don’t. This is not like the movies, I think, but then I look up and see that Arnie is sitting above me, breathing very hard and staring sweetly at me. That is like the movies. He mumbles something, but his face is too far away. The pounding in my head makes me dizzy.
‘Are you happy? . . . ready? . . . comfy?’ What did he say? What would make sense? Yes, I guess I’m happy. “Yes, I guess . . . ” I say aloud without realizing that I’m speaking, and he pulls off his t-shirt, then lays on the ground next to me.
“Touch my chest,” he says, rolling his face toward me. It’s the same face but it’s different when we’re lying down. I think of the fear I didn’t want to have when we were speeding along the road. I feel a new fear, and it makes me so stiff I cannot move. Arnie raises up on an elbow and reaches over my body for my left hand. His hand just covers mine gently. He looks into my eyes, and I just know he’s going to tell me he loves me.
“I love you,” he says and bends to my face and touches my lips with his in a soft moment that becomes a powerful pull and a gift, and I know that I will never want anything else in my whole life. He lets go of my hand and moves his arm under my neck and holds me to him; he’s on top of me, crushing my chest so it’s hard to breathe, but it’s a delicious pain, and I just want him here. He pulls up my shirt and rubs his chest against mine. It’s sweaty, but it’s his sweat, and it feels like we’re sharing everything, just like you do with someone you truly love. His fingers unhook my bra, and he lifts part way off me to pull away the bra and then begins to touch my breasts as gently as he had touched my leg before. I have never felt this happy. No one else could ever make me feel this way. Everything he does makes me feel special.
Arnie lifts himself off me and stands up over me. It’s hard to see his face because of the sun shining down through the trees, but I see his hands go to his pants, and he begins unzipping them. I think of the word stripper and feel a giggle beginning, but then I stop myself. This is serious. He’s sliding off his pants, and he’s almost naked. He lies down next to me again, reaches for my hand, and slips it inside his shorts.
I’d never felt one before. It was bigger and harder than I imagined. How had he hidden this in his pants?
Tina and I sometimes joked about making love, but I never associated it with body parts before. He’s making my hand go deeper and touch him more. Should I be doing this? Does it feel good to him? Does it feel good to me? Does he plan to go all the way?
I love him so much, and I want to make him happy. He lets go of my hand, but I continue because I know he wants me to. I feel his hand slipping off my shorts and panties.
Then he pulls me on top of him and his hard thing pushes against me down there. My body feels like a statue again.
“Relax, honey,” he says, and kisses my neck. I try to feel the kisses and not the part about being naked.
He rolls me back onto the ground, smiles, and says, “This isn’t fair. You’re all undressed, and I’m not.” He takes my hand and guides it to pull off his shorts. Without letting go of my hand, he puts it on his thing again and leaves it there. He sticks a finger inside of me and I know we’re going to do it.
* * * * *
It was over very fast. She almost couldn’t believe that anything had really happened. She was very, very wet. She remembered how heavy he’d been on top of her, but he was off now, rolled away from her. Surely, this couldn’t be all there was?
They heard the horn blast three times. “Lyle’s back” he said, and gathered up his clothing. “Happy birthday kid.” He didn’t kiss her, ever again.