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Ray Charles

"Go with you?" I asked. A mute yes affirmed his reply.

Why would he want me to go with him? I considered

his question since the light behind him beguiled me.

I loved him, but I didn't want to go, and I told him so,

knowing he wouldn't mind.


He nodded, smiled, and walked away.


***

It was my sixteenth birthday, and I planned to get

kissed. Stevie Ducharme, my handsome, warmhearted

boyfriend was picking me up at 7:30 to go to a Ray

Charles concert in Lafayette, in the hub of Acadiana,

where French Louisiana Cajun culture thrived. This

was the first time I was allowed out of town with a boy.



That's Ray Charles, ya’ll. Live! Besides that, Mom and Dad surprised me with a blue princess phone. Things don't get any better than that.


Around 5 o'clock, I began the getting-ready-for-a-date ritual. After a leisurely bath, I wrapped my auburn-brown tresses around cascades. The bristly, barrel-shaped rollers came in three sizes--large, medium and small. For tonight's do, I used the large sized ones for the crown and the small ones around my face and neck. Bobby pins and spear-shaped plastic picks held them in place. These would give me the full-bodied, sleek creation I preferred, not the popular teased bouffant style. So last year.


After sticking my head under the bulky hair dryer with a top that resembled something from outer space, I admired my new phone, the powder blue color, and the latest design. I smiled and called my best friend, Phyllis.


"Hey, sounds like you're drying your hair," she said. And we both giggled. The contraption roared  like a rocket ship after launch.


"Yeah, hold on." Reaching behind my shouder I turn the machine down a notch.


"So what time is Stevie coming for you?" she asked.


"At 7:30, but, the whole thing nearly got nixed."


She shrieked the way only a 16-year-old girl can. "Nixed? Why?"


"Well, he called yesterday and said Jay had asked for a ride with us to the concert. He wanted to know if I minded.


"I said I wouldn't, but I did. This would make it harder to carry out my mission: getting kissed." Screaming chuckles from the other end of the line. This time, I'm pretty sure we may have broken the sound barrier.


"So what happened when you told your momma?"


"She was standing at the stove cooking supper when I told her about it. She turned to me, placed her hands on her hips, and said, 'I'm not letting you go out of town with two boys!'"


Phyllis gasped. “No way. So?"


I reached toward the dressing table in front of me and grabbed the bottle of nail polish. "Well, I called Stevie and told him Momma wouldn't let me go with two boys."


"What'd he say?"


“He just said okay.”


I tucked cotton balls between my toes before lacquering them with the shimmering pink polish. "Too bad for Jay, but this is a special year, ya know?"


"Yeah, I'm sure he'll understand."


By the time we finished yacking, my hair was dry. "Gotta go," I said.


"Call me tomorrow. I want to hear about everything."


"Okay." More giggles.


Next stage of the girly ritual--make up. After applying the foundation, careful not to miss any spots, I began the tour-de-force of 1960's make up--the eyes. I started with black eyeliner making sure I lengthened the line past the outer ends and ended with an upward turn. Lifting my chin, I tilted my head to one side and the other. Perfect. Très James Bond-esque. Pleased with myself, I reached for the navy eye shadow to bring out my blue peepers. False eyelashes were the rage, but I opted for a generous amount of mascara. Then, the coup de grâce, pink shimmering lipstick.


I checked the time: 7:00. Time for the final step in snaring your man--the dress. Something light. August heat in South Louisiana is unforgiving. My sleeveless, just-above-the-knee-length, milk-chocolate jumper brought out my eyes and the auburn brown highlight of my hair. I stepped back and admired my reflection.


Oh yeah, I'm definitely getting kissed.


I glanced at the clock, almost 7:45. Where is he? Part of the dating custom of the day required making your date sit tight and wait in the living room, sometimes under the glaring eyes of the father. A girl didn't want to seem too anxious. Annoyed, I sighed. No time for that now. I tapped my foot and waited, staring out the window in the direction he'd be coming.


That's when Grandpa's visit came to mind. Did I make up the whole thing? Am I really a woman now?


Mom's hand on my shoulder startled me. "Stevie isn't here yet?"


The trip to Lafayette took a half-hour. Also, we needed to park and walk to the stadium. My eyes rested on my new phone. Should I call? Good girls didn't ring up boys in the early 60's. Not in our small town, anyway.


Unable to contain myself, I dialed the number.


"Hey, Mrs. Ducharme. It's Connie."


“Oh, hello, Connie. How are you?" She liked me, so I felt at ease with her.


"Fine. Is Stevie's home?"


"No, he left about 7:30 for the Ray Charles show.”


"That's when he was supposed to pick me up."


"I'm sorry, Connie. He didn't say anything."


"Nothing?"


"Just that he was going with Jay?


"Jay?" My stomach lurched. "He went with Jay instead of  me?"


I swallowed hard before telling her the story about going with two boys. I couldn't stop my voice from wavering. "I thought he would take me."


"Of course you did. What's wrong with that boy?"


After we hung up, my tears mingled with black mascura streaking down my fresh 16-year-old cheeks. My face plopped onto my pillow, and I bawled. "How could he do this-- and on my birthday? He'll be lucky if he ever gets a kiss from me," I yelled.


Momma came to the door, "What's the matter, sha?" She sat next to me and rubbed my back. I remembered Grandpa Teen's visit again. I remembered the tempting light behind him. Maybe I should have gone with him.


The phone woke me the next morning. Half-awake, the voice on the other end sounded far away.


Stevie spoke. "Do you want to go out to eat tonight?"


"Huh? What?"


"Uh, out to eat. You wanna' go?"


Half asleep I accepted. "I guess." I fumbled around for the cradle and dropped the receiver in place. Furious with myself, I launched my pillow across the room. Oh no, what did I do? Well, too late now.


Faye played loud music in the next room, and my 10-year-old brother, Joey, screamed about something he didn't want to do. "Faye, turn that damn stereo down. And Joey, shut up!"


I raised up to my elbows and blinked my eyes. A horrific thought came to me: What if Mrs. Ducharme made him call?


I sat up and reached for the telephone. My hand hovered over the key pad. Should I call back and give him a piece of my mind? Instead, I called Phyllis. While the phone rang, I lay on my back with hot teardrops running down my face.


She answered, and I relayed my sad tale. "That's not like Stevie," she said.


"Yes, but that's what happened."


"Okay. Plan B. Act like nothing's wrong. When he gets to your house, let him have it."


"Yeah, I can get into that. Not like he doesn't deserve it, right?"


This time the getting-ready-for-a-date regime was more like a premeditated ambush with twin drums beating a menacing rhythm--one in my head, one in my heart. His explanation better be damn good.


When the sound of the front door shutting, Faye joined me in the bathroom. "Stevie's here. He let himself in." In our small town, people didn't always knock. What happened next, though, blew my away. He popped up at the opened bathroom door where I sat combing my hair.















Faye eyed me through the mirror. She cocked her head to one side and widened her eyes. With lowered eyes, Stevie stretched his arm out and tossed a little white box with a gold tie onto the counter in front of me--like someone throwing meat to hungry lions.


"Happy birthday," he mumbled. Before I could react, he disappeared into the living room.


He looks worried," Faye said.


I grinned. "Revenge is sweet."


"Well, you might as well open it."


I picked the gift up, held it a while, then slipped the cord off.  Inside a translucent, white pearl droplet, dangled from a tiny, silver chain.


"Well, that says somethin'," Faye said. "He's either real sorry or real scared."

"I hope both." Grandpa Teen's message replayed in my head. I calmed down and asked myself: What would a woman do?


When  I entered the room, he sat on the front edge of his seat with his elbows resting on his knees. Once he saw me, he stood quickly. I tried to be grown up, so I said nothing. With his eyes focussed to the floor, he ran his hand through his hair and ventured a glance into my eyes, "I'm sorry."


Out of pride, I turned my head to one side, not wanting him to see my humiliation and insecurity. He must not like me cause he took Jay instead of me. But, again, I said nothing.


As he shifted from one foot to the other, he said, "Momma told me what happened." I stared at him out of the corner of an eye. I wanted to believe him. "Your Momma said you couldn't go with two boys, so I thought you couldn't come or you didn't want to."


"Didn't want to?"


A sheepish grin spread across his lips. "I thought you didn't want to go with me."


Adolescence hurts, it's true. But despite that, I handed him the pearl droplet and turned to let him fasten his peace offering around my neck.


Thank you, Grandpa.