by Wanda Cunningham
After my mother died, my stepfather, Walter Bowes, moved to a new town and remarried in less than a year. Jolene, my new stepmom, at 23 was only eight years older than me. She had blonde hair, long legs and a very good figure. She’d been a dancer in a club until she got hurt in a motorcycle accident.
We got along pretty good, I guess. Jolie, as she preferred to be called, drank a bit, so did Walter and if they both were drinking, I found that it made sense for me to get out of the house. They didn’t always fight but they always ended up making love and not always in the bedroom. I slept on the roll-away bed in the living room and sometimes they used that.
So, one Thursday night, very late, I escaped into the night and met Danny Valenzuela.
I’d met him before, at school. Danny was a senior and I was a junior because way back when I was little and my Dad was alive, I started school in the fourth grade at the age of nine. I’d been home-schooled before that and got ahead of the public school classes.
I’m not really a brain though, not like my Dad who had a Ph.D. and an M.D. So by the time I got into high school, I wasn’t anything unusual as a student except that I was shorter than almost everyone.
Anyway, Danny and I had P.E. together in the spring. He’d been on the football team in the fall but he had a fight with the baseball coach and had to take regular P.E. the last quarter of his senior year.
He was nearly a foot taller than me, a big muscular guy that the colleges had already scouted for football but his grades were not so good. Rumor at school said that he ran with a gang when he was younger and maybe did drugs or even sold them. Some of that stuff was true and some was just lies.
That night when I left the house, it was so late even the fast food places would all have closed their lobbies and only have their drive-thrus open, if that. The nearest all-night cafe in our town was more than a mile from our house, out on the highway. I had a little money, enough to get some french fries or maybe some eggs and toast, so that’s the direction I headed.
About half-way there, a big dark-colored car pulled to the curb in front of me and the passenger-side window rolled down. I heard a voice call out, “You in trouble? You need a ride?”
I shook my head and said, “No. I’m just walking.”
The sound of the engine changed and then the driver-side door opened and Danny got out where I could see him in the light from the open car door. “It’s me, Bobby. Danny Victor.”
I moved a little closer. “I thought your last name was Valenzuela?” I said.
“It is. But I’m Danny Victor on the street. A cop called me that once.” He smiled, his teeth and eyes very white in his dark face. Someone told me once that Danny was half-Puerto Rican and half-Portuguese and hates for anyone to think he’s a Mexican, even though most of his friends are chicano.
“Oh,” I said. “What are you doing out so late? It’s after two in the morning.”
“So do you,” I said and he laughed again.
“Hop in, if you ain’t going anywhere in particular, I know the way.” He tossed his head toward the other side of the car. So I climbed in.
This was back in the late seventies when a lot of big old fifties cars were still on the road. I think this one was some kind of Chevy. It had a big bench seat in front with leather and velvet upholstery. A huge bent iron bar with a knob on top came up in the middle from the floor; the shift lever, I guess, though it looked like something from a truck.
He saw me looking at it and said, “Four speed. Someone added that on for drag-racing before I got it.” He would have told me more about the car but he must have seen my expression because he just laughed and apologized again. “Sorry. You not too interested in cars?”
I shook my head.
He put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb. “Wanna get something to eat? Parker’s Pancakes is open.”
That wasn’t the nearest chain diner but a better local cafe at the other end of town. “I guess so,” I said. “I don’t have much money, though.”
“Eh, little thing like you, you probably don’t eat too much. My treat.” I could see his grin in the dark.
We got out to the highway and went through the middle of town with all the stores dark and the only place lit-up inside the police station. We didn’t see much traffic, either. Since the freeway went in, most people passing through don’t drive through downtown. We passed the road that led to the freeway on-ramp and headed on out to Parker’s which is sort of out of town.
We hadn’t said much or I don’t remember what we said when Danny suddenly asked. “How long you wanted to be a girl?”
I reached for the door handle but he used the electric to lock it on me and when I unlocked it, he said, “It’s okay. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
I still preferred jumping out of a moving car to answering that question so I just shook my head and kept unlocking the door and trying to get it open before he could re-lock it. He pulled into the lot at Parker’s and drove around to the dark back side with me crying and choking and moaning.
When he got the car stopped, he finally let me open the door and I started to climb out.
“Wait,” he said. “I’m not going to beat you up or nothing. That’s what you’re afraid of?”
I nodded, holding the door open, ready to run.
He reached up and turned off the dome light. “Don’t wanna attract bugs or winos,” he said. “Let’s just talk for a minute.”
Home was now clear at the other end of town, maybe six or eight miles away. I decided I didn’t have much choice. “Okay,” I said. “But I don’t want to talk about that.” I realized that he smelled of beer, like my parents, step-parents. I scooted a little further out the door, just barely on the seat.
“We’ll go in and eat in a minute, but I do want to talk about it. It’s the most interesting thing about you,” said Danny.
“Please,” I said.
“You think nobody knows?” he asked after a long pause.
I felt tears running down my face. “Please don’t tell anyone.”
“Bobby,” he said, his voice soft. “Most people would know if they thought about it. ‘Course most of them are dumb, they probably just think you’re a queer.”
My head jerked and I almost ran.
We sat there for a while longer, not saying anything, not even hardly moving. I didn’t know what to say or do.
“There’s tissues in the glove box,” he said after a bit.
I opened the box and found them, a little packet made for cars. I wiped my eyes and put the packet back, holding the wadded up tissue in my hand.
“Give me that,” he said. He took it and put it into a plastic bag that hung under the radio. “Feel better?”
“I guess so.”
“Okay, let’s go in and eat. Only place in this part of the world will make you a waffle after midnight,” he said. “You like waffles?”
We got out. “Um, yes. But I’m not very hungry,” I said.
He laughed. “Girls always say that before they eat a bunch of stuff.”
“I’m not... I’m not....”
We walked into the light from one of the poles in the parking lot. “For tonight you are, you’re my girl tonight.”
“I’m not.... And you have a girl, you said!”
He waggled his dark eyebrows at me. “She ain’t here and you are, chica.”
He took my hand and I let him and we walked into the cafe together.
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