by Wanda Cunningham
When we finished eating, Danny paid the check, leaving a big tip for Cora. Then he walked me back out to the car with his arm around my shoulder.
"You ever had a boyfriend, chica?" he asked.
I shook my head. It was too dark outside to tell if I were blushing.
"Or a girlfriend?"
"No," I said.
He took my hand in his and squeezed it. "The important thing about having a boyfriend is you got to do just exactly what you boyfriend tells you to."
I couldn't tell if he had said that with a straight face or not. I must have made a noise because he said, "Don't laugh." So of course I did and he did.
In the greenish light of the parking lot lamps, I saw him shake his big head. "I'm going to have to talk to Sylvie about this. See if she'll let me have another girlfriend. I think maybe so, she sees how cute you are."
I didn't want him to tell her. I didn't want her to say no. I didn't want this little fantasy to end. I couldn't imagine it continuing and I didn't want to think about it ending. "D-don't tell her," I said.
He laughed again. "Oh, I got to tell her. If she find out I don't tell her, she cut off my balls, maybe you not too fond of yours but I like mine. Then she mail mis huevos to her uncle in the Marines and when he come back he will cut off my cabeza." He made a snick noise as he sawed at his throat with the side of his hand.
I knew he must be joking to make me feel better. But Sylvia Montez–we were both juniors, she had just turned seventeen, a slender, dark-haired girl in my English and American History classes, co-editor of the school paper. Very pretty and not stuck up; just until that moment, I had liked Sylvia. Suddenly, I almost hated her.
"No, don't tell her," I said. "This is just silly. I'm not a girl, I can't be your girlfriend. I...you...we're just pretending."
He didn't say anything for a bit but he squeezed my hand again. When we got to the car, he opened the door on the passenger side for me. I scooted in and he closed it, his expression serious as if he were thinking.
He came around the other side and climbed in, almost too big even for the old oversize car. He put the key in the ignition but didn't turn it on yet. In the darkness, we just sat there for maybe a minute.
I could only see his face as a darker profile against the night sky outside the driver side window. "I can't think of you as anything but a girl now," he said. "It's going to be too weird to see you in P.E. tomorrow." He started the engine and looked over his shoulder to back up. "You going to be naked and I'm going to get a hard-on." He laughed.
The dash lights had come on. Before we started forward, Danny turned on the headlights and we cruised slowly through the parking lot to the highway. I didn't know what to say. Actually, I usually skipped taking a shower after P.E., since it was last period I could get away with that. For the last two years or so, seeing naked boys made me feel–exposed?
But I would have to change clothes, wear gym shorts and a t-shirt, then change back. With Danny there, thinking of me as a girl...that would make it more difficult.
Danny steered the big car back toward town. "And those other guys, looking at you. It's going to make me angry. I might do something to them if they say anything to you."
"I–what?" I said.
"I don't know," he said. He flashed a grin at me. "I'm jealous."
"You said, you can't be my girl 'cause you're a boy. But you're not really a boy. Tell me the last time you felt like you were really a boy?"
There must have been some time but I couldn't think of any.
He snorted. "I see you back in junior high school. I think, there's a pretty girl but no, you're a boy. But I watch you and you're not a boy."
"F-four years ago?" I said.
"Three or four, yeah, I guess. But you too young then. You play with the girls at lunch, it doesn't matter if you're a boy or a girl." He sighed. "But now.... The guys at school pick on you?"
"Some," I said. "Not too much, I guess." Some kids got harassed a lot more than I did. "It was kind of bad when I was a freshman."
He snorted again. "Anybody touch you, chica, you tell me. I don't want you being naked in front of all those guys. I'll think of something so you don't gotta go to P.E."
"I dunno yet. I'm smart, though." He grinned again. "I'll think of something."
I couldn't think of anything except maybe forging a note from a doctor but that would just get me in trouble sooner or later, so I kept quiet.
The streetlights on the west end of town are all butter-colored and everything under them looks either yellow or black. On the east end, where I lived, streetlights on the highway are blue-violet – most things look blue or purple except red things are sometimes yellow and green things are black.
We drifted through the quiet downtown area with the old-fashioned white streetlights and out to the residential area on the other side. I wondered if Dad and Jolie had finished their fight and made up yet. If they were back in their bedroom, I could go to bed on the couch.
Danny stopped the car a few houses down from my house. "You live here?" he asked.
"Eight-thirty-one," I said. "Two doors down on the left."
He drove on down and made a u-turn at the end of the block, coming back and parking right in front. The heavy thrum of the big engine made everything sound super quiet when it stopped.
Before I could get the door open, he had jumped out and dashed around to my side. He gave me a hand to help me out, I didn't need it but I took it anyway.
"Do you kiss on the first date, chica?" he asked.
"Danny," I said, all out of breath.
He pulled me close and bent to kiss me on the forehead. "That's all you get this time, querida," he said.
I almost fell down when he let go of me, my knees didn't work right. I stepped back to catch my balance and repeated his name, making it a question this time, "Danny?"
He put a hand on my shoulder to steady me. "You don't like me for a boyfriend?"
"I can't... I don't... I'm not...."
He grinned, his white teeth showing in his dark face. A moon had come up at the end of the street, fat and golden, making the leaves of the live oaks in front of my house shimmer like a tree from some fairyland where wishes came true. The one streetlight on my block was an old-fashioned one with a small yellow-white lamp almost the same color as the moon. Danny's face looked golden, too, in the light from either side.
He smiled at me. "Well, until you can and do and are, I want you to know, I'm not pretending. I want to be your boyfriend. Don't worry, I'll talk Sylvie into it." He held up a finger almost as big around as my wrist. "And next time, you get a real kiss, caramia."
He walked me to the door and I put a hand on the handle of the screen. I told him, "I'm here now, you go on home. I'll wait here to wave goodbye."
"You are so cute, chica," he said. "Did they lock the door?"
I nodded. I wondered why I couldn't fool him. The latch on the screen door had been hooked, otherwise it never quite closed right. They were probably sleeping and there would be a fight if I woke them up to unlock the door.
"Back door? Windows?" asked Danny.
"Sure," I said. "I can get in, don't worry."
He smiled at me, again. "You terrible liar, mi corazon." He scratched his head, thinking. "Okay, come back to the car, it will be good."
"What?" I asked, but I followed him.
He opened the door to the backseat. "Climb in," he said.
"I think I'd better stay here," I said.
"I know. You're not going anywhere. You can stay in the car, I'll walk home."
He went to the trunk and began taking things out. Soon, he had short, curtain-like pieces of cloth covering the front and side windows, a pillow and some blankets for the back. "Climb in," he repeated.
If I had not been so tired and sleepy, I probably would not have done it. I climbed in and stretched out almost full-length on the back seat. He floated another blanket down around me.
"The doors will be locked," he said. "You'll have to climb into the front seat to unlock them, the back doors don't unlock from inside except from the front seat control – if the key is on. Child locks. You want me to leave you a key?"
I shook my head. Sleep seemed to be filling the back seat of the big, old-style sedan, soft, sandy-eyed sleep. Trying to talk, or make sense of things, felt like too much effort, like carrying buckets filled with rocks that turned into live puppy dogs and you had to run to catch them before they all got away, hiding in the golden grass.
"Good night, chica," said Danny before closing the door. I shook my head to try to wake up and tell him good night but the big solid piece of old metal made a chunking sound and I heard him mutter something in Spanish before he walked away, whistling.
I think he called my father a stinking old goat and Jolie a dirty sow but my sleepy Spanish wasn't up to deciphering some of the more profane modifiers.
Sleep came and dreams in golden moonlight and when the sun came up it was foggy outside so I almost overslept.
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