An excerpt from my work in progress, 500 Miles.
Who’s that?” I asked. It was the second week of the new school year and Vince and I were walking to our next class when I spotted the raven-haired goddess walking toward us. It was a rhetorical question. I didn’t really expect that Vince would know.
“Don’t point you idiot! Yes, her.”
“Gail Russell. She’s in my second hour history class. I hate history.”
“That’s because you don’t think anything of any importance happened before you got here. Don’t you want to leave behind some legacy of your own—have people read about you in a history book after you’re gone?”
“I never thought about it that way.”
Gail passed us and I stopped to turn around to watch her retreating figure, which was divine, the way her hips swayed in the floral skirt that bared just enough of her shapely calves.
“You go on,” I said to Vince. “I’ll catch up to you.”
“Go on. I won’t be late.”
Then I hurried to catch up with Gail.
“Excuse me,” I said, putting my hand on her shoulder. She stopped and turned to look up at me.
“Yes?” she said in a soft voice.
“Has anyone ever told you that you look like Gail Russell?”
She looked confused. Apparently it was a line she hadn’t heard before. I was pleased I was the first.
“But I am Gail Russell,” she said.
“Really? Imagine that. But I was referring to the actress who starred opposite John Wayne in Wake of the Red Witch. I think she’s the most beautiful woman in pictures.”
This Gail blushed and averted her eyes at my homage.
“I need to get to my next class,” she said.
“Yeah, me, too. But listen, I know it’s short notice, but how would you like to go to the dance with me tomorrow?”
Gail blushed anew, but she bravely looked up at me. She took a moment to consider; eventually a smile came to her lips—she had a beautiful smile—and then she nodded.
“I think I’d like that,” she said.
“Great! Meet me on the front steps after school and we can exchange phone numbers and particulars.”
“Okay,” she said and hurried off to her next class.
I stood a moment to admire her departure and wondered at my great good fortune—that she hadn’t yet been asked to the dance by some other guy. I was still too young to understand that the cutest girls were often left to spend Friday night home alone because guys figured they either had already been asked or they’d get shot down for presuming they’d consent to going to a school dance with a mere mortal.
And then it hit me that I’d neglected to tell her my name. Apparently this sort of thing was new to her, too, since she hadn’t asked for it.
“My name is Alex Król.”
Gail smiled. “Thanks,” she said. “I realized I’d forgotten to ask after I sat down in my English class.” And then, “You must think me horrible.”
“I don’t want you to think I’m one of those girls.”
“One of what girls?”
“The kind that goes out with any guy who asks her. You know, loose.” Gail blushed and looked away.
“You blush. I like that.”
Gail’s discomfiture deepened.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
She looked at me. “That’s okay.”
“If I thought you were that type of girl, I wouldn’t have asked you to the dance.”
Gail smiled and I felt my heart shift into a higher gear.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You a senior?”
“Me, too.” And then, “I can’t believe I haven’t seen you around school before. You’re someone I’d notice.”
Gail smiled and said, “We just moved here, from North Carolina.”
“That explains the accent, which I like.”
Gail laughed. “To me, ya’ll have accents.”
I laughed. “I imagine we do. So what brought you to Michigan?”
I raised an eyebrow; Gail continued:
“The Dixiecrats are against civil rights.”
“So your dad’s a liberal?”
“No, not really. He’s a Baptist who believes in equal rights. It didn’t hurt that job opportunities here are greater.”
“What’s he do?”
“He works on the assembly line at the Rouge Plant. He hates it, fastening seats into cars. But the wages are good, and the union watches out for him.”
“Dearborn is quite a drive from here.”
“South Lyon is a lot like our home town.”
I nodded. “You like it here then?”
“So far. The kids are friendlier than I thought they’d be.”
“I’m glad you like it.”
“What about your dad? What does he do?”
“He’s self-employed. The town’s best auto mechanic. He has a shop in our barn.”
“Ya’all own a farm?”
I grinned. “Just my dad. A small parcel just west of town.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“Not at all. I like your accent.”
“I just want to fit in.”
“Why would you want to fit in? Different is good. It gets you noticed. Those who achieve greatness are usually different.”
“I guess that never occurred to me.”
“But I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
We went silent a moment. It was a silence that, in the months ahead, wouldn’t be nearly so uncomfortable as we got to know one another. It was the silence that comes with the comfort of simply being in the company of a loved one.
“I should be going,” Gail finally said.
“Me, too. But before we go, I should get your address so I can pick you up for the dance.”
“I’ve been driving for two years, with my mom and dad of course. I don’t yet have my license, but I think I can get Dad to let me drive to the dance.”
“I’m not sure my dad would approve.”
“Does he have to know?”
“I won’t lie to him.”
“I understand. Then I’ll meet you at the dance.”
I watched Gail scribble her phone number onto a piece of paper; she handed it to me and I glanced at it, the treasure that it was. I thought her penmanship was as exquisite as her face.
“Thanks,” I said. “Oh, and here’s my phone number.”
I scribbled it onto a piece of paper and handed it to her, but before she could take it, I withdrew it.
“How’s your daddy feel about you calling boys?” I asked with a grin.
“I don’t know,” Gail said. She looked startled. “It’s never come up before.”
“Well, you should have it in case an emergency comes up and you can’t make it.”
“Absolutely,” she said, smiling.
“If I don’t see you around school tomorrow, I’ll see you at seven.”
“It’s a date,” she said with a smile.
I left for home feeling as if I’d just taken the checkered flag.
“I’ve never danced with a boy before,” Gail whispered in my ear as the band played Goodnite Sweetheart Goodnite, a Spaniels song that was popular. I couldn’t believe how wonderful Gail felt in my embrace.
“That’s okay,” I said. “I haven’t either.”
Gail laughed, the sound tuneful.
“You’re funny,” she said.
“Well, looks aren’t everything.”
“No, they’re not.”
“Although I have to say you’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.”
When the song came to end we made our way to the punch bowl.
“You know,” Gail said after taking a sip, “you’re my first date.”
“Not to call you a liar, but I find that hard to believe.”
“Oh, I’ve been asked once or twice.”
“Only once or twice?”
“Okay, several times. But I’m very choosy.”
“Huh,” I said, with a grin. “And here I thought I’d done the choosing.”
“I could’ve turned you down, you know.”
“True enough. So how come you said ‘yes?’”
Gail blushed and looked down.
“Oh, my, be still my beating heart,” I said. “Do you do that often?”
“What?” she asked, looking up at me again.
She rolled her eyes and said, “Unfortunately, yes.”
“Well, I think it suits you. I hope it’s something you’ll do only for me.”
Gail smiled and blushed a deeper shade. I came to her rescue—that’s who I was in my youth, a rescuer.
“So why did you say ‘yes?’”
“Promise me you won’t laugh?”
“Scout’s honor,” I said, holding up my right hand, palm out.
“I liked the way you looked at me yesterday, when you asked.”
“How was I supposed to look at you?”
“I’m not expressing myself well.”
“That’s okay; I have that effect on people.”
Gail laughed. “I imagine you do.” And then, “It was obvious when you looked at me you liked what you saw. But you were respectful.”
“Why wouldn’t I be respectful?”
“You didn’t leer at me.”
“Oh. My turn to apologize. Sometimes I’m slow on the uptake.”
“Telling me I looked like Gail Russell didn’t hurt your cause.”
“I’m very honest,” I said.
“Uh-oh, there’s an ‘and?’”
“I’ve seen you around school and you seem one of the better boys.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“What, that you’re one of the better boys?”
“No, that you’ve seen me around school. That would mean I’ve missed seeing you, and I can’t believe that.”
“Do you always flirt so outrageously?”
“Only with you.”
Just then the band segued into Honey Hush, a Joe Turner song that had been popular in 1953.
“Come on,” I said, taking Gail’s hand. “Let’s dance.”
The evening came to an end all too soon. We danced and talked and got to know each other, and liked what we learned.
We held hands as we made our way across the parking lot to where her dad sat behind the wheel of his idling car—a 1950 Ford Zephyr Six.
We stopped about ten feet from the Zephyr Six to look at each other; I held both of Gail’s hands in mine.
“What I wouldn’t give to kiss you,” I said.
“Why Alex Król, what kind of girl do you take me for?” Gail said with a smile.
“The kind I’d like to kiss.”
Gail grew serious. “I know,” she said, glancing at her father, seated in the car with his hands firmly gripping the steering wheel. Perhaps he knew this day had been coming, when his little girl would grow up to meet the young man who might take his place.
Gail raised herself up on her toes to kiss me on the cheek.
“Another time, I promise,” she whispered. Then she gave me a brief hug, her breasts feeling firm against me, and made her way toward her father’s car.