Even her name bespoke of a girl most guys would normally ignore: Ellen Goldfarb. It was a plain Jane's name at best, a hag's at worst. Ellen Goldfarb was no hag, but nobody would ever call her pretty, either. Instead, she got called names like zit queen, thunder thighs, four eyes. Actually, Ellen wasn't as bad looking as the class bullies made her out to be. No, she'd never be asked to shill for Noxzema skin care products or Alberto Vo5. Nor would she ever sashay down some catwalk like those quasi-anorexics modeling the latest fashions. She was a big girl. Not fat but big. She stood around five-ten, with legs a bruising linebacker would be proud of. Her hair, dirty blond and disheveled, usually looked like it hadn't been brushed in weeks. And why she didn't wear contacts was anyone's guess, because those glasses she wore, the ones with the thick blue frames weren't doing her appearance any favors. She was the stereotypical ugly duckling, the girl nobody called for dates or asked to dance at school sock hops, standing in back of the school gym, wishing she were elsewhere. She only attended those dances—and thank God there were only two per year—because the school made attendance mandatory, and you didn't break the rules without suffering potentially embarrassing consequences.
In 1965, that's the way it was at Damascus High, a small school in a small suburban East Coast town that had yet to embrace the great wave of social/cultural change sweeping the country. In the fall, on Friday nights, much of the town turned out to cheer on the Stallions, the school's football team, as pretty, baton-swinging cheerleaders danced on the sidelines. On Saturday nights, students with hot cars cruised up and down Main Street, strutting their wheels, their Mustangs and GTOs, their Vets and SS Chevelles.
Conformity was still the name of the game, your passport to popularity. And there wasn't any guy more popular in Damascus High than eighteen year old Cole Reynolds. He drove a GTO; he quarterbacked the football team and he was ruggedly handsome, a "dreamboat" in 1950s vernacular, a word among other moldy words that, like the town's American heartland conservatism, still lingered like old clothing kept out of sentiment. On the surface, the strapping, brown hair, olive skinned six-footer appeared like some comic book hero, all flash and color with little below the surface—shallow, in other words. He smiled a lot as he swaggered down the school corridors, shaking hands and basking in the kudos and back slaps he got from students and teachers alike after a winning game. Adversity wasn't in his vocabulary. Sure, he knew what it meant. But the closest he came to it was getting sacked behind the line of scrimmage.
His image, however, belied an intellectual curiosity and sensitivity that he revealed to only the chosen few. His family knew but not his jock buddies. Kayla, his blond, blue-eyed cheerleader girlfriend knew, knew that Cole could be compassionate and caring, knew he had other interests besides sports, knew he dug Tchaikovsky and Beethoven as well as the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
Ellen had no idea. But then how could she? They shared the same homeroom, yet he might have been a continent away for all she felt they had in common: Ellen, the dateless, zit faced wallflower; Cole, the Big Man on Campus with the Barbie Doll girlfriend. Ellen wasn't immune to his charms, his all-American, masculine presence. He was very good looking, sure, but all form and little substance as far as she was concerned. Sometimes she wondered if her opinion was a classic case of sour grapes. No guy like Cole would ever give her a second look, much less ask her out. They had shared the same senior homeroom since September. Here it was three months into their senior year and she couldn't recall speaking to him for more than a few minutes. She assumed that would be the case for the remainder of the school year, until graduation.
Then came an incident in the cafeteria that neither one of them could have predicted.
Cole Reynolds thought about Ellen Goldfarb more than she knew, more than anybody knew. He admired her strength, her steely stoicism, the way she seemed to brush off the insults some cruel classmates threw her way. Thunder thighs. Zit queen. Four eyes. It was enough to make most girls either cry or lash out. Not Ellen. She took it, sat there at her desk and took it, smiling at her tormentors, not saying a word. Glen Dawkins and Steve Harris were the prime offenders, her main antagonists. What gratification these punks got out of tormenting Ellen, Cole couldn't fathom, though he suspected it stemmed from an inferiority complex born of insecurity over their own less than stellar looks. Steve looked like the proverbial ninety-seven pound weakling that got sand kicked in his face, while Glen, red haired and freckled, looked like a cross between Alfred E. Neuman and Don Knotts. Whatever their problem, their bullying disturbed Cole, pissed him off at times. And up until that day, he had felt a bit ashamed of himself for not intervening, for not telling them to leave her alone. Doing that, he feared, might subject him to being teased himself for coming to the aid of someone that many (not just Glen and Steve) considered a pariah. His jock friends, he reckoned, would make snide remarks about him being sweet on Ellen. It would damage his image, an image he worked hard to cultivate.
That day in the cafeteria, Cole was laughing and joking with his jock friends, sitting at one of the long wooden tables, one of many that filled the room, row upon row. Ellen sat at the next table over, eating her lunch, alone as usual, when Glen and Steve approached her. Glen planted his hands on the table's edge, smirking. "Does she or doesn't she," he said. Steve followed with "only her dermatologist knows for sure," a parody of the famous Clairol ad.
Ellen slowly shook her head, then did something totally out of character: She bolted up from her chair and got in their faces. "Don't you idiots have something better to do?" she snapped.
Surprised at her comeback, it took them a few seconds to respond. "Well, well, Miss America here is getting frustrated," Steve said.
"Either that or she's on the rag," Glen said.
Ellen stood her ground, glaring at them, arms at her sides, slightly bent as if she was about to throw a punch. "You two have ten seconds to leave my area," she warned.
Steve glanced at his watch. "Yeah? And then what, beautiful?"
Kids in proximity stopped talking and eating and turned their heads toward the commotion, Cole included. Concerns about his image collapsed in a spasm of rage. "Back off, ass holes," he ordered, bounding up from his chair. "Go pick on someone else."
Suddenly Cole became the center of attention. All eyes were on him, standing there in his blue, V-neck sweater and chinos, arms folded across his chest, his jaw clenched. "Do I make myself clear?" he said, his dark brown eyes boring into Ellen's antagonists. "Leave her the hell alone."
The duo shuffled their feet and bowed their heads, appearing to scrounge for a face saving gesture, something to say or do that would extricate them without appearing to back down. "Sure, no problem, my man," Steve said, an exaggerated smile stretched across his pudgy face. "We wouldn't want to insult a chick in front of her boyfriend."
"Oooooooo," Travis Callahan, a stocky, powerfully built jock friend of Cole's crowed in mock horror. "You gonna take that from him, Coley?"
Uneasy laughter rippled through the audience. Steve and Glen backed away toward their seats, warily keeping their eyes on Cole, as if expecting him to retaliate. Cole looked over at Ellen, gave her a faint smile. She didn't smile back. She held her head in her hands as if she was about to scream. Then she grabbed her tray, stacked it where it belonged and left the room.
Cole sat back down. "All's well that ends well," he said before forking into his spaghetti.
"I'd punch his lights out if I were you, Coley," Travis said, "for even suggesting I had anything to do with Ellen Goldfarb."
Cole shrugged, finished chewing, then slid a napkin across his mouth. "Why, what's so bad about Ellen Goldfarb? Seems like a nice girl to me."
Travis shook his head, then ran a hand through his jet black, Brylcreem soaked hair, making no effort to hide his incredulity. "You ever seen a dog chick that wasn't nice? They can't afford to be anything else."
Cole turned his seat around to face his friend. "First of all, she's not a dog. Second of all, she's got more guts than any of us put together. And third of all, if she'd get rid of those glasses, style her hair right, use the right makeup and wear the right clothes, she might look pretty good." He then slipped on his black corduroy varsity jacket, preparing to head outside for mid-day recess. His friends just sat there, slack jawed and incredulous.
Ellen returned to class feeling ambivalent over how she reacted. She didn't like the fact that she let Glen and Steve get the best of her, perhaps gratifying those jerks even more. On the other hand, she felt good for sticking up for herself, choosing action over her usual passivity. She was also a bit stunned that Cole had come to her defense. He's the first one who ever did and she wanted to thank him but felt shy about approaching him with people around. She got her chance when she saw him walking toward his car after school let out.
"Cole, listen, I just want to thank you for what you did," she said, approaching him from the rear. She wore black flat shoes and a plain yellow dress hemmed just above her knees.
He turned around, had one hand tucked into the pocket of his jacket, the other holding his books. "Oh, no problem, Ellen. It's about time somebody put those guys in their place. It was refreshing to see you fight back for a change. I enjoyed watching them squirm."
"Me too," she said, looking up at him. Given her height, he was one of the few guys she could look up to, literately if not now figuratively. "Hopefully they won't bother me again." Her eyes focused on his car, the maroon GTO parked on the curb a half block from the school. "Nice car. They just came out, didn't they?" She knew that based on Pontiac's TV ads.
"Just last year. Bagged lots of groceries and hauled lots of sheetrock last summer to get this baby. It's a beast—four on the floor and a V-8 with close to four-hundred horses under the hood."
"I drive my dad's Chrysler on weekends. It's fast, too, but I doubt it's got that kind of power." She was just making conversation. Cars didn't interest her all that much. She saw him nod, figured he was bored, wanted to get going.
"Wanna go for a spin?"
"Are you serious?"
"No, just kidding." He paused, then said, "Of course I'm serious. Get in."
She threw her books in back, eased on to the black vinyl bucket passenger seat and buckled in. Cole slipped off his jacket and hung it over the seat. As he gunned the engine, she blinked a few times to make sure she wasn't dreaming. Oh, the incongruity of it all—Mr. Popularity inviting her, a social zero, for a spin in his prized GTO. Was he just being nice or did he harbor some crazy ulterior motive? She forced herself to stop analyzing and just enjoy the ride, watching the scenery change by the minute as Cole drove past the town's pre-war housing stock, then through its post-war ranchers and splitlevels, then into a rural landscape of small farms, narrow roads and clumps of woodland shedding the last of their colorful autumn leaves.
"Let's get some music on," Cole said. He kept his eyes on the road, holding his speed close to fifty, a few miles over the limit. "You'll find a bunch of eight tracks in the glove compartment."
Ellen popped open the door and grabbed a handful of tapes. "Wow, Cole, I didn't know you were into classical music," she said, flipping through the cassettes.
"It helps me to relax, especially after a big game. Plus, it's just great stuff."
"Agreed. I've been listening to it since I was a little girl. Can we put on Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty?"
"Sure, pop her in."
Tchaikovsky's lovely, waltz-like melodies enveloped her like a soft, warm blanket, enhanced the bucolic scenery rolling by her window. She couldn't have dreamed this had she even wanted to, cruising through the countryside with Cole Reynolds while listening to Tchaikovsky. She almost laughed at the absurdity of it, absurd in a good way, though absurd nevertheless. Her image of him appeared out of sync with the guy she had talked to more in the last half-hour than in the past three months. Maybe they had more in common than she once thought, a notion reinforced when he inquired about what she did last summer, and she told him that her family visited New York for the World's Fair. He got all excited because his family had done the same thing right before Cole started working. They compared notes on the pavilions they visited. Both thought that General Motors had the most impressive exhibit. GM called it Furturama, but not a future that either of them thought was plausible or particularly bright.
"I can't say I'm looking forward to living in one of those underwater cities," Cole said.
"No, me either," Ellen agreed. "Nor do I think that clearing our tropical rain forests with laser beams is a good idea. We need those forests; they supply our planet with oxygen."
"Speaking of forests," Cole said, "I thought we could pull into Clyburn Lane before heading back. Want to?"
Clyburn Lane was a heavily wooded area where couples parked to neck. Ellen had never been there, knew it by reputation only. In fact, rumor had it that Coleen Grosniak, a former classmate, had gotten pregnant in her boyfriend's car there. So this was the payoff, Ellen thought. He was just out for a good time, to take advantage of a girl he figured was all too willing to put out because she was starved for attention. Sure, that was it; she was "easy" in his mind. For a little while, he had made her feel special. Now she felt insulted.
"I don't think so, Cole. Maybe you should take me home."
"Look, it's not what you think," Cole said, glancing sideways before looking ahead. "I just thought we could talk awhile without the distraction of driving. Just for a few minutes. Then we'll head back."
She wanted to trust him, wanted to believe that he wasn't out to use her to get what Kayla might not be giving him. Not that she'd mind smooching with him. What girl wouldn't with a guy that looked like Cole? Even so, she didn't want to be used—that would be worse than anything Glen or Steve had said. Of course, she'd never know his true intentions unless she agreed. Taking a deep breath, she said, "Well, okay, Cole, if that's what you'd like. But just for a little while."
Minutes later he pulled on to Clyburn Lane, also called The Pines because of the tall trees that flanked both sides of this narrow, graveled road. On warm weekend nights, the place was jumping with cars, sometimes bumper to bumper. But not today; Cole's GTO was the only car here.
She leaned back against her door, fidgeting. She rubbed her hands together, closed her tan suede jacket around her, darted her eyes from Cole, out the window, to the floor and back again. "I've never been out here," she said. "But I guess you already knew that."
Cole swiveled around to face her, hands folded in his lap. "No, I didn't know that. How could I?"
She couldn't tell if he was being gratuitously naive or if he actually thought someone besides Cole had showed enough interest. She looked away for a second, then turned to face him. "Listen, Cole, I'm grateful for what you did at lunchtime and appreciate you taking me out in this wonderful car of yours. But..." Again she looked away, continued to fidget with her hands.
He inched forward in his seat. "But what's a guy like me doing with a chick like you, right?" She looked at him, then looked down as if she were about to cry. He moved even closer to where his knee bumped up against the center console. Reaching out, he gently slid off her glasses. "You've got beautiful hazel eyes, you know that? Maybe you should stop hiding them behind these and get contacts."
Cole wasn't the first one to compliment her eyes, though it felt more special coming from him. "Thanks, maybe I will." She paused, touched her face and said, "My skin, well, that's a different matter."
He shook his head. "Look, we've both seen people with full blown acne. That's not you. You've got a few zits that will most likely vanish with age. Meanwhile, use more makeup."
She was starting to enjoy this. "Okay, so tell me more. What else do you like about me?"
"Plenty. Like the way you stood up to those pricks today, and the way you held your head high when they would start on you before that. Most girls couldn't take it, most guys couldn't. And you have a nice smile, too. You should smile more often. And, last but not least," he continued, lowering his eyes, "you've got great legs."
Self consciously, she pulled her dress over her thick knees. "My legs are too big. There's a reason they call me thunder thighs."
"They're jealous. You're legs are solid and shapely, calves especially. Real strong too, I bet."
"I played soccer in junior high. Rode my bike a lot too."
She flinched when he reached to touch them, shielding his advance with her hands. "Relax," he said, "I don't bite." She did a little, enough to let him touch her. "They're really smooth," he said, running his fingers along her calves. She relaxed more as the minutes passed. She remained wary of his motives but couldn't deny she enjoyed this impromptu leg message, the sensuous feel of his strong hands against her naked white skin. She let his hands wander further, past her knees and then up to the middle of her thighs. The thought of him rubbing her pussy, then licking her clit got her juices flowing. Still, in her guarded emotional state, there was no way she'd let him get that far if he tried. But he didn't. Instead, he withdrew his hand and leaned over the console, moving his lips toward hers. This time she didn't flinch. This time she surrendered to his affection, his soft kisses and warm hugs. She still wasn't totally convinced it was genuine. But it sure felt like it. She was beginning to feel flattered rather than used.
He glanced at his watch. "Geez, five o'clock already. Time to get back. I'll drive you home."
"We didn't do much talking," she said in mock admonishment. "Not that I'm complaining."
They embraced and kissed again before Cole started the engine. Ellen leaned back in her seat, gazing at the scenery, the acres of farmer's fields and the late afternoon shadows creeping across the landscape. She half expected to awaken from what still felt like a dream. He appeared to like her—her, Ellen Goldfarb, the social outcast. Well, imagine that. But what about Kayla? Were they having problems? Was he on the rebound? Cole's raison d'être still eluded her.
Cole was hardly on the rebound. He still saw Kayla and, prior to what happened in the cafeteria, he wasn't looking to date anyone else. He still wasn't. Not really. Confronting Steve and Glen and then inviting Ellen to take a spin was pure spontaneity, nothing planned or orchestrated about it. But, did he genuinely "like" Ellen? Or, was he simply a self-styled Henry Higgins trying to make her over? He saw the movie "My Fair Lady" last year. The music he liked. The story he thought was corny, though he remembered enough of it to think it might apply. One thing's for sure—his dick had jumped to full staff in that car. Indeed, had Ellen given him the go ahead, lifted her dress, slipped off her panties, spread her powerful legs, he might have jumped her bones. No, she wasn't nearly as pretty as Kayla, nor could she be, contacts or no contacts, makeup or no makeup. Still, he really did think she had great legs, beautiful eyes and a nice smile. Plus, the clincher, her intellectual depth far exceeded Kayla's. Kayla was a nice girl and very pretty. However, she rarely read a book other than assigned class readings, and her concerns didn't go much beyond what eye shadow to apply or what dress to wear. Ellen, on the other hand, read books like "Exodus," talked about civil rights and LBJ's recent escalation of the war in Vietnam. He could discuss this stuff with Ellen. With Kayla? Not so much. She wasn't stupid; she just didn't care. He felt like a hypocrite at times, bored, sometimes even annoyed with Kayla's superficiality, while keeping her around like some trophy to impress.
Kayla had also been in the cafeteria that day. Like his buddies, she saw Cole's intervention as an aberration, a spontaneous reaction against injustice. Steve and Glen were jerks, she knew, and also knew Cole's penchant for defending the underdog. She didn't know about Cole taking Ellen to Clyburn Lane. What she did know is that Ellen and Cole had become somewhat chummy—a little too chummy. They talked together in the halls, and sometimes he'd sit next to her at lunch, inured to his jock friends' jokes and snickering. She was even in the bleachers on Friday nights, cheering him on. When she confronted him, he laughed it off, said he felt sorry for Ellen and was just trying to make her feel better.
If that's what he was trying to do, it worked. Her hair now had body and shape. Her zits weren't nearly as visible thanks to the right cosmetics. She also became more fashion conscious, more selective about what she wore. A model out of Seventeen, she wasn't; but she was no longer the class frump either. And she was experimenting with contacts, trying to get the hang of using them.
None of this was lost on Cole. He wanted to see her again, and not just in school or in the tight confines of his GTO, though he wouldn't mind another romp on Clyburn Lane, preferably in the back seat with her legs wrapped around him. But weekends were reserved for Kayla, as was the upcoming Damascus homecoming dance, a couples only affair. Showing up at the dance with Ellen instead of Kayla would subject him to more than the mostly good natured ribbing he'd been taking from his buddies. Kayla, of course, would feel hurt and betrayed, as would many of his classmates. He and Kayla were THEE couple, had been for the last two years. Some expected them to one day marry. It came down to either living through the expectations of others or doing what he felt was best for him. Wimps did the former, men the latter. That quote from Shakespeare's "Hamlet," culled from a unit in his English class resonated: "This above all: to thine own self be true."
The fact is, to his great surprise, if not dismay, he was starting to fall for Ellen Goldfarb. And it was no longer a case of feeling sorry for her or wanting to make her over. He liked her, genuinely liked her, and what better way to show it than asking her to homecoming.
Only one problem: She already had a date. Jeff Levine, a varsity basketball player, struck by Ellen's sudden metamorphosis, asked her to the dance and she accepted. She told Cole about it after he approached her with the idea of breaking his date with Kayla and taking her. "I just wish you had asked me sooner," Ellen had said. "I'd much rather go with you, but never thought in a million years you'd ask me. I just took it for granted you'd go with Kayla." He wasn't surprised at her reaction when he suggested she might break her date with Jeff. "He's the only guy who ever asked me to homecoming. I just couldn't do that to him. I, more than most people, know what rejection feels like."
So that's the way things stood on a crisp, December Saturday night when their senior class and recent Damascus High graduates filed into the Franklin Hotel ballroom, decorated for the occasion with subdued lighting, balloons and party favors atop the twenty round tables scattered over the shiny parquet floor.
Ellen, in a formal blue gown and high heels, stood just a shade shorter than six-foot three-inch Jeff Levine. Her hair was up in a French twist and her eyes looked more beautiful than ever—in contacts. She thought Cole looked absolutely smashing in his tux, felt pangs of envy seeing Kayla hanging on his arm. She and Cole nodded at each other at the door, then took their seats at adjoining tables. Jody and the Crewmen, a six-piece band, opened with "Dancing in the Street." The tables emptied for that one, a huge hit for Martha and The Vandellas the year before. After that, Todd Reinhardt, the school principle, hopped up on stage to welcome everyone. He praised the football team for another winning season. "It was a team effort, but who can deny that Cole Reynolds' golden arm led the way," he said. "I see Cole sitting over there with his main squeeze, the beautiful Kayla Ranucci, our senior cheerleader. "Cole and Kayla, stand up, would you?" They did as the room erupted in applause. The band followed with "Twist and Shout," "Lets Twist Again," "Mashed Potato Time," "Mickey's Monkey" and some cha cha number.
Then Jody, the band's busty, thirty-something lead singer, stepped up to the microphone. "We're gonna slow it down now for you guys and gals who wanna get up close and personal. It's an oldie but still a goodie."
"Are the stars out tonight?
I don't know if it's cloudy or bright
'Cause I only have eyes for you, dear..."
Ellen thought the band must have honed in on her mood. Jeff seemed like a decent guy, but maybe she should have followed Cole's suggestion. Her eyes were for Cole, not Jeff, as they waltzed within just a few feet of Cole and Kayla. She couldn't help but wonder if Cole felt the same way. She had her doubts seeing Kayla's head buried in his chest. But then, with Kayla's back turned, he winked at her, boosting her confidence that he might.
"The moon may be high
But I can't see a thing in the sky
I only have eyes for you..."
Cole did feel the same way. He did even thinking how great Kayla looked, felt, smelled. But Ellen looked pretty boss herself, especially in contacts. And oh what he'd give to see her legs in high heels. Ellen should be dancing with him, not Jeff Levine.
"You are here so am I
Maybe millions of people go by
But they all disappear from view
And I only have eyes for you..."
The music hadn't quite stopped when Ellen pushed herself away from Jeff, lifted the hem of her gown and then bolted from the room. Jeff threw his hands up, shook his head, then started to go after her. Cole, not yet seated, stepped in front of him and grabbed his shoulders. "Jeff, let me handle this. I think I know what's wrong."
"Yeah, you do?" Kayla said, looking just as confused.
"Listen, I'll be right back. Just sit down and relax."
He found her around the side of the hotel, crying and shivering in the cold night air, bare shoulders against the blustery wind. Without saying a word, he wrapped his arms around her, holding her as tight as he could. She sobbed for awhile, then wiped her eyes and looked up. "Look, you should get back in there. It's not fair to Kayla. I'm the one who screwed up."
Weighty words eluded him. So he kept things light: "How does it feel to cry in contacts?"
She managed a chuckle. "Well, not much different than with glasses," she said, blinking, "though they've fogged up a bit."
He hugged her once more, and this time she hugged him back. Then they started to kiss, deeply, passionately, and Ellen didn't stop him when he reached under her gown and began walking his fingers up her leg to her crotch. She moaned when he began to rub her moistening pussy over her panties. Then he started to dry hump her. And then he heard something he didn't expect—the sound of Kayla's voice, strident and angry.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything," she shrieked. She stood there, hands on hips, with a clueless Jeff at her side. "I guess this is your idea of making Ellen feel better."
Cole spun around and stepped forward. "Look, Kayla, I—"
"Sure, I know, you can explain everything, right? Well, so can I. Apparently, our zit queen here is giving you something I'm not."
Ellen looked down, held her head in her hands.
"It's not like that, Kayla," Cole protested.
Kayla got in his face. "No, of course not. It's her brains and vibrant personality that compelled you to drop me at the biggest social event of the year, aside from senior prom. Give me a break. I knew something was up between you two, and now this proves it."
She had the brains part right, Jeff thought, a truth he'd wisely keep to himself.
"Kayla, I'm very sorry about this," Ellen said, wiping the mascara that had run down her cheeks. "My apologies to you too, Jeff. I know it's asking a lot right now, but could you take me home?"
"Yeah, sure, why not?" Jeff said with amused insouciance. "Ya win some, ya lose some." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his car keys, threw them up in the air and caught them one-handed behind his back. "How about you, Kayla? You need a ride too or do you think you can patch things up with Cole?"
More anger flashed in Kayla's blue eyes. "Are you kidding?! This two-timing star quarterback and I are done. Finished. History. And I'll walk home before I get into the same car with that tramp. Why don't you take ME home, let her stay here with him, let them resume what they were doing before they were rudely interrupted."
Jeff nodded. "Fine with me. All hands in favor say I."
Jeff and Kayla went back inside, grabbed their coats and left. Ellen, at Cole's prompting, returned to their table. "Switch partners did you?" one of the guys joked. Others just stared, shook their heads and whispered, not comprehending but too polite to ask. Ellen agreed to stay a while longer, if only so she could dance with Cole the way Kayla did, slow and close. She got her chance when Jody and the band did a cover of a recent Barbara Mason ballad.
"I don't even know how to love you
Just the way you want me to
But I'm ready, ready to learn, to learn..."
They waded onto the crowded dance floor and fell into each other's arms, ignoring the curious stares of onlookers who wondered what the hell Cole was doing snuggling with Ellen Goldfarb, of all people. Where was Kayla?
"I don't even know how to hold your hand
Just to make you understand
But I'm ready, ready to learn, to learn..."
Principle Reinhardt, a Damascus alumnus himself, strolled by, dancing with his wife. Catching Cole's eye, he shrugged, pulled on his black walrus mustache and mouthed the words, "what gives?" Cole shrugged back and kept moving.
"I don't even know how to kiss your lips
At a moment like this
But I'm going to learn to do
All the things you want me to
Are you ready? Yes I'm ready..."
More people noticed, especially when Cole and Ellen started smooching in the middle of the dance floor. Some shook their heads, concerned, if not alarmed. Others laughed, as if this was some sort of gag. People craned their necks toward Cole's table, presumably searching for Kayla. And the band played on.
"Are you ready? Yes I'm ready
To kiss me? Yes I'm ready
To love me?
To kiss you, love you, and hug you..."
Song over, they brushed by their table, exited the ballroom and made a b-line for the cloakroom, oblivious to the small crowd that had gathered, watching them split. Once inside the car, parked blocks from the Franklin, they fell easily into each other's arms, kissing with a passion that neither of them had ever realized. They were free at last to pour out their feelings, no longer constrained by convention, the prying eyes of significant others, self-righteous busybodies. Ellen had no defenses left when it came to Cole. The intensity of her emotions and pure carnal needs coalesced into one hot ball of desire. She'd surrender body and soul to this guy if that's what he wanted. She was, as the song went, "ready."
Cole kept his wits about him. One, he didn't have a condom; and two, if he was going to make love to Ellen, he wanted to do it in bed where they could strip down and bare all, where they could explore each other's bodies without climbing over seats and hitting a steering wheel. Doing it in his car now felt cheap. So he just held and kissed her, kept his hands and mouth away from places that might force him to lose control. He didn't, however, hold back from expressing how he felt. "I might be falling in love with you," he said.
"Okay, I am."
"That's better, because I'm already there."
By the following week, the entire senior class, it seemed to Cole, knew what happened. He wasn't surprised. Word spreads fast in a small school like Damascus. He saw it as an opportunity to see who his true friends really were. He caught Glen Dawkins and Steve Harris snickering when he passed them in the hall. They almost took off running when Cole said, "You two have a problem?"
Travis Callahan didn't mince words when he confronted Cole at his locker. "Have you lost your fucking mind, Coley? What's thunder thighs got that Kayla doesn't?"
Cole considered the source, didn't get mad. He knew Travis would never understand. In fact, he made Travis' comment into a joke. "You just answered your own question, Travis. Thunder thighs, that's what." He walked away, leaving Travis scratching his head.
Kayla pretended he didn't exist. In class, she moved her seat as far from him as she could get. In the halls and cafeteria, she averted her eyes. It hurt him; but what could he do?
Ellen and Cole got closer over winter break. The day after Christmas, Ellen turned eighteen. Now they were both, as Barry McGuire's top-40 hit went, "old enough to kill but not for votin'." Consummating their love proved difficult with parents around, even for a romp on the sofa. So Cole suggested they go to a special place where they could—Times Square on New Year's Eve. Cole booked a room for two nights at the Americana in Midtown. This time he brought condoms, and this time there were no distractions. There were only the soft shadows filling their room on the forty-second floor, the sound of their bodies moving as young bodies do in the throes of youthful passion, the words of endearment spoken in tones soft and true. They welcomed in 1966 along with seven-hundred thousand others jostling each other as they watched the ball drop from the Allied Chemical Tower.
When they returned to school, nobody but Kayla seemed to care anymore. Football season was over, along with Cole's career as the school's star quarterback. He was yesterday's hero, playing out the final golden season of adolescence, cruising down Main Street in his GTO, the former zit queen by his side.
Dec 19, 2017 in romance