Friday, July 23, 2010

My Summer as a Streetwalker

I remember the summer I was a street walker. Just about every night, I took a super long walk. On the chance you might drive by. I always went the same way. To make myself easy to find.

My heart would do a do-si-do the second I heard your car. I knew its sound. Could hear it a block away. Sometimes two. I’d count the seconds ‘til you pulled alongside me. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi.

“Wanna ride?”

I always made it a point to look surprised. “Well, hello. What are you doing over this way?”

“Just out driving around.” Liar. You were looking for me.

You leaned over and opened the door. I slid in. Rubbed the maroon, velour upholstery with my cheek. I’d shake the yellow, Christmas tree-looking air freshener that hung from the mirror. Eventually the pine scent wafted its way to me. Over by the door.

I thought you’d never kiss me. You'd take me on a tour all around my neighborhood and into the surrounding ones. I just sat there, leaning against my door, the arm rest poking into my kidney. I wondered what it would be like. When you finally did. Kiss me.

Then came that storm. It’d been threatening all day. Dark clouds came and went. The air felt still, yet crackly. I could smell the rain before the first drop kerplopped on your windshield. The downpour came hard and fast. Sounded like someone dropped a box of marbles on your car roof. I cowered in my corner.

You parked the car and patted the middle of the seat. “Why don’t you scoot over?”

I did. I half sat, half reclined. Rested my head on your shoulder. It was awkward though. I’m gonna have a crick in my neck in the morning. I didn’t care. You smelled clean. Like Irish Spring and Prell. I wanted to lick your arm, the part that supported my left ear. Just to see . . .

Thunder cracked. I jumped. Lightning lit the inside of your car. I hid my face in your t-shirt. And then you did it. You kissed me. And I didn’t like it.

After a moment, I pulled back. “Kissing you’s like kissing a Tang jar,” I said. “Don’t you ever shut your mouth?”

I put my hand over my lips. Tried to stuff the words back in. You flinched, like I’d smacked you. Then you started the car. I went back to my place. Over by the door.

I kept on street walking. Went out every other night ‘til school started up again. I thought, maybe . . . But you were a football player, and I was a nobody. I take that back. I wasn’t a nobody. I was a ‘tweener—in between the popular kids and the grits. I liked everyone, and everyone seemed to like me. Then we all graduated, and that was behind us.

You found me at Myrtle Beach. I was beach walking, not street walking. Me and my girlfriends asked you to join us. We were on our way to whatever hotel it was that had that James Taylor sound-alike. In the bar on the top floor, you made sure I always had a cold beer in my hand and a warm arm around my waist. You smiled at my girlfriends and me as we sang harmony to “Carolina on My Mind” and “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You.”

The next night, you went with us again. After the guitar guy sang, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” you leaned over and blew in my ear. I wriggled. And giggled.

You spoke into my hair. “Let’s go see if it’s high tide.”

The log we sat on felt like it’d been under the sea for a decade. I knew my butt was getting damp, but I didn’t mind. You played with the fringe on my jean cut-offs.

“Those your car wash shorts?”

I nodded. “Yep.”

I’d told you how me and my shorts had caused a car wreck at a four-way intersection the month before. It was for a good cause. The car wash.

I dug my toes into the beach. Down to where it was cold and smooth. You started piling sand up in great handfuls ‘til all that showed was my knees. I tried to move my feet, but they were stuck tight. I pulled so hard I fell backward, off the log. You joined me.

I shivered as a breeze came off the ocean. The warmth of too much sun undulated off my chest. You balanced on your elbow beside me. The light from a nearby walkway made your hair look blue black. Your teeth flashed as you smiled at something I didn’t know.

Then it was like my mouth was rainbow sherbet and you wanted to taste all the flavors—right, left, center. I reached up and touched your curls. To see if they were soft from the South Carolina water, or crisp from the salt air. Your neck was warm. Hot even.

I nibbled my bottom lip. “Oh my.”

You squinted down at me. “What?”

“The Tang jar’s gone.”

One corner of your mouth went up. “Yeah?”

Sand found my scalp. It itched, but I didn’t scratch. I closed my eyes so you couldn’t see them.

“Um . . . maybe I should doublecheck.”

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