By JD Rockel
Ella walked through the main entrance. As she entered, she could hear music. The dance was being held in the cafeteria where she and Rosa had received the info packets on the first day of school. The night was themed on the millennium and the DJ was playing “Hanging by a Moment” by Lifehouse. Entering the room, she saw it was amazingly transformed from where she ate lunch. Most of the lights were off. Only colored lights on the floor pointing aloft illuminated the space. Most of the lunch tables were folded up and stored at the serving end of the cafeteria. The remaining tables were set around the perimeter of the room to allow places to sit. A beverage table was at the near end, while the DJ was at the far end of the room in front of the folded-up tables. In front of him were some color lights that moved and changed patterns in time with the music.
Looking around, Ella recognized a few people from her classes and a lot of older students from the grades above her. Being a freshman, she felt out of place, but that’s what the dance was for, to find new people and make some friends. She slowly walked around the outer part of the room watching a few couples dance in the center. Along the way she said hello to people she recognized.
The full loop was complete, and Ella was heading for the beverage table when a voice behind her said, “Excuse me. Can I get you something to drink?”
A bit startled, Ella turned around to see a beautiful specimen of manhood. She recognized him immediately as Jerry. Being just about her height, Ella easily examined his face. Dark brown hair with those cute curls, and a friendly smile. He wore a dark, but colorful T-shirt covered by a tan sport coat. The shirt had a beautiful pattern of the northern lights under a twisted cosmic ray pattern. The dress pants were a bit darker than the coat and complimented it nicely.
“Hello, Jerry. Yes, that would be great.”
“Soda or fruit punch?”
“I’m always a bit afraid of punch. Maybe just a white soda to start with.”
“Coming right up.” Jerry went straight to the beverage table, got two drinks, and came back. “Let’s go sit at the tables and get acquainted properly, OK?”
“Sounds great.” Ella was still in shock, but this meeting was going better than she could have hoped for.
When they sat down, Ella took the soda from Jerry. He began, “I’ve been looking for you since our unfortunate encounter in the hallway. We don’t have any classes together so it’s been difficult.”
“You ran me down by my locker. Maybe you will find me there in the future.”
“The truth is, Ella, I was afraid you wouldn’t want to talk to me after I accidentally ran you down.”
“You were so polite helping me up, Jerry. I was hoping to see you again for a proper introduction.”
“Me too. I’m glad you chose to come to the dance. Where do you live?”
“I’m in the subdivision just west of Pilgrim and south of Mequon on Catskill Lane,” Ella offered with a smile and a twinkle in her eye.
“No way, I’m just to your west on Meadow Drive, east of Division. We’re almost neighbors.”
“That’s gnarly.” Rochelle giggled. “Imagine meeting someone just down the road. We probably aren’t that close cuz I’m on the south end of Catskill. But it’s biking distance until I get to drive on my own.”
“I know that feeling. Do you have your instruction permit now?”
“Yup. I’m just starting the behind-the-wheel practice with my parents. Tomorrow is my first day behind the wheel with them.”
“My dad has taken me out once, but it was just to get some soda at the quick mart.”
“Well, that’s more than me. But tomorrow my dad is taking me to our church’s parking lot to practice going up and down the aisles and parking.”
“That sounds great.”
Ella could tell that Jerry was feeling as comfortable as she did. Jerry was very polite and offered to get more soda when Ella’s got low. Ella didn’t notice any cigarette smell on Jerry. That would have been a showstopper.
This was like a dream come true. What could be better?
* * *
After they talked some more about their classes and finished their drinks, Jerry asked Ella if she wanted to dance. The DJ was playing “Where the Party At” by Jagged Edge, not one of Ella’s top 100, but danceable.
They spent about a half hour dancing, then a slow song came on. Jerry held Ella’s hands and Ella moved in close to Jerry. They put their arms around each other and rocked back and forth. Another slow one followed, and Ella melted into Jerry’s shoulder. The next song was fast again. Jerry stole a kiss on Ella’s cheek as he pulled away and said, “Let’s sit down for a bit.”
The night continued like that. Dance a little, hug a little, sit a little. At about 10:00, Ella said, “Jerry, I want you to know my dad will be picking me up at 11:30. I didn’t want that to be a last-minute surprise.”
“No problem. Let me get you something more to drink.”
Jerry went off to the beverage table and got a couple more cups of soda, but then Ella lost track of him. It wasn’t long before he appeared beside her again.
“Here you go, beautiful.”
Ella was sure she was blushing. She brought the soda cup up to her lips and paused.
“Jerry, this soda doesn’t smell right. What is it?”
“It’s cola. Try it.”
Ella took a small sip and crinkled up her nose. “What is this? It tastes weird too.”
“I just put some rum in the cola.”
“Jerry, are you trying to get me drunk?”
“No, honest! I thought you would like it.”
“I’m sorry, Jerry, but I don’t drink alcohol at all. Well, that’s not completely true. A couple of times we had Champaign for a celebration or a little bit of wine with a meal. We are Italian, after all. I really don’t like the taste and never want to get buzzed.”
“I’m so sorry Ella. I didn’t mean to force you into anything, and I respect your decision.”
“How did you get this into the school?” Ella whispered, looking quite concerned.
Jerry slipped out a small hip flask from his back pocket. “It’s easy to hide. I assure you I don’t drink much.”
“Really? I have my doubts.”
“My dad has different kinds of liquor in the house, and I’ve tried a lot of them. But I have never been drunk. I agree with you that it’s better to keep your wits about you.”
I hope that’s really what he believes. “Well, my fear is that I won’t know what’s going on.”
“I agree. Again, I am so sorry I put you in this position. I was trying to please you and made a horrible decision.”
“I forgive you, Jerry. There is nothing uncommon about drinking alcohol in this society.” He seems sincere. “What are you going to do with those cups?”
“Well either I drink them, or I dump them in the toilet. I’m afraid a teacher may see me do that. Please trust me, I won’t get drunk on these two cups. I didn’t put much rum in.”
“I trust you. Just don’t gulp them down.”
They continued to talk, and Jerry drank the two drinks. Ella took a couple more sips to see if they were really as bad as she first thought. They were. She didn’t want anything more to drink right now.
“Jerry, what happens to people who get drunk? Do they feel good? Why would they do that to themselves?”
“All I can tell you is what I’ve seen. When my dad drinks, he usually gets very quiet. Sometimes he even cries. I think he tries to forget about Mom’s death. I suppose each individual reacts a little differently. I’ve seen some guys get über-giggly. I’m sure you’ve seen TV shows and movies where they get angry and out of control. I guess I’m fortunate that I haven’t met many drunks in person.”
“I’m really sorry about your mom. I’d like to hear about her someday. I hope we get to talk about a lot of things in the coming weeks.”
It was after 11:00 now. When Jerry finished the drinks he said, “Let’s get some air outside. That would help me a lot.”
* * *
As they walked out of the room, Jerry threw the two cups away. They continued out the main entrance hand in hand. There was a lighted overhang that covered the sidewalk where cars could come and go. The night air was fresh and cool. Jerry put his arm around Ella to keep her warm. The clear sky revealed hundreds of twinkling lights. It was like a fairy tale to Ella.
Along the building was a row of shrubs. Jerry and Ella walked alone up and down the sidewalk for a while. The third time they were down by the shrubs, Jerry pulled Ella towards the building and behind the shrubs. The shrubs were tall and nicely spaced so it was easy to get between and behind them. Jerry cradled Ella’s head in his hands and kissed her on the lips. Ella tasted the Rum but didn’t mind the odd-tasting kiss. She kissed back and put her arms around Jerry.
The kiss continued long enough that Ella lost track of time. When Jerry stopped, he said, “It’s about a quarter after eleven. We’d better get back to the sidewalk. I’ll wait with you until your father comes.”
Still in a daze, Ella answered, “You’re awesome, Jerry. Thanks for caring so much about me.”
Jerry peeked out from around the bushes and pulled Ella out. Ella noticed that the stars twinkled a little brighter now. They got back on the sidewalk just as a few students came out of the building. Walking back to the waiting area Jerry said, “I am so glad I had the nerve to come up to you. I freaked out when you looked at me from the classroom the first day. I didn’t have the nerve to approach you then.”
“So, it was you. I must tell you, I had the weirdest feeling of tingles on my neck and arms that day. It made me look towards the door. My eyes were a bit teary from the stress of the morning, so I didn’t see your face clearly. But I knew you were looking at me. I hadn’t felt tingles like that before.”
“I don’t know anything about your tingles, Ella. But I do know you have been wonderful to me tonight. You have accepted me just as I am, and you forgave me when I tried to force booze on you.”
“Oh no,” Ella responded, “you are the wonderful one. So gentle and kind. How are we going to stay in touch if we don’t have any classes together?”
Jerry pulled out his cell phone. “Here’s my phone, put your number in it. I’ll do the same on your phone and we can start texting.”
“Here you go.” Ella handed over her phone and took Jerry’s. They typed in their personal information and exchanged the phones back. Jerry held both of Ella’s hands and looked into her eyes. Ella returned the deep gaze. Even in the dim light, Ella could see a sparkle in Jerry’s eyes. Was it from the overhead lights, the stars, or something much more personal? Another eternity passed and a car pulled into the lot and up to the sidewalk. It was Dad.
“That’s my dad, Jerry.”
“You can call me Jerr. Thanks again for the best dance I have been to.”
“I feel the same way, Jerr. I’ll text.”
“I’ll watch for it.”
Ella got into the car, buckled up, and just stared out the window.
“I see you met someone,” Tony said. He looks like a nice guy.
“I sure did, Dad. He is wonderful. I know you prayed for me. Jerry was very polite and gentle. He really treated me like a lady.”
“I am so glad to hear that,” Tony replied. “You can fill me in on the details later. Just relax and dream while I drive you home.”
Ella did just that. She dreamed of the next time she would be with Jerry. What could he add to that wonderful kiss?