I had selected my morning brew when Spooky by the Classics IV played. “Great songs on my Pandora shuffle this morning!” I told Alpha and Beta, who were at the kitchen table eating their cereal. Beta was mad at me for making her wear something other than a black Batman t-shirt. I sat down across from them with my coffee. As the song ended, using my phone, I turned the volume down on the Jambox, Bluetooth speaker.
“I was 17, and in 11th grade the year the new girl came to my high school.”
Alpha looked up at me, but Beta didn’t.
“She was in the same grade, and I had English and World History with her. She was pretty; slender with straight blonde hair, blue-eyed, but quiet. I guess it was to be expected… being new to my school and all.”
I could tell Beta was trying not to listen.
“After about a month—early October—she seemed friendlier but still not outgoing. She had an air about her… the way she moved and carried herself. She didn’t seem awkward being at a new school, and around new people. Just quiet. Sometimes she’d be in the parking lot after school, snow flurries—winter came early that year—in the air as she stood and stared at people. When your eyes met hers, she was looking deeper into you than you could ever into her. One of my friends, Josh, talked about asking her out. And he did. I had to work at Piggly Wiggly Friday night. So, I didn’t spot him and her as I would when guys and girls made the rounds where we all hung out and cruised down Central Avenue from Burger Shef all the way downtown to the fountain and back.”
I got up for more coffee and leaned against the counter. Alpha’s eyes followed me, but Beta’s didn’t.
“I worked that Saturday and Sunday and didn’t see Josh over the weekend. Monday at school, he wasn’t there. That’s when I found out he hadn’t come home Friday night.”
Beta now had her head turned toward me.
“The police came to school to talk to his friends, me included, and they walked the girl to the counselor’s office. That day after school, I stopped to check on Josh’s parents, who were freaking out. It was now three days, and no one could find Josh. More days passed… then a week.” I took a drink of coffee. “We never saw Josh again.”
Beta was definitely listening.
“One of my other friends told me he had asked the girl out. I shook my head at him. The girl had never said a word to anyone about Josh going missing after their date. It seemed—she seemed—weird. She had the same manner… and smirk on her face. ‘You’re crazy, man.’ I told him. But Alex that night was making moves on her. And later, they headed to West Mountain—a favorite make-out spot—after the game to park and overlook the lights of Bathhouse Row and the illuminated fountain in front of the Arlington.”
Beta turned more toward me.
“The next day, early Saturday morning, the phone rang, and no one answered it. This was long before cell phones, and some people still didn’t have telephones in more than one room. We had a single phone, and it was on the desk next to the kitchen across from my bedroom, the only room on that side of the house. It kept ringing. I got up and answered. It was my friend, Rob. ‘Alex didn’t come home last night… his dad called my dad to ask if I’d seen him!’ I dressed and left; a group of us searched all over Garland County.
“Monday came, and no one had seen or heard from Alex. The police were at school again, talking with me, all my friends, teachers and others… and the girl. My friend, Beth, was working her way down the hall, spreading the news an FBI agent from Little Rock was with them, and they were speaking with the girl.”
Beta was attentive, interested. She and Alpha had stopped eating.
“Another week went by, and Josh and Alex still hadn’t turned up. My friends and I couldn’t believe it. We lived in a small town. Nothing like this had ever happened. The girl still came to school. No one talked to her. No one wanted to be around her. I know that sounds mean, but something about her bothered me and others. She stared at people too long, too much, rarely talked and always had a half-grin on her face. Like a joke was in play for her enjoyment or some secret she kept amused her.
“One morning, as the halls cleared for first period, I turned from my locker, and she was walking toward me. Books clasped to her chest and half-smile on her face. She stopped in front of me and brushed a long, straight lock of hair from her face. ‘Would you like to go out with me?’ The fingers left her hair and pulled at her bottom lip.
“I stuttered, ‘I have to get to class… talk to you later.’ But I didn’t and made sure I kept on the move away from wherever she was for the rest of the day.”
I went over to the table and leaned down, my elbows on it between Alpha and Beta, and continued.
“That evening—Halloween—I was about to go out when my mother opened the front door to call to me before I got in my car. ‘Dennis, phone…’ I went back in. Mom, her hand cupped over the phone, whispered, and smiled. ‘It’s a girl.’
“I took the phone and waited for her to step away, which she did. Slowly. ‘Hello?’
“I recognized the slight lisp, THE girl. She asked, ‘Would you like to go with me to a movie?’ I gripped the phone and couldn’t speak. In the dead air on the line her breathing got heavier, and she giggled. ‘Alex,’ and there was a thrashing, choking noise in the background, ‘finally gave me your phone number….’”
Beta and Alpha had a wide-eyed look as I paused and held the moment. “Dad…” Alpha poked my arm. “Are you making this up?”
I studied her and Beta for a heartbeat or two—giving it a good pause—and grinned. “Yep.”
Beta almost shouted. “I knew it!”
I smiled and patted her on the shoulder, “But I made you forget being mad.” I straightened and walked away, singing… “She called me up and asked if I’d like to go with her and see a movie…”
# # #
ABOUT ALPHA & BETA:
I have four daughters. My oldest has grown up during a period when I worked for others and then myself. My second oldest was born 15 days after my resignation from my corporate job became effective on January 2, 1996. So, she’s seen my life as an entrepreneur and business owner from day one. Those early years in business were hard, as they often are, and I became like ‘Cats in the Cradle‘ (the Harry Chapin song). Always busy, too much to do and not enough time, eaten up with stress and worry about many things. Then, in 2008, I made some changes and pursued what I do today. Writing and publishing. And that made a world of difference in having time for my family. The two youngest—twins I refer to as Alpha & Beta—have had more daily time with me as they grew up than their two older sisters… and much of it has been through my new lens as a writer. So, our conversations and kitchen table discussions—several times—have turned into a series of ‘stories.’