Anxious. That was me. I was on the phone with George, and the clock was ticking, as I was supposed to meet up with James and Sam at Eisenhower Park in less than an hour. My plan had been to get an early start, so by now I should’ve been on my bike, halfway there. After all, it was six miles away and I didn’t want to show up all sweaty and out of breath. I needed time to compose myself, and here, one phone call was threatening to derail everything.
George was being his usual, persistent self.
“Who the heck is James?” He’d repeated his question, a question that startled me out of what had been my quiet reverie and anticipation of seeing James soon.
Who the heck is James? His intonation made the name sound more like a contagious disease than someone for whom I was feeling a growing attraction.
Frankly, I wasn’t sure I owed George any explanation. After all, it wasn’t as if he and I were going steady or anything. We’d just dated a few times and after the third date, I did all I could to discourage him, short of demanding him to cease and desist.
For the first time, someone was daring me to explain what I was not prepared to reveal, all because of a slip of the tongue. My slip. What could I possibly say that would make any sense, when I, myself, hadn’t figured out what James was to me?
James was my secret, hidden from prying eyes. Partly because I was embarrassed to admit I liked him. Partly because there was something so different about him. Nothing like the other guys I knew. James was like an orchid requiring extra care from outside pollutants, and I worried letting others in would spoil it. They’d draw their own conclusions and judge unfairly. I’d told no one about my friendship with him and Sam. Not even my closest friend, Liza. Not a soul.
So why bring him up now, especially to someone like George? In all likelihood, he’d run and tell Jake. Not that he’d care. The two of them would probably just have a good laugh over how, after being dumped by a senior, I was dating a measly sophomore. Which, wasn’t true, of course, but soon word would be all over school as if it was. Yes, I cared what people thought. Opinions of others mattered. Which is why I decided to ignore George’s question, and instead focus on the purpose of his call.
“Hey George, what’s up?”
“Okay, if you’re not going to tell me, fine. I’m calling to see if you’d like to go on a bike ride today, and maybe stop at Friendly’s?”
Was this his way of saying he was on to me?
“Um, don’t think I can,” I said cautiously.
Think, think. “My mother needs help with a sewing project?” I said the first thing that came to mind, more like a question than a statement. Which was dumb. Most people knew my travails with Home Economics and sewing. If my mother did need help, I’d be the last person she’d ask, on account I couldn’t sew a stitch.
He was quiet for a moment, which should’ve been my in to say goodbye and hang up, but instead, I asked, “Is there anything else?”
He took a deep breath. “Well, I was calling to see if you’d like to be my date for the prom.”
The prom? As in the senior prom–the one that I had hoped to attend with Jake? Somehow, the idea of going with George felt like it would be a consolation prize. George, with whom I didn’t have a thing in common or felt an iota of spark. And yet…
Yet, I had to admit, the idea was tempting. It could be my last chance to remind Jake of what he’d given up, and make him pine for me in a way he never had before. This thought made me waver, though, when I thought of going to the beach with George, and making out, I wasn’t as sure. I’d sooner swallow fistfuls of sand.
“Hmm.” I paused, then added, “Let me get back to you on that.” I needed time to think this through. Time that I didn’t have right then. The clock was still ticking.
“Okay, but let me know soon. ” He seemed disappointed.
“I will. Promise.” Click. Poor George. I was sure he deserved better.
Looking at my watch, twenty minutes had passed since the time I had originally planned to leave. With the half hour it took to get there on bike, I wasn’t sure I’d make it on time. I needed to make haste. I bolted out the door and hurried to the garage to get my bicycle.
When we first moved to Long Island, I didn’t know how to ride a bicycle. I never had one in Queens. It’s not that I was deprived. I did own a tricycle, which I used until the age of five, but a bike didn’t seem a neccesity in Queens, where you could get just about anywhere on foot or by public transportation.
But soon, after moving to Jericho, my brother, who’d figured out how to ride a bike on his own, offered to teach me. I was 12. From then on, there was no pinning me down.
My, she was yar. I’d heard Katharine Hepburn say it to Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story, about a yacht they once owned together, and the sentiment sounded perfectly apropos for my bicycle. “My she is yar,” is what I’d say when anyone asked me why I spent so much time on my bike. Purple and shiny, I could give a little upward flick to the kickstand, climb onto the triangular seat, and be off in one fell swoop.
I’d go anywhere. I knew all the short cuts and back roads to get to school, the library, and the parks. I could ride my bike to the mall, and to neighboring communities, through Hicksville, Westbury, Mineola, East Meadowbrook, and even all the way out to Jones Beach.
My, she was yar.
There was no greater feeling than the one of riding your bike at top speed, along traffic, weaving in and out as I pleased to get where I needed to go. I even rode along one of the highways, and through lush winding roads dense with foliage, as well as through corporate parks and along railroad tracks. Just me and my bicycle, free to be me. I’d astound myself by how far my bike could take me before I’d turn around and head home.
Now, I was pedaling as if my life depended on it, and maybe it did. I’d been so miserable, these last few months after the breakup, that I didn’t realize until now how much I needed this. How much I was looking forward to it. Yes, there it was again. A yearning deep inside, beckoning me forward. To him.
As I reached the appointed spot for our assignation, I eyed James and Sam right away. James looked up and I could see his face immediately relax. Sam made a face and said something about it being high time I got there and what took me so long.
But I wasn’t listening. My eyes were on James and his on me, and my heart was full.
We were magically entranced, until Sam broke the spell by making a big deal about getting on his bike. James and I followed suit, and soon the three of us took off down a trail that led deeper into the park.
Just James and me–and Sam. There would be no more talk of prom that day.
(To be continued.)
Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the page, Lightning in a Jar: High School Years.