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First Crush: Reba Ashkar: A Short Story
It’s five-thirty on a Friday night in late June at the Westchester Yacht Club and everyone in Dohn’s graduating class is already there. Dinner will be served at precisely six. Outside, at the bottom of the hill at the main entrance, a purple station wagon moves in a half circle and comes to a stop. The front and rear doors on the right side of the purple station wagon swing wide open and Mike and Dohn appear. Both are dressed in khaki pants, brown dock-siders, white dress shirts and blue blazers. Mike is wearing a solid maroon tie and Dohn is wearing a solid navy blue tie. Mike’s dad leans over from behind the steering wheel of the car, underneath the interior lights and hands Mike two five-dollar bills—one for Mike and one for Dohn, in case they want to buy an extra burger or soda. Mike’s dad tells them to have a good time and that Mike’s mom would be back to pick them both up at eight-thirty sharp. Mike and Dohn turn away from the car and run up the dimly lit path leading up to the ivy foyer.
As we are walking in, Mike's really fired up about the dance and about finishing elementary school. He reaches over to me with one hand, holding it out to my side as we continued walking. “No more elementary school, Cuz! We’re out! Can you believe it? We’re gonna be seventh graders!” I shook his hand, but not the way in which grown-up men shake each other’s hands—the Mike and Dohn special. We enter the foyer and everyone is sitting at separate tables, talking. The guys are sitting on one side of the room and the girls are sitting on the other side. The guys are all dressed up, in shirt and ties and the girls are dressed…Well, in dresses. A gas lantern lights up everyone’s table. A circle of girls are dancing in the middle of the room atop the wooden-tile dance floor, which divides the outdoor ivy foyer.
Mike and I spot two empty seats at a table and walk over, and as we’re walking, I look over to my right and see her. She’s sitting at one of the tables, talking to her friend Meagan, who says something to her to cause her to laugh…It’s Reba. She’s beautiful. She doesn’t see me at first, but I see her. I suddenly feel an ache inside of me, at the bottom of my throat and in my heart, which isn’t at all painful but exhilarating—like I was going up in a fast moving elevator before I’m able to brace myself. Her blonde hair wasn’t tied in a ponytail like it usually was at school, but down, splashing over and around the front and back of her bare, narrow shoulders. The small glass lantern next to her emitted just enough light to give her face a warm, yellow glow. She’s wearing a beige cotton dress with a daisy pattern that begins just below her collarbone and ends—down above her knees. Her dress is held up by a single bikini-strap that rests securely over the back of her neck. I feel a hand tightly grip the biceps of my left arm and a warm breath in my left ear that said, “Close your mouth…” I was then pulled in the direction of the voice, which spoke again and said, “…Come and sit down.” When I realized that it was Mike, and that I was just standing there and staring at Reba, my face became flustered with embarrassment. I did what I was told and sat, looking at everything and anything other than Reba. But it really was, I found, difficult to not look at her. I was lost in a tumbling sea of nameless and faceless people, it seemed, and the only person I saw and recognized was Reba. Every time I looked up, my eyes immediately found hers. She was the only person that I could see. It was as if I was seeing her for the first time in a very, very long time.
At five of six, we all got up from our tables and walked over to the grill and formed a line in front of it. Reba rose from her chair and continued talking to her friend Meagan. Everyone was given a total of four tickets. We were given a choice of either a hamburger ticket marked “B,” or a hot dog ticket marked “H.” A ticket marked “F” was for french-fries and “S” tickets were for soda. We were allowed to have two of those. Some of us, like this kid Jeff, became a bit confused with the tickets. Jeff had genuinely thought that the tickets marked “H” meant “hamburgers” and so became surprised when the cook handed them a hot dog.
“Ah…I wanted a hamburger,” Jeff said, who a few minutes prior had handed the cook a ticket marked “H”. The twenty-something cook looked up from his grill with murderous contempt. How dare you deny me? The look on his face said. He really did not want to be here.
“Then give me a hamburger ticket!” the cook said.
“But I did.” Jeff said. Just then, the cook became really agitated.
“No, you didn’t! You gave me a ticket with an ‘H.’ Tickets with an ‘H’ are hot dog tickets. You handed me an ‘H’ ticket so I gave you a hot dog! If you wanted a hamburger, you should’ve given me a ticket marked ‘B.’ ‘B,’ my friend is for “burger,” okay? You just graduated sixth-grade—Don’t you know your ABC’s?”
“But I thought that ‘H’ meant ham—” But the cook didn’t let Jeff finish. “NEXT!” The cook screamed, and waved the poor kid away with his spatula like he was a fly. Jeff walked off to his table with his head down, holding the paper plate with the hot dog on top of it with two hands. I knew Jeff—just like I knew everyone else in my class. Jeff was really shy and didn’t really have any friends. His parents probably made him come to the graduation dance the same way the cook made him keep his hot dog—against his will. Our class of sixty-one was bigger than the graduating class that preceded us, so we often alienated some of our own peers, sometimes without meaning to. A part of me wanted to befriend Jeff. I really felt sorry for him. Jeff walked away with his hot dog and sat down, staring at it. “I guess he doesn’t know his ABC’s…” Mike said. He turned and looked at Jeff, as Jeff was heading back to his table. “He’s not gonna’ cry, is he?” Mike asked me, looking over his shoulder. “You really shouldn’t cry when you’re eating,” he said, shaking his head. Seeing that the person in front of him advanced forward in the line, Mike did likewise. I didn’t answer, but instead, looked over to Jeff, whose eyes were already filling up with tears as he sat alone at his table. He didn’t even get his fries, I thought.
When it was time for me to order, I got a hamburger and fries. Mike got the same thing. While riding inside of Mike’s station wagon, before we got to the Westchester Yacht Club, I figured then, that I would choose the hamburger over the hot dog because it would fill me up more. And when Mike and I were walking into the foyer, the distinct, mesquite smell of the barbecue hit me hard—immediately making me hungry. However, after seeing Reba, I’d forgotten that I was hungry at all. Seeing her made me oblivious to everything else that was going on. As I was trailing Mike back to our table, I veered off towards Jeff’s table. Slowly, I put my burger and fries down at the far side of his table and turned around, walking away. I just didn’t want to give Jeff the chance to tell me that he didn’t want, neither my sympathy, nor my food. I wanted Jeff to simply have it. What he chose to do with it was solely up to him. I just didn’t really care.
“Where’s your food?” Mike asked me when I returned to the table empty handed. I neither looked at him, nor answered him at first, but only sat down and took a swig of my already-warm can of soda. “Hey! Where’s your food?”
“I gave it to Jeff.” I said. I knew what was coming next and so took another gulp. I could almost feel Mike beginning to heat up. He didn’t like Jeff because he thought Jeff was a crybaby. Like the guys on the football team, Mike sometimes teased him, which I totally disagreed with. I just didn’t have the heart to tell Mike.
“What the hell did you do that for? He’s got a hot dog! He’s got food…” Mike thought about this for a moment. “He’s got food and you don’t…Now what the hell are you gonna’ to eat?”
“Nothing,’” I said, still not looking at him. “I’m not hungry.”
“What?” Mike was in disbelief. His eyes lit up. “You eat more than me!” Mike paused for a moment and looked over to Jeff seven tables down, who was actually eating the food that I gave him. Mike said something under his breath then reaches into the left pocket of his khakis and pulled out a five. “Here,” he said. “Go buy yourself some dinner.” Mike took the bill and placed at the middle of the table and left it there.
“Seriously,” I said, “I’m not hungry.” Then, as if to prove it, I looked over again to Reba, who was still talking to her friend, Meagan. Then, something really bad happened—Meagan saw me. After she did, she cupped her hand over Reba’s ear and whispered into it. Right then, Reba turned and looked at me. Without thinking, I quickly turned around and ran an open hand through my hair. Afterwards, I buried my head inside my arms.
“Look, take the money, my dad wanted you to—” Mike stopped when he saw that my head was on the table. “What happened?”
“…She saw me,” I said, in a muffled cry. For a moment, there was silence, and then I heard Mike laugh. “Shut up!” I said. “They’ll see you.”
“Ah ha…” Mike teased. “She saw you!”
“Mike, Shut UP!” I said, and kicked his leg under our table. Mike yelped, bringing up his ankle into full-view, holding on to it, rocking backwards. When he came around, he motioned for me to look underneath the table.
“She’s looking at you,” he said, when he was in view. I didn’t believe him at first. She never showed any interest in me before—Why would she start now?
“What? Don’t play games.”
“No, I’m not. Look, she’s looking at you right now. I wouldn’t lie.” I still had some doubt—right up to the point when I turned around to look at her…Looking at me. When I did, Reba turned her head and brought her hand up to cover up where her face once was. She was looking at you, I thought. “See? I told you.” Mike then sunk his head down, almost to the point where his chin touched the table, where his arms were folded. “Why don’t you go and ask her to dance?”
“Are you nuts? No.” It was out of the question.
“I think she likes you.” Mike said.
“I think Meagan likes you…You know you like her.” I lied. I had no clue what Meagan thought of Mike. For some reason, Mike believed me. He bought it.
“Alright, here’s the deal. I’ll ask Meagan to dance with me and you ask Reba to dance with you…Okay? That’s fair, right?” It was a great idea, probably the greatest ideaMike ever hatched since we became friends.
“Deal.” I said. Mike got up from his seat, much sooner than I was ready to myself. I was so nervous my hands began to shake. As for Mike, he was as cool as a rock in the shade. He squeezed the noose of his tie and pushed it up, taking a step forward.
“Wait!” I pleaded. “Hold on! Not yet!”
“What? What now?”
“I’m not ready…”
“Well…Get ready. I’m ready—See?” Mike spread his arms out as if to prove it somehow. Still sitting, I shook my head. “C’mon, let’s go.” He said. I didn’t budge.
“First, I just want some time to think about it for a while.”
“Think about what? What’s there to think about?”
“Just…Wait.” I couldn’t think of what to say next.
“Look, what the hell are you scared of? You guys have known each other forever. Of all the girls on this planet, she should be the least of your worries. I’m telling you, she likes you. What more do you need? Let’s go.” He said, pulling my arm, but still, I wouldn’t budge. I didn’t say anything. Mike plopped down in his chair and was, for a moment silent. Then, he pulled another rabbit from his hat. “Fine, sit there…You know what? Screw it. I’m not doing it.” At this, I became alarmed. I didn’t want to miss out on being next to her. I really wanted to do it—I was only scared of her saying no to me. Mike was the only one that could help me. For him to back out now would be a total loss. I drew in a deep, long breath and stood up. “I hate you,” I said to him. He smiled and only patted me on the back, following my lead.
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