Copyright © 2015-2020 Michael P. Loucks
First publication date: 2018-12-01
First revision publication date: 2020-06-28
You may contact the author at: email@example.com
“I’m really sorry,” April Nash said, her head resting on my chest.
“It’s OK. I understand. I promise.”
“You’re going away,” she sighed. “But I’m only sixteen and I wasn’t ready.”
“I know. I told you last night it was OK.”
“But you paid for the room!” she protested.
“Whatever,” I said dismissively. “We spent the night here instead.”
“Your Senior Prom night. On a small hill in Ulysses S. Grant Park.”
“With my steady girlfriend, whom I love.”
April took a deep breath and let it out. And then another.
“I could, uh, do something for you,” she said shyly.
“It’s not necessary,” I said gently, fighting the urge to simply whip off my jeans.
“I want to,” she whispered. “But I don’t know how. I’ve never given a, uh, uhm, blowjob before.”
“I’ve never received one, either,” I said with a grin she couldn’t see.
“I’ve never even seen one before, and never touched one.”
Not even through my jeans, despite my encouragement that she do so.
“That’s OK; no girl has seen it since I was in diapers! And nobody has touched it but me!”
“Do you do that?” she asked. “You know?”
I did. What else was I going to do? I was eighteen and the closest I’d come to sex was feeling April’s firm breasts through her shirt! She’d never let me go further, despite repeated, but careful, attempts. I’d been surprised when she’d agreed to me getting a motel room for Prom night. I’d been disappointed when, after the dance, she’d told me she couldn’t go through with it. I’d offered the park as an option, knowing that the nice weather and a secluded spot would let us be together undisturbed.
My plan for Prom had only worked out because of dumb luck. Her dad, a widower, had been called out of town on business, leaving her alone for the week. Her older sister, Cassie, who was eighteen, had simply smirked and said she wouldn’t tell. Cassie and I had dated, briefly, in ninth grade, but never really hit it off. We were friends, and beyond two goodnight kisses, nothing had happened between us.
That was the story of my life to this point. Date a girl for a few months, get a few good night kisses and the odd make-out session, but that was it. I was eighteen and had never so much as touched, let alone seen, a bare breast. West Monroe was a quiet, conservative town in southwestern Ohio, and despite all the stories I heard from kids who lived in other towns, our school was not the hotbed of sexual activity that, say, Milford High School, allegedly was.
I’d heard about that school during a regional chess tournament when some girl from near Cincinnati had talked about a guy who had invented something they called ‘strip chess’. I had no idea what the rules were, but that hadn’t stopped me from trying, to no avail, to convince the two girls on our chess team to play with me. I’d never met the guy who invented it, because he had more or less quit playing not long afterwards. Supposedly he’d moved overseas.
I had met April the first day of Senior year. I’d bumped into her walking into the building while talking to my best friend, Dale, about what we’d done over the Summer. He’d been traveling with his parents, and I hadn’t seen as much of him as I normally would have. I wasn’t paying attention and literally walked right into April. I’d apologized, helped her pick up her books, and we’d exchanged a look. At Dale’s encouragement, I’d found her at lunch and struck up a conversation.
That’s when I’d discovered that she was Cassie’s little sister. She didn’t remember me, which wasn’t a surprise, because I’d only taken her sister on three dates before we called it quits, and I’d never actually met April back then. Despite me having dated her older sister, she agreed to a date the following Friday. A few weeks later, I gave her my class ring, which she had to wrap with thread to keep from slipping off her finger. We’d been a couple ever since. There was a lot of kissing, and eventually I’d been allowed to place my hand on her small breast, but was never allowed to go any further. And that’s what led to ‘touching myself’ as April had just asked.
“I do. It’s pretty common for guys.”
“And that’s my fault?” she asked.
I laughed softly, “Only partly. The joke is that teenage boys get boners from a slight breeze! And I don’t think that’s much of an exaggeration!”
“I’ll, uh, do that if you want,” she said shyly.
I was already rock hard from her previous offer; uncomfortably so. There was no doubt in my mind that she could see the outline of my erection if she looked. It had to be obvious, even to someone as innocent as April. I wanted her ruby lips on me so bad; I almost lost it just thinking about it. Several deep breaths kept things under control. Just.
“It can wait,” I said. “Until you’re really ready.”
“But you’re going away to school! I don’t want to lose you to some college girl!”
“I’ll only be about forty-five minutes away! I have my Mustang, so I’ll be able to come home whenever I want to.”
I was going to William Howard Taft University in McKinley, Ohio, due east of West Monroe. I’d be studying pre-med, and then I’d be going to medical school. After medical school, I hoped to get into a program which would let me train in trauma - working in the ER. But between now and then I had four years of university, the MCAT, four years of medical school, the dreaded ‘Match’, and an internship.
Truth be told, between continuing my karate training, playing chess, and going to school, I wouldn’t have much time to do anything else. Even coming home on weekends was going to have to be limited because I’d need to work to earn my spending money. Mom and Dad were paying for college, but like their rule about my car and insurance, I’d have to work for anything extra.
“You won’t give me up for some cute college girl?”
“I love you, April. That’s why you don’t need to do anything you aren’t ready to do.”
On the other hand, I was ready! And not just for the tentatively offered blowjob, but for sex. I’d been ready for years, but had never found a willing partner. And it sure wasn’t for lack of trying! The problem was, I didn’t want to lose April because she did something she’d regret or would upset her. I felt like Pinto in Animal House, a movie Dale and I had snuck into when it was in the theater, with an angel on each shoulder giving me contradictory advice.
And speaking of angels, what would my priest say? Father Herman Alexandrov, of Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church would NOT approve of the thoughts in my head. He certainly didn’t approve of me fondling April’s breasts, which I’d revealed, reluctantly, in confession after it had first happened. As Head Acolyte, I was supposed to be setting a good example for the younger men. The problem was, hormones and ‘setting a good example’ did NOT go hand-in-hand!
“Let me, please,” she whispered. “To show you how much I love you.”
And that was either exactly the right or wrong thing to say, depending on what my goal was. I gently sat up, and turned April to face me. I was going to regret what I was going to say next, but I couldn’t let her do it. Not for THAT reason.
“You do not have to show me that way, April. You really don’t.”
“You don’t want me to?” she asked, blushing slightly.
Oh I did. I VERY much did. But not this way. Not here. Not as some sort of proof of her love that did not need to be proved. I put my arms around her and looked deeply into her eyes.
“I love you, April. When you’re ready, we’ll do everything. When you’re ready.”
I was already regretting the words as they left my mouth, but I also knew it was the right thing to do. And that was what I strived to do - the right thing. To never hurt anyone if I could help it, to do my best to make people I loved happy, and to be a true friend. It wasn’t easy, but it did make life satisfying. I wasn’t perfect, by any means, but I did my best.
I kissed April softly and she kissed me back.
“I guess you should take me home. Cassie will be looking for me, and Dad is supposed to be home about noon.”
We stood up and walked back to my black Ford Mustang. I’d bought it used after my Sophomore year, using money I’d earned mowing lawns, doing yardwork, and any other odd jobs I could find. When I’d turned sixteen, I’d taken a job at the local hardware store, stocking shelves, filling orders, and running the cash register. That paid for gas, insurance, and my dates, and let me save a bit of money. Fortunately, my parents paid for karate and my chess club and tournament fees.
I’d started karate just after I turned fourteen. I’d figured out I simply wasn’t good enough at baseball to play in High School, wasn’t tall enough for basketball, wasn’t big or fast enough for football, and hated the idea of being on the track team. I didn’t mind jogging, which I did three times a week at the behest of my karate instructor, but beyond that, I had zero interest in running.
I drove April home, kissed her goodbye with one of our usual closed-mouth kisses, and then headed home to our four-bedroom tri-level home.
“Mike?” my mom called out. “Is that you?”
“Yes, Mom. I just dropped April at home.”
“Did you have a good time?”
What to say to my mom? Rachel Loucks, as everyone except me and my little sister Elizabeth called her, was a typical conservative Russian Orthodox mom. She was born to two Russian immigrants, but married my dad, Peter, who was what you’d probably call a mutt. He knew of relatives from England, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. Mom knew I’d planned to stay out all night, but didn’t know exactly what I’d planned. And that was probably a good thing.
“April and I went to Grant Park after the dance. We talked and fell asleep under the stars.”
“You behaved like a gentleman? Nothing you need to talk to Father Herman about?”
“Yes, Mom,” I sighed. “A perfect gentleman.”
“I know it’s tough, Mike. But you’ll find there’s a lot less trouble if you behave like a gentleman than otherwise.”
“That’s good advice, Son,” I heard my dad say from behind me.
“I’ve heard this lecture a million times,” I sighed. “I’m going to take a shower.”
“I think Liz is in the bathroom,” he said. “Have some breakfast first.”
“You’re lucky we’re in the Feast before Pentecost! How about some bacon and eggs?” my mom asked. “And juice.”
The fact that it was the ‘Feast’ meant I could dispense with the usual Wednesday and Friday fasting rule we followed. No animal products of any kind were permitted on those days. At this point, after eighteen years, I was so used to it that I didn’t even think about it. I just glanced at the Church calendar on the fridge each morning and if the square was pink, I knew it was a fasting day. If it was white, I knew it was a non-fasting day.
“Sure. And some tea, please. That Russian stuff you have from Grandpa.”
“Coming right up!”
She had breakfast on the table for me about ten minutes later and after a brief before-meal prayer, I started eating.
“Hi Mikey!” my little sister said when she came into the kitchen.
She knew I hated being called ‘Mikey’ and she did it simply to get my goat. I’d told her to stop so many times I knew it was useless to protest. To my family, I was Mikhail Petrovich Loucks, though my birth certificate read ‘Michael Peter’. My sister was Elizaveta Petrovna Loucks, though her birth certificate read ‘Elizabeth Petra’. I was named for our maternal grandfather, and my sister for our maternal grandmother, with our dad’s name supplying different forms for our middle names.
“Hi Lizzy!” I sneered in response.
After she started calling me ‘Mikey’, I simply started calling her ‘Lizzy’, though I always altered my pronunciation of the ‘i’ to sound more like an ‘e’. But not quite enough for Mom and Dad to get upset. There was no way that implication was true, that much was certain. My little sister was the object of lust for every single male in a twenty-mile radius, save me and my dad. The rest of our extended family lived outside that radius, as did our priest.
She was gorgeous, and the main problem was, she knew it. She had a reputation as a major tease, and her behavior fit exactly with her favorite song, Dancing Queen by ABBA, though she was only fifteen, not seventeen.
You’re a teaser, you turn 'em on
Leave 'em burning and then you’re gone
Looking out for another
Anyone will do
You’re in the mood for a dance
And when you get the chance…
ABBA was, at best, OK. I strongly preferred REO Speedwagon, Styx, The Who, Billy Joel, and my dad’s Beatles and Rolling Stones albums. I also listened to a bit of Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure, suggested by a British exchange student who’d been in our school the previous year.
“Dad, don’t forget we need to be at the school at 4:30pm this afternoon for graduation,” I said as I finished my breakfast.
“How could I forget my eldest and only son’s graduation?” he said in mock outrage.
“Just making sure!” I said with a smile. “I need to shower, dress, and get to the hardware store. I’ll be home by 3:30pm.”
School had finished on Wednesday for Seniors, and I’d started working full-time at the hardware store again on Thursday. I needed to make as much money as I could over the Summer to tide me over until I found a job in McKinley. Mr. Orlov and my grandfather, Mikhail Ivanovich Borodin, knew several people in McKinley, and I hoped that they could help me find a job that I could work around my class schedule.
“I bet it was HARD last night,” Liz said sotto voce.
But not quite soft enough to escape my mom’s hearing, which at times seemed uncanny.
“Elizaveta Petrovna Loucks!” my mom said in a stern voice, reprimanding her.
I simply ignored both of them and went to take my shower. A bit of Irish Spring soap and Head & Shoulders shampoo and I felt clean enough for the day. I brushed my teeth, put on my Brut deodorant, slipped on my robe, and went across the hall to my room to dress. Ten minutes later, I kissed my mom goodbye and headed out to my car to drive the five miles to the hardware store. I parked in my usual spot and went inside.
“Morning, Mr. Orlov,” I said to Ivan Orlov, my grandfather’s best friend, who owned the store.
“Good morning, Mikhail Petrovich! How was your dance last night?”
“A lot of fun! What do you need me to do today?”
“Replenish the loose hardware, please.”
That meant refilling the bins with nails, screws, bolts, and nuts. It was slow and time consuming, and I had to be exact. It would keep me busy for most of the morning. The store did a good business, being the main hardware store for our town and six or seven surrounding towns. The attached lumber yard also did a booming business. I went into the back room, kissed the icon of the Theotokos which was hanging on the wall next to Mr. Orlov’s office, crossed myself, and got to work.
As usual, Mr. Orlov’s wife, Ivanka, brought lunch for us. She treated me as if I were family because we went to the same church. The other three employees my age, kids who went to the local Bible church, weren’t afforded the same special treatment. That said, they would have objected to both the mostly Russian fare, as well as the fact that we stuck to the fasting rules, which meant, for example, that during the entirety of Great Lent, we ate no animal products, with a couple of minor exceptions when fish was permitted by the traditional fasting rules.
After lunch I swept the sidewalk, washed the front windows, and ran the register while Mr. Orlov did his paperwork in his office. I enjoyed the varied work, and I looked forward to the money I’d earn over the Summer. The only downside was that I’d be working eight hours every weekday and four hours on Saturday. Once I factored in my karate lessons which were three evenings a week, and the time I needed to spend with Dale playing chess, I wouldn’t have much of a Summer before I left for college. I’d just have to make the most of it.
I needed to leave early due to my graduation ceremony, so I kept close track of the time. I’d looked forward to graduation for twelve years, and I wasn’t about to miss it! At one point, I’d felt that my High School diploma was my ticket out of West Monroe, forever. It wasn’t that I hated the small town, but I wanted to see the world. My sum-total experience of life outside West Monroe was the once-a-year trip to see the Cincinnati Reds play at Riverfront Stadium, a few trips to Illinois to see my paternal grandparents, and a few to Pittsburgh to see more distant relatives, where we’d also gone to a couple of Pittsburgh Penguins games, and a fondly remembered trip to Florida to visit Disney World when I was thirteen.
The whole world, waiting out there to be discovered, was calling me. But something told me this was where I belonged. If not in West Monroe, then Rutherford, or possibly McKinley. I shook my head as I thought about how I’d wanted to get out of here for so long, but now I was having second thoughts. Maybe the solution was to see the world, but come back.
I showered for the second time that day, then dressed in black slacks, a white shirt, and a blue tie. After I put on my loafers, I retrieved my deep blue graduation robe from the closet, grabbed the matching cap, and went down the half flight of stairs to the living room where my parents and Liz were waiting. We walked out of the house, piled into my dad’s Mercury, and headed for the school.
West Monroe was part of a county-wide school district, and the High School was about fifteen miles from our house. It had positively SUCKED to ride the bus, and as soon as I could, I’d bought my car and started driving to school. The only downside to THAT was having to drive Liz and her friend Emmy as well. Mom had insisted, and I didn’t see any way to refuse without looking like a jerk. Liz and Emmy took full advantage of the situation, doing whatever they could to annoy me on the drives to and from school. I’d finally resorted to blasting the radio as loudly as I could without destroying my eardrums.
We pulled into the lot and I joined the throng of students streaming into the school in preparation for the graduation ceremony. April and her dad would be there, not just for me, but because Cassie was graduating as well. That meant I could at least count on a congratulatory kiss from April, maybe even a GOOD one, as opposed to the closed-mouth ones I usually received unless we were someplace completely private, which didn’t happen often enough for my tastes.
Everyone thought these ceremonies were boring, and to a point, they were right. But what they represented was anything but boring. It was an important ritual, passing from child to adult, though I’d felt like an adult for the past two years. I’d started driving and working at the hardware store, and my parents actually treated me like an adult. I’d also been appointed Head Acolyte shortly after my sixteenth birthday, which was a position with serious responsibility in our church. And speaking of church, as I took my place, I saw Father Herman sitting with his wife, Anastasia, and his two boys, Anthony and Ivan, who was usually called John.
I’d learned Russian when I was little, but over the years it had faded, and now it was mostly what we used in church, plus the odd greetings and a few swear words as well. My mom still spoke decent Russian, and my grandparents were fluent. Father Herman spoke enough to get by, though his wife and kids didn’t speak any at all. When I was little, most of the conversations between adults I heard at church were in Russian, but now they were mostly in English, for which I was grateful.
Our school didn’t offer Russian, but it did offer Latin, and I’d taken that, rather than Spanish or French, because of my desire to go to medical school. I’d also studied a bit of Greek on my own, as well. Between those two languages, I figured I’d have a tiny advantage in medical school, and everything that I’d heard told me that ANY advantage I had would factor into my success.
The speakers droned on and I watched as Dale gave the valedictory speech, and my friend Jocelyn Mills gave the salutatory speech. I’d missed out on both those honors by a fraction of a point, having only earned B’s in two of my four quarters of geometry during my Freshman year. Everything else had been straight A’s, but geometry had vexed me to no end, and no amount of studying or review had allowed me to score high enough on the exams to receive anything higher than a B. Jocelyn had received a single B for one semester of English her Sophomore year. Dale had straight A’s.
I did feel bad for Jocelyn. That B had been the result of mononucleosis. She’d managed to complete every other requirement, but the necessary reading and term papers were just too much for her. They’d made allowances, but she wanted to graduate on time, and that had resulted in that single blemish on her record, if you could even call it that. She and I had been friends since kindergarten, even longer than Dale, who we’d met in second grade.
We finally got to the part I’d truly been waiting for. I smiled broadly when the Principal called my name in his booming voice, and I walked across the stage of the auditorium to receive my diploma in its deep blue cover. I shook his hand, then the hand of the School Board President and the Superintendent of Schools, and returned to my seat. When the last name was called, Liza Zales, we all stood and waited so that we could move our tassels and be officially graduated. The command was given, and everyone cheered.
There was no procession out, so I quickly found Dale and Jocelyn, and the three of us hugged as we often did. I was surprised when Jocelyn kissed us both on the cheek, and then we waited for parents to come and take pictures of our little trio. The only things the three of us didn’t do together were go to church and karate. Otherwise, when we weren’t in different classes in school, weren’t working, weren’t in church, or I wasn’t in karate, we were inseparable.
We triple-dated quite a bit, which was one reason I wasn’t alone with April as much as I would have liked to have been, but neither Dale nor Jocelyn were at THAT point in their relationships, either. Dale and I had commiserated over our fates, as his girlfriend, Stacey, who was seventeen, thought pretty much along the same lines as April. As for Jocelyn, she had no intention of, as she put it, ‘giving it up that easily’ to her boyfriend Carl.
After lots of pictures by all three sets of parents, and five sets of grandparents, including both of mine, I went to find April. As I’d feared, I got a simple closed-mouth kiss and a hug which caused Cassie to roll her eyes. She was standing behind April, so I stuck my tongue out at her.
“As if!” she mouthed at me.
She and I had never teased each other before. I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I just winked, and then the hug with April was over, preventing any further teasing. I wasn’t sure what Cassie’s game was, but I suspected she knew that April and I had not ‘gone all the way’ as I’d planned to on Prom night. After receiving congratulations from April’s dad, I went back to my family, and we headed home. My friends would arrive in about an hour with their parents for a small graduation party, so I quickly changed into comfortable clothes and helped my mom get the snacks and drinks ready. Dad had arranged for pizza to be delivered from the one pizza shop in town, and that would be our meal for tonight.
The party was exactly as you would expect a party that included parents to be. We ate, talked, and listened to our parents reminisce about the last eighteen years. Dale, Jocelyn, and I quickly grew tired of the ‘I remember when’ stories and got permission from our parents to take a walk. We went out the front door and walked up the driveway to the road.
There were no sidewalks on this road, as we were just outside the town limits, so we walked single file against traffic as we’d been taught to do from the time we were little. It was still light enough out that cars coming our direction could see us without their headlights on, but that wouldn’t last long. We walked the mile or so into town, and then could move to the sidewalk.
“I can’t believe we’re done!” Jocelyn said happily.
“Me either!” I agreed. “I’m afraid this will be our last full Summer together.”
Dale was heading to UW Madison to study business and Jocelyn to Purdue for pre-law. None of the three of us were much interested in computers, though we’d all received A’s in the one computer class our school offered. I found the devices interesting and frustrating at the same time. That said, I did enjoy playing chess against Sargon, though it could kick my butt on the highest difficulty levels.
“What are you guys doing next Summer?” I asked. “Most likely, I’ll come home. Mr. Orlov said he’ll let me work all Summer.”
“I’m not sure yet,” Dale said. “I might just stay in Madison during the Summer. Maybe take a class, and work. If I take a class each Summer, I can have some easier semesters later on.”
“I have an on-campus job that goes over the Summer,” Jocelyn said. “It’s the only way I can manage my tuition. Mom and Dad just don’t have enough to pay for everything that the scholarship I received doesn’t cover.”
“I was lucky,” Dale said. “I received a full scholarship, but it’s a state school, so it’s not so expensive. Without that, I’d never be able to afford it. Mike, how do you plan to deal with karate?”
“My instructor gave me the name of an instructor in McKinley. A Japanese guy, I guess, from the name. And before you ask, the school has a chess club.”
“What about church?” Jocelyn asked. “You go like a million times a year!”
I laughed, “It does seem like that, doesn’t it? Every Wednesday and Saturday night, every Sunday morning, and all the Feast days, plus extra days during Great Lent. There’s a Russian church about five miles from the college, so I’ll be going there. Father Herman knows the priest and says he’s a great guy.”
“Where do you think you’ll go to medical school?” Dale asked.
“Someplace that will take me!” I said with a laugh. “I really don’t care.”
“What about April?” Jocelyn asked.
“I’m only going to be forty-five minutes away,” I said. “I’ll see her as much as I can. What about Carl?”
“We’ll break up by the end of the Summer,” she said. “He’s joining the Navy and I’ll be at Purdue. Maybe we’ll reconnect at some point, but I don’t think he’s the one.”
“And that’s why you keep your knees pressed tightly together,” Dale teased, as we often did.
“Just like Stacey does!” she replied. “I know you haven’t gotten past first base with her! I take it you two are done?”
“Probably. She’s going to the University of Iowa a year from now to major in English. It’s close, but not close enough, really. Besides, I am tired of being a virgin!'”
“You and me both,” I laughed. “But I don’t think we have much say in the matter!”
“Boys!” Jocelyn huffed, as she often did when we complained about our nonexistent sex lives. “Is that ALL you think about?”
“No,” I laughed. “I think about church, chess, karate, and work.”
“In what proportions?” she asked with a smirk.
“Sex might be the thing foremost in my mind,” I allowed.
“Might?” she teased. “That’s why you booked the motel room. The UNUSED motel room!”
“Now you’re just being mean!” I protested. “I don’t see YOU offering any help in that area!”
“Ewww! That would be like being with my brother! You two are my best friends. It would just be gross!”
“Speak for yourself,” I said softly.
I’d had a thing for Jocelyn since we were in seventh grade and she’d started to develop. Before I’d uttered those words, I’d never, ever let her know how I felt. But what she’d said had hurt, badly, for some reason. I couldn’t say why, but it had. We’d never dated, never kissed, and never even flirted. Perhaps it was the kiss on the cheek earlier that had changed things in my mind. Whatever it was, her rejection was like a dagger in my heart.
Both Dale and Jocelyn looked at me, but I just shook my head, letting them know I wasn’t going to say another word. They knew that when I did that, it was useless to try to talk to me. I abruptly turned and started for home, with my two friends hurrying to catch up to me. I was sure Jocelyn knew that she’d upset me, but I couldn’t imagine what she could say or do at this point. She’d made her feelings clear. And so had I.
We arrived back at the house and I said ‘goodnight’ to everyone, said ‘goodbye’ to my friends, forgoing our usual hug, and went to my room. I shut the door, put on the stereo, and took out a notebook where I jotted my thoughts. It wasn’t really a diary or journal, just a collection of my thoughts. I wrote a couple of sentences, then stripped off my clothes, put on a pair of pajama bottoms and got into bed. I reached over and turned off the light and quickly fell asleep.
“Good morning, Mike!” my mom said when I arrived at the kitchen table for breakfast.
“Hi, Mom,” I said.
“What do you have planned for today?”
“It’s all on the calendar, just like it has been since I could write,” I replied with a smile. “I work from 8:00am to noon, then I have my Saturday karate class at 1:00pm. Dale and I are playing chess after that, and Vespers are at 6:00pm. I’m taking April to the movies after church.”
“What are you going to see?”
“Excalibur,” I replied.
“Are Dale and Jocelyn going to the movies with you?”
“And Stacey and Carl,” I said. “We’re meeting there.”
“You seemed kind of down last night when you came home. Dale and Jocelyn seemed uneasy when you went to bed. Did something happen?”
I’d always been open and honest with my mom. It had been easy, really, because I really hadn’t done anything I’d want to hide from her. I’d WANTED to, but the night in Grant Park had been typical of my life. I’d never been in trouble at school, never had trouble at work, never had a speeding ticket, and beyond the very rare encounters with April’s sweater-clad breast, I had nothing to even consider hiding. But this was complicated. I wasn’t sure I wanted to say out loud what had happened or what I’d been thinking.
I delayed answering her by putting a forkful of maple-syrup-drenched waffle into my mouth.
I had no idea what to do about it, either. I thought back to the first time Jocelyn and I had met. It had been the first day of kindergarten, and she’d been sitting next to me at my table. She asked me to be her friend and from then on, we did everything together. As friends. I hadn’t even really thought about the fact she was a girl until I saw her on the first day of eighth grade. We’d been apart the last month before school started due to our family trip to Disney World and her family vacation to Seattle and Vancouver.
What I saw when I walked into James A. Garfield Elementary School had stunned me - Jocelyn Mills had breasts! My best friend had turned into a full-fledged girl! It took me a minute before I could even say hello, and our usual hug had suddenly become awkward, at least for me, because she had bumps on her chest! I’d never thought of her in any way other than my best friend, along with Dale Melrose, though I’d known her longer and been friends with her longer. Suddenly, I had other thoughts about her. Thoughts I had no way to express. I’d never had a girlfriend, or even a real kiss.
I chewed my waffle slowly, then took a sip from my water glass, and then one from my glass of grapefruit juice.
“I guess it’s just that things changed yesterday, after graduation.”
True as far as it went, but not the whole truth.
“I know it’s a cliché,” my mom said, “but today is the first day of the rest of your life. One Summer left, and then you’re off to college, medical school, and then you’ll be a doctor! It’s tough to leave your friends, especially ones you’ve known as long as you’ve known Dale and Jocelyn, and as close as the three of you are. But you’ll make new friends. And you have April!”
I only WISH I ‘had’ April, I thought, then reproved myself because I was doing exactly what Jocelyn had said - thinking about sex all the time. And that was, I realized, the source of the problem. I wanted to kiss Jocelyn. No, actually, I wanted more than that, but even a kiss, an acknowledgment of my feelings for her, would be sufficient now. Instead, she’d shot me down harder than any of the girls who had broken up with me after dating for a short time. Or even the girls who had turned down dates.
But, I could go with my mom’s take on the situation, and deflect any inquiry into the true source of my moodiness and my mom’s perception of unease by my friends.
“A new school; a new church; a new dojo; a new job. It’s a lot to contemplate.”
“Think of it as an adventure, Mike! You’ll mostly be on your own, learning new things, meeting new people, and having new experiences. You’re close enough to see April fairly often. And you’ll see Dale and Jocelyn during the Summers.”
I took another bite of my waffle, ate a few bites of sausage, then took another drink.
“That’s just it,” I said. “Dale is talking about taking Summer classes in Madison and Jocelyn has a campus job that will keep her at Purdue over the Summer. There’s a good chance I’ll only see them during Christmas or Spring breaks. And April is a problem, really.”
“A problem?” Mom asked with an arched eyebrow. “Because of Thursday night?”
I shook my head slowly, “No, but she goes to a Methodist church and I don’t think she’d become Orthodox to marry me.”
“You’re thinking about marriage? Well, I suppose if you’re contemplating what you were with April, that does make sense. Have you asked her about that?”
“I’ve asked her to come to church a bunch of times and she always says ‘no’.”
“Mike, then you shouldn’t be thinking about her the way you are.”
I sighed, “Do we have to have this conversation?”
“Talk with Father Herman,” Mom said.
“I KNOW what he’ll say, Mom. Trust me. I’ve paid attention in church, in Sunday School, and at Youth Group.”
She did have a point, though. I couldn’t see Jocelyn leaving her Lutheran church, either, and I was certainly thinking the same way about her, just as I had been for more than five years. But Mom didn’t know that, and didn’t need to know that.
“Yes, you have. You need to think about who you date if you want to be married in the Church. What about Natalya Antonova?”
I laughed out loud, happy that I hadn’t been eating or drinking when she’d made that suggestion.
“Oh sure, only the most beautiful, most sought-after girl in the entire church! She wouldn’t tell me the time if she was the only person left on the planet with a watch!”
Certainly the thoughts I’d had about Tasha, as Natalya was known to most everyone, were just as impure as those I’d had about Jocelyn or April, but Tasha was even further out of reach than Jocelyn! She was blonde, had blue eyes, and a fantastic figure. She was the daughter of Deacon Vasily Antonov, and if there were a more unobtainable girl, I didn’t know who it might be.
“Don’t sell yourself short, Mike. You’ll never know unless you ask her out.”
“April has my class ring,” I said, more out of self-defense than anything.
“I know. But if you aren’t planning on replacing it with an engagement ring, you should tell her. You know she expects that to happen.”
I sighed, “I know. But I’d feel like a jerk breaking up with her just out of the blue.”
“But aren’t you leading her on? Have you even talked to her about the fact that you want to marry someone who is Orthodox or who will convert?”
“Then I think you need to do that.”
“Yes, Mom,” I replied with a bit of resignation.
I finished my breakfast and put my dishes in the sink. I poured myself another glass of grapefruit juice and stood by the counter to drink it.
“Morning, Mom,” Liz said when she came into the kitchen. “I want Mikey to give me and Emmy a ride to the pool tomorrow!”
I suppressed a groan and the impulse to throw my glass at my little sister. This was the one sore point between Mom and me. If I was going somewhere, and Liz wanted to go to the same place, I was given no option other than to drive her. I was meeting Dale and Jocelyn at the public pool after church. The last thing I wanted was my little sister tagging along.
“Mike, will you please give your sister and her friend a ride?” Mom asked.
Only it wasn’t REALLY a question. The only acceptable answer to that kind of request was ‘yes’. But I might have an out.
“We’re heading to A&W in Rutherford after we swim,” I said.
“Oooh! Emmy and I would go!”
I should have known she’d try that, but there was no way I was caving into THAT demand. And agreeing to the ride to and from the pool, would foreclose any chance Mom would agree with Liz.
“No,” I said. “I’ll take you to the pool, then bring you home after we swim even though it will be ten miles out of my way. But you have to leave the pool when I say, without any arguments.”
“Mooooom!” Liz whined in protest.
“Liz,” Mom said firmly, “if you want a ride to the pool, you have to work with Mike’s schedule. I won’t make him change his plans for you. And you’ll leave when he wants to, or you won’t get any rides during the Summer.”
Except she WAS making me change my plans. I’d have to drive five miles back home and then retrace my route, wasting a good twenty minutes of MY time. If I needed a reason to leave West Monroe, it was my bratty little sister. I loved her, and would do everything in my power to protect her, but that didn’t make her any less annoying.
“Fine,” she said, glaring at me.
“Elizaveta Petrovna, I could change my mind,” Mom said sternly.
“Sorry, Mom,” Liz replied, quickly dropping her tone.
I finished my juice and went to brush my teeth. I was back in the kitchen a minute later, got my keys from the hook on the wall, kissed my mom goodbye, and headed out of the house. I got into my Mustang, started the car and put it in gear. I always backed into the driveway, as it made it easier to pull out onto the country road we lived on. I saw no traffic, so I made a left turn, and headed for the hardware store.
My talk with Mom had brought to the surface something that had been bothering me since Christmas, and reinforced at the end of April when we’d celebrated Pascha. I’d invited April to Christmas services, and to Pascha, which was celebrated a week later than Easter. She’d declined both invitations, despite the Paschal service being followed by a grand party.
I’d gone to April’s church, once, when her niece was baptized, but I couldn’t even get her to set foot in our church. Dale and Jocelyn had come to church with me on a few occasions, and I’d been to Jocelyn’s church a few times for special events. Dale’s family was one of the few I knew that didn’t go to church at least occasionally. His parents had been raised Baptist, but his father had had a falling out with the pastor of a church as a teenager, and refused to ever, as he put it, ‘darken the door’ of any church.
At the hardware store, I parked in my usual spot, and followed my usual routine of greeting Mr. Orlov, kissing the icon of the Theotokos, and asking for my day’s assignment. Mr. Orlov handed me a clipboard and asked me to restock shelves. I quickly scanned the list of items and realized that I wouldn’t finish by noon. I let Mr. Orlov know, and then got to work. Four hours later, with only a brief break for a cup of coffee, I had completed about three-fourths of the items on the list. I handed the clipboard back to Mr. Orlov, with neat checkmarks next to each item I’d restocked, and a notation of how many of each item remained in inventory in the back room. He scanned the list, thanked me, and sent me on my way.
At home I had just enough time for a quick sandwich and an RC Cola, then donned my karate uniform and drove to the dojo on the other side of West Monroe, arriving about five minutes before the 1:00pm class.
“Mr. Loucks,” Sensei Adam Jackson said, by way of greeting, when I walked in.
“Good afternoon, Sensei,” I said, bowing slightly.
I removed my shoes and socks, put them on the rack, then went into the training room and took my place in the second row, behind the black and brown belts. I double-checked that my purple belt, signifying I was ‘4th kyu’, was properly tied, and stood quietly awaiting the start of class. Three minutes later, Sensei came into the room, faced the fourteen assembled students, and clapped his hands twice. That was our signal to kneel for our two minutes of meditation before class.
After the meditation, we did our usual stretches and warm-up exercises, and then performed, as a class, all of the basic strikes and kicks. Warm-ups and exercises took about fifteen minutes, and once we finished, Sensei directed everyone to the benches that lined the walls. Saturday was usually reserved for practicing kata and sparring, and given the small size of the dojo, that meant mostly sitting and waiting for our turn. During weekday classes, the different ranks were segregated, and I mostly practiced with other purple belts and brown belts. Given there were only five of us, that allowed for more personalized attention.
I did my kata when instructed, and sparred with one of the blue belts. Otherwise I sat quietly watching the other students and thinking about the conversation I needed to have with April. The question was when to do it. And the answer I came up with was after the movie when I took her home. We’d only ever gone parking once, and that was the first time I’d been allowed a brief fondle of her sweater-clad breast. I’d tried to go parking again a week before prom, but April had asked me to take her straight home after the movie, much to my frustration.
When karate class was over, I headed straight home for a shower, then put on shorts and a t-shirt. I went to my room and got my chessboard, and took it down to the basement playroom where Dale and I usually played. My dad had finished the basement over the course of the previous six years, completing it a few days before last Christmas, and just in time before the ‘family gift’ of a pool table was delivered. I’d played a lot at Dale’s house, and was happy to have a pool table, but wished we’d had it years ago.
Dale arrived at 2:30pm; we grabbed bottles of RC Cola from the basement fridge, and sat down at the chessboard.
“You never could convince Jocelyn to learn to play,” Dale said as he moved his king’s pawn two spaces forward to start the game.
“She was too busy with other stuff,” I said. “Being in the band was a huge drain on her time; worse than chess club and karate combined for me. She also never saw the point in playing board games of any kind.”
I matched his move, moving my king’s pawn two spaces ahead.
“True,” Dale said. “We couldn’t even get her to play Clue, Life, or Monopoly.”
“Her mom says that Jocelyn hated Candyland and Chutes and Ladders when she was little, and I remember her never wanting to play them, so I guess she’s consistent!”
“That’s the one sure thing you can say about Jocelyn!” Dale laughed. “She’s even more set in her ways than your church!”
I laughed, “No way. If there was anything on this planet more resistant to change than the Orthodox Church, I don’t know what it is!”
“Want to talk about what happened last night?” Dale asked, moving his bishop.
“What’s to talk about?” I asked, moving my knight.
“Come on, Mike. I saw your face when Jocelyn said what she did about kissing. You’ve loved her secretly for years!”
“If you know about it, it’s not much of a secret,” I said with a wan smile.
“OK; secret from HER.”
“Yeah,” I sighed.
We moved pieces in silence for several minutes, with neither of us gaining an advantage.
“Are you going to talk to her about it? She was really confused by how quiet you got.”
“Did she say anything else?”
“No. I think it’s so far beyond anything she’s ever considered that she doesn’t understand.”
“Saved by Battlestar Galactica!” Dale laughed. “So, what are you going to do?”
I laughed, ruefully, “Break up with April.”
“What?!” Dale exclaimed, making a bad move that let me fork his rook and queen.
I moved my knight to make the fork. Dale toppled his king.
“Forget the game, Mike. What’s going on? You’re breaking up with April because of Jocelyn? That makes no sense!”
“It’s not because of Jocelyn,” I said.
“Prom! She promised to go to the motel with you then changed her mind!”
I shook my head, “No, not that, either. Well, not directly, anyway.”
“Dude, there is no way that your best friend should be surprised by something like this, and I am! Explain!”
“It’s something that’s been bugging me since Christmas, and even more since Pascha. April won’t even come to my church for a service.”
“Oh, man. I know how important that is to you. Have you talked to her about it at all?”
“No. I talked to my mom this morning and she pointed out that if I’m contemplating having sex with April, and I’m not willing to eventually marry her, I’m kind of misleading her.”
“Wait! You don’t believe sex is only for marriage any more than I do!”
I laughed, “Yeah, and look at us! Has that made a single bit of difference in the last three years?”
Dale frowned, “No. Despite our best efforts, it hasn’t.”
“April expects us to stay together, eventually get engaged, and then married. She hasn’t said it quite that way, but things she said make it clear she’s expecting to be Mrs. Doctor Loucks before I graduate from medical school.”
“You won’t BE a doctor before you graduate from medical school!”
“Yeah; yeah; you know what I mean! But think about how bad it would have been if we’d done it after Prom.”
“That doesn’t even begin to describe it,” I said. “She’d have totally freaked out.”
“She’s STILL going to totally freak out!” Dale said. “She can’t be expecting this.”
“No, she can’t, but as much as it pains me to say this, it’s probably better we didn’t have sex.”
“Words I would never have expected to hear from Michael Peter Loucks!”
“Yeah,” I sighed. “Being a ‘gentleman’ or a ‘good guy’ really sucks.”
“Dale’s prescription is for you to go to William Howard Taft University, attend some parties, find a Catholic chick who’s away from home for the first time, and get laid with no regrets!”
I couldn’t help but laugh, “Yeah, sure. I have exactly ZERO experience beyond first base. That’s going to work really well!”
“OK, then find a Senior girl who isn’t too picky because she’s drunk!”
I laughed again, “Is that your plan?”
“My plan is, one way or another, to not be a virgin by October! I can’t turn 19 as a virgin!”
“Good luck with that plan,” I chuckled. “Just make sure you don’t get VD or get some girl pregnant!”
“Rubbers! You took sex-ed in eighth grade! And your church doesn’t object to birth control if I remember right.”
“So long as it’s used for timing and planning, not complete prevention, it’s acceptable. In the confines of marriage, of course.”
“Of course. So when will you tell her?”
“Probably tonight, after the movie.”
“She’s going to lose it,” Dale warned.
“I know. But I can’t see not getting married in the church and raising my kids Orthodox.”
“Got any prospects?”
“My mom suggested Tasha Antonov,” I said with a smirk.
“Dude, I’d cream in my pants if she held my hand, let alone anything else! She’s GORGEOUS!”
“I told my mom that I couldn’t see Tasha giving me the time of day if she owned the last watch on the planet.”
“No kidding! She’s the minister’s daughter, too, right?”
“The deacon’s, but yes.”
“Talk about a permanent case of blue balls if you don’t marry her!”
“Welcome to my world. Shall we play again?”
“Sure. What about Jocelyn?”
We set the pieces and switched colors so that I would now be playing white.
“What’s to do or say? You heard her. It would be gross and like being with a brother. I’m not sure that can be overcome.”
“You could always try the ‘cry on her shoulder’ bit over your breakup with April,” Dale said with a wink.
“Oh yeah, because THAT would go so well. But if you think about it, I understand her point. We’ve been friends since we were five. We’re closer than I am with my sister or she is with her cousin who’s been like a brother. It’s like that with you, too, even though we didn’t meet you until third grade.”
“True. But wouldn’t you want your husband or wife to be your best friend AND your lover? How awesome would that be?”
“Beyond perfect,” I said. “But Jocelyn has me in this circle called ‘friends’ and her Venn diagram of ‘friends’ and ‘lovers’ doesn’t have an intersection.”
“So what about the rest of the Summer? Our triple dates kind of go down the tubes at that point. Maybe you should wait.”
I shook my head, “I can’t do that to April. I can’t string her along. It’s not like there’s major making out or anything, and we don’t go dancing, or whatever, so it’s not a big deal if I don’t have a date.”
“What about a girl just to hang out with over the Summer? I’m sure Stacey has some friends who would be cool with that.”
“Sure. Ask her.”
“Good. Now let’s play some chess!”
We played six more games, with me winning three and Dale one. The other two were draws. Overall I was happy, as less than two years earlier, Dale would have more than likely come out on top. When we finished, we hugged and he headed home while I went upstairs to wash for dinner, something my mom insisted on. I got to the table just as she was putting out the food, and after my dad said a blessing, we ate. At the end of the meal, the dishes went into the dishwasher and we headed out to Dad’s Mercury.
When we arrived at Holy Transfiguration, I went through the right-hand deacon’s door of the iconostasis, stopped to kneel and kiss the floor, then rose and asked Father Herman for his blessing. After receiving it, I went into the vestry and took down my robe from the hanger, folded it, and went back to where Father Herman was standing to receive a blessing to put on my vestments. After the blessing, I slipped the sticharion over my head, and then fastened the clasp at the neck.
I quickly went through my duties for Vespers, which included lighting oil lamps in the altar, lighting a piece of charcoal in the censer and ensuring the second acolyte, a sixth-grader named Justin, was ready for the service and knew what he was supposed to do. Justin had been an acolyte since fourth grade and was one of the better younger boys who served at the altar, so I had little concern.
Vespers went along as usual, and I could pretty much operate on auto-pilot, handing the censer to the priest at the right time, taking it back from him, and ensuring I opened and closed the doors at the right time. It was a good thing I could do that, as I was distracted by thinking about what I would say to April and by the fact that I could see Tasha through the Royal Doors.
The beautiful, blonde, fifteen-year-old Natalya Antonov, or Antonova if I followed my mom’s practice of modifying last names in the Russian style, was a supreme distraction. She’d blossomed in the Spring, going from an almost boyish figure to a gorgeous young woman almost overnight. To say that delay had been worth it would be an understatement. She’d transformed from girl to woman almost instantly, and attracted the attention of every male in the church, except her father and, I hoped for his own sake, the priest!
When the service concluded, I quickly received Father’s blessing to remove my sticharion, and made a beeline for the car. The rest of the family was already in the car, as everyone had something to do. Liz was heading to Emmy’s and Mom and Dad were playing bridge with our next-door neighbors. That was a game I’d never chosen to learn, but which they seemed to thoroughly enjoy. When we arrived home, I quickly changed from my ‘church clothes’ into jeans and a lightweight cotton shirt.
When I picked up April, she greeted me with her usual quick, chaste kiss and a brief hug. Ten minutes later I parked the car in the public lot a block from the theater. We walked quickly to the box office and I bought our tickets. When we went into the lobby, Dale, Stacey, Jocelyn, and Carl were waiting for us. I bought a box of Dots for April and some red licorice for myself, and once our friends had what they wanted from the snack bar, we went into the theater and found six seats together about halfway back from the screen.
“That can’t be comfortable!” Jocelyn giggled as Uther Pendragon took Igrayne while wearing full armor.
Dale, Carl, and I laughed, but April blushed bright red at the sex scene. That didn’t really surprise me, as that was her normal reaction to anything of that sort that appeared in the PG-rated movies I could take her to. I also wasn’t surprised when she squealed and hid her face in her hands at a scene where a crow plucked the eye out of a dead knight.
“Great movie!” Dale said as our sextet walked out of the theater.
“It was kind of gross,” April said. “Too much gore!”
“I liked it,” I said.
Jocelyn and Carl agreed with me and Dale, but Stacey agreed with April. That was pretty much par for the course. Neither of those girls dealt well with blood and gore, and both blushed at sex scenes. Jocelyn was more like Dale and me and just took it all in stride. We walked down the street to the ice cream shop and ordered cones which we took with us into the beautiful weather. We walked while we ate our cones, ending up at the parking lot where each couple got into their respective cars.
I’d finally hit on the way to talk to April about the problem I was having without it seeming like I was breaking up with her out of the blue and with no warning.
“April, would you go to church with me tomorrow morning?” I asked.
“No,” she said, as I expected. “I like my church just fine.”
“So you won’t ever go?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “It’s like I told you at Easter. It’s too Catholic.”
“You know church is super important to me,” I said gently. “And when I eventually get married, I want to marry someone who’ll go to church with me and raise our kids Orthodox.”
April was quiet for a moment, then asked, “Can’t we worry about that later?”
I shook my head, “No. Not unless you’re going to change your mind.”
A tear ran down her cheek.
“You’re breaking up with me,” she said, starting to sob.
“I don’t see any solution to the problem,” I said.
“But I love you!” she sobbed. “Please don’t break up with me!”
“I love you too, April,” I said. “But unless you change your mind about church, I don’t see how it can work out.”
She sobbed quietly as I drove towards her house. When I turned onto her street, she blew her nose in a tissue she took from her purse.
“I’ll let you,” she said quietly.
Something I would have done without reservation two nights before was now something I couldn’t do no matter how much I wanted April and was attracted to her. There were times when I hated my life, and this was one of them. I turned into the driveway of her house and shut off the engine. I pulled up the parking brake, shifted into first gear, and turned off the headlights. I took a deep breath and let it out.
“That won’t change anything,” I said reluctantly, never in my life having turned down something I wanted so badly.
“But I love you, Mike! I want to be your girlfriend! I thought you loved me!”
“I do, April, and I’m telling you this because I love you.”
“You don’t want to?” she asked very quietly.
I did, in the worst possible way. But that angel on my shoulder kept telling me not to do it. April would eventually be expecting an engagement ring from me, and that was something I couldn’t give her without an agreement about church. It was that important. In a sense it was funny, because if April and I had been just casually dating, with no implied promise, I could have done it. But not under these circumstances.
“It’s not about what I want to do,” I said gently, “but about what I should do. Let me walk you to the door.”
She got out of the car before I could go around and open the door as I usually did for her. I walked quickly to catch up to her as she walked up the front walk to the door of her house.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
April was sobbing again, and I watched as she removed my class ring and held it out to me. I reluctantly took it from her, and watched again as she unlocked the door with her key, and silently went inside. I turned and walked back to my car, got in, started it, backed out of the driveway, and headed home. I backed into the driveway as usual, and noticed a car parked in the guest spot. It was Dale’s pale-green Chevy Monza. I parked my car and went inside to find him sitting in the den.
“I figured you might need someone to talk to,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said with a smile. “How about we shoot some pool?”
We went to the basement, got some sodas from the fridge, and picked up pool cues.
“How did it go?” he asked.
“She’s upset, but I don’t think there was any way around it.”
“So now what?”
“My mom said that today was the first day of the rest of my life, and I guess that’s true.”
“I talked to Stacey on the way to her house. She said her friend Carol isn’t dating anyone. Stacey is sure Carol would say ‘yes’ if you ask her out.”
“What grade?” I asked.
“She’s going to be a Senior in the Fall. I guess that makes her seventeen.”
“Sure. Get me her number or have Stacey give her mine. Are we still on for swimming and A&W tomorrow?”
“Checkin' out babes in bikinis and then drinkin' root beer? You bet!”
“The public pool does have its advantages,” I grinned, then frowned, “I have to bring Liz and Emmy.”
“Bummer! Not to A&W, right? Just to the pool?”
“Yeah, so I’ll leave the pool about fifteen minutes or so before you and Jocelyn do so I can deliver my bratty sister and her friend back here, then drive back PAST THE POOL to get to A&W.”
“You do NOT know how glad I am to be an only child!” Dale said. “You’re like my brother, but I don’t have to drive you places!”
“And Jocelyn’s cousin who lived with them was older, so she didn’t have to drive him anywhere.”
“Her mom doesn’t work, so she could have played chauffeur. Your mom and dad both work.”
“I know, and I get it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I just have to do it.”
“Do you know what my dad says about stuff like that?”
“Welcome to being an adult.”
“Great…just great,” I sighed.
I was up early on Sunday morning to head to Holy Transfiguration. As Head Acolyte, I was responsible for being at the church about ninety minutes before Matins so that I could refill and light all the oil lamps, replace the tapers in the candle box, sift the sand in front of the icon of the Theotokos to remove the candle stubs, and ensure that the nave was in proper order.
When I arrived, I unlocked all the doors, adjusted the thermostat to cool the nave, then put on a simple black cassock and went about my work. Once I finished, I went to the basement and brought up five loaves of prosphora that Father Herman would use for the Proskomide, the preparation of the gifts for the Eucharist. I placed them on the Altar of Prothesis, a small table set into an alcove in the altar, then filled the cruet with wine. I went back to the sacristy and got a hot pot to fill with water to use for the zeon during the liturgy. I put the filled hot pot on a small table next to the Prothesis table.
After I finished preparing the Prothesis table, I cleaned the censer, and put in a new piece of charcoal. It wasn’t quite yet time to light it, so I went out to the reader’s stand and opened the Horologion and other books to the correct pages for the day, then made sure that the list of hymns on the chanter’s stand was correct, and finally, double-checked the choir director’s stand to ensure the order of service was correct. As my final task before the priest arrived, I did a quick inventory of all of the liturgical supplies and made a note of things we needed to order.
About five minutes later, Father Herman and Deacon Vasily arrived and began their vesting prayers. When they finished, the whirlwind of activity that was the Proskemede, Matins, and Divine Liturgy began. I knew every prayer, every response, and every motion by heart, and could probably have done them in a coma, but I always smiled when Father Herman sang Let us complete our prayers unto the Lord, signifying that there were about fifteen more minutes of the service. That one verse caused more consternation amongst visitors than anything else that was done or said, as they expected the liturgy to end almost immediately.
After the service, we met in the church basement for a light lunch. I ate quickly, and as soon as it was possible to leave without drawing too much attention, I made a beeline for the door so that I could drive home to change. I wasn’t surprised when Lizzy was close on my heels, though I’d hoped she wasn’t paying attention and I could escape without her noticing.
“No chance, Mikey,” she said. “I knew you would try to sneak out!”
“I was in a hurry and didn’t even think about it,” I said, laying the groundwork for a defense with my mom if Liz were to complain.
“You were trying to ditch me and you know it!” she said, climbing into the passenger seat of my Mustang.
“You know how busy I am with my responsibilities here,” I countered as I slipped into the driver’s seat. “I booked as soon as I felt I could avoid Father complaining about it.”
“Well, here I am.”
“Here you are. Remember what Mom said. You have to leave when I’m ready with no complaints. If you delay me even one second, I’ll make sure you never have another ride all Summer.”
“A-hole,” she spat.
“A-hole?” I laughed. “That’s the best you can do?”
“If I said what I was thinking, you’d tell Mom and I’d be grounded for the rest of the Summer.”
“Russian swear words are the quickest way to grounding and extra chores. Trust me.”
“Did you and April break up?”
“You are WAY too serious about church, Mikey! You let it get in the way of getting laid!”
“I am NOT having a conversation about my sex life with my little sister, Lizzy!”
“What sex life?” she giggled.
She had a point, but hearing that from my fifteen-year-old sister was just not right. Even the oblique conversations I’d had with my mom and dad on the topic were difficult enough, though they were pretty cool about most things. I could tease Liz back, but decided that on the off chance she actually had more experience than I did, it was better to just keep my mouth shut rather than embarrass myself.
We arrived home and went to our rooms and quickly changed into our bathing suits. I pulled shorts and a t-shirt over my suit, slipped on a pair of deck shoes and was waiting downstairs when Liz came out of her room. She stuck her tongue out at me, but I simply ignored her. She was doing her best to get my goat and I wasn’t going to let her bother me. We got back into my Mustang and drove the short distance to Emmy’s house. Fortunately, she was ready and was waiting for us on the front porch. The girls got into the back seat and I headed for the public pool.
“We’re staying about two hours,” I said. “So be prepared to leave anytime from 3:00pm on. Remember what Mom said!”
“Whatever,” Liz replied.
A quick glance in the rearview mirror showed my sister rolling her eyes while her friend Emmy smirked. I just let it go and the girls started chatting about some inane subject that I tuned out, then drowned out by turning up the radio for the latest REO Speedwagon song. If Liz gave me the slightest grief about leaving, I’d complain to Mom and that would be that. I was careful with those complaints, as I didn’t want to ever get into a position where Mom wouldn’t trust me to tell the truth, which would put me completely at Liz’s mercy.
When we arrived at the pool, the girls ran ahead as I walked slowly up to the gate and showed my pass. I saw Dale and Jocelyn by the lockers and went over and stripped off my t-shirt, shorts, and shoes and tossed them, along with my wallet and keys, into the locker the three of us would share. I paused a moment to take in Jocelyn’s fine figure, then the three of us hopped into the pool. I ducked under the floats into the swimming lanes and swam ten laps before moving back to where my friends were.
“How are you doing?” Jocelyn asked.
“OK. April’s pretty upset, but I honestly don’t know what choice I had. She was expecting to get engaged when she graduated.”
“Have you talked to her about church?”
“A bunch of times. I even asked her once again if she’d go to church with me, ever, and she said it was ‘too Catholic’. She had a chance to offer to go to church with me, but she didn’t.”
“Did she offer to sleep with you?” Jocelyn asked.
“I’m not sure I should answer that question,” I said.
“That’s a ‘yes’, then. And you’re too nice of a guy to do that, even at the expense of still being a virgin.”
“You know, you two could solve each other’s problem,” Dale snickered.
Jocelyn shoved Dale hard and he fell backwards, going underwater. As he flailed, he grabbed the bikini top of a very voluptuous college-aged girl and her huge breasts popped out for all to see. She screamed, and managed to tuck them away, but not before I, and a few other lucky souls, got an eyeful of female flesh.
“Thanks, Dale,” I grinned when he stood back up in the pool.
Before he could answer, the girl was yelling for the lifeguard and pointing at Dale. A few seconds later, the lifeguard blew her whistle and pointed to Dale.
“Out! You’re done for the day!”
“It was an accident!” he protested, to no avail.
“Sorry, guys,” Dale said.
“It’s my fault,” Jocelyn said. “Let’s just go for our root beer and burgers.”
“It’s kind of early to eat. How about Putt-Putt?”
“Sure,” Dale said.
“Let me tell Liz. When we finish mini golf, I’ll come back and get the girls and take them home.”
I found Liz and Emmy on deck chairs, chatting with two college guys. I wasn’t surprised they were attracting attention. Both were wearing the skimpiest bikinis they could get away with. I noticed that Emmy had filled out nicely since the end of the previous Summer and was actually pretty cute. But she was Liz’s friend and that was a headache I felt I didn’t need.
“Dale has to leave,” I said. “And Jocelyn and I are going with him.”
“No way!” Liz protested. “We just got here!”
“You can stay. I’ll be back around 3:15pm to pick you up. Meet me at the gate.”
“Fine,” she said flatly, clearly annoyed by the interruption.
I shook my head. I was giving her what she wanted and she was still being a pain in the butt about it! The only thing to do was turn away from her. I did, and walked towards the lockers where Jocelyn and Dale were waiting for me. We got our stuff, dried off the best we could, then dressed. Our clothes would be a bit wet, but they would dry quickly in the Summer heat.
We decided to take Jocelyn’s Grand Am because it had far more legroom in the backseat than my Mustang or Dale’s Monza. I got to the car first, and stood by the back door on the passenger’s side because of Dale’s silly comment in the pool. I was annoyed with him, not for getting kicked out of the pool, but for the comment. It was going to make the rest of the Summer uncomfortable.
Fortunately, nothing more was said about that and the conversation drifted to other things we’d do this Summer. All of us had jobs, but neither Dale’s job at McDonald’s nor Jocelyn’s job at Dairy Queen would have them working as many hours a week as I was at the hardware store.
We arrived at Putt-Putt about ten minutes after leaving the pool. We paid, got our clubs and balls, and then walked to the first hole. We played 18 holes, and the outcome was in doubt right until the last hole. We were all about evenly matched, and Dale won the last hole with a lucky bounce off the boards that went into the cup giving him a 1-stroke victory over me, and two over Jocelyn.
“I think I’ll apply for my PGA Tour card,” Dale teased.
“Six over par isn’t going to get you very far!” I teased. “I’ll be playing for the world chess championship before you make the PGA!”
“What’s your Elo rating these days?” Jocelyn asked as we walked back to the desk to return our balls and clubs.
“1870. That signifies what’s called a ‘Class A’ player. I’ll have to work some to move to the next level, and honestly, with medical school, there is just no way I’m going to be able to play enough to advance. Karate is going to take what little free time I have, and I need that for the exercise and mental discipline.”
“Any idea what specialty you want?”
“That hasn’t changed since fourth grade! Emergency Medicine. You can branch off in so many ways from that. You learn more and do more as an intern in the ER than in any other department.”
“What’s the hardest?” Dale asked.
“Depends on what you mean. Mentally and emotionally, probably oncology, especially if you deal with kids. The most demanding would be one of the surgical options, but I don’t think I want to be a surgeon. Doing the same procedures day-in-and-day-out would drive me nuts!”
“But that’s exactly what you do in church!” Jocelyn said with a laugh as we climbed into her car.
I smiled as I fastened my seatbelt, “I want things at church to never change. It’s the touchstone of stability in an otherwise crazy world. I want excitement and change everywhere BUT church! I really like it on Sunday mornings when I’m alone with the icons, the oil lamps, and the smell of incense. It’s my favorite time of the week. It really recharges me.”
“You got all A’s in science,” Jocelyn said. “I never asked this, but how do you reconcile things?”
“The Orthodox Church never got into fights with scientists, and makes no attempts to explain things which simply can’t be explained. The West made a huge error with Scholasticism. The way to answer science is not to fight with it, but to let science speak to things it knows, then to practice apophatic theology. But I don’t think you guys want a Sunday School lesson!”
“Heck no!” Dale said. “I want an A&W Burger, fries, and a frosted mug of root beer! And then a root beer float for dessert!”
Jocelyn and I both laughed. Dale had a serious addiction to A&W root beer, which was why we ate there at least twice a month. It was our usual hangout on Friday nights if we didn’t have anything else to do.
When we arrived at the pool, I walked quickly to the gate and was pleased to see Liz and Emmy waiting for me as I’d asked them to. They followed me to my Mustang and we headed for home. The quickest route was to drop Liz at home, then drop Emmy and then head to A&W. The girls didn’t object to my plan so I headed for our house where I dropped Liz at the end of the driveway, then headed for Emmy’s house.
“I heard you broke up with your girlfriend,” she said from the backseat.
“I’m sure Liz was typically snotty about it,” I sighed.
“She’s my friend.”
“Yeah, I know. I realize you can’t say anything that would upset her.”
“Maybe. It depends.”
“Whether or not you’ll take me on a date on Friday night.”
I nearly swerved off the road, but managed, just, to keep the car pointed straight. The last thing in the world I expected was Emily Nelson to ask me on a date! Well, that wasn’t quite true. The last thing in the world I expected was Tasha Antonova to speak to me about anything substantive, let alone go on a date with me.
“Say something, Mike,” Emmy said quietly.
“You, uh, caught me off guard. What about Liz?”
“She’ll get over it.”
“Yeah, but will I? Does she know you’re asking?”
“No. She’d have told me not to do it.”
“Exactly. And you know I’m going to William Howard Taft in August.”
“I asked for one date,” she giggled. “I didn’t ask to go steady! I’m not ready for THAT yet! You’ll be my very first date!”
“What do you want to do?”
“I can’t get into any good movies. All the ones I want to see at the Cineplex in McKinley are rated ‘R’! I think Urban Cowboy is showing at the Drive-In over in Rutherford. I think it’s either that or roller skating. Will you take me?”
That was the question. I’d noticed at the pool that she’d looked really good in the bikini, and she’d always been nice enough to me. My biggest concern was that she was Liz’s best friend. My second concern was that she was only fifteen. She’d be a Sophomore in the Fall and I’d be going off to college. Stacey’s friend Carol was supposed to call me, and she was seventeen, which I felt was more appropriate. That said, it wasn’t like agreeing to go out with Emmy was a commitment. She’d said so herself.
“I guess so.”
“Not very enthusiastic, Mikey.”
I sighed, “Please don’t call me Mikey.”
“Then sound like you actually want to take me on a date.”
“Sorry. You’re right. Yes, I’d like to take you out on Friday.”
“Good! Pick me up at 6:00pm. You’ll have to come in and talk to my dad, but he’s a pussycat.”
“Liz says your dad has a dozen guns!” I chuckled.
“You have a gun!”
“A bolt-action .22 which I received as a gift when I was thirteen that’s good for paper targets or a raccoon!”
“Don’t worry about my dad; he won’t shoot you. What about dinner?”
We pulled into the Nelsons' driveway and I reached over and opened the door so Emmy could climb out of the back seat.
“See you Friday!” she said with a smile.
We both waved and then I backed my Mustang out of the driveway. As I drove towards A&W I considered what had just happened and what I’d say to Liz. The answer to that was obvious - nothing. I’d let Emmy tell Liz and deal with any fallout afterwards. I would have to tell Mom and Dad to comply with the house rules, but I was sure neither of them would say anything to Liz.
I arrived at the A&W still in a bit of a daze from Emmy’s surprise request. I saw Dale and Jocelyn at a picnic table and waved to them. They joined me going into the restaurant to order our food. I debated whether or not to say anything to Dale and Jocelyn, but really, we hadn’t hidden much from each other over the years.
“Emmy asked me to take her out on Friday,” I said as we got in line.
“No way!” Dale laughed. “Liz is going to KILL you!”
“I didn’t do the asking, so that problem is between Liz and Emmy!”
“What about Carol?”
“I haven’t heard from her, so unless you or Stacey give me her number, there’s nothing to do.”
“I don’t have it. Stacey was supposed to have her call you. I’m sure she will.”
“It’s Summer break, so it’s not like I couldn’t take her out a different night.”
“Did April try to call you?” Jocelyn asked.
“No, but I haven’t been home except for a couple of minutes to change after church, so I wouldn’t know if she even tried. I really don’t have much to say to her.”
“You just seem a bit too blasé about it. But I suppose you’ve never really been emotional. You’re always about as calm, cool, and collected as they come.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” I asked.
“I take it you want a girl’s perspective?” Jocelyn asked with a silly smile.
“Of course! Otherwise I would have asked Dale.”
“Order, please!” the girl behind the counter said, getting my attention.
“Cheeseburger with everything, regular fries, large root beer. For here.”
I handed her a $5 and received a single, a quarter, two dimes, and three pennies in change. Dale ordered the same thing, but Jocelyn went for a regular hamburger, fries, and small root beer. We moved aside to wait for our food.
“I think mostly it’s a good thing,” Jocelyn said. “But a girlfriend wants to see some emotion and feeling. I’m sure that ‘poker face’ and calm demeanor pays off at the chess board, and probably with your karate instructor, but girls like you to show some emotion.”
“You’re not exactly the emotional type, Jocelyn!” Dale protested.
“I didn’t say emotional, I said show emotion. You know, be happy, sad, that kind of thing.”
“Mike does that. We’ve seen him happy and sad!”
“But it’s always just minor variances,” Jocelyn said.
“That’s what I need as a doctor,” I said. “Especially if I’m going into emergency medicine. The ER doctor who came to ‘Career Days’ at school used the word ‘unflappable’ to describe the best trait for working on trauma cases.”
“Sure,” she nodded, “and over the chess board. And at karate. But not with a girlfriend.”
“He’d do cartwheels if that girl from his church even gave him the time of day!” Dale laughed. “Guaranteed!”
“That’ll happen about as soon as soon as President Reagan announces he’s a Commie!” I said.
“Have you even TRIED?” Jocelyn asked. “Or are you going to pine for her for the rest of your life without even trying?”
“Forget it,” I said.
That ended the conversation for a few minutes until our food was ready and we headed back out to the picnic table to eat. The burger was tasty, the fries crispy, and the root beer frosty. We ate and I invited my friends to come back to the house to play pool. They accepted, and Dale got his usual root beer float to go. Twenty minutes later, we were in my basement.
“Three-way?” Jocelyn asked with a smirk. “Or challenge?”
‘Three-way’ meant we’d each take a set of 5 balls and the winner was whoever sank their five first, with the eight ball being a normal ball. It also was one of the few risqué things Jocelyn would ever say. I’d never done anything but smirk, and decided that after Dale’s comment at the pool, today shouldn’t be any different. I simply let it pass.
“Three-way,” Dale said.
I nodded agreement and racked the balls. I rolled the cue ball to Jocelyn and let her break. We ended up playing six games, with me winning three, Dale two, and Jocelyn one. When they left, I went to tell my mom about my upcoming date and warn her about Liz’s potential reaction. She just laughed and said she wasn’t surprised. She told me it was a fairly common thing for the friends of younger sisters to do. She was sure Liz would be upset, but told me not to worry about it. I thanked her, and headed to my room to read before going to bed.
Monday was Memorial Day which meant I had the day completely free - no work and no karate. Jocelyn had to go to a family cookout, but Dale and I were going to our class cookout at Grant Park. My only concern about going to the cookout was seeing Cassie. I had no idea how she’d respond to the fact that I’d broken up with her sister, but I didn’t want it to interfere with having a good time at the cookout. I grabbed the cooler with my contribution - sliced tomatoes, sliced onions, and shredded lettuce for burgers. I picked up Dale at his house and we headed to the park.
“Our last Summer,” Dale said as he tossed two grocery bags full of hamburger buns into the back seat and climbed into my Mustang.
“You make it sound so final,” I said.
“Think about it. Our threesome is separating; we’ll all end up breaking up with our girlfriends or boyfriends, and start college.”
“Speaking of the threesome, that comment at the pool…”
“Sorry, man. It just kind of slipped out. Jocelyn gave me some grief about it before you got to A&W.”
“Figures,” I sighed.
“No, not that way. She was upset I implied her virginity was a problem.”
I chuckled, “Yeah, she doesn’t see it that way. You’ve heard her say she’s not going to give it up that easily.”
“Girls certainly have a different opinion on the topic that we do!”
“Think about it,” I said. “A guy who gets laid a lot is a stud, but a girl who has sex can quickly get a bad reputation, even if she’s just with her boyfriend. It’s a stupid double standard.”
“How many in our class do you think actually have done it?” Dale asked.
“I have no idea,” I replied. “I hear so many stories which I just don’t believe. All I know is it sure as heck doesn’t include you and me.”
“A problem I am going to resolve in Madison before Thanksgiving!” Dale asserted strongly.
“You could always talk to Mary O’Reilly!” I teased.
“I bet you anything you care to wager the stories are all bull.”
“You tried?” I asked with an arched eyebrow.
“When I first heard the rumors, I talked to her. I honestly think it’s all BS. I think she did do it once, with the wrong guy, and he bragged. You know how the song goes.”
“The story gets taller down the line,” I said, paraphrasing REO Speedwagon. “But why didn’t I know about this conversation?”
“Because nothing happened. We talked in open study hall. I decided not to ask her out.”
“You would have cheated on Stacey?”
“Probably not,” Dale sighed. “But it would have been tempting!”
“I think Jocelyn’s accusation about us is right. It IS all we think about.”
“Along with the rest of the guys in the graduating class! And you turned it down.”
“Come on, even you aren’t desperate enough to do something cruel like that.”
“Don’t be so sure!” Dale laughed as I found a parking spot.
We grabbed our stuff and went over to the shelter to drop off our food, then joined a touch football game. I was in good shape, but didn’t have much in the way of football skills. Dale, on the other hand, could throw a perfect spiral and was immediately made quarterback of the team he joined. He wasn’t on the school football team, but probably could have been the backup QB if he had wanted to play. The teams were fairly even, and we traded scores for about forty minutes before we broke to get something to drink and cool off.
“My sister is pretty upset,” Cassie said.
“I really don’t want to talk about it, Cass. There isn’t anything to say.”
“You dated for the whole school year and then you just end it? Because she wouldn’t sleep with you?”
“That’s a load of crap,” I said fiercely. “Did she say that?”
“No, but I know what happened after Prom.”
“And that had nothing to do with anything. You know the problem. I’ve never hidden it. You knew that about me when we dated for about six weeks when we were Freshmen.”
“God only knows why, but she wants you back,” Cassie said.
“Because he’s a nice guy,” Dale said, coming to my defense. “He asked her about church and she said ‘never’. She pretty much forced his hand at that point.”
“Stay out of this, Melrose!” Cassie said firmly.
“He’s telling you the truth, Cass,” I said. “I asked her a few times, and then Saturday night I asked again and she said she’d never even come to church because it was ‘too Catholic’. I’m not leaving my church, and that means I need to marry someone Orthodox if I want a proper Orthodox wedding, which I do.”
“That’s hardcore,” Cassie said.
“Maybe, but you gave up any rights to complain when you broke up with me back in 9th grade.”
“Do YOU think we should have stayed together?”
I shook my head, “No. We didn’t really hit it off. The kisses were nice, but that was about it.”
“Nice?” Cassie laughed.
“A peck on the lips as a ‘good night’ kiss doesn’t rate much more than ‘nice’,” I said.
“What WOULD rate as a good kiss?” she asked with a saucy smile.
“Forget it,” I chuckled. “I’m not taking that bait!”
She stuck her tongue out at me.
“Is that an offer?” I smirked.
“You wish!” she laughed.
“Let’s get some food,” Dale said. “The first batch of burgers is ready.”
The three of us walked over to where the food was set out and prepared our burgers and grabbed cans of RC Cola. We sat at a picnic bench with six other kids from our class, all of whom I knew pretty well. I was thankful that ended the teasing with Cassie because I wasn’t really in the mood. When we finished our burgers, Dale and I went to join some of the guys in a pick-up baseball game.
Baseball was another game where I could do OK with a bunch of random guys, but would have never come close to making a team. But I enjoyed playing, and over the course of five innings, I caught four fly balls and hit a double. When we finished playing, Dale and I helped ourselves to more hamburgers and soft drinks.
“She was flirting with you,” Dale said just before taking a bite from his burger.
“More like teasing,” I countered. “Cassie and I never hit it off. She’s cute, but we didn’t really have anything in common.”