[NOTE: this is the revised draft of the first part of a short story I am inventing; I expect to complete it in later posts]
He knew it was going to be awkward. He didn’t know it would be that awkward, unpleasant, and hard. It was also a mark in his life he wouldn’t forget.
Kirk had known her since first grade. They were star academic pupils for their teachers. However, Irene was the overall star for the teachers. Kirk could be self-willed, obstinate, disrespectful, and disobedient. No one knows why he continued that way. On his report cards, there was a list of character traits and attitudes on which all pupils were graded. Not just math, reading, penmanship, science. But also citizenship, the qualities that would one day make Kirk a good employee for some boss. The grades a pupil could receive for attitudes and character were O for outstanding, S for satisfactory, and U for unsatisfactory. While Kirk got As for all his academic subjects, he was a rather consistent U on attitude and character. When he did, it was the teacher’s way of notifying the parents to instill a bit more discipline in their charge. And that they did, leaving discomfort in Kirk’s ability to sit for a while. It was almost a certainty that Irene was an O. Yet Irene was never called “teacher’s pet.” Irene was just all-around good without being irritating or snotty to her classmates.
While they had known each other since they were seven, they hardly ever noticed each other until they were fifteen as high school freshmen. Strange, or rather natural, how boys and girls start noticing each other around age fifteen. They saw enough of each other each day. The hallway lockers for each student were assigned by alphabetical order based on last name. Irene Manders had locker number 289, Kirk McInnes had locker number 291. Maybe it was something about Irene seeing the back side of Kirk peering into his locker, or Kirk seeing the back side of Irene reaching to put books into the top shelf of her locker. But Kirk didn’t pay attention to the back side of Irene until later.
For one thing, while both grew up in a rural areas and went to a rural high school in Remus, Kirk lived southeast of Remus about a mile past Halls Lake, ten miles away from where Irene lived a few miles north of Remus, close to Lake Twentyeight. Irene scarcely realized that she lived near Lake Twentyeight. Kirk, on the other hand, was well aware of the proximity of his home to Halls Lake. Once old enough to ride a bike, he’d take a fishing rod, ride the mile to the lake, and fish near the public access sites. By the time he was thirteen, his parents would let him put the row boat in the back of the pickup truck and drive himself to the lake for a morning, afternoon, or evening of fishing. With homes ten miles apart, they did not play together at neighborhood parks. In fact, since they both lived on rural roads, far enough away from even the small village of Remus, there were no neighborhood parks for them, just farm fields and small woodlots. Outside of school, they’d never encounter each other. Parents shopped at different grocers, attended different churches. From the beginning of June until the beginning of September, Kirk and Irene would never have thoughts of each other. And before being fifteen, you wouldn’t expect them to.
Irene was terribly beautiful. A little plain, but beautiful. She had long blond hair and small features. She was small. Folks might have thought she could get blown over in a strong wind. Except that she was thin enough that wind would barely affect her. With her beautiful face, large eyes, and symmetrical features, one would be attracted to her face-side, not her back side. And that is part of what caught Kirk’s attention as a fifteen year old. Too, he was smart, and she was thought to be the smartest of all the freshman class. That, unlike the stereotype of fifteen year old boys, is what attracted him to her.
While general aesthetic features of Irene and her evident intelligence initially attracted Kirk to her, sitting in Mr. Alders’ freshman Biology class changed some of Kirk’s perceptual attention. Irene was assigned a seat by Mr. Alders one row in front of Kirk’s back row seat, three seats to the left of Kirk. Irene was close enough to Kirk’s peripheral vision. He could look to the front of the class while Mr. Alders was lecturing or demonstrating or writing on the board, and catch glimpses of Irene in the long blonde hair at the edge of his vision. This is where Kirk began to notice the back side of Irene. It was the spring semester for freshman Biology.
Hip-hugger jeans had recently become the fashion. These were jeans where the waist line was below the navel. Some of these were so far below the navel that they were referred to as submarine. Irene had a pair that weren’t exactly submarine, but I am sure her parents had a life jacket in their hands ready to toss to her. Sitting at her desk, leaning slightly forward to take notes, with a blouse that wasn’t long enough to be tucked in, there was a bit of skin showing. If she leaned enough, Kirk’s attention was no longer on the homely Mr. Alders. Kirk was trying to see, without noticeably staring, the very top centimeter of the point of the natal cleft where the gluts split into the left and right sides. There is that slight dimple, sometimes one on either side of the spine, just above the natal cleft. For a fifteen year old boy, his brain was about to explode. And he was in freshman Biology with Mr. Alders of all people. He had to turn away, but it was a Siren call. This Odysseus had no crew to call upon to lash him to the mast. And it would have been too great an embarrassment to admit he needed one.
But Kirk never got the nerve to establish any more than casual contact with her. A “hello” or “good morning Irene” or “have a good evening, see you tomorrow” at the locker was about the extent of it. And soon, school was out for the summer.
While Kirk’s eye became attracted to Irene through Spring in freshman Biology, once classes were over at the beginning of June he expected to not see her again until classes began in September. That was the summer when Kirk would be taking driver’s education. Living ten miles from high school, his mom, if she could, would drive him in the morning to school where some teachers, for summer employment, would conduct driver’s education. One would think that a teacher would be smart enough to not put himself, and all were men, in an automobile with three other pubescent teens, most of whom have had little driving experience unless it was the tractor on the farm. But they were educators, and who better to conduct driver’s education? It probably wasn’t too stressful doing the classroom instruction. It was more interesting having students, in the school parking lots, practice starting, stopping, using turn signals, parallel parking, and so on. This is critical to learn well, since most accidents occur at low speeds in parking lots. Most of them result in no injury. But insurance companies still put out a lot of money to repair parking lot bumps. The most stressful for the instructor was the three hours daily with three different students at a time on the road getting practice and experience. Instructors were known to pop Tums like eating peanuts. The drive always involved a fifteen minute break at a café, where the instructor would suck down two cigarettes, two cups of coffee, and a donut. The students might have a coke and donut, the minor’s version of the adult coffee, cigarette and donut.
Some days when Kirk’s mom would take him to school in the summer mornings for driver’s education, Kirk would put his bicycle in the back of the family Suburban, and he’d have to ride the ten miles home. Some days, when weather was particularly nice, Kirk would ride his bicycle to school in the morning and home in the afternoon. On the days when he had classroom or parking lot instruction in the morning, and on the road with two other students and the teacher in the afternoon, there was a ninety minute break for lunch. One day, early on, Kirk decided to ride his bike the four miles from school to Irene’s home to see if she was there, to just drop in and say hello. It was an awkward moment. Kirk rolled his bike into the gravel driveway about noon. Leaning his bike against a tree, hoping he wasn’t too sweaty, he stepped up to the aluminum screen door and rattled it with a knock. An eight year old came to the door, Irene’s younger brother Clark.
“Hi,” Kirk said, “I’m Kirk, a classmate and friend of Irene’s. Is she here?”
“Ireeeene,” he yelled as if it were a three syllable word, “a boy is here who wants to see you” with his sing-song voice going louder on “boy” and much higher on “see.”
“Don’t yell,” an adult woman’s voice said. “Clark, go tell Irene a boy is here to see her.” Then coming to the door and pushing the storm door open, Beverly, Irene’s mother, said “would you come in please? I am Mrs. Manders, Irene’s mom. And you are?”
Having been taught proper etiquette by his parents, he responded without hesitation, “I am Kirk, Kirk McInnes, a classmate of Irene’s. Her locker is two over from mine because of our last names. We had Biology together with Mr. Alders, and were lab partners for some of our work. I was at school today for driver’s ed; we’re on lunch break and I thought I’d stop by to see how summer is going for Irene.”
Kirk felt like a parent was owed a rather full explanation. Not, mind you, complete disclosure. He would never tell her that he admired the dimples on her daughter’s lower back, just above the natal cleft. Still, one had to offer a good enough explanation to get accepted by the parent to have access to the daughter.
Irene appeared, “Hi Kirk. What are you doing here?”
He went through the explanation again as Mrs. Manders stood behind Irene, with Clark an arm’s reach behind Mrs. Manders. “Come on in,” Irene said, and she walked him into the living room.
There they sat for an hour and chatted about how boring some of their summer has been so far. Early in the summer for three weeks Kirk had ridden his bicycle a couple miles from his house to pick strawberries with other teens for a local farmer, making ten cents per quart picked. They’d pick from sun rise until about 11 am. He’d been fishing at Halls Lake at least once a week. Driver’s training is interesting. It is funny to see Mr. Calhoun not in a classroom trying to teach us how to be safe drivers. It was especially funny to see him about to have a cow as Melissa pulled out onto Remus Road about as slowly as a tractor might. A truck was approaching quickly; she shouldn’t have pulled out then. You know all the instructor has on his side of the car is a brake, and that time he about put his foot through the floor where a gas pedal might have been if they had one on his side. We dared not laugh. Melissa was crying. I have to admit we were a bit scared too and felt like yelling at Melissa to floor it while under our breath we muttered the name of the Savior of the world. We held our tongue as we held our breath. When we stopped for our usual donut and coke break, even Melissa laughed about how Mr. Calhoun about blew a vein in his neck.
“I have to go to get back for the afternoon session,” Kirk announced, figuring he stayed to the last moment where, if he rode his bicycle pretty hard, since he didn’t have a headwind to go into, he could make it back just in time.
“Will you visit again?” intoned Irene.
“Yes,” Mrs. Manders added, “come again and have lunch with us.”
“Thank you,” Kirk responded, “I have an afternoon session again on Thursday. Will it be okay if I stop by again on Thursday?”
Irene looked to Mrs. Manders, who smiled approvingly. “Certainly Kirk, we’ll see you then, and plan on having lunch with us.”
As Kirk got on his bicycle to leave, he hoped he’d do nothing uncoordinated or stupid, like having his foot slip off a pedal resulting in his crushing his manly parts on the top tube. He rode with a speed he could rarely muster back to school. It at least felt like the wind was at his back.