I worked Saturday’s two-hour lunch rush at the Freeze, then read a quarter of The Outsiders. I couldn’t decide whom to root for: the socs were rich; the greasers were poor like me. But the Andersens were greasers.
Just before I started my routes, MBe plopped at my table. “Has O’Murphy called you?”
I shook my head.
“I can’t believe her,” the messenger grimaced. “Richie came over right after you called last night. He asked her to the Senior Banquet.”
“That’s tonight?” My mouth popped open. “She can’t go with him. We’re seeing Dr. Zhivago!”
Mother was in the kitchen, about to leave for work.
“Splitting shifts this weekend?”
She grimaced. Great for Casa la Bello Pizza, but merciless on her because work took up morning, noon and night: ten A.M. to two P.M., then six to ten P.M. “Some flit-tail girl called.”
“What’s a flit tail?”
She fixed motherly disapproval upon the first girl who’d ever called me on the telephone. “Said her name was O’Murphy. And she’s a flit tail because girls don’t call boys.”
Poop. We had only one phone; it was in the kitchen. I dialed, turned my back, and stretched the four-foot cord into the living room for every inch of privacy.
Mr. Larsson’s voice sounded peeved. “O’Murphy’s at the formal shop with her mother. May she call you tomorrow?”
She’s picking out a gown. My heart jumped so high in my throat I could only whisper. “Could you tell her I’ll call back at six-fifteen?”
I threw both routes as fast as I could, not porching papers even at houses that had tipped me. My Honda cruised for home when something rattled and struck my right boot. I braked to a stop and rocked the Super 90 onto its kickstand. Grease snaked across my jeans leg. I walked back ten yards to retrieve the chain on the shoulder. The master link had broken. And something else: bright aluminum shavings and rubber rubble around the wheel hub. Mr. Presley had taken final payment from my check three weeks ago. And now my motorbike–four months old and therefore a month outside its ninety-day warranty–was DRT: dead right there.
Feces on a stick. I coasted to the bottom of the hill and started pushing. My watch said five forty-five. You have to call O’Murphy. And say what? That she can share my Schwinn’s banana seat?
I got home at six-seventeen P.M., dialed the phone, and hung up when Mr. Larsson’s Electronic Secretary answered. I showered in two minutes flat, brushed my teeth, and changed into a white Ban-Lon shirt and O’Murphy-blue hip-hugger jeans. I phoned again and taped a message this time: “O’Murphy, this is Curtis. The chain is off my motorcycle. Please, just meet me at the movie.”
Even better. If she can’t reach me, she’ll feel compelled to come. Nothing left to do except pedal thirty blocks to the Ritz Theater on my Schwinn. I could be there in fifteen minutes.
Sweating and puffing, I took my place in the ticket line. A newsreel, two previews and a cartoon always played first, so the feature wouldn’t start for fifteen minutes anyway. I inched closer to the cashier’s booth. Seven people in front of me, then five. She’ll come. She’ll pass this test. If she’s the girl for me, she’ll choose the smart kid over the rich boy.
Now three people were ahead of me, so I let a man go first. A girl got out of a car down the block. From the back, she could have passed for a tall O’Murphy. A boy joined her. Now I was first in line. I hesitated and looked. No one behind me.
“Girl stand you up?” the cashier asked intuitively.
Eat me. “Two.” Defiantly, I handed over two dollar bills and pocketed both tickets.
Twenty-five minutes passed. No one behind me. The cartoon and the previews were over. Zhivago had probably graduated medical school by now.
“You want a refund on those tickets?” the cashier asked.
My stomach slid into freefall. I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I handed back one ticket. “Her name is O’Murphy. Please tell her I’ll be on the back row.”
The cashier nodded.
And at that moment, Scooter rode by and glared.
Yeah? Thought O’Murphy was with me, didn’t you?
She called the next day. “Cutie, I am so sorry for the mixup. Maybe next Saturday?”
“Mixup?” That’s it. I finally know what to do about you. The scalpel will be my weapon.
“Won’t Dr. Zhivago still be playing?” Her voice sounded uncomfortable.
Insert the knife: “O’Murphy, I like you better than any girl I . . . ”
“Oh, thank you. You’re such a nice guy. Is your motorcycle fixed yet? I could use a ride to school Monday. My step goes to work early, and Mother will be in Oklahoma Cit . . . ”
Bury the steel: “but I know you went to the banquet with . . . ”
“Ohhh! I will never speak to Richie again. Some varsity type invited him to an after-party, and he asked if I wouldn’t mind bumming a ride home. He ditched me! I wanted to find a pay phone and call you for a ride, but I haven’t memorized your number yet.”
Twist the blade: “I waited for you. I left a ticket at the booth. Maybe it’s still there, if you want to see Dr. Zhivago.”
“Cutie, I am sooo sorry. I . . . Please understand. It was the Senior Banquet. I was the only sophomore invited.”
Good. Plead for understanding.
“You’d have done the same thing. Wouldn’t you? If someone–if a soc–if a really, really pretty and popular soc, who you liked sooo much, had invited you . . . ”
“You weren’t my first choice, O’Murphy Scott. You were my onl . . . Look, I don’t think I would be a very good boyfriend.”
“That’s not tru . . . ”
“You don’t need Richie Rich. You have options. But not Scooter. You can’t trust . . . ”
“Don’t tell me what to do.” O’Murphy seemed steamed by advice.
She was the bad guy, but I remained convinced that our almost-relationship would always be the sweetest, the rawest, the most magical year of high school.