“Hi there.” Donna’s smile is really pretty. “Come on in.”
I feel like Tony is beating on his drums inside my chest. I’m in Donna Wagner’s house! I’m going to tutor Donna Wagner in math!
Her big brother, Dean, smirks as I sit down at their kitchen table and pull out my book. “I didn’t know greasers did algebra,” he says.
I give him a hard stare. “I figure we greasers can do whatever we want. Same as you.” I hope he’ll go away and let Donna and me be alone, but he lingers in the kitchen, eating while we work. Once in a while, he interrupts to ask a question.
“Hey, you’re pretty good at this stuff,” he says when at last we close our math books. I raise an eyebrow, trying to catch the sarcasm, but he actually sounds sincere.
I should be pretty good at it, says that weird, nagging voice at the back of my mind. I aced three semesters of calculus courses back in college.
Calcu-what? I shake my head, trying to clear my mind of crazy talk.
I’m about to head home, but Dean invites me to stay and watch TV, which I do, because it means more time to be near Donna. And besides, Dragnet is on, and that’s a swell show.
Would be even better on a color screen, and with surround sound, says the crazy voice. I keep swatting at it, like it’s a fly, but it keeps coming back again and again. My name is Al Becerra, not Raymond Garrett!
I’m so distracted by Donna’s presence and the crazy voice, that I forget to invite Donna and Dean to Roxanne’s the next night, to hear my band play. It turns out to be a great show, too. Lots of people stop by to listen and dance along. Some people even drop coins in my guitar case. I keep hoping that the door will swing open, and Donna will appear, but she doesn’t. Which is maybe a good thing, because I forgot all about Helen.
Now first off, Helen is not my girlfriend, no matter what she says. Yeah, she’s always hanging around me and the guys. Yeah, she sends me flower-scented love notes at school, which I do not answer back. And yeah, sometimes we go to the movies and hold hands, and even neck a little. But never once did I ask her to be my girl. Never once did I ask her to wear my jacket.
But still, better not to make her jealous. The girl’s a wildcat. There’s no telling what she might do.
All the disappointment I feel for Donna missing the show fades away the next night. I waltz into Roxanne’s, and there she is, blowing flavored bubbles at the bubble counter. Her face lights up when she sees me. “Want to join me?” she asks.
I perch on the stool beside her, feeling kinda stupid as I blow giant orange and cherry-flavored bubbles into the air. But Donna seems to be enjoying herself.
When she grows tired, of bubble-blowing, I treat her to a Coke, then put my last nickel in the jukebox.
“Oh, I love this song!” Donna claps her hands together as Why Do Fools Fall in Love begins to play.
I swallow. “So uh…do you want to dance?”
“Okay, sure,” she says. Then before I know it, we’re dancing. Not very well, but Donna doesn’t seem to care. We just shimmy and sway and hop, singing along with the jukebox, having a grand ol’ time.
Too soon, the music fades away. “Sorry,” I say. “I’m out of money.”
“That’s okay.” We just stand there for a moment, staring at each other. Her eyes are a warm golden brown, like maple syrup. Kiss her, dummy! The crazy voice nags.
I almost do, too. But then, a different, shriller voice cuts into my thoughts. “What is she doing with you?”
Oh no. Helen is here. She glowers at Donna, her hands balled into tight fists. “Get away from my boyfriend!” she shrieks.
“I’m not—” I start to say. But Helen draws back her hand and strikes Donna across the face. Donna gasps and clutches her cheek, which turns bright red.
“Helen, no!” I cry, but Helen ignores me. She attacks Donna, who fights back. Other kids come running to watch the whirlwind of nails, hair, and pummeling fists, until at last, a man pries the two girls apart.
“You young ladies should be ashamed of yourselves,” he scolds. “I have a good mind to call both of your mothers. And you.” He whirls around to frown at me. “You’d best beat it, kid.”
It wasn’t my fault, I want to say, but the guy is pointing toward the door, and I can tell he means business. I shove out into the cold, not daring to look back at Donna. She must hate me right now. I make it about a block away from Roxanne’s when I hear her voice calling out behind me. Only, she’s not calling my name.
“Al!” she says. “Al, wait!”
Al? I turn around, curious to see who this Al kid is. Then I stop. I can’t believe my eyes.