Chapter 12: Why Do Fools Fall in Love?

“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.

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“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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I almost do, too. But then, a different, shriller voice cuts into my thoughts. “What is she doing with you?”

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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.

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“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.

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“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!”

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Al? I turn around, curious to see who this Al kid is. Then I stop. I can’t believe my eyes.

 

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