“Be careful how you use it.”
I regarded the warning on the small bottle of Hai Karate with awe. Judging by the label’s disembodied hands chopping at an invisible opponent (and the self-defense booklet taped to its side), I was convinced I held the mating Holy Grail in my hands. Surely, I would be irresistible to the opposite sex.
Especially Gail Matakonis.
Having dispensed of our fetid ex-turtle, I sniffed the cologne again. Happily, I was treated to a fragrance sure to get a reaction from the object of my affection.
I upended the container. Immediately, a couple ounces of the amber liquid hit the palms of my hands, tingling my skin. Its fumes swirled about my head like a vaporous chick-magnet serpent.
I inhaled deeply and briskly rubbed my hands together. I slapped my cheeks and smoothed the cologne onto my face in imitation of the beautiful people I saw on TV. Its powerful aroma sunk into my pores and tickled my nose.
Grinning in the mirror, I turned my head side to side. Get a load of me, I thought. Gail was going to come at me like a seagull on a box of french fries.
Within seconds, though, its strength seemed to dissipate. That wasn’t any good, I thought. People have to smell me coming. It wouldn’t do if they couldn’t.
So, I took a couple more splashes and once again slapped it to my face. And to my chest for good measure.
My eyes watered slightly. Still, there was no mistaking what I wore.
Replacing the bottle in the cabinet next to the shaving cream, nose hair clippers, and collection of worn styptic pencils, I turned out the light and went downstairs.
I impatiently watched the clock edge toward ten o’clock. Even though I was anxious to see the girl I had a crush on since she poured paste into my milk, I didn’t want to show up on her front steps too early.
So, I poured myself a bowl of Cocoa Puffs and eased onto one of the stools which ringed the breakfast counter. I decided against turning the television on because I didn’t want to wake anyone up.
I cocked my head to the side and listened for any movement from upstairs. Hearing none, I relaxed. I should be able to get out of the house before I had to answer any questions from family busybodies.
Ever since school had let out, I was trying to screw up enough courage to visit Gail. But, every time I decided to lay it on the line, something came up. Either Spags wanted to do something or my father needed help fixing one of his handyman disasters.
Or to watch my brothers and sister while my mother drove him to the Emergency Room.
Finally, toss in a weeklong vacation and it was nearly the middle of July before I could visit her.
In the back of my mind, I knew I’d better hurry. The Matakonis family vacationed in New Hampshire every August. If I didn’t get off my butt soon, summer would be over and we’d be in high school. Then, who knows what would happen?
I’d probably be out of luck, that’s what.
With a soft click, the clock over the stove struck ten. Cereal forgotten, I slid off the stool and stepped out the back door.
Emerging into bright sunlight, I squinted and looked at my bike. Hmm, riding a bike to see a girl didn’t seem terribly manly.
Well, then, Mr. Penwasser, how about stepping into the family car, then?
I decided to walk.
Her house was less than a mile away if I cut through the park. But, seeing as the Zowines could be lurking there like feral jackals, that didn’t seem like such a hot idea. Discretion suggested the long way around.
Better late than showing up at her house without my head.
The streets were empty as I made my way to Gail’s house. No doubt everyone was either still asleep (it was summer vacation) or eating breakfast. That was just as well, I figured. I didn’t want to run into Spags, Donny, or any of my other friends. They’d either wonder where I was going or tease me for going to see a girl.
Turning the corner onto Soundview Avenue, I wondered what Gail would think when I showed up. In all the time we’d spent together at Saint Stan’s, I never gave the slightest indication I was interested in her. Even though I was pretty sure she was attracted to me, I remained aloof.
I could imagine her surprise after I told her I wanted to go out. Squelching some conceit, I smiled as I thought of how much of a treat it would be for her. I was going to be her sweet-smelling knight in shining armor.
Truth be told, I was nervous. What if, despite my confidence, she couldn’t care less how I felt? What if all those years of blowing her off convinced her I was just some jerk?
I cringed, deathly afraid I’d spend the rest of my teen years burning ants with Donny and flinging dog turds at my brothers with Spags.
No, that wasn’t possible, I convinced myself. I mean she signed “Never change! See you in high school! Keep in touch this summer! XO XO!!” in my yearbook. I mean, c’mon! XO XO!!
To be continued....
Next: The conclusion...