Anything We Want
The next morning I had to fend for myself, because Mom had left very early to take Ally to catch her train. I didn’t mind. I ate some pineapple chunks that were in the fridge, and two bowls of Total. I looked around, then dressed for the cold, slung my book bag over my shoulders, and went out to meet the bus.
I was the first one there, but it wasn’t long before a snowball hit me in the ass. That was Tommy’s signature greeting, and I didn’t even turn around anymore. Retaliation is tough with Tom too, because he can disappear by merely turning sideways.
I heard an ‘oof’ in Tom’s voice right then, and that made me turn. His back was turned to me, and he’d been hit square in the middle of his back pack. Shea Luellen was ten feet behind Tommy, and laughing happily.
Well, Tom had been my friend for a long time, so I scooped up some snow and quickly patted it into a snowball. Shea saw me doing it, and tried to hide, but I managed to clip the back of his head with a glancing blow.
We were even, and it didn’t warrant any comment. Instead, we talked about the weekend until the bus picked us up, then we sat with other people.
The seat next to Lisa Mongillo was vacant, so I sat there. I could not feign anything with that girl, but I had gotten over my speechlessness a while back, so we could hold a conversation. To me, Lisa is cuteness personified. She’s no classic beauty, but she is beautiful in her own way. She’s short, with short black hair, a perfect complexion, dark eyes, and a smile that can put your basic sunrise to shame.
It’s with girls that I get shy, and I feel that I’m beating that deficiency out with Lisa. I know she likes me, and I like her, but we still haven’t dated. That’s me. I want to ask. I want it almost desperately, but can I never quite get up the nerve.
She spoke first that morning. “Hi, Paul. Good weekend?”
I smiled. “Hi, Lisa. Yeah, it was good. I went skiing up to Sugarbush. How about you?”
She shrugged. “It was okay. Saturday, I went with Joanne Toomey over to this craft fair in Keene, and I babysat that night. Yesterday, the Spring dance committee got together, but we ended up just talking about Jamie.” She sighed, and leaned close to me, which felt good. “I don’t know what we’ll do. Jamie was so much in charge that the rest of us just did what he said to do.” Her voice softened, and she added, “He made it too easy.”
I took her hand, which was a first, and she seemed comfortable with me doing that. I said, “I keep hearing that about Jamie. Nobody else takes charge?”
She sighed again. “Maybe it’s because he just died like that, but nobody even wants to try taking his place. All we could agree on was to meet with our advisor today, and see what she thinks.”
My mind, right then, was spinning out eight thoughts at a time, and I struggled to sort them out. Except for some dancing, this was the closest, most prolonged contact we’d shared, and the physical effect on me was exciting, to say the least. At the same time, I suddenly felt like Lisa’s protector. It seemed that I was responsible for her well-being, which led me to gently squeeze her hand every time she spoke. And, at the very same time. I felt the need to say helpful things, and those were difficult to think of when so much else was happening in my head.
When she stopped talking for a minute, and I had a chance to sort out her words, I had an idea. I gave her hand another little squeeze and asked, “Lisa, do you know Dan Mc Naughton?”
She looked at me and nodded. I said, “Maybe you should ask him to join your committee.”
“Why him?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I don’t even know what he’d think about it, but he was really close to Jamie, so maybe something rubbed off on him.”
She smiled at me and said, “Thanks. That’s a thought. Do you know Dan?”
“I know his brother better, but we all ski together. Dan was with us this weekend.”
“Dan’s awfully quiet,” she said.
“So?” I asked. “He’s a good guy, and he seems pretty smart. Jamie must have liked him for some reason.”
Lisa’s voice was soft and sweet. “Will you ask him?”
Gulp! “Um, sure.” I looked at her hopeful expression. “What do you want me to ask?”
Lisa opened her mouth to answer, and I said, “Just sit with us when he gets on. They live right up here.” God, she’s cute! “I’ll get him talking, then you ask what you want, okay?”
“Stay with me?” she asked, and I nodded.
It was just two more minutes when the bus slowed, then stopped for the Mc Naughtons and three other kids. I went to high-five Jim when he walked by me, but he socked my shoulder instead. Ordinarily, I’d scream when someone did that, as if I’d been disemboweled by a giant talon, but I just looked ahead for Dan, who was saying something to another passenger. When he turned to find a seat, I stood just when he got to us and said, “Hey, Dan. You know Lisa, right? Lisa Mongillo?”
Dan looked and smiled, “Hi, Lisa.”
“She wants to ask you something,” I said. “Why don’t you sit here, and I’ll come back when the bus gets moving?”
Dan shrugged and sat beside Lisa. I went back a few rows to find an empty seat. The bus wouldn’t go if someone was standing, but they let you move around once the door was closed and the vehicle was moving.
As soon as the bus started off, I knew I had a few minutes before the next stop, so I went forward and knelt in the aisle beside Dan. He and Lisa were talking, and they both noted my presence. They kept talking, which I took as a good sign, and I stood and walked to the first empty seat and sat down.
I was joined by Jim in about a half-second. “Doodler! What’s going on?”
I looked at him and asked, “Are you talking to me? I mean, are you talkin’ to me?”
He smirked. “You like Lisa, don’t you? Don’t lie. I see you looking at her.”
“Yeah, so?” I asked defensively.
“So nothing. She’s cute. You should know her father did time for slicing up some dude.”
I laughed, albeit nervously. “Cut it out.”
“I’m serious. He knifed some guy in a bar. My dad told me about it.”
I looked at Jim and asked, “That means what to me?”
Jim shrugged and grinned, “Buy a gun?”
What a pisser! I laughed until the bus came to an abrupt stop. I stood to see what was up, and some old woman was crossing the street in front of the bus, moving very slowly. When she got to the centerline, she stopped, and the bus driver thought to put on the school-stop lights, and the stop signs on both sides popped out. The lady was oblivious at first, but when somebody honked, she smiled at the bus driver, then continued across the road.
That’s the kind of thing I saw every day in Brattleboro, and it was expected behavior, not some special kindness. Nobody wanted to see anyone run over to begin with, and people respected the bus signals.
When I lived in Boston, the traffic was plain scary, yet the actual accident rate was far below all the averages. In fact, Massachusetts, for all its reputation for crazy drivers, has one of the lowest traffic death rates in the nation. Figure that one out.
After a few minutes, Dan came back to where I was sitting, and he was smiling. “You’re gonna get it,” he said smugly. “I have news for you, too. You and me are both volunteering for the dance committee.”
“Me?” I asked in surprise.
Dan said, “Just returning the favor, Paul. It’s time so see that mind of yours in action, too.”
I looked at Jim, “Did you hear that? Your brother thinks I have a mind. I think you should set him straight about some things.”
Jim looked at his brother crossly. “Danny, get this through your thick head. Paul lost his mind in heavy traffic years ago, and he hasn’t found it yet.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s what they all say,” Dan grumbled. “Get up, Paul, you’re in my seat. There’s a sweet thang waiting on you a couple of rows up.”
That I couldn’t argue with, and when I sat back down beside Lisa she seemed very happy to see me. “You’re a genius!” she said before I was fully in my seat. “Dan had one good idea after another.” She scrunched her shoulders up, “Ooh, this is going to be a wonderful dance.”
I wanted to hold hands again, but didn’t have the nerve to just grab hers, so I said, “Dan mentioned that I’m on the committee, too. Did he happen to bring that up with you?”
I think Lisa blushed a little. “I um, I asked him to ask you. I hope you’re not angry.”
Her hand found its way to the top of mine while I thought about that. Of course I wasn’t angry; it was more like a pleasant surprise, and probably a good thing that Lisa took a step. I might never have, regardless how much I wanted to. I turned my hand over and grasped hers. I thought to say, “I’m not angry. I kind of like the idea.”
She leaned a little closer to me and said, “Good. Think of a theme.”
“Jamie,” I said almost automatically. “The Jamie Jenks Celebration. The Jamie Jenks Celebration of Everything Good dance.”
“I think I’m glad I asked you,” Lisa said, with an admiring look. “Will that fit on a ticket?”
“We can have long, skinny tickets. We can do anything we want.”
I heard myself say that, and recognized my father’s voice. The thought was my own, but the confidence came from Dad’s bank account, and it gave me some ideas to ponder.
When the bus pulled up to the school, it was a typical Monday morning, which is to say busy, but nothing approaching the near-pandemonium of the first few weeks of the year. It was March, and things were all settled out. Friendships had variously developed and dissolved, cliques had formed, and everyone knew who was who and where they fit in.
One thing was different. I waited at the bottom of the bus steps, and I took Lisa Mongillo’s hand when she stepped down. I’m sure I was blushing like a fool, but I was one proud person right then. I felt right. Nothing felt forced at all. I liked Lisa. I’d admired her for some time, and apparently that was mutual. I’d only followed her lead that morning, and I had a ‘Look At Me Now’ feeling as we walked into the building.
We spoke briefly before splitting up, and we made plans to sit together at lunch.
Of course, in High School nothing goes unobserved, and both Tommy and Jim were on me at my locker. They were both full of good-natured teasing, but I knew they were glad to see me making a move with a girl I liked. They didn’t share my shy bone. Neither of them had been serious with anyone special, but they weren’t afraid to pick up the phone and call some girl, then talk for hours. That was the thing. They spent time with girls, where I often slunk back into the shadows.
I dance, and never missed a school dance. I could dance all night at a function, but when other kids coupled-up and slipped off into the darkness I found my own dark place, where I’d sit and curse my shyness. I had fun dancing, but when the music stopped I always felt that I was destined to leave and go home alone.
I looked at my shyness with girls as a personal problem, and not something that had anything at all to do with my mother’s sexuality. At fifteen, I was often angry about my shyness and the things I missed out on because of it. I didn’t usually dwell on it, though, and now I felt like Commander Paul, who’d just made the first contact with this alien species.
I met Lisa early for lunch, and we chose an empty table to eat at. We figured our friends would find us, and meanwhile I listened while Lisa told me what a good idea it was to make the dance a celebration of Jamie. She had talked to most of the committee members, and they even liked the idea of long, skinny tickets. Someone already had the idea to print the tickets on streamers as a way to start the celebration early.
I thought it was great, and our table filled up quickly enough. The others were Lisa’s friends, with a sudden interest in me, and my own friends with a new interest in Lisa. It was fun, because nobody really held back. Tommy and Jim had their usual barbs for me, and Lisa seemed to be the leader of her own pack. Nothing serious was said by anyone until we were standing to leave. Then Lisa asked if I’d make the dance committee meeting right after school. If I needed a ride after, her father was picking her up.
Oh, God. I’m an easy victim sometimes, because I take people at their word. I wanted to ask Lisa if her father would have his knife with him, but I managed not to. “Um, sure. Where?”
The committee met in the classroom of Miss Warren, my English teacher, who was the staff sponsor of the dance. I was there on time, and appropriately nervous. Dan Mc Naughton showed up before I went into the room, and he seemed nervous, too. “Well,” he said. “I guess we asked for it,” and he tugged my shoulder and led me into the empty classroom.
“Is this the right place?” I asked.
“It’s what they said.”
We waited, and before long other people showed up. I didn’t know how many to expect, but when Lisa showed up she said, “Well, looks like everyone is here.”
She led us in, and introduced everyone around, even though we knew who people were. I knew names for the most part, and there were seven of us in total, plus Miss Warren, who hurried in late. She was one of the teachers who smoked, so I’m sure she’d been outside getting her fix.
Still, she smiled and said, “Take a seat, and let’s get going.” She looked at Dan and said, “I’m so pleased that Dan Mc Naughton has offered to take Jamie’s place, and,” she looked at me, “that Paul Dunn has offered to help out as well.”
Lisa stood and said, “Miss Warren, the original committee has met in private, and we want to nominate Dan Mc Naughton as our new chair.”
Miss Warren smiled, and asked, “Any objections?” She looked around, then said, “Fine. Mr. Mc Naughton. It’s your show.”
Dan stood, and we all clapped politely. I could tell that he was embarrassed and nervous, but he straightened up and spoke in a steady voice.
“I think it’s a terrific idea to dedicate this dance to Jamie. He was just a great guy, and I’d like to suggest we make this an annual thing.” He looked around and said, “I’d like to suggest that it be a free dance, too. No charge, and everyone is welcome to come.”
That caused some mumbling, and Dan went on. “We can come up with some money from somewhere, I’m sure we can.” He looked at me. “Some kids won’t come because they can’t afford it. Some won’t because they have jobs to go to. Some won’t because they don’t feel like they’re part of things.” He looked down, than back at the rest of us, “I think that if we really want to celebrate Jamie’s life, we have to make sure all those kids can come, and we have to make sure they will come because they know we want them there.”
“What are you saying?” a guy named Roger asked.
“I’m saying that there are lots of people in this school who can’t or won’t do things. There are all kinds of reasons. I’m saying that those are the kids Jamie always reached out to, the ones he befriended and looked out for.” He looked up for a second, then said, “Everyone should be able to come to Jamie’s dance. It should be free; it should be open, and it should be wonderful.”
“What people are you talking about?” Roger asked.
Dan looked at him and said, “Okay. I think there are kids across the spectrum who won’t come on their own. Gay kids, lesbians, trans-gender, cross-dressers all come to mind. Then there are all the kids who don’t think they fit in. They just come and go because they have to, but they’re neither scholar nor athlete. And there are kids who just can’t come up with the money, and kids who’d rather buy pot or beer if they did have the money. I think that if we don’t actively go after these kids to attend, then we’ll only get half the school on a good night.”
Roger nodded, looking a bit stunned, but not argumentative.
Miss Warren said, “Those are wonderful ideas, Dan, but I don’t know about free. The district’s budget will barely cover the cost of opening the doors. The dance committee is responsible to pay for security, for refreshments, for music. You are basically responsible for coming up with the money for everything except the heat and lights.”
Dan looked around, and all faces were curious. “Can you find out about how much we’re talking about?” he asked Miss Warren.
She looked at him and said, “I can ask for specifics tomorrow, but I believe that it costs about seven hundred dollars just to hire off-duty police for security. You should probably figure between one and two dollars a head for punch and cookies, and all the paper cups and napkins and things like that. Then there is the music, and a good DJ can charge nearly a thousand dollars.”
“What’s a crummy DJ charge?” a girl asked, cheering the mood in the room.
Dan asked, “So we probably need three thousand dollars, just bare-bones?”
“I’m afraid so,” Miss Warren said.
Dan looked at the rest of us. “Ideas?”
Everyone was silent, and I mumbled, “Fundraisers?”
“Speak up, Paul!” Dan said with a little grin.
“I said fundraisers. A bake sale, a rummage sale … maybe a corporate raid.”
Dan grinned at me, “Excuse me? Did you say raid?”
“I might have,” I admitted. “I meant a sponsor. We’ll find some company to fund the whole thing, maybe make a five-year commitment to us. That’ll give us plenty of time to plan for the future.”
Miss Warren was looking at me, as was everyone else. Her mouth was open. “Paul, who would approach these companies? What companies can donate that sum of money?”
I shrugged, “I’ll ask around. Three grand isn’t even a rounding error for most big companies.” I looked at the faces staring at me. “Leave it to me and Lisa.”
Lisa’s hands were suddenly at my throat, and everyone laughed. “Leave it to Lisa? I can’t even get an allowance! I’ll give you leave it to Lisa!”
I gently fended her off, and I was grinning when she sat back, her face red. “Don’t worry about a thing. Just stick with me; and we’ll get it done.”
“How long?” she asked.
“How long what?”
She raised her eyebrows slyly, then smirked and asked, “How long will this take?”
“I probably can’t do it ‘til tonight,” I said. “Can you come over?”
She looked in my eyes. “Do what until tonight? Raise all that money?”
I nodded, and she said, “You’re kidding!”
I shook my head.
Lisa shook her own head, in astonishment. “I’ll have to ask. Will someone be home?”
“I will.” I said.
“Besides you. Like an adult? My folks are pretty strict about who I visit.”
“No problem,” I said. “It’s just me and my mother this week. Dad’s up north on a project.”
“Aren’t your parents divorced?” she asked.
“They are,” I said. “Like your folks, they’re pretty strict about who baby-sits for me.”
The meeting broke up soon after, with some sub-committees decided on, and I think that, with the exception of Dan Mc Naughton, everyone was pretty skeptical of me. Miss Warren asked me privately, “How long do you think it will take before you know something … about the money?”
I shrugged, “Probably tonight, but no promises. No later than tomorrow night.”
She gave me a very doubtful look, but said, “If you say so. If there’s a problem please let me know right away.”
“Oh, I will,” I said, and turned to catch up with Lisa. We went first to her locker, then to mine, and sorted out our books, then got dressed for outside.
Lisa said, “Oh good! Dad’s waiting,” as soon as we left the building, and I followed her over to a new-looking Impala. Her father opened the driver’s door and stood, waiting for her to explain me. He wasn’t really tall, but he was a lanky, big-boned man with about the widest shoulders I’d ever seen, and a hard look on his face.
“You are?” he asked me before Lisa said anything.
“Oh, Daddy, don’t be so dramatic,” Lisa chided. “This is Paul. He’s new on the dance committee, and I said we’d give him a ride home.”
Her father’s look softened, but he didn’t smile. “Okay. Hop in.”
I sat in the back, and Lisa’s father said, “Buckle up back there,” just when my belt latch clicked. Then he looked over at Lisa, who’d just buckled her own belt, and he morphed into Mr. Softy. “Hey, sweetheart. Have a good day?”
The car started moving, and he asked, “Where to, Paul?”
I said, “We’re right on River Road, almost straight across from the old pumping station.”
“By the Timeks?” he asked.
“Right next door.”
“Okay, gotcha. Me and Ralph Timek go back forever. He says you’re good people.”
I was glad for that. “Yeah, we all get along. They’re good people, too.”
“The best,” he said.
Lisa said, “Daddy, can I come back to Paul’s tonight? We have to raise money for the dance.”
“Will someone be home?”
“My mother, sir,” I said. “Dad’s up north on a project.”
“Then I don’t see why not,” he said to Lisa. You have to finish your homework, too, and I don’t want you up ‘til all hours.”
Lisa said confidently, “No problem.”
We were at my house in just a few minutes, and the Audi was in the driveway. I asked, “Want to meet my mom?”
Lisa looked anxious, but her father said, “No, no. Not necessary. I’ll stop in when I bring Lisa back, which will be when?”
I shrugged to Lisa, “Around seven?”
She smiled, “Seven’s perfect,” and as I got out she added, “See you then.”
I hurried up into the house, and struggled to pull my muddy boots off. “Ma!” I yelled.
“Baa! The sheep is in the kitchen. Why are you yelling?”
“Sorry,” I said as the second shoe fell to the floor. I hopped over the wet spot and hurried into the kitchen in my socks. “Guess what?”
My mother looked up from the table, where she’d been looking at a magazine. “Why, hello Paul! How was your day, Paul? Did you learn anything?”
I stood my ground. This was too important for manners to get in the way. I squared my shoulders and said, “I held hands with Lisa Mongillo today. Almost all day.”
To her credit, my mother caught her breath, dropped the magazine, and stood with a wide smile on her face. “Oh, Paul. That is so sweet! Let’s have a hug.”
That’s what I wanted, and we hugged and rubbed noses. Mom kept me in the hug and pulled her face back. “Tell me all about Lisa Mongillo. Did you just meet her?”
I shook my head, “No, she’s been around. You know how I am with girls. She’s about the first one I could talk to.”
My mother beamed, “And now you’re holding hands. That’s a big step forward, and I can’t tell you how happy I am for both of you. Will I meet Lisa soon?”
“Seven o’clock,” I said, not thinking how short that sounded until too late. “I mean, she’s coming at seven to help me with this project we have.”
My mother let me go and took a step back, “Oh? I didn’t know you had a project due.”
“Not a project due. We have to raise money for the school dance. We’ll call giant corporations to see who’ll kick in.”
My mother’s face became stern, and her foot started tapping. “Paul?”
“Okay, we’ll call Dad. We’ll ask him to get the money from giant corporations.” I looked at her, “He’ll do it, won’t he?”
Her look softened and she sat where she’d been when I came in. “Paul, why don’t you just ask your father for the money. You know he’ll give it to you.”
I took my own seat and said, “I know, but listen. Dad made a lot of other people rich, didn’t he? Why wouldn’t they help out? This is an excellent cause.”
Mom put her hand on mine and said, “Tell me about your excellent cause while I get dinner ready. Does salmon sound like a treat?”
Salmon sounded really good, and I told my mother about the plans so far for the dance, and she was both moved and impressed. She also promised that Ally’s magazine would cheerfully fund this first dance, but three thousand was cutting it close. Lisa should ask for five thousand when she called.
I almost choked at the suggestion, but the more I thought of it, the more fun it sounded to have Lisa make a call.
I called my father in the meantime, and he had his own news, which came up as soon as he realized it was me. He was exuberant on the phone. “Paulie! I was going to call you. Guess what? Well, you won’t guess, but Dana here is a genius! Are you ready for this?”
I laughed, “Ready!”
“Dana told me about his wishes, and I only wish I’d been there. The market in town; the owner is Ron Hovarth: nice guy. He extends credit to people most of the year, but he can’t always keep it up. He has to pay his people, you know the deal, pay the suppliers. Well, Dana had this idea, and I talked to Ron, so we’re doing it. I opened an account that Ron has access to, and when he has to go too far with credit for someone, he can reach into that pile, which means that someone owes me and not Ron, and when they pay him back, he pays the pile first, until it’s back to what they owe him, then he keeps it. Ron says these people do pay him back, and he hates to turn anyone off, so this is the perfect thing! Nobody’s hungry.”
I grinned at his excitement level, and was so pleased for Dana, and I couldn’t wait to tell Shea.
Dad said, “That’s not all! We’re doing the exact same thing with the oil companies. They live on a closer line than the grocery, but they’re not people made of stone, either. They have their own pile now, and only they know it, so as long as people are honest and keep up their end, this should work forever!”
I was happy that my father was so happy, happy that our wish to help people was panning out, and happy that Dana was getting a lot of the credit. He deserved it, after all, because those wishes belonged to him.
We talked about things for a short time before I brought up the purpose of the call. “Dad, we’re doing this dance at school to celebrate the good things in life on behalf of Jamie. I know you made a lot of other people rich, and I want to get to know some of them.”
My father understood, and told me he’d call back later with some numbers to call.
I was excited, and realized that my armpits were all sweaty just before Lisa was supposed to arrive, so I tore up to my room and ripped my shirt and undershirt off, then rushed into the bathroom to clean my pits and de-stink with deodorant, then back to my room for clean things. I was just buckling my belt after tucking my shirt in when the doorbell rang.
I’m sure they heard me from outside, clobbering the stairs on the way down, but my mother beat me to it. She was at the door ahead of me, and ushered in Lisa, then her father, and her mother.
She did her welcoming thing, and Lisa’s folks were polite, but declined anything, then they left. My mother was all solicitous of Lisa as she led her into the living room, and I think she knew everything she would ever want to after about seven friendly questions.
There was a fire going, and my mother sat us side-by-side on a loveseat with a table in front of it. “I’ll be right back with a little snack, then I’ll leave you to your fund raising.”
When she walked out, Lisa looked around. “This is a nice room. I like it.”
“Yeah, my mom’s like a decorator.”
Lisa asked, “So, what do we do?”
I said, “Call people up.” I looked at my mother’s note, with Ally’s number on it. “Here’s one for you. It’s a big magazine in Boston. It’s a woman’s magazine, so best you call. Ask for Ally Phillips.”
Lisa gave me a dirty stare. “Please don’t.”
“Don’t what? This could be our first big score! It’s a woman’s magazine, so better you call than me.”
“What do I say?” she asked, sounding almost angry.
I shrugged, “State your case. Tell her a little about Jamie and what he meant to everyone, and that we want absolutely everyone to come to this one dance – you might want to mention gays and lesbians and whatever, then say we’d like her to pledge five thousand bucks.”
“Five …” she started, but my mother was there with a tray.
“Here you go. Some nuts, some veggies, and a couple of cookies. There are more in the kitchen. Enjoy!”
Lisa looked after her as she walked out, and said, “Your mom’s nice. Pretty, too. I love her hair.”
I held a phone out to her and said, “Don’t get nervous. Just call, and we’re on our way.”
She dialed, asked for Ally, then looked at me, “I’m on hold.”
I nodded, then she suddenly, and nervously, said, “Oh, hi! Miz Phillips? My name is …”
I won’t go through it, but when Lisa hung the phone up her eyes were like saucers, and her words came quickly. “I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! She’s sending us five thousand dollars just like that! And she said if we need more next year, to give her a call. And what a nice lady!” Lisa’s hands went to her cheeks, and she said, “Ohmigod! Five thousand dollars, and all I did was ask for it!”
I smiled, but my cell phone rang before I could say anything. It was my father with a list of people for me to call: six of them. He’d already talked to them all, so it was a matter of me calling to ask for money.
I split the list with Lisa, who was now the pro, and in a half hour we had another thirty thousand on the way, and each and every one of them said to call next year if we still needed a sponsor. I saved the list.
Lisa looked to be exhausted just from excitement, and eagerly accepted my offer to make hot chocolate. I tossed a log onto the fire, and she followed me into the kitchen, which she also exclaimed over.
She was clearly shell-shocked, and when the phone rang just when I was pouring out chocolate, she answered it when I asked her to.
“Oh. Hi, Dan.”
I looked and she smirked, “Yes, I think we’re good. Oh no, I don’t want to say a number until the money actually shows up. Yes, I’m sure it’s enough. I just wish I’d thought of this a long time ago.” She listened for a little while, then said, “Well, you call these nice people and ask, and they say okay. Like, do I need the check by courier, or is the mail good enough, and that’s it.”
I brought her a mug of chocolate, and she said, “Oh, here’s Paul.”
I handed her the steaming mug and smiled into the phone. “Hey, Dan. What’s up?”
Dan sounded odd. “She’s kidding me, right? You nailed enough money for this dance?”
I couldn’t conceal my glee. “And the next ten dances,” I said. “Don’t worry, and your limit isn’t three K, it’s five.”
Honest to God, an exclamation point came right through that earpiece. “Five. Thousand?”
“Jesus, Paul! Don’t give me uh-huh! And tell me you didn’t stick your father for this.”
“Honest,” I said. “Not a penny from Dad, though I could ask. We just picked some numbers and started calling, and we stopped after seven. It’s enough.”
Dan’s voice sounded stunned. “Five thousand dollars. We can …”
“We can pay the kids who’d work that night so they can come. We can do anything we want, Dan.”
Lisa heard that, and she was suddenly hugging me from behind, which made me laugh. “Dan, I gotta go. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay? This is all real.”
He let out a loud yell, then hung up. I turned to Lisa, and she kissed me, right there on the mouth. It was a smooch, wet and loud like from my grandma, but I didn’t let her go afterwards. I went back for another kiss, and Lisa barely hesitated before she responded.
We had a real kiss then, right there in my kitchen, with hot chocolate waiting on the table, and the fucking phone went off again. It was Lisa’s mother, of course, saying they’d be outside in five minutes.
It was okay. We had fun, and Lisa had confidence that she’d learned, and we suddenly had a relationship, at least the beginning of one. My first. Hers too, I thought.
My mom joined us just when lights showed up in the driveway, and she made herself obvious in the doorway when I walked Lisa out to the car.
We just said goodnight, and they drove away. Then Mom and I drank the hot chocolates.
We were quiet for awhile, then my mother smiled. “Ally likes Lisa just from the telephone. She could tell the girl was terrified, but she likes her determination” She put her cup down and leveled her eyes at me. “She’s a nice girl, Paul. You treat her well, and you’ll find your reward.”
I stared back. “Mom. I like Lisa … a lot. I’m in no hurry for anything, I just want to be friends. Okay?”
She nodded. “Paulie, your reward is a friend. You’re fifteen. You have lots of guy friends, and you should have girls who are friends, and it’s nice to have a girlfriend you care for. I think that if that’s the status of your life right now, you’re doing just fine. If you push it at your age, you can get into trouble that you can never get out of.”
Her eyes found mine, and she said, “You’re too young for sex, plain and simple. Go ahead and smooch, touch, play around, but keep your pants on” Her eyes narrowed, “You know, your friend Dana’s father was younger than you when Dana was conceived. It’s done that boy no good. None at all.”
I looked away, because I knew she was right. I don’t know who Dana’s father is, or his circumstances, but I don’t think I could be like him no matter what trouble I got in.
Dana’s up there in Stockton sucking sand in the father department. Well, now my own father is trying to fill in, but Dana’s real father can’t be thirty yet. He has to be one callous dude, though, to know he fathered this kid who’s out there somewhere, and he doesn’t even look for him? Dana, to me, is an amazing individual. Beyond his skiing, which is astounding, he’s a warm, caring guy, and giving too. Now he has my dad to help him along, but where is his real father?
I have a hard time thinking of the guy as anything but a dickhead. He had his way with Elenora at a young age, got her pregnant, then just took off. Not responsible? Not even financially? Dickhead!
Well, my mother said his family had offered financial help to Elenora, which she declined, and I could see her point. Everyone else wanted Dana to be aborted, and she took off on her own to avoid that, and have the baby.
I found that comforting in a way. I know there was turmoil between Dana and his mother sometimes, but he was only there to argue with her because he was a wanted baby to begin with.
I liked that. My views on abortion weren’t fixed, and I generally supported a woman’s choice. Elenora, though, had stood up to her relatives when they tried to make that choice for her. She left the comfort of a prosperous home to have her baby, and that baby had become my friend.
There was nothing left to argue in Dana’s case, and I faced my mother.
“I know,” I said, and I looked at her. “Don’t worry, okay? I just like Lisa for now. If it goes farther, it does.”
My mother smiled, and I headed upstairs to bed.
I thought about telling Lisa that I’d stacked the deck with the donations, but decided not to. Her poise and confidence had shot through the roof with each successful call, and by the last one, I had no doubt that she could have convinced almost anyone to pledge money with no help from me.
I fell asleep feeling good about the whole day. Especially Lisa’s kiss.