It was one of those cold, wet, blustery West Virgina late winter days; a threat of more rain or sleet and snow in the air, I could feel it without even thinking. I put the shovel in the back of the pickup along with a rake and put my work gloves in the seat beside me and headed into town.
I stopped at the only gas station and put a dollar's worth in and the attendant, a guy my age I knew slightly, cleaned the streaks of mud from the windshield. I looked up and down the street, thinking how my entire life had been lived here in this small place and how I knew everyone and everyone knew me and wondered, even if I could leave, would I? How hard would it be to just go off to college and leave everything I had ever known behind.
I rolled the foggy window next to me down and held the dollar bill out and returned a nod and smile of thanks, rolled the window back up and looked through the windshield at the few buildings I could see. A hardware store, a feed store, a general store and I smiled; they had a soda fountain where guys and gals sometimes stopped in for a coke or a milkshake and to play the jukebox and maybe even dance. I never had much time for any of it, but once in a while I needed something from the store and saw the kids.
I guess my eyes went out of focus as I was remembering things because when I finally could see again, someone was standing in front of the truck with both hands on the hood like they were warming their fingers.
I blinked and opened my eyes wide when the figure raised her head and long dark hair tumbled over her shoulders and wide set blue eyes tried to focus through the partly fogged up windshield.
God! It's Katie Ann! I couldn't believe my eyes. It was like a dream come true. I blinked several times, expecting the vision to go away and be just that, a dream, a wish, a fantasy that came to life before my eyes.
I grasped the steering wheel with both hands and leaned forward as far as I could to see better. It really was her but all I could do was shake my head in disbelief.
After a few pounding heartbeats, she moved her hands off the hood and slowly walked to the driver's side and stood there as I rolled the window back down.
"Hi." She said softly.
The only words we had ever spoken to each other in all the years of passing by and smiling, were, 'Hi, and, Hello.' I treasured the sound of her voice and the way her lips moved when she spoke those simple words.
I stuttered an awkward and nervous, "Hi." back at her. I watched her smile and then show a little nerviousness on her face as she glanced around.
"I wanted to talk to you, but, I guess we shouldn't be seen together. Are you going someplace? Could I ride along?"
Struck dead was what I felt with the understanding of her words. The dream of years of my life, waking and sleeping, was to be alone with her, to talk with her, to learn about her and get to know her.
I was afraid to even try to speak and make a fool of myself. I just turned my head, leaned over and across the seat and opened the passenger door. I dared not look but from the corner of my eye I saw motion around the front of the truck and an instant later she was inside, pulled the door closed and then made herself small so as not to be seen.
I blinked for a moment and then put the clutch in, put the shift in neutral, turned the key and started the engine. I looked all around for anyone watching and then both ways on the street for traffic; no one and nothing. I sighed.
"Nobody saw us." I didn't look at her as I spoke, but shifted into second and kept my eyes on the road, picked up speed, dropped it into third and settled back a little.
Her voice was quiet. "I wouldn't mind if we were seen together, but...my parents are really strict, I never go out alone with anyone and I don't want them..."
She let her voice trail off into silence.
"I would be super proud to be seen with you Katie Ann. I have dreamed about being able to talk to you and always wished I could."
I didn't look over at her but I could sense and hear her smile. "Why didn't you ever just stop and talk in school? Or ask me out? My folks might have let me go somewhere if we both asked and stuff, you know?"
"I tried calling your home but the number in the book was wrong, I guess, it said, 'disconnected', when I called it. I wouldn't have know what to say anyway. I have, uh, gosh, since we were in grade school together..."
"Oh! Me, too, Homer, me too! I could see by the way you looked at me that you liked me, at least I thought you did. But...you never tried to even talk? My dad had the phone turned off a long time ago, I don't really know why, money I guess, times have been hard for a lot of people in the mine since when they went on strike."
I let a deep sigh find its' way out. "Me too. My dad was injured and I have to quit school and work in the mine. I was just kinda coming out to clean up the launch site. I guess I am all done with that."
"No! Homer, No! You can't do that!"
I glanced over at her, at the sound of the emotion in her voice and was surprised to see her face had turned white, her mouth and eyes wide, the look in her eyes....? I shook my head. "I don't have a choice, Katie, we need the money for bills and my older brother will lose his scholarship if he drops out; I have to do it."
Her voice had a strange quality and her words sounded as if she had to force them out. "I have no right, I know...but...Homer, you just have to stay in school, it's only a few more months and you are sure to win that Science Fair competition and the scholarship and I know that is your only way out of the mines. I'm sorry, it's none of my business, but, I want so much for you...to..."
I swallowed hard, trying to understand not just her words, all the things she knew that I didn't know she knew and why it concerned her to where she got emotional about things. Nothing came together, not a single piece of the puzzle fit in my mind.
So I drove in silence for several minutes, hoping something in my mind would click and I would understand. It didn't. I pulled into the launch site where the small dugout building we built for protection had stood until we set fire to it last week. I was just going to tidy the area, but as I looked, it was mainly just ashes and ugly scarred ground.
I sat there for a moment letting the engine idle, I turned and glanced at her, she had turned her head away and seemed to be looking out the window, looking small and fragile with her shoulders rounded beneath the jacket she wore, I sensed a mood of sadness or something.
I turned the key and silence filled the cab. I was at a loss for words but I had to say something, the quiet was, well, it was awkward and I didn't want it to be. My dreams and wishes coming true, to have her here, alone, and I had no words.
"Uh, wha, ah, what are your plans after you graduate, Katie?"
I heard her sigh and watched her turn away from me even more; she curled up in the corner, as far away from me as she could get, lifted her legs up and against her body and modestly pulled the long blue skirt she wore as far down as it would go.
"I have no plans, Homer. I have no choices. Girls don't get scholarships for football or anything else. As far as I know, only two girls ever went off to nursing school and the Church paid for that and they never came back. There are no jobs for girls around here, they just graduate and get married or wait around until someone asks them to get married, I don't know."
"Oh..." I shivered, not from the cold that was beginning to seep into the cab of the truck, but from from the sudden realization of what it might mean to be a girl in this town. It was hard enough for a guy to find a way out of the mines and this science scholarship was my only way and I knew it. I mean I could just leave, head out for somewhere, I guess..."
"Katie Ann, I never thought about any of that before, you know, for a girl, what it must be like, I...I don't know what to say."
She was silent for a long time before she stirred, turned her head slightly, focused on my face and then turned back into the corner again. "I do, Homer. I know what to say. It's just that...oh, my, I'm so frightened that I won't say it right and you will think I am awful..."
It went silent again and I thought about starting the engine so the heater would warm things up. Instead, I reached behind my seat and pulled out an old brown army blanket and draped it over her and leaned back to think some more.
"Homer...would you help me say what I want to say?"
"Sure Katie, but I don't know what you mean, I don't know what to say."
She took a deep breath. "We had an English class together, like way back in 9th grade. We all had to give an oral presentation, you did a little talk on Sputnik, the Russian satellite that you said changed the whole future, do you remember?"
I felt warm inside and smiled. As I turned to her I saw her looking at me and watched my own right arm as it slid across the seat and I blushed, I wanted to touch her shoulder in a kind of 'thank you' gesture. I stopped my hand before it reached her and she blushed, sat up, scooted over toward me, draped the blanket across both of us, reached up and pulled my arm around her shoulders and snuggled her head on my shoulder.
I went from wam and happy to super warm and uncomfortable as I felt her against me. "Oh, Katie, gosh, I dreamed of holding you like this."
She moved slightly in my arms. "Me too, I wondered how it would feel. I feels good, nice..."
We just sat there, close to each other, quiet for a few moments.
She didn't look up or move. "Sputnik, remember?"
I smiled and moved my hand slightly on her shoulder and then dared to let my fingers play in her long thick hair. "That was when school suddenly became interesting for me, Katie. All of a sudden I wanted to learn about everything, well in science and math and chemistry, all the serious stuff that I hated before. I decided I wanted to work with people who were going to build rockets and go into space. I just had to do it."
She didn't speak for several long moments. "Homer...I took every class you did. It was the hardest thing I ever did in my whole life. They didn't want to let me take the classes and I was the only girl in most of them except for the required courses."
I stopped breathing. I pulled my arm away from her and sat straight up staring down at her. She didn't raise her head and look at me.
"I was supposed to take home economics classes and sewing and cooking and home budget management, all the preparations for becoming a housewife and mother, health classes, childcare, nursing; all the things I knew I should be taking, but I didn't..."
My voice cracked and I wheezed. "Katie, why didn't you tell me...uh, something, ah, anything...?
"We never talked, Homer, you never asked me and well, girls aren't supposed to ask guys, you know. I guess I couldn't change that part of me."
"But you did. When you stood in front of the truck."
"I knew things were changing. I knew something was going to happen. I had to do something, I just had to. Do you hate me?"
This time I put both arms around her and pulled her close. "God, no, Katie, I am so glad you did. I have a big and growing bubble of happy inside me that I feel is going to explode but...I still don't know what to say."
Her voice was quiet and meek again. "I don't either, Homer, but I had to tell you."
I tried to fit it all into my head. I couldn't. All I came up with was more questions. I believed her, that she took all those classes instead of what she was supposed to take, but why? For the same dream I had? Or for...could it be...for me? So she could understand where I wanted to go? Why? A few guys that were in the Army in Korea came back and went off to college on the GI Bill but the rest of the guys if they didn't get a scholarship for football or some other sport, went to work in the mines and married local girls like everyone always did.
Girls just didn't go to college. Nursing school maybe, well, teacher's school too as a lot of the teachers were women, but...?
I kept thinking away a million miles a minute...
"I have an older sister. She's married now. She talked to me about boys."
"Oh." I muttered. "I have an older brother, he got all the girls. He bragged a lot but he never said much."
I almost couldn't make out her words as she burrowed her face into my denim jacket and mumbled. "My sister said you have to kiss a lot of guys to find one you like..."
I could feel her trembling in my arms and smiled as I thought about her words.
Kissing Katie Ann was the wildest of my dreams; the very outer limits of what I dared hope for if we were ever alone. I loved her face, I dreamed of it. Slightly oval but round, a nice nose, full lips that looked warm and soft, pale skin that once in a while showed a little pink when she said 'hi' to me. And her figure, oh, my. Girls usually only dressed in skirts and dresses and sweaters and blouses but I saw her a few times in gym class. She wasn't a 'boyish' girl, but a full bodied young woman and I blushed and felt funny every time I looked at her. I hoped she never saw me watching her, I knew she would have seen my thoughts.
Her trembling slowed and stopped and I resumed runnng my fingers through her hair and thinking. I finally reached down and placed a hand under her chin and gently and slowly pressured her to raise her face.
"I've never really...ah, kissed a girl. I mean, I went on some church hay rides, I was always hoping you would be there. But we were always chaperoned, and they watched close. You could snuggle and maybe steal a kiss and I did a few times, different girls but I didn't consider it really kissing someone, just sneaking around..."
She blushed and looked into my face. "I've been kissed and groped a couple times...I didn't like it."
I gazed at her face, blinked a lot and felt my heart beating harder and faster. "I can't tell you how many times I have dreamed of kissing you Katie Ann, a thousand at least and now I am scared to death..."
"That's why I never understood why you didn't try to see me. I saw it in your face, the way you looked at me; I wanted you to ask me out, find a way, somehow..."
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, I knew I didn't have an answer as to why I didn't ask her out, I could have, should have found a way. I opened my eyes again and her face seemed a little closer.
She looked up at me, a little color graced her cheeks, she wet and parted her lips and closed her eyes.
I bent slowly down and touched her lips with mine and was startled at the almost electric tingle that coursed up and down my entire body. I pulled back a little surprised and opened my eyes to see the same surprised look in her eyes.
She blinked as I did, exhaled long and deep, her nostrils flared and she lifted her face and closed her eyes.
The second kiss lasted a long time, beginning slow and gentle with each exploring and tasting and sensing and then when it seemed mutually desireable the kisses got firmer and faster and harder and I crushed her to me and felt her arms around my back and her hands in my hair then on the back of my neck as she pulled my head down to her.
We were both gasping for air when she finally pulled away, grabbed the blanket and scooted across the front seat as far as she could, pulled the blanket up and stared at me open mouthed and wide eyed.
We kinda cowered in our mutual corners as the heart rates slowed and the breathing became less frantic.
She finally stirred and smiled. "My sister told me...when someone finally kissed me the right way....I would know it. Oh, my God!" She shivered and pulled the blanket closer around her.
I started the engine and cranked the heater up to full.
She smiled and giggled at me. "I'm not the the least bit cold."
I shut the engine off and leaned back. "Me neither."
We sat there on opposite sides of the truck staring into each others eyes. holding contact, then looking away and back again, time after time.
"If I get the scholarship, I'll probably go off to college."
"I worked and studied and did experiments with my friends, you know, years of model rockets that blew up, we almost gave up a dozen times. I spent all my time learning how to make them better and working at anything to earn money to pay for the parts and equipment."
"I know. I wished I could have helped. I was always there when the word was out you were gong to launch one, always."
"I know. I just didn't understand why you were there, or all the rest of them, for that matter, but you in particular."
"I couldn't tell you. I asked your friends, buddy like, you know, what you guys were working on next so I could keep up."
"Why, Katie, why? I just don't understand."
"I don't really know either, Homer. I had to. I gave me a purpose, something to do, something to look forward to. I was as excited as your were when the rockets worked right."
I was again at a loss for words.
"Homer, there are three other girls, all of them pretty, that like you a lot. They follow you around in school, they are there in the field when you launch. You never even notice them, but you always smiled at me and said 'hi', if you could."
"You're the only girl I have even seen that way Katie Ann. You fill my eyes, my heart and my soul whenever you look at me. I don't understand that either, I know which three girls you mean, they're nice."
"But you never said anything to me!"
Her voice had a slightly harder edge to it. "I know. I should have. I was going to. But then I thought...if I am going off to college and leaving everyone behind...what then?"
She just sat there, quiet, curled up in the corner again, looking into my face.
I took a deep breath, closed and opened my eyes and leaned slightly towards her, and rest one hand on the back of the seat the other on the seat about a foot away from her.
"Katie, that was a very brave thing you did, finding a way for us to talk. You did something I should have found a way to do. I am to dumb and too slow in some things to figure it out."
She smiled and touched my hand with hers on the seat and then pulled my other hand across the seat and lifted it to her lips and gently kissed the back of my hand.
I pulled both hands away from her. "Katie, if we had kissed like that a year ago, we might be married by now."
Her eyes opened wide and both hands went to her face covering her mouth.
"You were honest with me about kissing someone to see if you liked them. I have to be honest with you. When we kissed it set my whole body on fire. I wanted to kiss you again and again and again and touch your all over and...."
"Homer...I know...my sister told me a lot, so I know. I, uh, a girls' not supposed to think or feel such things...but I did..."
She blushed and turned away and this time pulled the blanket up covering her head.
I blinked and went into thought mode again until some words came to mind.
"So, dear Katie, have you thought past the point where we are now? And will you share your thoughts with me?"
The blanket came down quickly and her eyes were bright and hard. "So,. dear Homer, with your late awakening, have you thought past where we are right now?"
I grinned widely at her. "Well, I know for sure I want to kiss you again and I want to see just how far you will let me go, if I can figure out what to do next. I've never had a chance to, uh, explore a girl before."
"That's not what I meant, silly boy, and you know it!"
I smiled and blushed and looked away. "Yes, I know it, lovely Katie Ann, I know. And yes, I have thought past this moment but all I end up with is more questions. Maybe I could share the questions, but they are kind of embarassing, some of them."