tagFirst TimeReflections from the Snow

Reflections from the Snow

bythezinger©

I recently had cause to recollect my first love, a girl whom I met my senior year in high school in Reno, Nevada. The occasion for this nostalgic backward glance was, sadly, the aftermath of the signing of the divorce decree between me and my now ex-wife, its location a dimly lighted booth at my favorite neighborhood bar. Large snowflakes drifted down outside, eerily peppering my pale reflection in the window glass.

That I even had a favorite bar was a sign of how badly my marriage had deteriorated. Fourteen years of marriage never achieved the bliss that our nuptial vows had promised. If I were to be completely honest with myself--a condition from which I only rarely suffer--I would have to admit that we were badly suited to one another from the start. Yet both of us were either too stubborn or too deep in denial to voice or even contemplate what would be the likely outcome of our ill match. That is, not until many fruitless years had passed and the consequences of persisting as a couple became too stark even for us to ignore.

I felt hollow sitting there alone, sipping straight scotch and absently watching the bubbles rise and delicately sizzle at the surface of a soda chaser. The snowflakes melted quickly on the sidewalk outside, their fragile impermanence mocking that of my own marriage. The sense of relief I naively thought would accompany the finality of the decree eluded me. I was emotionally enervated, incapable of mustering the optimism that would fuel a risky look into an uncertain future. So it was only natural that I should fill that void by looking to the past, to a time when I was emotionally unencumbered by years of guilty baggage and imagined shame. The evanescent beauty of the cold, white flakes on the other side of the window evoked old memories with unexpected force and clarity.

I met her during the spring term of my senior year. As I recall the semester had begun quite inauspiciously. I was a member of the track team with aspirations to be invited to the state meet at the end of the school year, at least as part of the 800-meter relay team, and perhaps in the 200-meter sprint, which was my best event. I had trained hard over the holiday break and the first couple of weeks of the semester and had established myself as one of the best sprinters on the team. But at the first meet of the year, on a clear but cold day, I felt a twinge at the back of my thigh as I accelerated into the straightaway in the first heat. I finished that heat, but the leg tightened up over the course of the day and I could barely limp around by the end. A pulled hamstring, the docs later said, at least four weeks to heal. That was bad news, but didn't necessarily end my aspirations. If I could keep myself in decent aerobic condition, do lots of stretching and ease back in to running carefully, I still had a shot at state.

Not a week after that, an all-you-can-eat pizza and wings buffet at the local pizzeria on a Friday evening turned ugly. At first, I just thought I had over-eaten, if an athletic teen-aged boy can possibly do that, but after a night calling dinosaurs it was clear I was really sick. I was particularly bummed because the next night was a big party for two new exchange students from the Boston area. One girl, Victoria, was being hosted by my friend Shelley's family, and the other, a girl whose name I didn't know yet, was staying with the family of one of Shelley's friends, Maureen, a girl I knew, but not well.

My hopes for a quick turnaround were dashed as I seemed only to get sicker over the weekend, ruining my prospects for meeting Victoria, whom I had already heard described in glowing terms by Shelley. Shelley and I had been friends for years. I liked her for her honest, no-pretense attitude and acerbic wit, although I had no romantic inclinations toward her. I don't think the same could be said about her feelings toward me, however, and I believe if I had given any sign of desire for her she wouldn't have hesitated. Shelley seemed instead to have channeled her romantic feelings toward me by becoming my matchmaker, having set me up with various of her female friends and acquaintances over the previous couple of years with, sadly, limited success. I tolerated this state of affairs partly because of my genuine affection for Shelley, and partly because I needed all the help I could get: I didn't seem to fare any better in love when left to my own devices.

Shelley had spoken glowingly of Victoria and was anxious for us to meet. The Saturday night party was supposed to be my opportunity to meet this raven-haired beauty with a dazzling smile and bubbly personality (so Shelley), but it was not to be. To make matters worse, not only was I sick the whole weekend, when I still felt ill the following week, a doctor's visit confirmed a dreaded diagnosis: I had mono.

They call mono the "kissing disease". If that's true, mine would have been the first documented case of disease transmission via dreams. However I got it, as mono goes I didn't have an especially severe case. But it kept me in bed for a good two weeks. The first week I was worthless. I basically just slept. The second week I could muster enough energy to sometimes do a little studying in bed, working on assignments my best friend brought me after school so I wouldn't get too hopelessly behind in my classes. By the third week, I could attend half-days, but needed a long afternoon nap and spent evenings doing schoolwork. Oh, and did I mention that I spent my 18th birthday as an invalid? It just doesn't get any better than that!

So it was mid-February before I was back at school and more or less functioning normally again. I had given up any hope of qualifying for the state track meet. Although I was strong enough to do everyday tasks, it would be weeks, if not months, before I could begin seriously training again. I dropped the track team and used the extra time to try to catch up on my schoolwork.

I was having my first lunch in the cafeteria since coming back to school full time when someone came up from behind and gave me a robust slap on the back between mouthfuls of mystery meat (or was it shit-on-a-shingle that day? I can't remember).

"Howdy, stranger! Welcome back to the world of the living!"

Shelley grinned as I choked and coughed on my mouthful of food.

"You trying to send me back to the hospital?" I exclaimed once I had recovered. I stood to give Shelley a hug. Since we didn't share any classes this semester, this was the first time I had seen her in weeks.

"No, you seem to do well enough maiming yourself on your own," she retorted. "But if you can keep yourself out of the ER for a few minutes, there's someone here I'd like you to meet."

Behind Shelley I now noticed a dark-haired girl standing unobtrusively off to the side.

Motioning the girl closer, she said,"This is Victoria. Victoria, I'd like you to meet Robert."

"It's Robbie to my friends," I said, extending my hand. Victoria placed her carefully manicured and delicate hand in mine, but returned a surprisingly firm handshake.

"So you expect us to be friends already?" she teased with a mischievous smile. She turned to Shelley. "You didn't tell me he would be so presumptuous."

"You will just have to forgive him. Once you get past the fact that he's sickly, maimed, and lacks social graces, you'll begin to see his appealing qualities. Both of them."

I was not thrown in the least by Shelley's ribbing. This type of banter was our standard mode of communication.

"Victoria, your name befits your regal countenance," I countered, bowing slightly with exaggerated deference. "It is an honor to make your acquaintance. And I find it especially generous of someone of your station to associate with my rustic friend here." At that I gave a Shelley a prolonged glance from head to toe to point out her wardrobe, which was her usual cowboy boots, jeans and Western shirt. Shelley loved horses and used every spare minute to ride or care for her horse, which was stabled on the outskirts of town. Today she was clearly planning on making a trip to the stables as soon as she could get out of school.

Shelley's outfit couldn't have contrasted more from Victoria's. Whereas Shelley's leggy form looked like something straight out of a John Ford Western, Victoria's petite frame was carefully clothed with tight-fitting designer jeans, simple but stylish flats and a tight-fitting pale-blue sweater that highlighted her slim waist and small round breasts. Her round face was tastefully highlighted with makeup, showing off her sparkling brown eyes and delicate nose. This was a girl who took great care with her appearance, without question. I found it curious that she and Shelley seemed to have hit it off so well since they seemed total opposites.

Victoria glanced at Shelley with raised eyebrows and nodded approvingly. "He seems to have some wit about him," she observed with mock admiration. "I think perhaps he is worthy after all of the invitation we had discussed."

"If you say so," Shelley replied. "But I take no responsibility for any social embarrassments that may ensue."

Shelley turned to me and dropped the faux haughtiness. "So wadda ya say? You done with your faking-mortal-illness-for-sympathy routine long enough to come to Beth's birthday party on Saturday night?"

"Beth? Who's Beth?" I asked.

"Beth, silly. You know, the other exchange student. Vicky's friend from Boston. Maureen's hosting a party to celebrate Beth's 18th birthday this weekend. Can you come?"

"Well, sure, I guess," I replied. "I sure as heck won't be running any track meets that day."

"Yeah, I'm really sorry about all of that," Shelley responded, finally expressing her true feelings. "I know you really had your heart set on going to state. But maybe being surrounded by beautiful and elegant women would be some consolation. And if you keep faking that limp, I'm sure you'll get some extra attention just out of pity."

"Thanks for that," I said. "I'll take all the pity I can get. I'd love to come."

"Great!" Victoria exclaimed perkily. " You'll have the whole week to practice your adoration." She batted her eyelids coyly.

"I am resolved to begin immediately!" I exclaimed with obviously forced exuberance.

"Well, sorry we can't stick around to join you for lunch," said Shelley. "We've got places to go, people to meet. But see you Saturday at 7 at Maureen's."

Shelley gave me a quick hug, then marched out of the cafeteria with Victoria.

I saw Victoria on a few occasions that week, but only briefly and never alone. She was always friendly, energetic, and sexy without looking promiscuous. I was really starting to look forward to the opportunity to get to know her better at the party.

When Saturday evening finally rolled around I was seriously worked up. Maybe something would finally work out for me romantically, and with such a beautiful and charming girl! Spending time with Victoria was my sole focus as I walked in Maureen's front door.

The party was already rolling by the time I arrived. It had snowed during the day and stopped just as my family sat down for dinner. My mom made me shovel the driveway before I left, and the roads were treacherous and slow, so I was fashionably, if unintentionally late. There were already about 20 people there when I arrived and more guests kept trickling in. Maureen answered the door. She was quite tall, nearly reaching my five foot ten and rather plain in the face, but with a sweet smile. Her boyfriend Paul was hovering about nearby. He was literally the tall, quiet type: well over six feet and you could hardly get a word out of him. But he seemed like a nice guy.

"Hi Robbie," Maureen greeted me as she waved me in. "I'm not sure where the birthday girl is right now, but I'm sure you'll see her around. I think Victoria's in the rec room. Sodas are in the cooler in the kitchen."

I grabbed a can of coke and wandered around. I'd never been in Maureen's house before so I didn't know where the rec room was. The house was big, that was for sure. There was a big family room, a formal living room, a dining room, and a kitchen on the main floor. Stairs leading up must have led to the bedrooms. Off of the kitchen were stairs leading down to the basement, from which animated voices could be heard. I headed down and saw several clusters of people in conversation, most notably the petite and ever stylishly-dressed Victoria surrounded by five athletic-looking guys. I recognized a couple of them from the football team and one of my (now former) track teammates was there as well. I made my way over. They were talking about nothing important: school sports, gossip, classes. I tried to insinuate myself into the conversation hoping that Victoria would turn her attentions to me, but to no avail. She seemed to enjoy all the male attention and flirted with each boy in turn, except for me, it seemed.

After a time, I became bored and discouraged and began to look around the room distractedly. I saw Shelley with a group in the corner and she caught my eye and motioned me over.

"Hey there big guy! Have you met the star of tonight's party yet? This is Beth. Beth, this is Robert."

Shelley always introduced me as Robert, even though I went by Robbie. Maybe she wanted to give me the chance to use what was becoming my signature line:

"Hi Beth. My friends call me 'Robbie'. Nice to meet you."

She looked me in the eye as she offered her hand. "Nice to meet you Robbie. I've heard you're quite the track star."

"Well, 'was' is more like it. Mono and a tender hammie have done me in for this year."

I took Beth in as the small group chatted. She was as unlike Victoria as Shelley, although in a different way. She was taller than Victoria, maybe five-six, and with a fuller build, although she had a shapely figure nonetheless. Her clothes were casual, nice, but nondescript. She clearly wasn't the clothes-horse that her friend was. She wore neither makeup nor nail polish, and styled her medium-length brown hair simply, partially pulled back and fastened with a barrette. She was attractive, but not glamorous. If you wanted to be critical you might say her nose was too broad and chin a bit heavy, but I instantly liked her warm, easy smile and deep green eyes.

Our little group chatted there for quite a while, with some folks drifting off while others would join in for a while. But Beth and I always remained. Eventually, it was just the two of us. We talked about school, which classes we were taking and which teachers we liked. We compared our lifestyles in our respective home cities and what we liked to do for fun. We discovered we both loved reading and music (hey, jocks can be cultured too!) and the outdoors. At one point Shelley, who had wandered away earlier, returned with two sodas, which she offered to us during a rare break in the conversation.

"You two look like you could stand to wet your whistles," she said as she handed us the drinks.

"Thanks!" was all I could manage before Shelley turned to go.

"Thanks, Shel!," I repeated as she started to walk off. She looked over her shoulder and gave me a wordless wink before bounding up the stairs.

Beth and I talked in our corner the whole evening. I totally monopolized the birthday girl. When I finally had to excuse myself to take a pee, I looked at my watch and saw it was nearly midnight! As I trotted upstairs to find the facilities I could see the party was noticeably winding down. Maureen and Paul were still there, of course, as was Shelley. I saw Victoria talking to a couple of guys (different ones from earlier) in the kitchen. After washing up, I reluctantly decided I needed to leave. I went into the family room and thanked Maureen for hosting the party, gave Shelley a quick good-night hug, and managed to catch Victoria's eye in the kitchen and gave her a farewell wave, which she returned with a smile, before turning again, laughing, to her admirers.

I went over to Beth who had joined the small gathering in the family room.

"I had a wonderful time talking to you tonight," I said. "I'm sorry I jeopardized you for the whole party! That was very selfish of me. I hope you'll forgive me."

"You can jeopardize me anytime you want," she replied. "I really had a wonderful time. I hope it's not the last."

My heart began racing as she said those last words.

"It won't be, I promise," I replied earnestly. "But I think I need to go now."

"I understand," she said.

She leaned toward me and gave me a hug. It was a little bit longer than just a "thanks and goodnight" hug, but not long enough to attract undue attention from the others in the room, who could all see us plainly.

When we released our too-brief embrace, I grabbed my coat from the closet and headed out the door to my car. It had turned into a brilliantly clear and bracingly cold night. An almost-full moon etched crisp shadows on the fresh snowfall. As I crunched my way to the street I heard the front door open and turned to see Beth pulling on her coat and running towards me. She held out a piece of paper as she reached me.

"Here, I wanted to make sure you had my phone number."

I took the slip of paper, which had Maureen's home number hurriedly scribbled on it. Surely she knew that I could easily get the number from Shelley, or from the phone book, for that matter. Yes, of course she knew that! That wasn't why she was out here.

"Thanks," I said, putting the scrap in my pocket and smiling. "I'll be needing that."

"Here, let me walk you to your car," Beth offered.

I resumed the cold trek to my parking spot, which was several houses down the block since I had arrived somewhat late to the party. As we trudged through the cold Beth took my arm, then my hand. Lava seemed to surge up my arm and my heart raced yet faster.

When we got to my car, Beth unhesitatingly reached out and hugged me so tightly I had difficulty breathing.

"I wanted to do this so badly in there earlier," she said in a husky voice and looked up at me invitingly. "Is that how you feel?"

"Oh god, yes!" I said, and leaned over to kiss her.

My heart did its best to escape my chest cavity as I savored Beth's moist soft lips against mine, felt her curvaceous warmth pressing against me, and watched the passionate steam of our breath crystallize between us in the frigid night air. I don't know how long we stood locked in that embrace, but the sound of a door opening and voices coming from down the street startled us out of our reverie.

"I had better go," she said. "You have that number," she added.

"Don't worry," I replied. "You really really don't need to worry."

With that, she trotted off into the night.

Beth and I spent every moment together that we could manage over the next few weeks, not that that was very much. Since Beth was a guest in her hosts' home, she had less control of her schedule than she might otherwise. We had no classes together and I was still playing catch up from my several weeks absence, so I often had extra tutoring or study sessions. But we treasured every moment we could steal, for we were both clearly head over heels in love. Being with Beth was just so easy, so natural, so fun, and so tender I never wanted it to end. But it was rare that we could find time to really be alone. So I was delighted when Beth came bounding up to me in the hallway one day in early March with a big grin on her face.

"Got any plans for Spring Break?" she asked while playfully poking me in the ribs.

"Well, once I've finished with the surgery and rehab for the assault I'm undergoing right now, I might have a day or two free. Why?"

Beth redoubled her attack with both hands. "Reschedule," she laughed.

"I'll call the hospital as soon as I get home," I said, dancing away from her pokes.

Beth abruptly ceased her assault, put her hands in her pants pockets and adopted a casual air.

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bythezinger© 5 comments/ 13853 views/ 2 favorites

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