Darlene Joyce crept out of the fourth house on the block. The night was a little humid, a little cool. The half-moon cast an eerie, shadowed glow over everything, just enough that everything was still 3D.
But the circle from the mid-block street lamp flattened part of it, rendered it a painting of her yard.
She closed the door quietly behind her, then glanced toward the corner.
There it sat. A red Ford pickup, filled with Johnny Cockran, idling next to the curb, near the corner.
She could barely hear the engine running. She grinned. He’d replaced the glass packs after all.
Those things were far too loud for late-night trysts.
He’d asked her just last week to see a movie. Or go for dinner, or even just for sodas.
“In that noisy thing?” she said and pointed. “No way would I ride with you in that. Not late at night. And for me it’s late-night or nothing.” Then she leaned in and whispered, “Sneaking out makes everything more fun. Don’t you agree?” Then she turned away to give his eyes a feast. And in that moment cemented the deal.
And there he was, waiting at the corner.
She stepped down from the stoop and ran across the lawn, her red shorts flashing in the glow of the street lamp. Below them her legs were creamy tan and smooth all the way down to white ankle socks and white-soled matching tennies. Her white lace blouse, with only three loose buttons, would entice the boy to submit to her demands. Inside her clutch, which also matched her shorts, were the tools of her trade.
If there had to be another date, she’d wear a skirt as short as the shorts. That would work for sure.
In her clutch, she carried the tools of her trade.
Inside the house, Mr. Joyce rolled over. He raised up on one elbow, checked the clock.
Five minutes ‘til one. What was she thinking? Did she really think she could pull this off? He nudged his wife, then nudged her again.
“Hmm?” she said and sighed.
“C’mon, get up. Darlene is out. When she gets back we’ll give her the surprise of her life.”
She looked at him and nodded. “What time is it?”
“When did she leave?”
“A few minutes ago. C’mon, get up.”
But she rolled over. “We have time,” she said, the sentence trailing off as she drifted back to sleep.
Mr. Joyce threw the covers back, but only on his side. His wife worked hard. He’d let her sleep. Maybe he’d wake her up in time for the main festivities.
Boy was Darlene going to be surprised.
In the pickup, Johnny Cockran watch the girl slip out, come flashing across the lawn. She was taller, slimmer than any other girl he’d ever seen. Everything about her was enticing. Her ponytail bounced as she ran, and he could still see the pale, smooth skin of her legs and arms pumping. The moonlight seemed to be absorbed in them.
She reached the pickup.
Johnny stretched his arm across the seat and grasped the door handle on that side, then pushed lightly.
She caught the door in stride, swung it open, slipped up on the seat and closed it, all in one smooth motion.
“Man,” he said, “it’s almost like you came right through the door.”
She smiled. “I’m just excited. Tonight will be a very special night.” She slid closer and lay her left hand on his thigh. “If you know what I mean.”
He hoped he did. He put the truck in gear. “So where to?” He choked the words out, his voice almost hoarse. He cleared his throat. “I mean, you wanna get a burger? Maybe some fries?”
She shook her head. “No, I’m good. Let drive down by the lake.”
He grinned. “We ain’t there yet?” Then he pulled away from the curb, her hand still warm on his thigh.
At the lake he drove until they reached a T. “Which way?”
She shrugged. “Up to you. Let’s make the circle.”
The circle was a twenty-two mile loop. It took the better part of an hour though, the road was that narrow and that rough.
He looked at her. “You sure?”
She shrugged. “Maybe not all the way around. Maybe we can find a perfect place. You know, for us. You don’t mind, do you?”
He grinned. “You mean tonight? You mean tonight’s our night?”
“Tonight’s our night if we can find a place. Is that okay?”
He grinned again. “Is that a trick question? Of course it’s okay.” He turned the steering wheel right. “I’ll try to take my time.”
She looked at him. “You mean right now? Or later?” And she giggled, then snuggled closer, slipped the fingers of her left hand underneath his thigh on the inside.
He draped one arm around her.
It would take him longer to drive around the lake steering with one hand, his other busy kneading her shoulder. Her parents would be up by now and restless. She’d need them to have time to calm down before she went back home.
Not quite a mile later the road ducked into a stand of tall white pines.
A moment later, Johnny pointed with the index finger of his right hand, which still cupped Darlene’s shoulder. “There’s a small road there. Pretty secluded.”
“Oh, this is way too close to the entrance, though. Once we find a place, I don’t want to be interrupted.” She squeezed his thigh lightly.
He drove on.
A few miles farther along the road they topped a small rise. A stand of poplars stretched away to the right.
Again he pointed. “How about in there? That’s a great place. Very secluded, but the moon—”
“I don’t want to be with you where you’ve already been, Johnny. I don’t want to replace a memory. I want to make our own. Is that okay?”
Again she squeezed his thigh.
Not quite halfway around the lake, which glistened intermittently through the trees to their left, he pointed a third time. “I’ve never been up this road, but it looks like it might be a good place. The trees look close together, and the brush—”
“I’m sure it’s nice. But it’s facing away from the lake. Wouldn’t it be wonderful our first time to be facing the lake?”
“I guess so,” he said, beginning to feel as if he’d been taken. He stopped the truck and looked down at her.
The scent from the top of her head was wonderful. He didn’t want to lose her, but he didn’t like games either. He touched his lips to the top of her head. Not a kiss, but a gentle touch. Then he said quietly, “Look, if you just wanna go back, it’s okay with me. I mean, I’m not the kind that’s gonna get upset or—”
She leaned away to the right and looked back at him. “Johnny? Please don’t get the wrong impression or think I’m not serious. I am. I really want tonight.” She paused and looked him up and down for effect.
Huh, he was wearing a white button-down shirt and jeans. No belt. She hadn’t noticed. But no need with those six-pack abs. And his shoulders, chest and thighs were well muscled. She pouted just a bit. “I hope you haven’t changed your mind. I just want it to be special. God, Johnny, I can almost taste you.”
He looked at her for a moment and felt sorry he’d ever doubted her. “Okay,” he said. “We’re almost halfway around. We’ll go ahead. Maybe there’s a place up here you’ll like.”
“As long as it’s special, Johnny. That’s really all I care.” She caressed his thigh again. “I’m a special girl, Johnny. I like special things.” She paused. Then she rocked her head back and breathed quietly on his ear. “That’s probably why I picked you.”
His voice thick in his throat, he couldn’t even begin to speak.
He nodded quickly and nudged the accelerator.
There proved to be only four places on the other side of the lake. He didn’t even ask about the first three. All were roads away to the right, facing away from the lake. Finally, he gestured toward the front left. “There’s a road. Right down to the lake. I think there’s a floating pier down there.” He glanced at her. “I’ve never been down there personally, but some friends told me there’s a pier. You wanna try that?”
“I’m sorry, baby. It’s too out in the open. And isn’t that the entrance right up there?”
She was right. They’d come all the way around the lake. In less than a half-mile they’d be out of the park, back on the county highway.
He swallowed his disappointment and glanced at the clock on the radio in the dash. It was 2:35. “It’s okay,” he said. “Maybe another night. You know, there’s lots of places out like this. It wouldn’t have to be at the lake, would it?” Then he laughed quietly. “‘Course if you showed me a spot and there wasn’t a road or trail there, I guess I’d probably dig one right quick.”
She laughed too, also quietly. “I guess you would. But you’re right. Maybe another night. We could always— Wait!” She squeezed his thigh again. “Johnny, I have an idea. And it will work.”
He stopped the truck and looked at her. “Yeah?”
She nodded. “Oh yeah.” Then she grinned mischievously. “Remember I said everything’s more fun when you sneak out?”
“Imagine how much more fun it’ll be if we sneak in!”
He frowned. “Sneak in where?”
“My bedroom, baby. In my house. I can put a blanket on the floor.”
“I don’t know, Darlene. Your folks—”
“My folks are down the hall, three doors away. And their door’s always closed. They didn’t hear me sneak out, and they won’t hear us sneak back in. And they won’t hear you leave later. Oh, it’s perfect, Johnny! I wish I’d thought of it before. Would’a saved us all this time. C’mon, Johnny.”
“I don’t know. What if—”
“This’ll be like practice, Johnny. Practice with a reward. If we do this tonight, you’ll be able to sneak into my room two or three times a week. Just imagine. My room’s just inside the door on the right. You come in, close the door quietly behind you, take three steps and your inside.” She put her hand over her mouth and giggled. “I mean my room, of course.”
“Your room’s at the front of the house?”
“Yes, baby.” She worked up a blush.
“And are you sure you want me that way?”
She nodded, her wide, round eyes locked on his gaze. “Uh huh. It’s my first time, Johnny. That’s why I want it to be special. And I’ve heard after the first time, you can do it whenever you want after that.”
“Okay,” he said, and shifted the truck from park to drive.
A half-hour later, he pulled around the corner from her house and parked the pickup. The moon had set. He parked next to a large maple tree that shaded his truck even from the street lamp.
“Could you leave your boots here, Johnny? No need to risk those heels clomping on the hardwood floor.”
“Sure,” he said, and took them off. Then he opened the door and stepped out.
He reached back in for a moment and pulled the keys from the ignition.
“Oh, those might jangle. No need to risk jangling anything. Why not just drop them in the console?”
He nodded. “Right. Good thinking.”
Then he practically ran around the truck, the stones on the asphalt biting into his sock feet, and opened her door.
She stepped out and, his right hand in her left, they moved quietly across the first three lawns. At the low hedge separating her yard from the neighbors, she looked up at him and grinned. “You look so strong. Wanna lift me over?”
He did, and set her gently on the other side. Then he stepped over the hedge and joined her.
They crossed the soft front lawn and padded up on the stoop.
“Here, let me get the door,” she whispered. She turned the knob silently to the right, then moved aside herself. “You go in first. The first door on the right.”
He frowned. “Shouldn’t you go first, lead me to your room?”
She grinned and playfully slapped at his chest. “I want you to wait on the threshold of my room and carry me through, my big strong hero.”
Big strong hero? That didn’t sound right, but whatever. He nodded. “Okay.” He moved into position.
She put her left hand on his lower back, then turned the knob the final quarter-inch.
Johnny stepped into the living room and looked down.
It wasn’t hardwood. It was carpet.
A light flicked on. A man was standing there. His mouth was broad, his lips thick. He looked up and smiled, revealing three rows of serrated teeth.
In his right hand was a knife. In his other a hone. He was honing the knife like a professional chef.
He looked Johnny up and down, then looked past him. “Darlene 3, we thought you might be lost.”
Johnny wheeled around. “Darlene, I—” He screamed and backed straight into Mr. Joyce’s knife.
He watched, his eyes and mouth locked open, as Darlene peeled off the lower part of her face.
She dropped it on the floor, then flexed her jaw. She ran her thick blue tongue over her rubbery lips. When she spoke again, she revealed three rows of teeth as well.
And her voice was raspy. “Like I said, Johnny baby, I can almost taste you.”
* * * * * * *