Jeanie Cartwright was pretty and popular. Her friend Molly McQueenie was popular but not pretty. Molly was a fair bit overweight and had a mole on her cheek. Probably the only thing that could have made her uglier was to have some hairs growing on the mole, but she never got credit for no hairs on the mole.
Jeanie was tall and had green eyes and light brown hair, with an athletic body that could have been on the cover of any of those girls’ magazines. She had lots of dates. Dates to every dance of course, and on plenty of other Friday and Saturday nights as well. Molly only had mercy dates, which was when Jeanie or one of the other pretty girls would talk some wannabe popular boy into taking out Molly in the hopes that he’d get more popular and could maybe go out with one of the pretty girls later on. Those mercy dates were never followed up by a second one, and if she’d talked the guy into dancing half the dances with her that night, well it was only because he wanted to get a break from listening to her nonstop chatter about her popular friends and her.
In ninth grade, which was junior high in their town, it had been different than it was now in high school with all the organized school dances: homecoming, junior prom, senior prom, Sadie Hawkins — those were just the highlights, but in high school the calendar was full all fall long during football season and on into the springtime, too. There had been none of that in junior high which, for obvious hormonal reasons we all know about, was when the girls and guys were starting to get interested in each other. In junior high, somebody would have a party at their house, and the parents would let them play rock and roll music, and they’d hang out and dance with each other for two or three hours, which seemed like a long time to some and a short time to others.
There were always some Beatles songs being played. Later in the evening, somebody would start playing slow songs. Jeanie always remembered “Yesterday” and Trevor Lance for some reason. It wasn’t unusual for guys to ask her to dance to a slow song and be pressing their woodies against her in a way that kind of scared her at first. But she didn’t back off. She kind of smiled at Molly and her friends if they saw how the boys tried to hide their erection when the dance ended and they had to separate. Trevor Lance wouldn’t leave her alone that one night and kept asking them to put on “Yesterday,” and even though he was smart and kinda cute, Jeanie decided he was a loser. He’d kinda got her hot and bothered the first couple of times, but OK already — enough with the slow dancing if that was all there was.
Jeanie’s life wasn’t all peaches and cream, behind the scenes that is. Her mother had had a mental illness, schizophrenia she’d heard mention, since Jeanie was nine and her little sister Maggie was born. Her mom had been in the mental hospital twice when Jeanie was still in grade school, but they’d been able to keep it pretty quiet and nobody really knew what went on at the Cartwrights’ house except maybe Molly McQueenie and Jeanie’s best friend Gwen. It’s amazing that gossip-central Molly kept it quiet. Only the threat of being cut off from Gwen and Jeanie, two of the prettiest and most popular girls in their grade, made Molly keep her mouth shut about what she’d heard Jeanie telling Gwen about: like coming home to hear her mom tell her that Jesus had visited while she’d been at school, like how the notebooks full of pages of her mom’s signature were because that was going to bring them a fortune, like how her dad was getting mixed up with the Mafia and the CIA and had to be watched, closely.
But amazingly Jeanie’s mom was semi-functional despite everything, and with help from Jeanie and Bill, her oldest son who was a year younger than Jeanie, she was raising a family of five good-looking, physically healthy children. How their minds were developing was anybody’s bet, because Mom wasn’t the only problem.
Jeanie’s father and uncle ran a pretty successful printing business and Dad kind of kept away from the craziness at home by working long hours and drinking a bit with his friends. Well maybe more than a bit sometimes, and maybe sometimes without any friends. The cops would find him cruising around town endlessly, about 20 miles an hour. Back then things were different, they’d just drive him home and bring the keys into the house for safekeeping. Jeanie always told anybody who asked about the cop cars that her dad had friends on the force, but people were starting to figure it out by the time she was in high school and she just wouldn’t talk about it. Because she really didn’t want to, her dad was getting unruly in his drunkenness at times, and that was not pleasant for anybody in the Cartwrights’ house.
Fall of her senior year, Jeanie was up for Homecoming Queen. She seemed like a natural shoo-in because she was a cheerleader and dating the captain of the football team, Walter Ichtheus. If he was a nerd, somebody would’ve nicknamed him Ichabod with a last name like that, but he definitely wasn’t a nerd. He was the quarterback on the football team and a starting guard on the basketball team as well. And you know what they say about dumb jocks, well they say they’re dumb, dummy, but it wasn’t true about Walter. He had just gotten into Stanford early admission and was one of the top students in the senior class.
The football team voted to decide who would be declared Queen of the Homecoming game, which was usually about half way through the season. It was a pretty good year and the team was vying for the conference championship and a trip to State. Walter was good friends with some of the guys on the team and knew most of them at least a little bit. He wasn’t stuck up, but he had a lot going on and didn’t pay much attention to the second and third teamers because they just weren’t in his elevated orbital. That turned out to be a problem for Jeanie and her Homecoming Queen aspirations. Because Marie Koontz had decided at the beginning of the year that she wanted to be the Queen, and she’d set about to make friends with all the guys on the football team who weren’t all that popular but whose vote counted just as much as Walter’s and his buddies’. Marie had sweet-talked a whole bunch of them into voting for her, and Jeanie and Walter found out too late to do anything about it.
So Marie was elected and not Jeanie, which was kind of a surprise to everybody. It was the first time anybody had actually campaigned to become the homecoming queen, and Marie was pretty darn good at it. Maybe she would run for Congress some day. It kind of hurt Jeanie, just because it was a real positive that could have happened amid a lot of other things going on not so positive.
To start with, the situation at home had taken a dramatic turn for the worse on the Wednesday before the homecoming game. Her dad had come home drunk as usual, and gotten into a shouting match with Mom about the CIA and the Mafia and all that. Then Dad had pushed her down when she got right up next to him with that fear/hate-contorted face of hers, and Bill had tackled Dad — he was a starting defensive tackle on the football team after all, hoping for a scholarship — and smashed into a window which shattered all over the living room. Jeanie had broken the family silence rule and called 911 because she didn’t know where it would end, what with her dad reaching for a fire poker and Bill ready to charge again. The police got there pretty quick because they had just dropped her old man off. They’d spent a long time talking to Jeanie and her little brother and sisters, and she was regretting calling the cops at all by the time they’d taken her dad away in the squad car with the neighbors peering out of their windows to see what the commotion was about.
Nobody said anything to her at school and acted like they didn’t know, except Gwen and Molly who she’d poured her heart out to over at Molly’s house on Thursday afternoon. But Jeanie was resilient. She’d looked beautiful the next night at the homecoming dance, not showing her disappointment or the jealousy she’d felt as Marie Koontz had been crowned and paraded around in the homecoming float at the football stadium during halftime. After the game at the dance, she’d felt safe in Walter’s arms all night while she watched a lot of her classmates sneak out to their cars and get drunk and act stupid on the dance floor. Walter knew she didn’t drink what with her father and all, and he didn’t try to push it on her even though he did like to try it himself from time to time.
And that fact, that she wouldn’t drink alcohol, had probably saved Jeanie’s virginity so far. She and Walter would make out in the car down the street from her house when he took her home from a date, and she really liked him. Then he started taking her out to Cosmo Park just to park and make out. And she’d let him fiddle around ’til he’d figured out how to get her bra off and was now up to fingering her roughly as his hardon throbbed and he tried to get her to grab hold of it, but she’d always drawn the line there. She knew what guys wanted and would do or say anything to get, and she really wanted to save it for the One, maybe the one she would marry and maybe not, but she knew Walter was heading to college in California and she’d be stuck at Hometown U., so he might not end up being the One.
Only because she didn’t drink had her brain hung in with her when her body was hot and she was wet down there from the kissing and the fondling and Walter pressing his manhood up to her. She knew what an orgasm was like and in her bed alone at night she dreamed of sharing that pleasure with him, but Walter’s fingers were a bit rough and unskilled and without alcohol to overcome reason, she was still a virgin at 17 going on 18. And Walter stayed with her in spite of it. Because she was beautiful and popular and nice and really maybe he did love her like he kept telling her as he tried to get her legs wider apart and her hands on his peckerwood.
The Monday after homecoming, the big news was that Marie Koontz’s older sister had gotten drunk and screwed five guys from the football team in Jimmy Dodd’s parents’ house while they were out of town the night of the dance. So the homecoming queen’s sister had pulled a train for the whole offensive line — now that was big news! And it was all over school. Jimmy and his friends had been more than happy to share the news with some teammates, and Walter had told Jeanie when they went to the movie Saturday night and Jeanie told Molly so it was all over town. Molly was Facebook before it existed, once you posted with Molly there was no taking it down. The girls didn’t use that crude expression “pulled a train” for Candy Koontz’s behavior because the image of guys standing outside the door to Jimmy’s bedroom, lined up like train cars, waiting to come in and do their business with Candy, was a little hard to bear. But the guys said it with glee, with a smile and a soft whistle, and they commented endlessly on the advantages of being the engine and disadvantages of being the caboose on Candy’s train. That’s just how guys are. It was the talk of the school for quite awhile, but Marie, though burning inside, just held her head up and acted like she didn’t know what they were talking about.
Things at the Cartwright home had calmed down after the Wednesday night meltdown. At least for the time being, Jeanie’s mom and dad avoided each other when he came home drunk, and everybody acted like nothing had happened. They got the window fixed right away and there was an uneasy peace in the house. Her dad and everybody knew that Bill was there to defend his mom no matter how unreasonable she got in her sickness, and that seemed to be enough for the younger brothers and sisters to get back to their busy lives in grade school and junior high. Jeanie worried what would happen when she and Bill were in college and no longer in the house, but she also had other things on her mind.
Unfortunately, towards the end of the football season, things had taken a turn for the worse with Walter. She never knew who posted it with Molly, but Jeanie found out that Walter had snuck over to Jimmy Dodd’s house one night and screwed goddamn Candy Koontz when they got her drunk again. She was beside herself with disgust at the thought, but she knew that she was leaving him aching with horniness when they came home from their make-out sessions at Cosmo Park. Molly had put her through extensive cross examination about how far she’d gone with Walter and eventually extracted the truth from her one afternoon with Gwen listening quietly, kind of like the sympathetic jury in a criminal case. She knew Gwen wasn’t judging her as guilty but there did seem to be a suggestion in Molly’s questioning that she could have done something to prevent the situation Walter found himself in with Candy Koontz. And maybe she should do something now even. That just didn’t sit well with Jeanie, and she’d let Molly know it. She had to do something to get at this feeling that was eating at her. The Senior Prom was Saturday night and she couldn’t just go there acting like everything was normal.
She called up Walter Thursday night and said she wanted to talk to him. He knew it was something serious when she said she didn’t want to talk on the phone. He recommended they meet at King’s Burgers where everybody hung out after school. Jeanie countered with Denny’s Diner because Gwen was waitressing there that night and nobody else from school would be there. She might need some backup, or moral support, or just a friend at the very least.
Walter was cool and handsome in his letter jacket, with the football, basketball, and track pins from each year adorning it discreetly, or maybe not so discreetly. He really was a good looking guy, and Jeanie saw how women’s heads turned as he walked in. She was waiting for him at a booth in the back and, for once in her life, was unsure of herself and didn’t feel pretty. That pissed her off. As he sauntered over to the booth, she kept going back and forth between love and hate for this guy who she’d almost gone all the way with, out of love she’d thought at the time. She knew it wasn’t going to come out nice what she had to say. Would they have a relationship after this? Did he really love her like he said when he had his hands in her panties and his tongue all over hers. She hoped he did because she knew she was going to let him have it, she couldn’t stop herself.
Then Gwen came running over. Jeanie’s little sister Maggie had called the diner looking for her, saying they had an emergency at home, please come home.
Jeanie had no choice, she jumped up and headed for the door. Walter looked at her in surprise, thinking he’d really screwed up, but Gwen told him what was going on and he ran out after her. She’d already peeled out of the parking lot by the time he made it out, and she was home in less than five minutes on a drive that should have taken ten or fifteen, running red lights at Broadway and West Boulevard on the way. When she got there, she noticed immediately there were no cop cars. Was that good or was that bad? Had Maggie or one of the other kids not called 911, and was Jeanie too late?
As Jeanie hustled up the sidewalk, Maggie flung the door open, ran out and threw her arms around her big sister’s waist, sobbing. A car driving by on Windcrest Drive had hit their dog Rufus and he was hurt. He’d been yelping and crying all the way to the back yard and Maggie thought he was a goner. Mom was in the kitchen washing the dishes and said that Dad had gotten in trouble with the Mafia and they’d put a hit out on the dog, but Rufus had escaped all right and was recovering in the back yard.
Jeanie went outside and Rufus was there, alive and whimpering in the grass. It looked like his right front leg was fractured or something. It wasn’t nice, but there wasn’t too much blood on the leg and the rest of him looked all right.
Jeanie put her arm around Maggie, hugging her while they sat next to Rufus stroking and comforting him gently as his complaints calmed down to a fast and slobbering breathing.
“Maggie, did you finish your homework before all this happened,” Jeanie asked?
Maggie nodded yes.
“Then why don’t you brush your teeth and go to bed. It’s kind of late and you’ve been through a heck of a shock. I think Rufus will live, but I’m gonna take him out to the vet clinic on the highway that’s open 24 hours and see what they can do for his leg. And I’ll take you to school in the morning, tell your brother and sister you won’t be riding the bus.”
Jeanie hugged Maggie again, holding her tightly in her big sister arms for several seconds now. Then she picked Rufus up, carried him out to the station wagon, and loaded him into the back seat. Walter could wait.
Epilogue (only if you’re not satisfied with the ending):
The two friends hurried over to their neighbor Siddhartha’s house. Siddhartha was a wise man who told stories every afternoon to Venkatesh (Venky) and Subramanium (Subra) as soon as they got home from the boring English school that their parents sent them to so they would become well-educated. Venky’s parents were pretty well off. Subra’s were less prosperous, but nothing kept them apart. Siddartha wove a story about a beautiful young girl who was courted by a strong and brave young soldier. The soldier was tempted by a lustful young hussy and gave in to his desires. Just when it seemed that the beautiful maiden would either abandon the brave young soldier or convince him that his fidelity to her was the only path to their mutual happiness, Siddartha’s aging mother began coughing violently in her bedroom and he had to leave the boys to attend to her. When he came back out to the sitting room, he told them they must go.
“But what happened to the beautiful maiden and the brave young soldier?” insisted Venky. Siddhartha was a wonderful storyteller, and the boys were in suspense.
“Tell us, Uncle, were they to marry? Please tell us,” begged Subra.
But Venky and Subra would never find out what happened to the beautiful young maiden and the brave young soldier because Siddhartha’s mother died that afternoon, and he left the city to live in the countryside in peace until his own death many years later. As he was packing his belongings, the boys came by to pay their respects and asked him once again to tell them what was the ending of the story about the beautiful maiden and the brave soldier.
Siddhartha paused packing for a moment and looked up at the boys, “Life has no ending except death, my sons. The beautiful maiden lived on.”