I sat there drinking cheap, weak coffee in one of our many 24-hour diners, surrounded by the rest of the usual suspects. My car was outside with a flat tire, and I really didn’t care. I’d probably be here until it was light out anyway, that was just how it went on Friday and Saturday night when you’re too young for bars, too uncoordinated for clubs and you’d rather hear your friends argue the Yankees roster and see who could connect Abe Vigoda to Dudley Moore in the least number of movies instead of doing the party scene.
It was summer, but this is where we’d be in the dead of winter, too. We were the regular customers they all knew by first name, we were the guys throwing out the drunks hassling the waitresses. There was no e-mail or facebook or smartphones to pull us away from Frank snorting Tabasco sauce or daring each other to eat mozzarella sticks or chocolate cream pie until we threw up.
Aside from Frank, we weren’t exactly Ladies Men, even if we couldn’t have our pick of the girls we could still have fun. I think we all knew no matter who stayed or left, once that next step in life called college happened, this would all be over (and we were right), so we took it for what it was.
We drank bottomless refills of coffee and coke. We burned through whole packs of Marlboro reds. If it wasn’t the diner, it was the boat launch. Blasting Ozzy, Metallica or whatever mix tapes lined the floorboards of our cars until we had to jump start them just to get home.
This was a diner night, however, and it didn’t matter if it was the same thing again or the best night ever. It just was and that was good enough for me. Mike wanted to break the salt shakers with spinning pennies, Frank was flirting with college girls who had no idea he wasn’t even old enough to drive, and the rest of us were discussing the physics of subwoofer boxes.
Then she came in.
Dark hair down past the middle of her back, lips that would make Angelina Jolie want collagen injections and effortlessly making a t-shirt and jeans look better than anything Victoria’s Secret had in their catalog. A fact she was not just modest about, but completely and wholly oblivious to. We were friends, but she also happened to be my ex-girlfriend’s new best friend and one of my best friends ex-girlfriends.
She looked over to our booth, walked over and sat down next to me.
(Did I mention awkward?)
She grabbed a cigarette from my pack and ordered a cup of coffee and jumped into the conversation like she’d been here the whole night. She talked, she laughed, I just kind of watched as the gears in my brain slid into neutral, when just as suddenly as she showed up she threw two dollars down by her coffee cup and got up. Grabbing another smoke from my pack she leaned in a little and said “You know where I’ll be” and walked out.
(All together now. Awkward.)
While her headlights shone off the windows as she pulled out of her parking spot and left my brain struggled to comprehend what exactly had just happened. I decided I was going to play it cool. Give it a few minutes, then go and try not to be nervous. I was probably reading far too much into it, of course. I was very good at that sort of thing. And that’s when it hit me.
I had a flat tire. I wasn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Throwing a 20 down to cover my check I ran out to my car, popped the trunk, pulled out the spare, grabbed the jack”¦ The tire iron which was both the way to get the lug nuts off the wheel and the jack handle, well, apparently I never had one and had never thought to even see if I had one before.
Running back in, I asked if anybody had a jack and tire iron I could borrow all while trying not to look as frantic as I completely looked and sounded at that exact moment. 20 minutes later the spare was on and I was headed for the boat launch at about double the speed limit.
The closer I got the more I tried to look composed and cool and suave and all those things a 17 year old wants to be and has no clue or the life experience to actually be and successfully working myself up to that point of excited nervousness where your voice cracks when you even think of opening your mouth.
The lights to her car were on and she was sitting on a rock by the shore when I pulled up, and the thought ran through my head of how she looked like a scene in a movie. I got out and walked over, feigning casual disinterest.
“What’s up?” I managed to eek out, hoping it sounded like words and not a frog-like creak.
“Nothin’ much” she said. “Just thinking”.
“About what?” I asked, finding my own rock to perch on.
“I’ve got a crush on somebody, I think. Pretty good one, too”
And in that next breath, all the nervous energy in my body slumped into a giant pile of disappointment. The boat launch was still just the boat launch, and I was still just the guy people talk about who they like to.
“Yeah? Anybody I know?” I asked.
“I think so”¦” she trailed off. “OK, so I’m no good at the shy game bullshit. If I just kissed him, would that freak him out and scare him off?” She confided, I listened. Much like the last few months. Business as usual.
“Depends on the guy. Aggressive chicks always seem like they’d be great, but some guys don’t do so good unless they think they’re in control.”
Giving advice was much easier now that I had a clearer head. We went off on a conversation about guys and the macho fixation and laughed and then things got quiet.
“I think I’m just going to do it,” she said, firmly.
“Do what?” I asked.
“Kiss him. The next time I see him, I’m just going to do it. I’m going to grab the back of his head and pull him over and blow his mind.” Her determination made me laugh.
“Hell yeah. Go for it. If he can’t deal then he’s not the right guy, and you win either way ’cause you already got lips, y’know?”
“Yeah”¦” she said, her mind wandering off.
Then she grabbed the back of my head, pulled me in close and absolutely, completely blew my mind.
Every age gets its own summer. Some boil down to a moment and some take all season long.