A rare picture of myself and two girls I met while visiting my uncle Don. I was about 15-years-old. The girl on the right is my uncle's wife's sister. Can't remember her name. Her father was French. Her mother was Spanish. Sandra is on my left. I took both girls for a ride in my uncle's 1955 Ford Thunderbird. 

* * *

I was pretty upset over the whole Sharon and Jeanette fiasco, and how stupid I’d been. But a few days later I got a nice surprise. I met Muriel. She was a bosomy girl with long wavy brown hair and nice legs. My favorite.

“Are you stupid?” That’s what Rick said when I told him about my plan to win back Sharon and Jeanette. “First you do both girls wrong, and then you blame it on them, and then you expect them to take you back, in two days? Is that your brilliant plan?” I nodded. “You are dumber than I thought my friend, colossally cracked. Why on earth would they come back to you?”

I answered without hesitation, “Because I’m irresistible.” We both laughed. 

It’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth that Sharon had caught me red-handed with Jeanette at the Burger Palace. That was a fact and I couldn’t change it. So if I ever wanted to get either of them back again, I had no choice but to carry out my audacious plan of laying all the blame on them.

Rick wasn't so sure about my plan. He just shrugged and said okay we'll see what happens. 

I waited two days, as I had calculated would be sufficient time, and then I called Sharon. The fact that I had hurt her so much was killing me. Guilt was keeping me awake at night. I desperately wanted to apologize and, if at all possible, try and make amends. I was absolutely sure that Sharon was the girl of my dreams, someone to spend the rest of my life with, and I wanted to hold her and kiss her sweet lips and touch her soft skin once again, and I wanted to tell her so. However, still fuming over my betrayal, she hung up before I could say two words. Obviously, she needed more time.

I called Jeanette. With her it wasn’t so much of a love thing, mostly just lust. I had a burning desire for that girl. Plus, I knew she liked me a lot too. So I thought maybe I could persuade her to give me a second chance. It was worth a shot. Get her on the phone and talk sweet to her, appeal to her vanity and weakness for attention. But she slammed the phone down on me too, hard, hurting my ear. I couldn’t believe it. Both girls had shut me down cold. Obviously I needed a new battle plan. I thought about my uncle Don, my famous playboy uncle who lived down by the beach, and I remembered what he had told me:

“Nothing gets a girl’s attention more than ignoring her,” he said. “Treat her like you’re completely uninterested, and she’ll come to you like a bee to honey. He assured me that such a plan works every time.”

How could I argue with the Master? He was always juggling two or three women at the same time. 

So that’s what I did. I ignored them both. I stopped calling, and I stopped talking about them altogether, mindful that words, even secret whispers, could get back to them through any number of gossip channels existing among the Joshua Valley teenagers.

So now came the waiting. I spent my days working on my old Studebaker. I parked her on our front lawn so any passersby could see me, shining her up real good, waxing, keeping her in shipshape. I wanted her to be ready in case Sharon or Jeanette decided to forgive me, or for that matter, should any other girls like to go out with me. I spent my nights hanging out with Rick, Ronnie and Terry. We talked and smoked a lot of cigarettes. We even sipped a few beers when we could get our hands on them. 

Without my pretty lovelies to comfort me, the days drug by like watching plants grow. Rick, Ronnie and Terry encouraged to me to hang in there, wait it out. One of the girls would call me soon. On that they agreed. But that was easy for them to say, they all had girlfriends. No problems. They got together with their dates every weekend and partied.  But not me, I stayed home and watched I love Lucy on television. Being around the house so much surprised my aunt Mary. She asked what on earth was I doing home on a Saturday night? I said I just didn’t feel like going out. And then she said I had better get a job, because I couldn’t count on her for money for the rest of my life. My uncle Bob backed her up on that score. He wasn’t happy with me for quitting my job at Bowfry’s hay mill. He said that job would make a man out of me. Yeah, right, a dead man.

Let me tell you something, saying you’re a hay bucker to your friends and strangers may sound cool and manly, especially when you’re a teenager, and it pays better than working at some hamburger joint washing dishes, but in fact it’s a stupid job that leaves you drained of all your strength. Your muscles constantly ache, and you’re so tired you can’t even study in school. My “A” grades began to take a nosedive towards the “C’s.” My German teacher even asked me, “Was ist los?” So I quit Bowfrys. I figured I’d find something else. I knew my aunt and uncle were right when they said they didn’t have any extra money to carry me. So I combed through the newspapers everyday for any potential job listings. I even got a few window cleaning jobs at a couple of local real estate offices. Man-o-man, I didn’t know real estate offices had such good-looking receptionists.

I walked into the real estate office and the first thing I saw was the beautiful receptionist behind the desk typing. She had long wavy hair, shiny in the window light, and bright red lips. She looked so yummy, and her body was fabulous, real easy on the eyes. If only I had x-ray vision. She glanced up and caught me staring. I produced a big smile and said, “Hello. My name’s Ben . . . Ben Jones. I’m here to clean your windows.” She smiled and said, "Of course you are." She told me to take a seat. That girl was fantastic, and if the truth be known, I’d have worked there for free. I made a mental note to visit other real estate offices.     

But those jobs were few and far between and, meanwhile, waiting for Sharon and Jeanette to come to their senses was torture, like a sailing ship caught in the doldrums, dead in the water. I missed Sharon mostly. She was probably the best girlfriend I ever had, a real gold nugget—absolute perfection. I may have even loved her. I missed Jeanette too. My beautiful, sexy Jeanette. She was definitely the most exciting girlfriend I ever had. I’d compare her to more like a fiery-eyed opal. The fact is I missed them both dearly, and the more days that passed, the more desperate I became. Finally, unable to hold out any longer, I picked up the phone three or four times to call Sharon, throw in the towel and beg for forgiveness. But it’s a good thing I didn’t, because one beautiful sunny day, completely out of the blue, something wonderful happened.   

I met a sweet, delicious girl named Muriel. She lived not too far from me in Quartz City. She was a bosomy girl with long wavy brown hair and nice legs, slick as ice. My favorite. I vaguely remembered her from the sixth grade. In those days she was skinny as a rail. But now she was nicely filled out, bulging at the seams, wearing one of those two-humped, camel hair sweaters, as we used to say. I was driving down the road when I saw her walking along the shoulder with her back to the traffic. As I passed by she looked at me. She was cute. I waved and she waved back. So I stopped, and said, “Hi, my name’s Ben . . . Ben Jones.” A big smile came to her face.

“I know who you are,” she said. She said she’d seen me around the neighborhood and at school, and she remembered me from elementary school. It was a small community, so I wasn’t surprised. Even if you didn’t directly know somebody, chances were good that you’d seen them around. We talked for a few minutes, a little catch up conversation. I told her it was dangerous to walk along the shoulder with her back to the oncoming traffic.

“You could become a hood ornament, like one of those flying girls on the hood of a brand new Cadillac.” I said. “You don’t want that do you?”

She just shook her shoulders like she could care less. “I’ve been walking to and from that old Quonset Hut Market since I was a little girl,” she said. “Nothing’s happened to me yet. I certainly ain’t no hood ornament.”

I had to agree with her. She sure wasn’t a hood ornament. She was a living, breathing, one hundred percent hot babe. But I wondered why on earth women had to be so hardheaded. “Get in here where it’s safe,” I said, and I’ll drive you the rest of the way home.

As soon as she climbed in, she ran her fingers along the shiny, clean dash, stopping to turn on the radio. Rock and roll music filled the inside of he car.

I smiled. “You like rock and roll?”

She smiled back and looked all around, the backseat, the dirt-free floor boards, she rubbed her hands over the soft, clean seats covers. She ignored my question about rock and roll.

“You’re car's real clean,” she said. “I like that.”  

“Thank you, I call her Brownie, because of her brown color. Say, why don’t you scoot over here next to me?” I smiled and patted the seat a few times with my open palm. I just came right out with it. I was that anxious for girl company. She declined nicely, and told me that sitting by the door was just fine by her. She said her name was Muriel, and I said that was the most beautiful name I had ever heard.

I could tell she knew what I was up too. Flirting. I couldn't have been more obvious. I probably looked like a hungry shark, but she kept a straight face. Not the slightest acknowledgment. Playing her cards next to her chest, as my uncle Bob would say.   

Muriel lived in a nice little house with a small front lawn and a big shade tree. She invited me to stay for a while, so we sat on a pair of lawn chairs, under the shade.  Her mom brought us each a tall frosty glass of pink lemon aide.

“Aren’t you Benny Jones,” her mom asked. 

“Yes mam,” I said politely, as I fumbled to stand back up while awkwardly trying to keep my lemon aide from spilling.  

“They call me Ben now mam . . . Ben Jones.”

“Well my word, you’ve certainly grown up to be a fine looking young man. I’m Florence. You probably don’t remember me. I knew your aunt Mary and uncle Bob way back in the day. Florence and Herald.”

“Yes mam.”

I knew she wanted me to remember her, but I didn’t have a clue about who she was. My aunt and uncle never talked about them. But I did remember seeing Muriel, and man did she look good now. Scrumptious. I just had to get to know this chick.    

Florence went back into the house, and Muriel and I talked about everything under the sun, from bad schoolteachers we didn’t like, to astronomy. I loved astronomy. So did she. She was smart, I liked that, and she knew a lot about me too. She even knew about Sharon and Jeanette. I was a little surprised, but, like I said, word travels fast among small town teenagers. I denied everything, of course, telling her that those girls used me, took advantage of my innocence. They hurt me real bad, and made it difficult for me to ever trust another girl, and I looked down as I spoke as if I were sad. She said she understood. She didn’t know Sharon, but she said you couldn’t trust girls like Jeanette. They’ll hurt you every time. She said I was a nice guy, too nice for the likes of her. Her words were music to me ears. I finally met someone who understood me. As she talked, I watched her pretty heart-shaped lips, like little pink flower petals, wondering how they would taste, probably like sugar, and I allowed my eyes to roam over her gorgeous body, and those long, smooth legs, where they ever beautiful. They reminded me of Jeanette’s legs. She saw me looking and it made her blush.

“Stop that,” she said, “You’re making me feel self conscious.”

“Self conscious?” I looked her up and down, real obvious. “If I were a girl and I was as pretty as you, I’d flaunt it.”

“All boys say that.”

“Yeah, but not all girls are as cute as you. I swear, you’re the prettiest girl in all of Quartz City. And you have a great figure too. If I were you, I’d be an absolute nudist.” She giggled.

“You’re awful,” she said.

I had a weakness for petite girls with curvy figures, like an insane sweet tooth. There was just something sexy about a girl I could pick up and hold in my arms, bounce around playfully. I liked her. And she seemed to like me too, making eye contact, laughing at my sex-lace quips, acting shy and demure. Her smile was like the Mona Lisa. It drove me crazy. Already, I couldn’t wait to get her back into my old Studebaker, comfortable and cozy, hold her tight, and kiss those sweet little heart shaped lips. My mouth was watering. 

“Would you like to go for a ride?” I asked. “I’m supposed to meet up with a buddy and his girlfriend, so we could make it a foursome. Maybe grab some burgers.”

She hesitated. “Come on,” I said. “It’ll be fun. Friday evenings we drive up to Quartz Hill, right on top by the big water tank. When it gets dark, we spread out a blanket, lie on our backs and see how many constellations we can find. On a clear night it’s easy. Hey, I bet you didn’t know there was a star named Muriel did you?”

“What?” She hit me on the shoulder laughing. “There’s not.”

“Come with us and I’ll show it to you. Just think, you’re very own star. Do you have another date for tonight?”


“Then? . . . Let’s go. I don’t bite, you know. But I bet you taste real good. In fact, I bet you take just like candy cotton.” I cocked my head to the side and smiled. 

“Will I have to take off my clothes,” she teased. We both laughed. Funny girl, I thought. I definitely liked girls with a racy sense of humor, and I was definitely beginning to like Muriel. 

So Muriel said yes, it was a date. I picked her up about 6:30 that evening, and then we picked up Rick and Sally. I made all the introductions. What a dynamite gal Sally was; always full of energy, upbeat, fun. I really liked her. And I swear, if Rick hadn’t have been one of my best friends; I’d have hit on her along time ago. She knew it too. I caught her looking at me, smiling, speaking to me with her eyes, and I returned the smiles, and the secret glances. I couldn’t help myself. But I knew she was loyal to Rick. Lucky guy. Maybe someday, I thought. For now, though, I had other things on my mind, namely Muriel. Oh, of course, Sharon and Jeanette were always at the forefront of my thoughts, but I’m talking about the “meantime.” After all, I couldn’t be expected to just stay home and do nothing, watch TV, stuck in the doldrums waiting for Sharon and Jeanette to come to their senses, especially since there were so many other fish in the sea.

We stopped to pick up some burgers and cokes, and then we drove out onto the flat desert, and then up the winding dirt road to the water tank, just in time for the red sunset. It was beautiful, with long streaks of jet contrails, way up high, from the test pilots out at the Air Force base. The water tank wasn’t exactly a secret spot. I’d been coming up there since I was a kid. Many times I rode Blondie, my beautiful honey colored Palomino. Sometimes I even took a girl with me, like my sweet little Señorita Elena. What a doll she was. She’d sit in front of me on the saddle, and I’d wrap my arms around her tiny waist, real tight, and her long black hair covered my face, and her perfume smelled like pure heaven. We used to see a lot of teenagers parked in their cars, about dusk, smoking, making out, and drinking beer. Sometimes the older guys would honk their horns to startle Blondie. I’d flip them the bird, kick Blondie lightly in the haunches, and we’d gallop down the hill, Elena bouncing up and down in the saddle, giggling, and I’d squeeze her even tighter, and she’d lay back against my chest, and I'd kiss her on the neck.

On the drive up to the water tank, Muriel sat next to me in the front seat, her bare shoulder touching mine, like a hot steam iron against my bare arm, but I was careful not to get too fresh with her. I didn’t put my hands on her leg, like I’d do if it were Jeanette. I didn’t want to frighten the girl, or rush her into anything. Patience. That’s how I did things. I’d wait until she was comfortable with me then I’d test the waters, attempt a kiss. If everything went well tonight, I’d asked her to the drive-in movie next weekend. That’s where we’d get down to business. That was my plan. But Muriel had other ideas.

Rick and Sally had wondered hand in hand up by water tank, in the long dark shadows of sunset. But something was definitely out of kilter with those two. Sally stood with her back to him, arms crossed, and Rick was flailing his arms around in the air like he was swatting a swarm of flies. We could hear voices, but we couldn’t make out what they were saying. Maybe they were arguing, but they had been together for a long time, so I didn’t pay it too much mind.

Muriel and I stood by the car. There were already a few stars in the sky, twinkling, even at sunset the moon was out, and Venus shone brilliantly, like a scintillating speck of shiny chrome. I started to say something about it, when all of a sudden Muriel jumped up against me, wrapped her arms around my neck and planted a humongous wet kiss on my lips, nearly knocking me down with surprise. Then she kept coming in for more, like a dive-bomber, one kiss after the other. She didn’t even give me time to take a breath. And I came right back at her, devouring her soft lips as if they were sweet candy kisses. Pretty soon we heard Rick yelling at us.

“Let’s eat,” Rick called out as he walked down the slope. Sally followed behind him. When they were close enough, they both saw my face, even in the twilight my cheeks were red with smeared lipstick. I think I was blushing.

Sally teased us. “Look out Muriel. That guy’s an octopus, all arms and hands.”

I looked over at Sally, and we made eye contact. She smiled, just a little. There was something about the way that girl looked at me, it drove me crazy. But today her smile seemed to be more serious, like something was up. I wanted her so bad I could taste it, and she knew it. But when I kept starring at her, she lowered her eyes from my gaze. 

Then Muriel chimed in, “Oh, he is, is he?” she said. “Well I’ll just have to be careful won’t I?” She looked up at me with a mischievous little girly grin, and then continued, “I mean . . . especially since I’m a nudist and all.”

Upon hearing that, Sally flashed me a bewildered look. I just smiled back at her, like I was stupid.

The girls took the hamburgers and fries out of the bags and then tore the bags open and laid them flat on the hood of the car. They then placed the burgers neatly down on the flat bags, like they were small place settings. It was girl stuff. Meanwhile Rick and I were talking to each other. I told him that I had quit my job at Bowfry’s hay mill, so I was running desperately low on cash, rock bottom, and my aunt and uncle were hassling me about it. He knew my aunt and uncle, so he also knew that they didn’t make too much money. They couldn’t afford to finance my nightlife, even gas money, so I had to find work.

“I’ve looked everywhere,” I said, “But no one’s hiring. I took a few window cleaning jobs through the unemployment office.” I told him about the sexy receptionists. "Heck," I said. "I work those jobs for free." We both laughed.

Again, I noticed Sally looking at me with more interest than usual. I flashed her a secret glance, and she smiled. Now I was really confused. We were definitely communicating with each other. 

Later on when Rick and I were again talking out of earshot of the girls, Rick said he had an idea about how to make some cash, but for me not to say anything to anyone else, especially not to Sally or Muriel. I nodded.

"You know?" he said. "The midnight plant business I told you about." Then he bent down close to me like we were in a huddle, and said he had been making some pretty good money stealing people’s plants and reselling them to certain customers. I looked at him square in the eye, shock on my face.

“Stealing plants!” I whispered as loud as I could without the girls hearing me.

“Rick put his hand over my mouth. “Shush. Quiet! It’s easy. My customers place an order for roses, or willows, or cactus, anything they want. Then I drive around until I find them. You know, I scout the place, and then I come back after dark, or whenever, like if they’re not home, pull them up and sell them for a better price than they can get at the nursery. It’s a total no brainer.”

“Jesus Rick, that’s a major deal. You could go to jail. You’ll have a record.”

The thing about Rick was that ever since we were little kids he had always wanted to be the tough-guy, always starting fights. And Terry, or Ronnie, or I would have to  finish it. Heck, big-boned Bert the man-child almost beat the dickens out of me one time when I stood up for Rick. Rick had pissed him off. But that was the deal, Rick just talked big but he didn’t have what it took to back it up. It bothered him a lot. He boasted that someday he’d be a Marine, not a sissy National Guard guy like his step dad. He had a huge inferiority complex. That’s why he did all these crazy things, acting tough and all. And over the years he had come up with a host of petty crimes, mostly just to be mean, vandalism, not really to make money. But since he wasn’t actually tough, probably less tough than any of us, Ronnie and Terry and I just sort of humored him and took everything he said and did with a grain of salt. But this plant stealing idea of his was different. This could definitely get him, or us, in a lot of trouble.

“Look,” he said. “I clear about five dollars a night. It could be more but it’s enough to pay for gas. The two of us could double that amount . . . split right down the middle. Heck, it’s not even work. The hardest part is trying not to get my mom’s car so dirty.”

I could see that he was dead serious. His chest was puffed out and he had that cock-sure look about him. Rick had finally stumbled upon an idea that was just risky enough to take guts, and he wanted to show us all that he had the guts to do it. I thought it was stupid.

“You use you’re mom’s car for this stuff?” I asked.

“Damn straight. I don’t have a car.”

I listened to all that Rick had to say. He told me that Ronnie and Terry knew about his little nighttime business, but he was totally on his own, they weren’t involved. He said they were too chicken.

“I’m the only rooster in the bunch,” he said. 

I took about ten seconds to think it over, and then I declined to be his partner. Rick stood back surprised. He looked at me quizzically. I knew he wanted somebody to share the risk, to witness how he wasn’t afraid to do something so risky. But I told him I was also one of the chickens. He didn’t press it. He told me to keep it in mind. He said one or two nights of work would pay for gas, burgers and the movies. Not to shabby. And that kind of money would go a long way towards my plans for Sharon and Jeanette, and don’t forget Muriel. It takes money to have girlfriends. He was right about that. And as far as he was concerned, it really wasn’t a crime to steal plants anyway. Plants were just plants. It wasn’t like we’d be robbing a bank or anything. At that point we turned our attention back to the girls. 

I studied Muriel as she was leaning up against the car, her elbows on the hood with her excellent backside facing me. Round and firm as a watermelon. Rick and I smiled at each other. Not bad, I thought to myself. I liked Muriel all right, not because she was so easy, although that was a plus. She was cute, she had a nice body and we shared some of the same interests. Like astronomy. I had read nearly every astronomy book in the library. So had she. It was uncanny. But there was something about her that gave me an uneasy feeling, in the back of my mind. Like the way she put on that innocent little girl routine just a little too thick. And the more we talked, and I listened to the things she said, the more I began to feel a little suspicious. By the end of that first evening with her I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into. I sure didn’t need any more girl troubles. Not now. And I especially didn’t need some whacked out chick in my life. If that were the case, I’d rather have my lovely Jeanette. But I was beginning to think Muriel just might be just that . . . a whacked out chick.    

Against my better judgment, however, Muriel and I kept dating. She was like some kind of drug and I was already addicted. We went to the drive-in movies, long four-hour make-out sessions. It was the days of double features, plus a cartoon. So had lots of time. Most of We were like two anacondas wrapped so tight you couldn’t tell one of us from the other. And, man, I tell you, did she ever like to kiss, non-stop, deep six, never coming up for air. You needed SCUBA gear to keep up with that girl. And her body was like a dream field of soft fragrant flowers, and I explored every tiny flowering bud . . . And it wasn’t long before she started talking about how much she loved me, whispering the words in my ear.

“Ben,” she said, barely audible, “I love you with all my heart, forever. Don’t ever leave me.”

She was all in, “hook, line and sinker,” as my uncle Bob would say. But for myself, I liked her face and her body, and she had a certain innocent air about her, which was attractive, but there was definitely something scary going on inside that pretty head of hers. For one thing, she was super possessive. That was obvious. She kept a short leash on me. The red lights flashed in my brain, on and off, like a train was speeding down the tracks right towards me. But like a complete idiot, I ignored all the warning signs.

And so the days of spring flowed smoothly into summer, until at last, school was out. D.H Lawrence’s book, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, hit the bookstores with an arousing bang of public controversy over its sexual subject matter. My aunt Mary read it right off the bat, and then stuck it in the bookcase behind the encyclopedias. But I found it and leafed through the pages to the good parts. Bingo. It was all it was touted to be. So I took it with us on our next double date, Muriel and I and Rick and Sally. When I read the passages aloud, Muriel and Sally turned bright pink and giggled nervously. I offered to stop reading, but they wouldn’t have it and made me continue. It was the end of the nineteen fifties, and the popularity of books like Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Peyton Place showed that things in the United States were changing, at least in regards to sex. After all, those were the days when couples on television sitcoms weren’t even shown sleeping in the same bed together. Little did any of us know that the so-called sexual revolution was just around the next corner, the raging 1960’s. Of course, my personal sex life was definitely in a slump, something I fully intended on fixing.

Muriel and I continued dating, hotter and hotter. Sometimes we’d double date with Rick and Sally, and sometimes with Terry and his girlfriend Phyllis. Phyllis was a hot little gal too. I loved her. She had short brown hair and smooth skin spotted with a zillion freckles. She was always up for anything, anything sexy that is, and every time we went out, she was all over Terry like a female wrestler. And, of course, Muriel was all over me, like I was her first and one and only boyfriend, the last guy on the planet, the love of her life. It was a feeling that I didn’t share. But I did like to make out with her, she could kiss like an octopus, leaving my face and neck and chest spotted with reddish hickeys. The four of us wouldn’t be at the drive-in for five minutes before the windows would be completely fogged up. Terry and Phyllis were tighter than two geese, but for me, Muriel was just a way to kill time while I waited for a call from either Jeanette or Sharon, or, if I were supremely lucky, both Sharon and Jeanette. I hoped it’d be sooner rather than later.

I knew Sharon and Jeanette missed me. They had to. Any sane girl would miss me. Please. It was just a matter of time before they’d break down and call. And I still had the crazy idea in my lame brain that I could have both of them at the same time. I swear, you would think that after my cataclysmic experience with those two girls I’d have learned my lesson, but obviously I hadn’t. I was just so sure of myself. Did Jeanette and Sharon fully realize what they were missing?  Heck, man, I was Ben Jones, even the grown woman in her twenties at the real estate office smiled at me. I’d definitely like to get her in the front seat of my old Studebaker. Show her what she's been missing. I made a mental note to stop by the real estate office to say hello, ask about the windows. I made another mental note to bring her a pretty yellow flower. I'd tell her was as pretty as a flower.

Then, right at the height of my bragging to myself about how great I was, it happened. I made a big mistake. Huge. Colossal. One night Muriel and I were at the drive in and she was allowing me to climb all over her body, heated and sweaty, and I was completely at her mercy. She was telling me how much she loved me, whimpering and kissing me on the neck, applying those little hickeys, pleading for me to tell her the same. She wanted me to say I loved her too. She begged me to say it. Please, please, she begged. It was incessant. I can’t believe it, but I accidentally told her I cared for her, deeply, stopping short of the actual word, love. But she clutched at the words, love, love, you love me, and cuddled up to me, tight, her warm body pressing against mine. Then she kissed me hard on the mouth and took my hand and moved it over her warm clothing. God she was so hot, like a fire blazing in her chest, sweat pouring from her brow. I was so excited I was about to pass out. I couldn’t even think straight.    

She whispered ever so softly, “Do you want me?” She clinched my fist around her soft breast, and squeezed. “Say you love me, say it.”

Holy God, let lightning strike me in the face. That’s when it happened. I said the words, “ I love you.” Unbelievable. I didn’t really mean it, of course. It just came out, somewhere between first and second base. And I wanted so desperately to get to second base. Heck, I wanted to hit a home run! But first, she wanted me to promise I’d never break up with her. Love her forever. So I did. I promised. Forever. It was feeble, but I said it. I’d have said anything at that point. I just didn’t want to stop kissing her, touching her. She felt so good. But even as I kissed her, and whispered those three cruel meaningless words in her ear, “I love you,” I knew it was a lie. Because there was only one girl in the world for me, and that was my one and only Sharon, my true love, and . . . possibly Jeanette, certainly not Muriel. If Sharon would give me just one more chance, wave her golden princess wand over my head one more time, grant me the wish of her loving affection, or even one tiny kiss from her sweet lips, I’d drop Muriel as fast as a stone over a cliff. I thought of her only as a port in the storm. Nothing more. But the storm was rapidly becoming a perfect storm.

My words of love made Muriel even more excited than ever, pulling me down on the seat on top of her, smothering me with hot, wet kisses. Love? I wished that word had never been invented. I hated Noah Webster for including it in his dictionary. He didn’t tell us it was dangerous, radioactive, a killer. Oh no, he left that little detail out, a mere word that had probably killed more people than all the armies in history, even the atomic bomb. And I was throwing it around like it was nothing. Damn! Why was I so weak? What was wrong with me? Was I stupid, like Rick had said I was? It was simple really. I was a just a sucker for a pretty face and a nice body. I loved girls. I couldn’t resist the little darlings. I rationalized to myself that it was my upbringing that had made me that way. I needed to be close to someone. I needed to love someone, to have someone love me. But no matter what it was, unfortunately, Muriel knew that about me, my secret weakness. She probably figured it out that first day along side the road when she caught me eyeballing her luscious body like a kid in a candy store. And now she used her looks and figure to get her way, and she fully intended on holding me to those words of love, like a promise unpaid. As far as she was concerned, I belonged to her.

After that, she started calling me every day to tell me how much she loved me, and how happy we’d be. We? I didn’t want there to be a we, or an us, or an anything. But the black phone on the kitchen counter kept ringing and ringing. She’d call and talk for two, three hours a day. I didn’t have a moment’s peace. My head was splitting. I was going crazy. She planned every Friday and Saturday down to a microscopic tee, where we’d go, who we’d see and what we’d do: the drive-in movie, burgers, parking, her house when her mom wasn’t home. She’d cook dinner for me. Serve me. And she was so possessive. I couldn’t do anything without her giving me the third degree. Where did I go? Who did I talk to? I felt like one of those prehistoric mastodons caught in the tar pits. Or worse, I felt married. I wanted out, but no matter how hard I tried to break loose, I remained hopelessly stuck, sinking farther down into that sticky tar pit. My aunt Mary was beginning to hassle me about the constant phone calls. I had to break the chains of my bondage, but how? That perfect storm was about to drown me. And then the most unbelievable thing happened.  

One Saturday afternoon I was laying on the living room couch, tired, brain dead, exhausted, trying to nap, when our phone rang, the big black beast on the kitchen counter top. It was the most irritating sound you ever heard. My aunt Mary was in the kitchen, the phone startled her, I heard her say, “Lord Jesus, hold your horses.” She answered it. She mumbled something, and then she yelled out, “Benny . . . it’s for you.” I hated to be called Benny. It sounded so . . . I don’t know . . . un-cool. Anyway, I hauled myself off the couch and ambled unenthusiastically out to the kitchen. I thought to myself: Please God, let it be Rick, or Ronnie, or Terry. They probably wanted to go cruising up and down the main drag in Ronnie’s 1956, snow-white Buick, the polar bear. Maybe we’d meet some chicks. That’s what we used to do, in the peaceful days before Muriel, wave at the cuties and say stupid things. I missed those days so much. I needed a new girlfriend. I picked up the handset, “Hello.”

“Ben . . . this is Jeanette.” Her voice was low and empty, almost imperceptible.

Yes! Yes! I clutched the phone with white knuckles. I would have recognized Jeanette’s quiet voice in a raging hurricane, in the thrashing of a wild tornado. It was that distinctive, imprinted on my brain, usually upbeat, jovial, but today it was like a singer of sad love songs. I had been waiting so long for this call that I actually felt dizzy. I had to take a deep breath to keep my own voice from quivering like a worm on a hook. She said we could talk, if I still wanted to. In other words, she was calling me as a gesture to open the door, ever so slightly; giving me one more chance to do right, maybe we could see each other and talk. My heart pumped faster. My breathing was shallow and empty. It was amazing how quickly my mind shifted into wild erotic fantasy. In a microsecond I imagined her in my arms once more, kissing her, touching her, as if nothing had ever happened. I said that’s all I wanted, just a chance to talk to her, to explain, to work things out between us. Just give me one hour alone together, or maybe we could go to Giant Burger, anyplace she wanted to go was fine by me. She listened quietly.

I told her how awful I felt for what I had done to her. I told her that I punished myself everyday, and I cried over loosing her. I confessed, the whole thing to be my fault. But with that said, I caught myself from saying too much more. I didn’t want to say everything right then. I’d save some for later, when we were a lone. For now, I wanted to make her think that I really cared for her, but not to over do it. After all, I still wanted to be with Sharon, my beautiful untouchable, Sharon. I missed her so very much. So I had to be extra careful. Whatever I said to Jeanette might mysteriously get back to Sharon, and I already knew how that story would turn out. Jeanette was smart, like a cunning predator, and I could picture her on the other end of the line, taking everything in, listening for the slightest sign of deception. One wrong word on my part, and she’d slam the receiver down, blasting my ear into oblivion, along with my last chance to ever get her back into the front seat of my old Studebaker.   

But I knew Jeanette was easy to flatter, a real sucker for a compliment, so much more vain than Sharon. Her hair was always fixed, she spent hours applying her makeup, and her clothes were expensive. She even made some of her own dresses, and they looked professional. Her stepfather had passed away leaving her mother with a mountain of debt. Mom was a foaming bitch, she always hated me, but to survive she had taken a job as a saleswoman. She sold baby albums to young mothers right after they had their babies. Of course she had to travel, and her huge territory included about ten counties in southern California. So she was gone a lot. She also made extra money sewing clothes for well to do ladies, and she taught Jeanette to be an expert seamstress too. So when her mom was away on business, Jeanette sewed, made some beautiful things. She always looked like a magazine model. So I played up to her vanity. I told her how much I had missed her pretty face. I told her that I had never known anyone as beautiful as her, ever, in my whole life, and she was very smart too, and those were the reasons I liked her so much.  

“Remember that first day?” I said, “When I said you were as beautiful as the wild flowers on bright spring day?”

“Yes.” Her voice tapered off into quiet.

“Well . . . I meant it. You are unbelievably beautiful. I even love the clothes you wear. I love everything about you.” By this time I was throwing the love word around like it was nothing. Spreading the radioactivity. It was foolish of me to be so loose with one of the most powerful words in the English language, and my flippant use of such power was bound to come back and bite me on the backside. Someone was bound to get hurt. But I wasn’t thinking about that right then.

Jeanette always liked to make jokes, and tease, and clown around. She was a natural born comedian, smart-alecky, sharp-witted. So I played up to that too.

“I love your sense of humor,” I said. “You’re so much fun to be with. You make everybody laugh.” And I rubbed the compliments in like it was an expensive massage.

I admit it was fun to be with her. It was all part of her charm, not to mention her unbelievable body. She was funny, and she was beautiful, but her body was my big attraction to her. The sight of her in a two-piece bathing suit was paralyzing, stunning, the image of her powdery white skin, golden blond hair and shapely figure clinging to my mind for days. I’d tease her about her white skin and pink sunburn, always taking the opportunity to peek into her swimsuit. Just a little. “Hello,” I’d say, smiling from ear to ear. And she’d smack my hand playfully. Even after all these weeks without her, I still lay awake at night thinking about her, how she smelled, kissing her, touching her. She was like a cozy fur coat in the dead of winter, warm and soft and sensual. I even thought about that little pink birthmark, like a turtle shell, high up on her inner thigh. Just thinking about it gave me the shivers. 

But it was only the first phone call, too early to say too much. And I especially refrained from saying anything intimate. After all, I didn’t want to set her off, blow my chances over saying something stupid. Shallow. Because I knew she also had a quick fuse, and if you stoked her temper, she’d turn on you faster than a dog with a case of rabies. Dating her, even at best, was like courting a black widow. You could dance with her, get close enough to taste her delicious lips, and smell her sweet perfume, but she was just as likely to eat you as to love you. So why on earth did I like her so much? I don’t know how to answer that question. I just did. Ronnie and Rick and Terry said I was “ipso-nutso-facto,” as Ronnie put it, certifiable, completely out of my gourd. I knew they were right. But when I heard her soft, injured voice on the telephone, her pretty lips trembling from the pain I had caused her, knowing her eyes were swollen with the tears of heartache, I answered very, very carefully. My first words were, “I was hoping it was you on the phone.” 

We agreed on an exact day and time to meet. I’d pick her up Saturday night about 6:00. And without any more conversation, we said our good-byes. I felt nervous, a little shaky, but good. My plan of disinterest had worked, at least on Jeanette. It was the chance I had been waiting for. My uncle Don had come through for me once again. He was an absolute genius when it came to women, and I was lucky to have him as my mentor. Now the next step was to not say so much that I fell into my own word trap, say something stupid and blow my chances. I was so happy I could hardly wipe the smile from my face.

Then I thought about Sharon. I couldn’t help it. I wondered if I’d be getting a call from her too. I hoped so. It had been a few months, but she had to wise up sooner or later, just like Jeanette. But what would happen then? I’d be in the same mess all over again, only this time, counting Muriel, I’d have three girl problems to deal with. Good gosh, what’s wrong with me? Did I love pain? Was I a masochist? I could see that dark hole getting deeper, and I was about to fall in it again, just like last time. So I decided it was all too complicated to think about right then, first things first. I’d go out with Jeanette Saturday night, fix things up, if possible. Maybe I’d even get a little romance. Wouldn’t that be nice? Then I’d deal with Sharon when the time came. Those were my thoughts as I stood there by the black phone. I turned to go back into the living room, my aunt Mary eyeing me suspiciously, and was about to plop back down on the couch, when the phone rang again. I caught myself in midair. Could that be Sharon? I ran back to the kitchen. Please, oh please, let it be Sharon.

“Hello.” I was puffing from being out of breath.


It was Muriel. Oh no, God all mighty no! My stomach felt like I had swallowed battery acid. This chick was going to be the death of me.  

She spoke non-stop, a mile a minute. Her parents were going to be gone on Saturday night, so she wanted me to stop by the store and pick up several items. She was going to cook dinner for us. And she told me to clean my car too. She said it was too dirty the last time we went out. Was she kidding? My old Studebaker’s clean enough to be an ambulance. And there were a million other things she wanted me to do. She had a list as long as my arm. And she talked so fast I couldn’t even get a word in edgewise. Finally she took a short breath of air, and I jumped in and said I was sick, the flu, or something, maybe a bad cold and I had a headache too. I definitely couldn’t see her on Saturday. There was a long, pregnant pause of silence. I crossed my fingers and counted the elapsed seconds.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi . . .  

Then Muriel said, “I’ll come over to your place. I’ll bring some chicken soup . . . sit with you . . . watch television. I’ll take care of you honey. I love you so much.”

Egad. I thought I’d get sick if I ever heard the word honey again.

I told her no, absolutely not, my aunt Mary wouldn’t allow it. I have to stay in bed, or on the couch. You’ll catch it if you come over. And my aunt Mary would never permit that.

It took a lot of talking, but Muriel finally relented to stay away. When we hung up, I breathed a long sight of relief. My aunt Mary, hearing me on the phone, asked what that was that all about? Why did I say I had a cold? Who was that on the line? I told her it wasn’t anything important. I just didn’t feel like going out. But she pressed me. She didn’t like me lying to girls. It’s not right. She didn’t raise me to be a liar. So I said it was Muriel. She was sick, not me. My aunt Mary had just misunderstood the conversation. Fortunately, she bought the lie, and then she then told me to clean my room, it was a pig pen, and wash my sheets and pillowcases, and the rest of my clothes. And hurry up, because she wanted the washing machine for some other stuff. I didn’t argue. At least I didn’t have to worry about Muriel for a few days.

So, as I was folding the last of my things, I thought about Jeanette and Muriel and Sharon. It was a three way problem, and I had to make absolutely sure that Jeanette didn’t hear about my dates with Muriel. If so, she’d definitely tell Sharon. Just for spite. I had to think of some way to control Jeanette. But what could I do? Things were getting way out of hand and I got a headache trying to figure it all out. I definitely needed some help. So I called my trusty advisers, Rick, Ronnie and Terry. 

The four of us met up at Phyllis’s house, Terry’s interesting girlfriend. She was a real good looker, that girl, and to our extraordinarily good fortune, a bit of an exhibitionist. Many afternoons the four of us would sit in her backyard, in the shadows, anxiously waiting for the sun to set so we could look into her bedroom window. She always kept the lights on, and she knew we were out there, but she didn’t mind, and she didn’t close the blinds. She’d walk around in the bedroom with nothing on but her bra and panties, one of those pointy bras they had in the fifties. If you got too close to the tips of one of those babies, it’d poke your eye clean out. She folded blankets and ironed her clothes and made her bed and did whatever else she could think of doing, all for show. It was like our personal peep show. Terry loved flashy girls, he wasn’t a bit jealous, and me and Ronnie and Rick dearly loved being his best friends. So tonight that’s where we met for my counseling session, in Phyllis’s back yard.  

During our conversation, and watching Phyllis, of course, I happened to think of a great idea. It was like a shining light bulb in my head. Maybe I could set up Jeanette with another guy, just one date. That’s it. Then if she wanted to get back with me, she’d have to keep her secret from me. But I would know the secret. That’s the thing that made it brilliant. I’d have something to hold over her, something I could turn into a big stink, tell her I found out through the grapevine. I’d confront her with the rumor, and blow it up into a super big deal, hide my own sins behind it, things like dating Muriel. It’d work to serve as my invisible protective shield. Now let me see, whom could I get to go out with Jeanette? It would have to be someone I could trust, someone I knew, yet somebody who’d definitely try to get to second base with Jeanette. It had to be that real. Phyllis walked by the window. Damn she was pretty, especially without her clothes on. Anyway, I was waiting for the guys to say something, give me a name, and then, quietly, almost like a whisper, Rick said, “I’ll do it.”

Rick? It blasted my brain. It was a brilliant idea, of course, and Jeanette would definitely jump at the chance to go out with one of my closest buddies. She’d think of it as getting back at me somehow. She was just that vindictive. Twisted. And it wasn’t like Rick was ugly or anything. In fact, he was a good-looking guy. He had a little bit of a gut, but all in all, he had a great sense of humor and the girls seemed to like him. I asked him about Sally. Would he tell her what he was up to? He said no. He told me that Sally and him were in a little bit of trouble anyway. It had been going on for quite a while. At one time they had been the perfect couple, but now it was all arguments and nasty little quips and hurtful innuendos. I asked about all the double dates we had been on together, they seemed to be so happy, not to mention as hot as a bonfire, romantically that is.

I said, “She might not take it so well if she found out you went out with Jeanette, even if it was just a ruse. And if you had any hope of saving your relationship with Sally, that would end it right there.” Of course, in my mind I was thinking this just might be good for me. I’d have something on Jeanette, and a chance to date Sally. It was a double win scenario for me.

“Oh, she wouldn’t do anything bad, or hurtful in front of anyone else,” Rick said. “She was too big for anything like that. In spite of everything else, the girl is a real class act. I’ll say that about her. But it’s over. Kaput. All good things eventually come to an end.”

I can’t say that I didn’t like the idea of Rick and sally breaking up. In fact, I loved it. It couldn’t have been better. Now I finally had the chance to be with her. Suddenly the image of Sally and I hugging and kissing in the front seat of my old Studebaker played in my head like a movie.  I made a mental note call her as soon as I was back home. I couldn’t wait.  

Except for my secret desire for Sally, Rick’s words were like a heavy cloud descending upon us. And as he lay out his troubles, Terry and Ronnie and I were stone quiet. Shocked. We all loved Sally, to the heart. Her bright smile and great sense of humor were the life’s blood of our little click, and we could always count on her as the bright spot no matter how dark our problems. You might say she was a lifesaving beacon in the dense fog, and nobody wanted to loose her, least of all me. Even though I wanted to date her, to get her into the front seat of my old Studebaker, to kiss her warm lips, I also didn’t want to loose her as a member of our group. It was a touchy situation. How do you turn a friendship into a relationship without risking loss?

So Rick kept talking, laying out the whole story of him and sally. And the more he talked, the more I listened, one hundred percent, completely focused. I felt like he was hypnotizing me. Muriel and all her craziness were temporarily gone from my brain, like a puff of smoke in the wind. Now Sally was the only thing on my mind. I could see her so clearly. She was a short girl, barely five foot tall, with short hair, shoulder length, bouncy, a really happy face, clear skin, always smiling, and a yummy, petite figure. To me, she was like a delicious, mouth-watering truffle in a Valentine’s box of regular chocolates. I had always kept a warm fire burning in my heart for Sally.

Phyllis was facing the window, her arms held high while she brushed her hair. It was the perfect pose and the four of us sat there with our mouths wide open. It was so quiet you could have heard a ladybug walking across a dry leaf. I thought about that day Rick and Sally and Muriel I were up at the water tank. Sally was definitely making eyes at me, real suggestive like. I know it. She was sending me her secret thoughts. Love thoughts. I felt a little guilty, of course, because Rick was my friend. But I can’t deny that I wanted to believe it so much. I prayed, that she liked me more than just as a friend. Could Rick’s confession now be the answer to my prayers? They broke up. After so long, could this finally be the chance I had been waiting for? Ben and Sally. I definitely liked the sounds of that. I would definitely call her, on the sly, of course, no use in telling the others. After all, I didn’t want any leaks to get back to Sharon.

So all of us agreed that Rick would call Jeanette, and Rick seemed to be full of enthusiasm over the idea. So we laid out the plan. He’d play to her injured pride, tell her he had heard that her and I had broken up, give her some cockamamie story about what a bad guy I had been to hurt her so much, terrible, how could I do such a thing to a beautiful girl like her? And then he’d asked her out. If I knew Jeanette, she’d go for it, like a piranha goes for bloody meat, thinking she’d be stabbing me right in the heart for being such a jerk. Plus, Rick was probably a little jealous of Sally and I, the way we looked at each other. He’d seen our quick glances. He may have even blamed me for their break up. So he’d think a hot date with Jeanette was a way to get back at me too, a little dose of revenge, just like Jeanette.

Well, dream on my old friend, because you have to get up real early in the morning to pull a fast one on Ben Jones. I chuckled a little to myself. Rick had no idea what he was getting himself into. She’d stick her needle sharp clutches into his soft flesh and pretty soon he’d be begging me to help him get rid of her. And then, if he tried to get back with Sally, I would tell Sally about his date with Jeanette. Oh yeah, all the nasty details, second base and all that intimate stuff. I’m sure Sally would choke on a mouthful of information like that. She’d see me as the nice guy. Her hero. It seemed I had the game under control from all angles. And of course, after all that mess, Jeanette would come running back to me with open arms. She’d feel the guilt and guilt is a powerful motivator. Like I said, you have to get up really early in the morning to pull a fast one on Ben Jones.

Meanwhile, I had a date with Jeanette myself, set for Saturday night, at six pm on the dot, which was still a few days out. And with any luck, I’d soon have a date with Sally too. I couldn’t wait to go out with her. Now all I had to do was get rid of that pain-in-the-ass Muriel. I figured the best thing to do was just to call her and tell her we were through. Be right up front with it. A swift sword was better than a prolonged agony. She’d cry and pull out all the emotional stops, remind me of how many times I said I loved her. But so be it. I liked her looks and body, but I wanted that crazy chick out of my life. She left me no other choice.  

I hadn't seen Muriel in over twenty-four ourse and it felt good. Like stepping out of a hot shower into the cool air. I wished I would ever see her again. 

So I went back home thinking the counseling session had gone well. Better than expected actually. I said hello to my aunt and uncle, which surprised them, and, not wanting to talk or watch television, I went straight to my room and sat on the corner of my bed, mulling over the story I would tell Muriel. I had to be strong, not back down, because I knew she would be a tough looser. She’d cry with pain, she’d tug at my emotions, and then she’d cuss with fire and anger. She’d accuse me of all sorts of wrong doing. I had to be ready. It was then that I heard the black phone ring. Please God, I thought, please let me have one night without Muriel bugging me. Please. I bowed my head. If you grant me this one wish, I promise to be a priest when I grow up.    

My aunt Mary answered the black phone. There was the usual mumbling, I heard her say something like “ . . . of course we’ll come . . .” and then she stuck her head into the doorway, the phone was in her hand, a somber look on her face. “Benny . . .”

“What? No.” I knew it had to be Muriel and I wanted my aunt to tell her I wasn’t available. I looked at my aunt and went into a full lip-sync mode: I’m sick! The flu! Vomiting. Please? But my aunt wouldn’t do something like that. Like I said, she hated to lie.

I put the phone to my ear and prepared my voice to sound sick. But surprisingly, Florence was on the line. Her voice was shaky, hallow. She was obviously upset. “Benny? Is that you?”

“Yes mam.” I didn’t know what was going on. My mind raced back to that first day on her front lawn. Did Muriel say something bad about me? That little bitch. By that time I was totally fed up with Muriel and I didn’t care what I said or what I thought. I wanted out!

Then Muriel’s dad grabbed the phone. “Ben?” His voice was low and husky and serious.

“Yes sir.” I had never met him, so now I was really confused.

“Son,” he said. “I know you and Muriel are close, were close, what I mean is you must be a wonderful young man because she talked about you so much. So . . . well . . . the thing is . . . Oh for God’s sake. Muriel was hit by a car this morning, son. She was walking alongside the road on her way home from the Quonset Hut Market. He swerved to miss a dog. That’s it. I’m afraid she’s gone. We wanted you to know, because she talked about you all the time.”

I was speechless. I could hear Florence crying in the background. I hung up the phone and staggered back a few steps. My head was spinning. I leaned on the counter. My aunt Mary put her hands on my shoulders, caring and sympathetic. Then I stood upright, my eyes red with tears. My aunt told me to come into the living room and sit down. But I couldn’t. I went into my room without talking and lay back on my bed and closed my eyes, squeezing out the tears that rolled down my cheeks like tiny streams of hot lava. In my mind I could see Muriel, beautiful, alive, walking down the side of the road. I had warned her about that road. I told her it was dangerous. But she shrugged me off. And I could see the car hitting her. Crushing her. And then all those bad thoughts I had of her suddenly flooded my mind: a nag, a motor mouth, a gigantic pain in the ass. Why did I think those things? All she wanted was to love me, and for me to love her. My guilt rushed over me like a dark cloud of self-destruction. After several minutes had passed, I walked back out to the kitchen and picked up the black phone. I was shaking.  

It’s weird, everything about that moment seems crystal clear to me. My aunt Mary was at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading a novel titled Psycho. She looked at me. My uncle Bob, tired from the week’s hard labor at hay bucking was in the living room asleep in his big green recliner, a cindering Camel cigarette still smoking in the ashtray on the end table. The news was on the television. My younger sister was in her bedroom-playing store by herself. I could hear her talking to her pretend customers.  

My aunt asked who I was calling.

“Rick.” I said, emotionless, with the bloodless face of a flat, gray stone.  

“To let him know? That’s nice. You kids must be just heartbroken,” she said.

“No,” I said. “Not that. He knows how I can make some money.” Of course, I didn’t mention the part about stealing people’s rose bushes.