After Bible Study that night, I concentrated one hundred percent of my efforts on getting a date with Penney Peters. Church girl or not, the vision of her standing there in that window, stark naked, was forever burned into my mind like a glowing ember. I brought her flowers and lavished her with compliments. I never missed a Sunday at church or a Wednesday night of Bible Study. I was on my best behavior, and it paid off. After a few weeks I got my date with beautiful Penny Peters. Hallelujah, it was a dream-come-true. Then I did something incredibly stupid.

Needless to say, I was so happy I could hardly stand still, my legs felt like wobbly rubber, my chest as hallow an empty rain barrel, my mind like a fantastic display of fireworks. Even my aunt Mary asked what in the devil was wrong with me. I said I was King of the Galaxy, Lord of the Universe, and I was as cocky as a barnyard rooster in my stance, and smart-alecky in my tone. She rolled her eyes disdainfully and told me not to be silly. My uncle Bob said I’d better mow the goddamn lawn before he got home, or he’d skin my hide. I just smiled. There were only five more days to go before my historic date with Penny, Saturday night at the drive in, nothing could stop me now.

I spent all that week working around the house, doing whatever I was told to do with happiness and a smile. I mowed the lawns, front and back. I dug the trench along the side of the garage for our new fence. I watered the fruit trees, and I washed my old Studebaker five times and vacuumed it to microscopic perfection, cleaner than an ambulance. I was like the atomic boy. And as I worked, thoughts of Penny devoured my mind. I dreamed of her, I chanted her name, I even wrote her a poem. “Penny here, Penny there, her skin so soft, her eyes so clear, Penny with the blazon hair . . ..” I recited it to my aunt Mary. She said it was childish. I figured as much. But that’s how unabashed my love was, like a crazed poet, wild and reckless, carefree. I didn't care if it was childish. I couldn't help myself. Penny Peters absolutely owned me—mind, body and soul. Then I met Sasa Oolala, a genuine beauty queen. Would I ever learn?

The long-awaited Saturday morning finally arrived. It was the day I had prayed for. At ten o’clock in the morning I was sound asleep, out like a light, dreaming about my beautiful Penny, dancing naked among the yellow poppies. But as luck would have it, my throat was burning, like I had swallowed a flaming torch. Suddenly, in the distance I heard someone desperately calling my name.

“Ben! Ben! Get your butt out of that bed!” It was my aunt Mary and she was yelling, crazy like. I opened my red eyes and my head hurt and my throat burned like the air was on fire. I groaned and said I didn’t feel too well. She never flinched and her own eyes were devoid of sympathy, like some alien creature peering down at me. 

“Ben Jones, you get out of that bed right now and get dressed,” she snapped and she yanked the covers off the bed in one swoosh, and I felt the cool air pass over my feverish forehead. So I arose, aching, hunched over, and I was dizzy. I looked up at her with pleading eyes, and I complained of my pain and the fire in my throat. I needed more sleep, five minutes, please. But her eyes were cold and indifferent. “Hurry up!” she said, “You’re driving me to the airport.”

I had never seen my aunt Mary so tightly strung, like an inner tube stretched over a rain barrel, ready to snap, agitated as all get out, like it was an extreme emergency. As she waited for me to dress, she paced nervously back and forth in the kitchen, yelling at me to get a move on. I asked why we were going to the airport, what’s the rush? She said it was none of my goddamn business. “Holy cow,” I had never heard her cuss like that before. Suddenly, she burst into my room holding her open palm in the air as if she were about to smack me silly, madder than hell because I was taking too long. I jerked back out of reach, and she just stood there, defiantly glaring at me. So I leaped from the far side of the bed, over to the closet, shaky at first, and wobbly, and dressed with the speed of Superman, thinking maybe the Russians had landed, and World War Three was upon us, and we’d all die in an atomic explosion. That is, if she didn’t smack me to death first. I kept thinking, please O’Lord, don’t do anything weird until after my date with Penny, my beautiful Penny.

My aunt barked, “Now! Goddam it I said now!”

I said, “Can I eat?”

“Forget breakfast. Get your butt into the car. Hurry up!”

So that’s how that Saturday began, like a rocket blast. We sped across the desert as fast as the bald tires on my old 1947 Studebaker would carry us, fenders rattling, purplish smoke billowing from the tailpipe, the engine whining like a stuck pig. The old dirt road was bumpy and covered with rocks, and a giant dust cloud chased after us, and the airport was about ten miles out of town. It was in the days before four-lane freeways, so ten miles was considered a long way. I turned on the radio and Ricky Nelson was singing "It's Late." My aunt Mary immediately flicked it off.

"We don't need that crap," she said. So I kept my eyes pinned to the road. What on earth was happening? It was like I had stumbled into anther dimension.

Joshua Valley Airport was probably the smallest airport in the world, a dried up speck of a place, refurbished from the remains of an old army airfield, situated on the salty hardpan of the great Mojave alluvial plain, where sonic booms filled the air. But it was a genuine airport, small as it was, mostly for weekend flyers. And for some mysterious reason, on that very day, that little, tiny meaningless airport was about to have a strange and unexpected affect on our lives—something my history teacher would have called, “a life altering event.”

As we sped along, I looked over at my aunt Mary. She was what you'd call “a heavy set woman,” her weight pushing downward into the soft seat of my old Studebaker. She just sat there silently starring out of the window. The desert was flat and cloudless and she had that far away look in her eyes, as if she was in a trance, like something terrible was eating at her insides. I didn’t speak, I knew better, but I wondered what could have upset her so much?

“Keep your eyes on the damn road,” she snarled. “Stop staring at me. Can’t you drive any faster?” Now I was really confused. Cussing? Never. Not my aunt Mary. And what’s with all the speed? I mean, normally she was a safety freak, never breaking any laws, always lecturing me about driving too fast, warning me to pay attention to the road signs, everything always had to be strictly by the Department of Motor Vehicle’s Rules and Regulations. And now all of a sudden those rules were meaningless. I couldn’t help wondering what mystery awaited our arrival at the old Joshua Valley Airport?

“Go! Go! Faster!” she urged again, looking at her watch as if we could pass right through time. Wouldn’t that be nice? If so, I’d fast forward to the drive in with my gorgeous Penny, or backward to that night I was looking into her window. The thought cause my heart to skip a beat. I shoved the petal to the metal and dirt flew up every which way and we heard rocks popping as they shot from under the tires as we charged across that flat desert like a bat out of hell.

Finally, we pulled into the chuck-holed parking in front of the Airport Café with a jerk and a thud. Even my aunt Mary, fat as she was, bounced up and down on the seat like she was riding a bucking bronco, and the springs squeaked under the heavy strain. “There! There! Stop!” she snapped. So I hit the brakes and we skidded to a halt, and she blasted from the car as if she’d been ejected from the cockpit of a jet airplane, disappearing through the entrance to the café.

I remained in the car for a moment, aching, sweating, my head pounding. I swallowed hard and looked around, checking the place out. It was desolate, remote, bone dry, like an asteroid. There was a long concrete runway framed by scraggly weeds with dust devils swirling and gyrating across it like wobbly belly dancers. A row of rundown white washed cinder block buildings lined one side of the runway, left over from the old Army days. I imagined there might be a flying saucer hidden inside one of those buildings, like Hanger Bay 18. I had heard stories about the Army finding a crashed flying saucer and secretly storing the dead spacemen in a walk in freezer someplace out in the desert. Could this be that place? I know it sounds eerie, but anything’s possible. I noticed a water faucet by the side of the café, so I decided to cool off.

I splashed cool water on my face. It felt pretty good for about a microsecond. But when I tried to stand back up the ground was uneasy, like trying to walk on ocean waves, and it made me dizzy, and I swayed back and fourth like an old wino. Oh man, I thought I was going to fall flat on my face right there on the hard ground. So I leaned against the building to brace myself and collect my balance, and that’s when I saw my uncle Bob’s big rig parked behind the café. Now that was strange, because he was supposed to be way across town at Bowfry’s hay mill picking up a load of hay. What was he doing way out here at the airport?

Inside the café there was a short length of counter and stools in the front, and a doorway to a banquet room in back. As I came through the front door, I could hear my aunt Mary yelling and cussing up a storm from the banquet room, her loud voice echoing forth like she was in a large cavern. So I looked through the doorway to satisfy my curiosity, and, to my surprise, I saw my uncle Bob sitting in a chair in the far corner of the spacious room with a young woman on his lap. Her arms were wrapped around his neck like they could have been kissing, and she was as ugly as sin and I think one of her eyes was off center, so that she could look in two directions at the same time. Her body wasn’t bad. I’d describe her as “pleasantly chunky with big boobs.”

My aunt Mary was in the poor girl’s face, right up close, practically nose to nose, her hands and arms flailing all over the place like she was about to rip the lady’s head off. The girl was looking up at her like a little scolded puppy, one of her eyes looking straight at my aunt Mary and I swear the other eye was looking over towards me, and her eyes were shiny wet with tears.

Throughout the whole tirade, my uncle Bob just sat there, quietly, straight faced, holding onto the girl’s waist like he was keeping her from falling off a cliff; the two of them weathering the violent tornado of my aunt’s cuss words and accusations. That’s how he was, always cool. He never really said too much about anything, even under more peaceful circumstances. But if he was angry, now that was a different story. In that case, you’d better watch out, because he’d clinch his fists, and tighten his muscles, and get that certain wild look of craziness in his dark brown eyes. And if you saw him doing that, you’d better step aside, because those fists would plow into your head like bowling balls, and your next stop would most likely be the happy hunting ground. So this was the big mystery, I thought, my uncle Bob was with another woman. I would never have guessed. No wonder my aunt Mary was in such a hurry to get out here. I wished it had been about the spacemen.

I closed the door to the banquet room and stayed out front in the café. I really didn’t want to get caught up on all their personal stuff. It wasn’t my business one-way or the other. I had my own love life to agonize over. So I took a stool at the counter, figuring I’d get something cold for my burning throat. Maybe a fizzing Coke would help put out the fire down below. And as I sat down, I noticed something weird.

The wall in front of me was covered with eight by ten black and white pictures of some beauty queen in a long white dress with a bright red ribbon draped diagonally across her front that said, Miss Joshua Valley Airport 1958. But the thing is, every picture was the same; just copies of the original. Shiny, flat-headed thumb tacks secured them to the wall, covering every inch like wallpaper. I thought it was eerie, all those pictures, you know, like I was in the Twilight Zone or something. Just then I heard a sweet female voice.

“Those are me,” the voice said, and I looked towards the cash register and saw a tall, very good looking blond with full, red lips and a perky ponytail. She was drying a few drinking glasses with her apron. She smiled at me like a movie star, maybe Marilyn Monroe, and sauntered over to stand right in front of me, one had resting on her hip, the other clutching an order pad. Of course, I smiled back at her.

I said, “Hi. My name’s Ben . . . Ben Jones. You look very beautiful in those pictures. I’d say extraordinarily so, that’s for sure, prettier than Marilyn Monroe herself. I recognized you right off the bat.” I looked her up and down and twisted the stool back and forth like I was a nervously impressed.

“My name’s Sasa,” she said. She looked right at me like I was in the presence of a celebrity. “I know who you are,” she said.

Now that baffled my brain, and it must have shown on my face, because she laughed.

“How do you know me?” I asked.

She produced a mischievous look like she wasn’t going to tell me. Then she said my uncle Bob was friends with her dad, they’d known each other for a long time, every since she was little, and he talked about me all the time.

“Everything,” she said. “I know everything . . .” She stretched the word out like a long rubber band.

I was baffled again, that my uncle Bob had said so much about me. I didn’t think he even cared about me.

“What do you mean, everything? and why do you say it like that . . . e v e r y t h i n g?”

“Oh,” she said, and she smiled like she knew a dark secret about me, “Don’t worry. He didn’t say anything bad. Well . . . not too bad anyways.” And she kept smiling and looking at me, her grey, wolf-like eyes sparkling in the light like champagne fizz. 

So I took a microsecond to think the situation over and decided that this was some sort of female game. I didn’t exactly know what was going on, but no way was I going to fall for a something like that. Was wolf chick trying to mess with my head, or was she just innocently flirting? Frankly, I was too tired to worry about it. So I looked right back into her beautiful grey eyes like she hadn’t even said anything, and formed my next comment very carefully.

I said, “Sasa . . . now that’s a nice name, sophisticated like. Rare. Most girls I know are just called Jane or Sue or Cindy. You know . . . plain-Janes.” I produced a slight smile on my lips. I wanted her to think I had singled her out from all the rest of the girls as someone very, very special.

And boy did her smile broaden practically from ear to ear. And she had perfect white teeth, well taken care of, and I knew I had hit the right button. Vanity was her weakness. So I kept laying on the compliments, thick as chocolate cake icing. And she ate it all up too. She was tall, so I told her that tall girls were the most beautiful women on God's earth. Think about the Amazonians? They're tall and beautiful. I rest my case. I threw in the thing about God just in case she happened to be overly religious like Penny, my little redheaded sweetheart with the super body. And, off course, I was lying about liking tall girls. You know me. I like them petite. But this was a special situation, like an emergency, and I needed to work fast, so I figured a little white lie wouldn’t hurt. I mean it wasn’t like I was a complete liar anyway. After all, I was dating Jeanette, the five-foot-six Swedish goddess of Joshua Valley. 

We talked for a few minutes, mindless chitchat, but I must have said everything right, because Sasa looked at me and her eyes were dreamy like she wanted to throw me down on the floor right there and kiss me, and maybe even rape me to death. My skin felt tingly, like I was in the presence of a lightning bolt. I smiled back at her, attaching my own gaze to hers, as if I felt the same way, and we held our gaze for a moment, like we were weightless. And for a microsecond I completely forgot about my headache and my sore throat. All I could think about was her red lips, like sweet strawberries, and that luscious body hidden underneath that tight dress and bulky apron. If only I really were Superman with x-ray vision, what a wonderful life it would be.

Then, breaking our gaze, she said, “Sasa means princess, or lovely princess, or something like that. I don't know. But that’s what my grandpa says. He says I’m an angel from Heaven.”

I nodded like I was in complete agreement with grandpa.

She continued, “Those pictures were taken last year. I won the annual Miss Airport Beauty Contest. There were a bunch of very pretty girls in the contest too . . . I mean really beautiful girls, but the judges chose me. They said I was the most beautiful girl that they had ever seen.”

I smacked the counter top with my open palm, real snappy like, as though she had said something I had been waiting all my life to hear.

“That’s it!” I said, “My horoscope said beauty was in my future.” Of course, I never read my horoscope, I was just saying that.

“Horoscope?” she repeated.

“Yep,” I said, “And you’re definitely beautiful. In fact, I'd say you're the most beautiful girl I've ever seen. And I've been nearly everywhere and I've seen all kinds of girls. I was even in Utah once, and they have scads of beautiful women back there, kind of religious, but to tell you the truth, those girls couldn't hold a feather in the wind to you.”

“Do you really think so?” she said, and her eyes looked down as if she were feigning embarrassment, and quietly waited for my reply.

I nodded and said, “Do I think so? Absolutely. It’s as clear as the moon goes around the earth. And that wall says it all. It’s like . . . totally beautiful.”

She looked back at the wall and said, “I pinned them up there for the customers. You know . . . to give them something beautiful good to look at while they eat or drink their coffee.”

“Well you did good,” I said, “I betcha those guys never saw anybody as pretty as you . . . not ever. I mean . . . just look at you . . . your hair, your face, your figure. Like I said, Marilyn Monroe from head to toe.”

She blushed, pink splotches appearing on her pearly-white neck.

Then she looked at me, more seriously, and said, “So what’ll you have big boy?” She spoke in a low, sexy voice, like Mae West, the old time movie actress, and she leaned way down right in front of me like she, herself, was on the menu. She cocked one eyebrow and the top button of her dress was undone. “See anything you like?”

I tell you, if I hadn’t been dizzy from my illness, I’d have gotten dizzy then. That’s a fact. But I didn’t respond so fast. Instead, I thought about her question for a microsecond. She certainly looked good, soft and yummy like delicious cotton candy, and I wondered if I should say something risqué like, “I’ll have you.” But then I thought to myself what if I had figured her all wrong? Maybe she was just a flirt. If that were the case, and I said something too suggestive, I might lose my chances for a date with her. So I looked between the buttons of her dress, eying her creamy white skin like I had telescopic vision, and said, “I’ll have . . . ” and I hesitated for a few seconds before I continued with my sentence. “May I have a Coke please . . . with lots of ice.” My face was as straight and serious as if I held four aces.

She smiled big that time and looked deep into my eyes. She knew I was toying with her. I could feel her thoughts inside my brain, exploring, trying to figure me out. Then she said, “You can have anything you want.” And with that she stood up and went to fetch my Coke, and my eyes followed her as she walked away, watching her hips move underneath her dress, causing me to be even more dizzy. From the rear view, I’d say she was definitely movie star material, oolala.

When she brought the Coke to me, I drank it right down, chugalugging the cold liquid like a thirsty old prospector in Death Valley. For a brief moment the frigid liquid squelched the hot flames in my throat, but my headache was beginning to pound even harder than before and I felt that sickly feeling again like everything was topsy-turvy, floating in space, weightless. And to top it off, we could still hear my aunt Mary’s loud voice booming from the back room. She was really unloading, both barrels. I bet that ugly girl was regretting the day she had met my uncle Bob. Sometimes a perfectly clear cuss word would emerge above the others, drifting through the air so that Sasa and I could hear it plain as if we were right in the back room, and we laughed quietly to ourselves. It did embarrass me at times. After all, they were my parents. But Sasa was very nice about the whole thing.

“Is that your mom and dad?” she asked. I said they were my aunt and uncle. My real mom lives on the other side of the galaxy. She’s an alien.”

Sasa giggled, and repeated, “An alien?”

I shook my head yes and said that she only comes to visit every eleven years with the sunspots.”

She repeated me again, “Sunspots?” She was looking at me sort of funny, like she was lost in space.

I said, “You know, the sun?” She nodded. “Well it breaks out in spots every eleven years.”

She said, “What kind of spots?”

So I said, “Do you think I could I have another Coke, with lots of ice?”

“Well . . . ” Sasa said, as she walked away, “I don’t know about that sunspot stuff, but I think your uncle’s in hot water. You know he comes in here a lot to see that girl.”

Now I was really puzzled. It had never occurred to me that my uncle Bob could have a secret life unknown to any of us. After all, he worked all day long, never getting back home until after dark. When did he have time for such things?

Sasa said, “She lives around here someplace. Out in the desert. I don’t know her.”

We both looked out the window like we half expected to see the girl’s house sitting out there among the Joshua trees. But there was nothing but empty, white-hot desert.

I said I didn’t care about stuff like that. It was their private business. Anyway, I was just waiting around until I was old enough and then I was out of here. Gone.

“Gone? Where are you going?” she asked.

“My buddy Rick and I are thinking about joining the service. He wants to be a Marine, but I’ll probably go into the Navy. You know, do our patriotic duty and all that stuff. The drafts coming up anyway, so that’s it. I’ll go to college after I get out.”

“I like men in uniforms,” she said. “They’re so . . . I don’t know . . . handsome.”

Finally, there was my opening. 

So I said, “Well then . . . would you like to go out with a soon to be swabbie? How about the drive in movie tonight?”

For some reason, my question started her talking. And I mean power talking, like she was in a talking contest. She practically told me her life’s story, from the instant she was born until now, her lips moving non-stop. And while she stalked I tried to listen as best I could, swear to God, but I just couldn’t concentrate. It was like nails being pounded into my head. Besides, her face and body were just too distracting for me to listen and look at the same time. So I preferred to look. It’s shameful, I know. How could I have been so shallow? At least that’s what my aunt Mary would say. But as Sasa’s sweet red lips formed the words, my ears just shut down and my eyeballs lazily drifted all over her luscious body, from her shiny golden hair to her tiny feet, and, of course, all stops in between. I imagined her body moving beneath her dress, slithering like a snake. My head filled with unbelievable fantasy. She was perfect in every way, a genuine beauty queen, and I figured her measurements were close to 34-24-35. I thought she’d probably make a fantastic stripper someday.

Of course, Penny and Sharon and Jeanette were in my thoughts too. Can't forget my sweeties. But Sasa was now and they were then. You know the old saying, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." That's my credo.

After all that talking I was almost dead from her saying so much about herself. Then she said yes, she'd love to go out with me. And we looked into each others eyes, like we were about to kiss, and I imagined the two of us laying down right there on that floor behind the counter, wrestling, her smothering me with hot kisses, and me grabbing every goodie I could get my mitts on, like a kid in a candy store. Oh man, she made me crazy. I swallowed hard, like a fire eating sword swallower, and saliva poured down the back of my throat like seething acid.

I said, “Then I’ll pick you up here at 6:30?”

She said, “I’ll be waiting for you.” And her eyes told me that hot, wet kisses were coming my way.

“By the way,” she said, “What should I call you? Benny, or Benjamin?”

“Yikes!” I said, “Never call me that. My name is Ben . . . Ben Jones.” I wanted to say, Ben Jones slayer of hearts, but I let it pass.

“Okay Ben Jones. I’ll see you at 6:30 sharp. Don't be late,” and she turned sideways so that I could get a nice view of her shape, and bumped her hips just a little to tease me, and smiled coyly. 

So, that was it. I had this beautiful girl’s phone number and a confirmed date to the drive in movie that very evening, with, of course, the expectation of heated romance. And was Sasa ever anxious to get out of that café. Her dad owned the place and she had to work all the time, every day after school, and on weekends, and she didn’t have very much time left over for dating and going out with friends, or anything like that. Basically, she hadn’t been out for over six months. And wouldn’t you just now it, I just happen to come along when she was starved for a date with a guy, probably any guy.

And it was Ben Jones to the rescue. I was beginning to feel like the luckiest guy on earth. And I intended to take full advantage of her lonely situation. Feed the starving was my plan. After all, that was the new me. Take no prisoners. And to think I owed it all to that ugly lady sitting on my uncle's lap. If it weren't for her, my aunt Mary and I would never have come to the Airport Café, and I’d have never met this genuine sex-starved beauty queen. Isn’t life great? Yes sir, this was going to be an evening never to forget. I made mental note to call Penny as soon as I got home to tell her I was sick so I had to cancel our date. I'd move it up to next Saturday. She'd be none the wiser. And, of course, I had to call Rick, Ronnie and Terry. They’ll never believe this story in a million years.

Just then my aunt Mary burst through the door like a stampede of cattle, nearly knocking me to the floor. She spat the words, “We’re leaving now!” and her tone was vicious, like an angry beast, and she continued through the front door slamming the screen behind her. So I quickly said good-bye to Sasa, winked flirtatiously, allowed my eyes one last lingering look at the genuine beauty queen, patted my heart for her to see, and ran out after my aunt Mary.

Back home I fell onto my bed and slept like a coma patient. When I awoke, about three hours later, my head still hurt, my throat still burned, and Sasa was on my mind like a nicotine habit. I dressed in a flash and headed out the door towards the airport, and as I passed through the living room I could feel my aunt Mary and uncle Bob watching me with tense eyes, but I didn’t stop. There was a dark cloud in our house that day. I knew they had been arguing while I slept, so I didn’t want to hang around any longer than absolutely necessary. I said good-bye and I was gone.

It was early December of 1959. It was about 6:00 pm, sunset was about an hour ago, so it was plenty dark. And I mean black as a bat cave, except for a billion stars and a bright moon. I sped along that back road like the cops were chasing me, swerving to miss the occasional jackrabbit darting across my yellow headlight beams. I set the radio station to the oldies but goodies and tried to listen, to stay alert, to get in the groove, but I was so weak, not an ounce of strength in my arms, or my body. I nearly fell asleep at the wheel more than once. All I wanted to do was float away on a soft warm cloud and sleep and dream of beautiful women. Each time I dozed off and then snapped to again, I had to turn the wheel sharply to avoid oncoming traffic, and my old Studebaker fishtailed back and forth over the loose sandy surface, forcing me to slow it down or end up in the desert. But somehow I made it to the airport.

Sasa came running out of the cafe door across the hard concrete walkway, a big smile on her face, her golden hair flailing about in the brusque desert wind, her tight sweater bouncing like jell-o. I leaned across the seat to let her in. She was so beautiful, like I said, the spitting image of Marilyn Monroe, and she smelled like a rose garden, and her fragrance filled the inside of the car. I couldn't wait to give her a big bear hug.   

She immediately scooted right up next to me, oolala, all cozy like, and she kissed me on the lips, and I melted like warm butter, and when she felt my weak response she asked me if everything was okay.

“Are you okay,” she said, “Don’t you like my outfit?”

Of course, I said I was fine, and that she looked great. "I love her outfit, especially that sweater. It makes me dizzy." I said I was just tired. It had been a hard drive out here with the wind whipping me back and forth across the road. I had to fight the steering wheel all the way. All I wanted to do was get to the movies so we could relax. I put my arm around her and kissed her on the cheek, "Hello," I said softly. "You look absolutely beautiful." And then I kissed her on the neck and I held my face in the warmth of her body for a minute and I almost fell asleep. I felt myself floating away on those soft warm clouds again. Then I blinked and sat up straight.

“Guess what?” I said, “A Marilyn Monroe movie is playing.” And I was going to tell her about it, but before I could say anything else Sasa reminded me that men were always saying she looks like Marilyn Monroe, like the old truckers who come into the café for coffee and pie.

“They flirt with me something awful, and tease me, and call me beautiful. And when they come through the front door the first thing they say is, ‘Hey Marilyn. How about some hot java?' And when I bring their checks they ask if they can have my autograph. Isn’t that funny?’”

I said yes it was funny, but I understood why they would say that, because her and Marilyn Monroe could be twins, and I wasn’t lying. I also said that she was much prettier than Marilyn  Monroe. And when she heard that she smiled and grabbed my face with both hands and held me tight while she planted twelve kisses all over my cheeks and forehead and lips. When she finished I was covered with red lipstick. I looked in the mirror and said she had better rush me to the hospital fast because I looked like I'd been in a hatchet fight and didn't have a hatchet. She giggled like I was the funniest guy on earth, and I have to say that she really made me feel good.

I said, “Just wait until Ronnie and Rick and Terry hear that I went out with Marilyn Monroe. They’ll flip. Terry even has a picture of Marilyn Monroe in his locker at school.”

Sasa asked if Marilyn had given him her picture and did she sign it. I said no, he cut it out of a magazine. You know, a men's magazine. She was as naked as a newborn baby lying on this bright red sheet. It's so cool, I love that picture. And Sasa said she was going to be in magazines someday, and maybe even make movies. I said I bet you'll be a famous movie star, and I'll see every movie and buy every magazine. "You can autograph your picture for me and I'll hang it in my locker for all my friends to see." She blushed.

"You better not," she said. And the way she acted so bashful and sweet, well, it made me feel real attracted to her. I loved girls who were shy on the outside and raging sex fiends on the inside. Not that I had ever met one of those girls, of course, but I kept my eyeballs peeled. And right then I was thinking that Sasa might just possibly be the answer to my dreams.

Sasa asked if I had told my friends about her. I said no, not yet, there hadn’t been time. After I went home this afternoon I took a nap, out like a light, and then I dressed and rushed out of the house to keep from hearing my aunt Mary and uncle Bob fighting. You know, over that ugly girl my uncle was holding on his lap. So I haven’t spoken to anyone else.

“We’ll probably see them later,” I said. “At Giant Burger. And I can’t wait for them to meet you.”

Sasa was very happy to hear that we were going to Giant Burger. Like I said, she hadn’t been out in a long time. Maybe she had never gone out before. I didn’t know. I had certainly never heard of her before that Saturday. But that didn’t matter to me now. All I wanted to do was cuddle up and have some wet kisses. That is, if I didn’t pass out first.

So she pushed her leg next to mine, and I put my right hand on her left thigh, just like I always did with Jeanette, and the electricity shot through my body, again just like it did with Jeanette, and we headed for the drive in movie. Oh man, was this ever going to be a hot night.

The movie was Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Those guys were my favorites, and it was the perfect movie for our first date, because, actually, in the dark of the front seat, Sasa did resemble Marilyn Monroe. It was uncanny. I mean, her shoulder-length hair was bright gold, almost platinum, her red lips were full and her figure was definitely hot. If she could only talk like Marilyn it would have been difficult to tell the difference. I noticed that when kids walked by the car on their way back from the snack bar, they looked at us and starred. Sasa smiled like she was the real Marilyn Monroe and hugged me and kissed me right in front of them. I’m telling you, my ego was in overdrive. I felt alive all over my body, tingly, and my heart fluttered like I had drunk fifteen cups of black coffee. You know, to be honest, I think that was the first time I was out with another girl that I didn’t think about Sharon, my sweet Sharon, the love of my life, who, probably at this very hour was in the arms of an older guy, a real scumbag. Was I finally getting over her? God I hope so.

We made the short trip to the snack bar ourselves for some Cokes and popcorn, and, of course, everybody watched us, so that was cool. But once back at the car, she was right back in my face, before I could even take a sip of Coke. This girl was insatiable, I'm telling you, a pure kissing machine. I had never been kissed so many times in my whole life. I said let’s take a cold drink, my throat is a little sore, and she took the world’s tiniest sip and then came right back at me with more kisses, and the next thing I knew we were in a tight lip lock, and her tongue was forcing itself into my mouth, and her hot breath filled my nostrils. I was ashamed of myself because I didn’t want to make her sick. That’s the honest truth. But what could I do? After all, I was Ben Jones, slayer of hearts, and this girl was pressing the issue, big time. So, sick or not, I dove right in for a big romantic kiss, deep six, and we didn’t surface for a full two minutes and . . . well . . . that’s when it happened.

I slipped into a deep sleep. When I opened my eyes, I don’t know how long I was under, but Sasa was spitting mad, and smacking me hard across the face, and my cheeks stung like a thousand needles passing through my skin. I didn’t know what was going on, so I raised my arms to protect myself, that’s all I could do. But her fists were coming from every direction, finding their targets on my face and my head and my chest. She yelled at me, and scratched at me with her long red nails, sharp as razor blades, pointed like steak knives, and hit me with her clinched fists. I was hurting, both inside and outside of my head. Finally, I pushed her away from me so I could see better, but everything was blurry, and I was a little delirious and I couldn’t concentrate so well. I managed to ask what the heck was going on. And then I realized what had happened. While were kissing I had fallen asleep, more like passed out. Coma time. Unbelievable.

She said, “I heard you were supposed to be fast.”

I didn’t know what she was talking about. “Fast? What do you mean, fast? Who told you that?” But she was too far gone in her anger to answer any questions, and she kept telling me what a lousy date I was, and that’s not what she had expected. She reminded me, under no uncertain terms, that a hundred guys wanted to take her out; anytime, anyplace, all she had to do was wink and they’d come running. But she had chosen me, and how had I repaid her? How could she have been so stupid to think I was somebody she could like? I was nothing but a rotten bum, and a fake and I didn’t know how to treat a beautiful woman like her. She suggested I should stick with the bimbos and tramps and high school whores. They were obviously more my speed. I tried to utter out a weak defense.

“I’m so awfully sorry,” I said, “But I am so sick, I should have told you, but I didn’t want to miss our date. I knew how much you wanted to go out this evening.”

And man, when I said that, she literally freaked out. She screamed at me with spit flying out of those pretty strawberry lips, spattering my face. She said, “What? What? You think I wanted this date? I was just being nice to you as a favor to your uncle Bob. Yeah, that’s right. He asked me to do him a favor and go out with you. Otherwise, I’d have never given you the time of day. So how do you like that, lover boy, Ben Jones, slayer of hearts? Don’t make me laugh.”

“What? Slayer of hearts?” I was stunned. Where had she heard such a thing? Through the dense fog of my illness I was dumbfounded, befuddled. But you know, it was just too much for me to deal with right then, so I didn’t pursue the question any further. I mean, what was the use? It was over anyway. I knew that. So I decided to cut my losses short and take her home. There’d be other girls and other times. That’s the beauty of life.

So there we were, flying across the desert again, the wind whipping the car back and forth like before, jackrabbits shooting across the road and me fighting the wheel to miss them. I tried to show them to Sasa. “Hey look,” I’d say. “That’s a big one.” But she was as quiet as a mummy, pushed up against her door as far away from me as she could get without actually jumping out of the car. She cried and cussed at me in the same breath, and said she didn’t care about jackrabbits, and told me where I could stuff them. She was really ticked off.

And all the while she was going on, I thought to myself that this girl really had spunk, and on any other occasion we might have really hit it off. You know how much I liked flashy girls, and this girl was born flashy. But right then I was out of my mind with whatever was ailing me, so all I wanted was an end to the nightmare. And I knew she felt the same way. As it was, I was so weak I could hardly hold the steering wheel. My eyelids were heavy and my head was bobbing up and down. I told her I was sick, but she didn’t want to hear it. She was, after all, the undisputed Queen of Joshua Valley Airport, and I was nothing but a mere admirer, one among the hundreds according to her, a person of no consequence. And when we finally got to the airport, she ran to the door of the café without so much as a wave good-bye. I took one fleeting last look at that fantastic body, gave myself the pleasure of one last lustful thought, an erotic fantasy that would never be, and then I headed back to Quartz City.

In town, I made one stop at the Quartz City Market to pick up a cold Coke; I needed something for my burning throat. Just then Rick and Terry and their girlfriends pulled up and Rick waved at me to hold up. So I stopped and rolled down my window.

“Have you spoken to Penny?” he asked. And before I could answer he went on to tell me that she had been calling all around the place looking for me. Everywhere. He flipped a cigarette out of the window onto the blacktop. “What’s up with that girl?” he asked. “She’s acting like you guys are married.”

My heart hit the bottom of the pan, right down in the ugly bilges. I couldn’t have felt worse. In my delirious state, I had completely forgotten to call Penny, my beautiful little naked redhead. We had a date tonight. Oh no, how on earth would I ever get out of this mess?

I said, "Oh man, I plum forgot about Penny. Oh man . . . we were supposed to go out tonight. Damn, damn." 

Upon hearing that, they all laughed at me. Cindy pointed her finger at me and said I should be ashamed of myself. Andrea smiled and said I was a bad, bad boy. Terry took a sip from a beer can hidden in a crumpled up brown paper bag and offered me a drink. “Better take a sip, dude.” Rick shook his head like I was an idiot. “That’s what you get,” he said, “for burning the candle at both ends.” I nodded in total agreement with all of them. I had definitely walked too close to the edge on this one.

I asked Rick if I could bum a smoke and he threw me the pack. Then I asked for a light.

He tossed me his Zippo and said jokingly, "Jesus H. Christ. Want me to kick you in the chest to help get it stared?

I didn't answer him. I just lit up and tossed the pack and lighter back to him, said "I'll see you guys," and then we nodded and drove off in separate directions. I was feeling pretty miserable.

The next day was Sunday, church day, my aunt Mary woke me up early and demanded that I attend. So I was cleaning my old Studebaker, the sweet smell of roses still lingering in the air, and you’ll never guess what I found lying on the backseat. It was an eight-by-ten glossy black and white photograph of some beauty queen in a long satiny white dress with a bright red ribbon draped diagonally across her front that said, Miss Joshua Valley Airport 1958. It was signed,

To Ben Jones, Slayer of Hearts
From Sasa with Love