I shared in my first post that I would share some of my stories with my audience. Here’s the first of what I hope is many to come.
Natalie Talcott is the prettiest girl in my class. She has it all: sparkling green eyes, wavy copper hair that flowed down to her shoulders, an excellent softball player. She is perfect. I am way out of her league. So, imagine my surprise when I got an invitation to her birthday party. I think she laced her invites with her favorite perfume. Very citrus-like. What do you give a girl like that for her birthday? Cards and flowers simply won’t do. I need something with pop, something that stands out from the gaggles of gifts she will receive from would-be suitors. I think I have the perfect gift: a softball I found at the pawn shop autographed by Jennie Finch, her favorite player.
Some trucks drove through our neighborhood all day, spreading sand and salt so that we will not be stuck. Duluth was hit with the worst snowstorm in decades, or so I was told. I lived in Ohio for eight years and experienced snowfalls reaching nine feet, yet go about their day as if nothing happened. This town gets six inches and the town goes into panic mode. Mom thinks it’s funny. So do I. The ice turned into slush, but it’s enough to get things running again and keep the party from being postponed yet again.
Mom drives me to the Talcott house. It’s not a mansion, but big enough to fit a substantial amount of people. Her dad stands at the doorway greeting the guests, while her mom waves at parents as they drive by. I get out of the car as quick as I can with my gift in hand, hoping and praying she will not say anything embarrassing.
No such luck. I turn to the car and Mom wave at me.
“Have fun.” I wave back and run to the house.
“Good evening, Mr. Talcott.”
“Right. Malcolm. Everyone’s inside. You can drop your gift off right over there.”
I was afraid of this. Gifts of every size, wrapped in every color of the rainbow, stacked on top of each other, engulf the end table. And here I am with this paltry gift. Makes me wish I bought the card. I place it on what little real estate is left. Dejected, I walk to the living room. Everyone from my class is there, even Alex Pulliam. Classmate after classmate shouts at me. I nod, yell back, but I feel ill. I squeeze my hands rapidly. The room vibrates and tilts as the music pulsates. I fight through the nervousness and head to the kitchen. There I see my best friend Carson. He talks to his girlfriend while drinking grape soda.
“Malcolm! Glad you’re here.”
“Wouldn’t miss it.” I slap his hand. Carson’s girlfriend pours me a drink. I accept and take a sip, hoping to calm me down. It does, but Sprite works better.
“What did you get Natalie?”
Rats. I know someone will ask, but I am embarrassed. If this is anyone else, I have no qualms about boasting my gift. But this is Natalie Talcott. Of course she is going to do things big. So, I lie.
“Nothing, really. Just a gift card.”
Carson and his girlfriend have these blank looks on their faces. It fades quickly.
“That’s pretty cool. I’m sure Natalie will like it.”
Like, not love? I don’t know what’s worse: my gift or the fact I lied about it. The nervousness comes back. I feel my stomach knotting up. I drink some more soda and grab a slice of sausage pizza. It’s not helping. I need some open space. I weave through the masses to the backyard. The winter breeze hits me hard when I open the door. I ignore the pleas to close it immediately, so someone shust it behind me. The shakiness gives way to shivering. Next time I go out, I wear a thicker sweater. I hear the door open again. It’s Carson. He looks comfortable, unlike me, and I’m from a place where cold weather’s the norm.
I shake my head. I stuff my hands in my pockets.
“I just need some air. That’s all.”
Carson says nothing. He hits me on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry about the gift, man. Whatever you give Natalie, she’ll like it.”
There’s that word again. I don’t want Natalie to just like my gift. I want her to love it. I put a lot of thought into it. So, I tell Carson the truth.
“I got her an autographed softball.”
“That’s pretty cool. Like I said, she’ll like it.”
His words don’t provide any comfort. Carson walks back to the party. I want to call Mom and have her pick me up. I am not having a good time. The door opens again. I turn around thinking that it’s Carson again or some other guest. I am wrong. It’s Natalie. She has her letter jacket draped over her sweater dress. I pretend not to notice her entrance and stare at the sky, watching my breaths dissipate. The sleeve brushes against me. “Malcolm.”
I rack my brain for a witty response. There is nothing but me stuffing my hands in my pockets to keep them warm. I have to say something, so I turn to her, gazing onto those green eyes and creamy complexion. “Hi, Natalie.”
It is all I can muster, and I don’t even pretend that I’m joyful. The more air I take in, the more I feel my lungs freeze up and my face turn warm. Natalie smiles at me and I can’t help but smile back. It’s a talent she has.
“Thanks for inviting me.” Natalie nods. I stare at her, waiting. For what? I’m not sure. I take my hands out of my pockets and rub them as fast as I can.
“If you’re cold, you should come inside.” She’s right. It makes no sense being the only out here. “Besides, we’re getting ready to have cake.”
“I think that’s a good idea.”
Natalie kisses me on the cheek. What is this? Why did she kiss me? And how do I respond? I have no idea. No words come to mind. So, I grab her hand. She turns to me with a bewildered look on her face. I fear what she will do. Will she scream? Will her boyfriend come out and beat me into the ground? But Natalie walls toward me and flings her arms around me.
“I got you an autographed softball.”
I don’t know what made me blurt out my surprise.
“Well…what are you waiting for?” I slid my hands to her hips. Her breath was soft. I lean in and kiss her on the lips. I don’t know if it’s the cold, but we stay like this for a while. We pull back and watch our breaths collide. Natalie leans in and whispers, “Thank you for my gift.” She lets me go and goes back inside. The warmth comes back to my face as I replay what happened. I smile, but there is an air of confidence. It doesn’t matter what I give her. I made Natalie Talcott smile. That is good enough for me.