3. LEANNE

     Leanne Delavan came up to Joey in the crowded hallway, after algebra class, which was the last class of the day.

     She smiled wanly at him.  In her soft, dull voice, she said, "So, are you ready for all this to finally be over?"

     "Oh, yeah.  How about you?"

     "I was ready for this to be over last year already," she told him with a weary smile.

     Joey snorted laughter.  It was rude, he knew, but he couldn't help hiself.  Her answer surprised him.  He'd always assumed she was one of those strange people who actually enjoyed school and studying long into the wee hours of the morning.

     "I hear that," he said.

     "Any plans?" she asked.  "You going to college?"

     "Nope.  At least, not yet."

     She frowned and wrinkled her nose, looking sad.  And disappointed.

     "How about you?" Joey asked.

     "I'm going to State College.  I'm majoring in journalism."

     Joey nodded.  That came as no big surprise.  Leanne was senior editor of the Bear, the school's newspaper, and Reflections, the school magazine, which came out every year about this time.  The little magazine, Reflections, was a collection of short stories, poems, essays, and original artwork submitted by students of all four grades.  Leanne was second-in-command to Mr. Malcolm Terwilliger, the head of the english department, who also taught creative writing to any senior who displayed a sincere desire to someday produce great works of literature.  Mr. Terwilliger was as liberal as they came.  But he always tried to keep a close, watchful eye on Leanne and the other contributing editors and make absolutely certain that nothing too offensive or controversial ever made its way into the glossy pages of the thin, small magazine.  Mr. Terwilliger, however, was sometimes known to turn his head, which often produced interesting and side-splitting results.

     "Are you going to the prom on Friday?" Leanne asked.

     Joey beamed proudly, unable to help himself.  "As a matter of fact, I am.  Bobbie Clemson asked me to go with her just a little while ago."

     Leanne silently pondered this piece of information for a moment.  She nodded approvingly.

     "How about you?  Are you going?" Joey asked.

     "Tad Blackwell's taking me."

     "Well, I guess I'll see you there, then."

     She almost laughed out loud.  "I'm sure you will...I was wondering.  I don't suppose you have any copies of your class picture left, by any chance?"

     Joey shook his head.  "No, I'm afraid I don't.  They kept making appointments for me but I could never seem to find the time to have my picture taken.  I'm sorry."

    "That's okay."  He saw her watery, brown eyes dart to his hands; she looked shocked and dismayed.  "I guess you didn't get a class ring, either," she said.

     "I'm not a ring kind of guy."

     "But class rings are special.  And what about a wedding ring?  You're going to have to wear one of those, someday."

     "If and when the time comes."

     "No graduation picture.  No class ring.  You're really missing out on a lot."

     Joey shrugged.  "Hey, what can I say?"

     "Nothing, apparently.  But here's one thing you won't miss out on."  Smiling brightly, she proudly presented him with a copy of the latest issue of Reflections.

     "Oh, wow.  Cool.  This is really great.  Thanks a lot.  I'll take a peek at it as soon as I get home."

     "I'm sure there are at least one or two items in there that should interest even a brawny, non-intellectual guy like you," Leanne said.

     There was a long, awkward pause between them.  Then Joey said, stuttering just a little, "Uh, this is probably going to sound really rude and arrogant, especially since I didn't have a picture to give you.  But could I still have one of your pictures?"

     "I put one inside the magazine.  Careful you don't drop it.  Otherwise, the picture might fall out and you'll lose it.  I wouldn't want that to happen.  I enjoyed having this opportunity to chat with you a little.  Hopefully, we can do it again, sometime soon, before graduation."

     "I'd like that a lot."

     "So would I."

     She turned and strolled casually away down the busy corridor, purposely---Joey was certain---rotating her firm, round bottom beneath the thin, flowing sheaf of her tight, red skirt.  Watching her go, suddenly, Joey was sorry that he hadn't had a graduation picture to give her when she'd asked him for one.  He felt as if he'd just missed out on a golden opportunity, on something truly special and important---like a relationship, maybe?---all because he'd refused to take minute or two out of his hectic schedule to have a stupid picture taken of himself.

     He hadn't bothered to buy a class ring, either.  He didn't buy one because he "wasn't a ring kind of guy," as he'd told Leanne, but because by the time he finally remembered to order a glass ring, it was too late to receive the ring in time for graduation.  So, he'd said the heck with it.

     Nor did he purchase any graduation announcements.  That he might have done, if it hadn't been for the officious, little yuppie puppy who'd sold the announcements.  For starters, the odious, little yuppie puppy---for the life of him, Joey couldn't remember his name---hadn't looked that much older than the 557 seniors to whom he was attempting to sell his announcements.  He wore a soft, cream-colored suit and tie, which incidentally, just happened to be the same color as the announcements, themselves---stiff, cream-colored paper embossed with a flowing silver script.

     Then there was the little twirp's attitude, which annoyed and irritated Joey to no end.  The fast-talking kid was smooth and slick as the proverbial used car salesman.  Over and over, he kept saying, "Now, when you buy your announcements."  As if it was already a foregone conclusion that as soon as he finished his boring spiel, all 557 seniors were going to rush right up to the stage and order his announcements.  Which in his mind, Joey figured, it probably was.

     Joey could be asked to do something.  He could even be wheedled and cajoled.  But when someone told him he had to do something, then he saw red.  Throughout the little yuppie puppy's long, tedious presentation, Joey kept shifting around in his seat, trying to find a more comfortable position.  He crossed and un-crossed, and then re-crossed his arms and legs.  He glanced repeatedly at his trusty Timex watch.

     Sure enough, when the little yuppie-puppy finally finished his presentation, everyone rose to their feet and streamed down the aisles to the stage, to order their graduation announcements.

     Joey managed to work his way up one clotted aisle and out of the auditorium.  He slipped quickly and smoothly through the heavy, glass and metal doors, at the end of the corridor.  Joey loped down the verdant slope and plunked himself down in the cool, dappled shade of an old, elm tree, not far from the abandoned football stadium.  He poked his head around both sides of the tree to make sure no one was watching him, especially not a teacher.  Then he carefully pried a bent Marlboro cigarette from the crumpled pack he carried in the left pocket of his tight-fitting jeans.  Joey didn't smoke much; he was in training, after all.  But there were times when he felt like he needed a cigarette and this was one of those times.  He sat and smoked, and listened to a dog bark and the low, monotonous drone of a lawn mower, somewhere in the distance.

     He had been proud of his decision not to order any graduation announcements from the simpering, little salesman.  Until, that was, later that evening, when his mother asked, "Did you order your announcements, today?"

     Joey knew it would be useless to even attempt to explain to her why he hadn't bought any announcements.  Instead, he said, "I didn't have any money on me.  I'm sorry."

     Ellen Duduka turned livid with unspeakable rage.  "Oh, you---" was all she could manage to get out.

     Five minutes later, he heard his mother on her cell phone, in the living room.  "Hello, Doris?  This is Ellen Duduka, from up on Hill View Street...I'm fine, thank you.  How are you?...That's good.  Say, you wouldn't happen to have any spare graduation announcements, would you?...Could I have one?  I'll gladly pay you for it.  I'd like to send one to my brother Hal and his wife...No, Joey didn't order any.  That boy never does what you expect him to do do..."

     Joey had been ashamed and embarrassed, and deeply hurt by his mother's cutting remarks.  And truly sorry that he hadn't ordered any graduation announcements.  As he watched Leanne disappear down the cluttered corridor, once again, he sincerely regretted his decision.

     Joey joined the happy throng of kids streaming out to the parking lot.  Once inside his car, he placed his school books on the empty passenger's seat and eagerly flipped open his little copy of Reflections.  He expected to find the standard, black-and-white, wallet-sized snap shot of Leanne, with her long, auburn hair combed straight back, her eyes bright and shining, smiling a dazzling smile, dressed in either a blouse or a sweater.

     The picture that Joey beheld was much bigger than a wallet-sized photograph.  Leanne's long, wavy hair flowed down past her shoulders.  Her dark eyes shone brightly and her lips were stretched wide in a smile that was both alluring and provocative.  She was lying on her side, on a big, old, brass bed, her willowy torso propped up against two plump, vermillion pillows, with her legs drawn up.  And she was completely and gloriously naked for him to see, in blushing Polaroid color.

     Joey's eyes nearly jumped out of their sockets and his jaw dropped all the way down like a sprung trap, as he stared at the picture for a long time, in shock and disbelief.  His heart pounded wildly, his chest heaved uncontrollably, and the thumb and forefinger holding the picture started to tremble and shake, inadvertantly fanning the photo back and forth, in front of his unbelieving eyes.

     It suddenly felt hot and uncomfortable as a microwave oven inside his cramped Corvette.

     Oh, Leanne, he thought.  Leanne...Leanne...Leanne...

     Idly, he found himself wondering who Leanne could have gotten to take that picture for her.  He'd never been there, but he was pretty sure that the Sears' portrait studio, in Ellentown, where all the seniors were supposed to go for their graduation pictures, didn't have a bedroom set like that on their premises.

     On the inside cover of the little magazine, with red, felt-tipped marker, she'd scrawled her cell-phone number.  She'd underlined the number three times and drawn three exclamation points next to it.  Underneath her phone number, in the same wild, careening script, she'd written both a plea and a command: CALL ME!!!  Again, with the three exclamation marks.

     The driver's door of the car on Joey's right opened and slammed shut.  Joey instantly jerked his head back and sat bolt upright on his seat.  His hot fingers trembled and madly pounding heart felt as if it was going to rip right through the wall of his chest, as he struggled to slip the lurid photograph back inside the little magazine, before the two girls who were getting into the car on his right happened to glance over and saw him with it.  But the two girls just got in their car, backed out of their parking space, and drove away.

     Joey heaved a deep, guilty sigh of relief.  He glanced out the corner of his right eye at his copy of Reflections.  There was no place in his bedroom he would ever be able to hide Leanne's picture without his mother finding it; that woman was always into everything.  For a moment, he seriously considered stashing it in the glove compartment.  But that wasn't any good, either.  His father was always poking his head under the hood and rummaging around inside the old car, to make sure the engine was still running smoothly and nothing new was broken, or getting ready to break down.

     He could, however, he decided, take the picture with him to Hansen's Gym, in Ellentown, and tape it to the inside of his locker.  Frank and Ellen Duduka would never find it there.  Not in a million years.




The End

0 comments about this story Feed