REMEMBERING BACKPACKS AND BICYCLES
by C. Tay
You could call it young love, with backpacks and bicycles. For me, Mary McCormick had it all, curly auburn hair, hazel eyes, and the way she crinkled her freckle-covered nose when I blew the paper from my straw.
We pedaled like mad to get to the Pizza Hut and burst through the door with such a clatter, every head in the place popped up to take a look. The air smelled salty and dry. The place seemed dark and foreboding. I thought they’d throw us right out. I just clenched my clammy fists into the pockets of the ratty jean jacket I always wore. Looking over at Mary, she just smiled back. I felt reassured.
It seemed an eternity before the waiter appeared around the corner, probably just a teenager, even though he looked like a grownup to us. His hair was brown and shaggy, with a face that could use some cleanser. His eyes seemed to scold us. "Two?" he said.
"Yes," I said, in a meek voice. I noticed his name tag read, David.
He pointed us to the back most table, probably knowing we’d be a handful. Shuffling through the maze of tables and chairs he guided us to our booth. We followed, almost skipping the whole way. We slouched into the seats, giggling at the sounds they made and stuffed our jackets into the corners.
"Can I get the two of you some drinks?"
Briefly looking at each other, all smiles, we both said, "orange soda."
"Right, I’ll give the two of you a few minutes to decide." He turned and darted off.
Barely glancing at the laminated menu, I said, "Pizza?"
"Pepperoni?" she replied.
They had music playing, and I remember hearing the band White Snake. I loved them. I think we sang the song together—we knew every word.
By the time David clicked the plastic cups of orange soda on the table, we were already whooping it up. And by the time the pizza got there, I couldn’t believe they weren’t throwing us out. The truth is, I can’t really remember how it all ended. I just handed them a wadded up ball of bills from my coat pocket, and we ran out to our bikes.
Once we got back to Mary’s house, I got a quick peck, which put me on cloud nine for more than a day, and that wrapped up my first date.
With graduations, wedding bells, and children, people tend to lose touch, so when I heard Mary would be at a dinner party nearby, I jumped at the chance to go. I put on a nice clean shirt and put gel in my hair to get it just right. I wanted her to see me and say, "Bam!" look at this guy.
Even though I was excited, I waited as late as I could. I hoped to be the last person to show up to the party, so I knew she’d see me come in. My heart was pounding a sickly beat when I pushed through the door, and I wished I had that jean jacket again to hide the clammy fists.
I offered a few hugs and kisses at the door to be cordial, but I had one goal in mind. Letting my eyes surf left to right and back again, I knew I’d recognize her curly auburn hair, I couldn’t miss it.
After searching the crowd for a bit, I found her, but I didn’t recognize her.
"It’s good to see you," she said. "You look good."
Here, pale white skin drooping from her face. Her eyes, sunken and gray, like burned out lights. The curly auburn was replaced with a tie-dyed wrap, so tight. I had to put my hand up to my mouth to hold it in.
"It’s OK, you can say it. I look terrible," she said.
"No," I said, and I reached out to give her a hug. Her cheek felt cold against mine.
"I just had to get out," she said.
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