Monday, May 5, 2008

Cynthia, Part One

In high school to my surprise I found myself dating a girl. I treated Cynthia with complete disinterest, which just made her more determined to have me. It blazed the trail for every other relationship I'd have in my life. She saw my picture in the school yearbook, looked me up in the phone book, and asked me to the prom. I was flattered by the attention, but naturally I said no.

"That's too bad," she replied. "I'm hiring a stretch limousine, and I'd treat you to Lawry's Steakhouse afterwards." I'd spent half an hour that afternoon fighting with my sister over half a can of garbanzo beans, so there was no way I could resist.

Cynthia was about what you'd expect from a rich girl who had to turn to strangers for a date. Friendly, sweet, gawky as Big Bird. Still, next to me she looked like Claudia Schiffer. I didn't exactly blend in with the other prom-goers, with my home-styled hair and acid-wash denim suit, but Cynthia was happy. We danced, we chatted, we compared shoe sizes. She introduced me to all her friends and even had the photographer snap our portrait to commemorate the event.

I consoled myself: I'd never claimed to be attractive. I was fun. Besides, teenagers forget soon enough.

After the prom, as promised, we headed to Lawry's with Cynthia's friend Barbara and her well-dressed, blue-blood date. Cynthia's folks were millionaires but Barbara was out of their league, with buildings and streets and even beaches echoing the family name. The only way a beach and I would share names was if I changed mine to Zuma.

I cut my steak up all at once and then shoveled the pieces into my mouth. Cynthia daintily sliced hers, then moved a couple pieces to her mouth on an upside-down fork and declared herself full. "I can take care of that for you," I said as I grabbed her plate. I polished off two-and-a-half steaks -- Barbara's date didn't exactly have a wolverine's appetite -- before the waiter dropped off the bill. I pretended to be engrossed in a hangnail since I had twelve cents in my pocket, and that was including my lucky dime. I felt a nudge under the table coming from Cynthia's direction, then paper in my hand. I looked down and discovered she'd slipped me a huge wad of cash.

I gave her the wide-eyed "I'll always love you!" look I used when people gave me stuff. She beamed back.

"I'll get it," Barbara's date declared as he whipped out his American Express.

"Thanks!" I said, and I stuffed Cynthia's cash in my pants.

When I got home around oneish Mom was asleep on the couch, an empty sherry glass and National Geographic sitting on the carpet beside her. We couldn't afford sugar for our Kool Aid, but our educations required monthly photo essays on Tanzania. I tried to sneak by but she woke up and asked "Did you have a nice time?" with a yawn.

I was so excited I couldn't stop myself, though I was ordinarily too cool to share with adults. "It was absolutely fantastic," I gushed, seconds away from spinning in place, visions of everything I could buy -- videogames and stylish pants and Stouffer's TV dinners -- circling my head. "It was the best night of my life."

You could see shock hit mom like a grapefruit in the face. At sixteen I hated everything, from the Space Food Sticks we had for breakfast to our yearly vacations at Disneyland, and the family was long since resigned to the fact that the last thing I'd like would be a girl.

"Oh my goodness," she gasped, pulling me into a hug. "I'm so happy!" She dabbed at her eyes, barely able to speak, then stumbled to her bedroom. The second her door closed I heard her thump to her knees and cry, "Thank you, thank you, Lord!"

I hid the cash under my pillow and slept with a smile on my face. For once I had to agree.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Roman Zuma has a nice right to it, no?

Looking forward to part II. It's been way too long since you've written something like this.

Anonymous said...

..and by right, I obviously meant ring.

Max Havoc said...

Hey "Zuma",
You're such a whore for a free steak aren't you??? ;) GREAT story, I can't wait for part 2.

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