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“Mom?” Tony declared, hand on the doorknob, “I’m gonna go for a little walk; go look at some of the Christmas lights. Should be back in an hour or so.”

“Okay, sweetie, have fun. Just be careful; it’s dark out there. You got gloves and a hat, right?”

Tony brought up his left cheek in a tiny smirk that was simultaneously sentimental and condescending. Stepping through the doorway he declared, “Yeah, Ma, I got gloves and a hat.” Once outside he zipped his jacket up to ward off the chill of the late December, moonless Maryland night, settled his brand-new Christmas cap on his head and started toward his old elementary school, confident but not certain that Mandy would meet him there for a little starlit rendezvous.

The cheery, gaily festooned houses dripping with sparkling, flashing lights Tony walked past were upper middle-class, two story, contemporary homes with four or five bedrooms, most sporting basements. In 1971, the Design Four neighborhood had been an expansive wooded lot that ended in a large pasture but seemingly overnight ten dozen new houses had appeared along the Stonegate Drive extension and the newly created Wellwood Road, Watergate Road and Butterchurn Lane. In the ensuing seven years the original four street confines of his immediate neighborhood had grown tentacles that snaked ever farther into the once rural area. Bulldozers and construction crews were mercilessly transforming Montgomery County pastures and small wooded glades into houses and yards to provide domiciles to the teeming masses that poured steadily into the DC suburbs.

The streets of Design Four had been constructed sans sidewalks but with ample streetlights. Tony walked downhill, clinging to the edge of sleepy Butterchurn Lane as he traveled southwest to the right turn toward Stonegate Drive. Approaching Stonegate he toyed with the idea of heading toward the shortcut through the deeply shadowed woods but decided to turn right and continue along the road rather than trying to negotiate narrow game paths in the dark. Thoughts of the wooded area and the small creek that separated his neighborhood from his destination brought a smile to Tony’s face. As a child, he’d loved playing in the wetland stretch of trees along the creek that flowed behind the houses and, following the eruption of his adolescence, had re-purposed his old boyhood hideaway into an area to bring girls.

Out of the way and clear from probing eyes and ears the woods had gone from being a place of childhood exploration to an available locale well suited to discovering the overwhelming, fearful pleasure of making out with girls and seeing just how far they’d go with him. The memory of his more successful explorations made him quicken his pace in eager anticipation of being with Mandy.

Stonegate’s community swimming pool demarcated a boundary between the earliest subdivision development nestled between Bonifant Drive and New Hampshire Avenue and the newer homes where Tony lived. Stonegate was much larger and a bit older than Design Four, having been constructed in the mid to late sixties rather than the early seventies, and Stonegate, unlike Design Four with its drainage swails, had sidewalks that meandered along many of its streets.

Tony grunted as he stepped up from the road onto the sidewalk, not from exertion but from a stinging childhood memory. In sixth grade a teacher, Mrs. A., had made an indelicate, off the cuff statement concerning the ugliness of the “plywood monstrosities” that populated the Design Four neighborhood. As a new student in a new school he’d sat captive in class listening as she’d flippantly contrasted his ugly step-sister of a house with the traditional beauty of the colonials in Stonegate proper. When he’d raised his hand and volunteered that he lived in one of the Design Four homes she’d screwed up her face, shrugged and laughed. From then on, he’d always thought that the A in Mrs. A. stood either for arrogant or asshole, depending on his mood. Six years later the memory still stung and, rounding the curve of Stonegate Drive and coming alongside the field that led directly to the rear of Stonegate Elementary he scowled and whispered, “Old bat.”

Tony’s muscle memory compelled him to cut through the narrow field as he’d usually taken the single schoolyear he attended Stonegate. Unlike the woods, the back way to school provided a swath of grass that held few trees and the ambient light from the stars and Christmas lights should provide plenty of illumination to get him safely to the playground. Anxious to be with Mandy, the shortcut was tempting but, realizing that he would likely arrive before Mandy no matter which route he took, he decided to continue along the street rather than cutting through the semi-public open space.

Warmed from the exertion of his walk Tony unzipped his coat, adjusted his cap and grunted a second time. The new cap, a gift Mandy had presented him on Christmas Eve, was not to his liking. He had long worn an old, tweed, Irish fisherman’s cap that had been his grandfather’s but Mandy had given him the replacement as a gift. His grandfather’s cap was oval and Mandy’s replacement was round. The old cap had sentimental value and he liked the way it looked on his head; Mandy’s made him look like a white guy trying to wear a black dude’s hat. He hated it, but though her gift repelled him he’d expressed thanks rather than hurt her feelings. Staying in Mandy’s good graces appealed to Tony and if wearing an ugly hat when they were together was something that warmed her to him then he would let her will supersede his own. “Little give and take might lead to something good,” he said with an insolent grin.

Memories of their last encounter stoked his desires and he consciously resisted the goad to hurry, forcing himself to return to his previous walking pace. Far from being coy or disciplined, he simply realized that getting to the rendezvous early would not bring them together any sooner. Christmas Eve they had concocted the plan of leaving their prospective houses at exactly 8:10 pm on Monday the twenty-sixth with the intent of meeting at Stonegate Elementary. Experience showed that it took him twenty minutes of fast walking to travel the one and a third miles from his parents’ house to Mandy’s and Stonegate Elementary, equidistant between his home and hers, offered a quiet, dark, out of the way playground for entertainment. A purposeful pace should allow them to meet up a bit before 8:25; getting there early wouldn’t increase their time together if he was there alone.

Tony ascended the steep, western most stretch of Stonegate Drive and turned left onto Notely Road. Passing under a street light he checked his watch. “Eight-twenty. I wonder if I should keep walking and meet her or just wait at the school?” He exhaled deeply. “Better wait I guess. I can’t be certain that she’s coming from her house.”

The school parking lot had more illumination than Tony was hoping for and he continued walking a couple hundred more yards until he reached a stand of trees that provided some cover from probing eyes peering out from passing cars. The Notely Road and Stonegate Drive intersection was the busiest junction in the sprawling development and the likelihood of some busybody driving by, seeing him hanging out in the school yard and then mentioning it to his parents made him desirous of invisibility. At the little grove, he slipped just off the grass and onto the scattered leaves where he stood facing the street from a yard inside the protective border. The night qualified as cool rather than cold but the change in activity from walking to standing prompted him to zip his jacket fully, bring his cap firmly down on his head and thrust his gloved hands into its pockets. Watching the street to the left he shook his head at the thought of the infantile steps his parents forced him to go through just to maintain a modicum of privacy.

Mandy had given him the stupid, ugly cap the last time they’d been together, Christmas Eve two nights past. Two days without Mandy had made him anxious to see her again.

Secluded in the privacy of her basement they’d spent the night before Christmas watching television but, as they’d grappled in the close contact sport of tonsil hockey the entire evening, he was sure neither had any idea what shows had been playing. Tony had thoroughly enjoyed their passionate kissing and had hoped to proceed to more explicit explorations but knowledge that Mandy’s dad was a single floor above had damped their rising heat and kept petting light. He’d thought her primed and she’d seemed eager but prudence dictated that testing the depths of Mandy’s attraction to him was something that needed to wait for more opportune circumstances. Fear of paternal interruption and discovery had led to keeping clothes on and their hands had remained mostly outside of clothes which merely whetted his aching for more intimate explorations sans external impediment.

Mandy had confided that her parents had become very inquisitive about her relationship with Tony and that they’d hoped things weren’t progressing too fast. Tony understood nosy parents. So far, he’d done a respectable job of keeping his romance with Mandy hidden from his folks, thus avoiding the grilling that would accompany their awareness of another change in Tony’s relationship status. He hadn’t wanted to relive the nightmare of the concerned conversation he and his folks had suffered through when they discovered that he’d broken up with his steady of two years, a relationship they’d frowned on for its entirety but that suddenly became a lost treasure once he and Laura had split.

Mandy’s parents had laid down the law concerning Christmas being family time, prompting Mandy and Tony to set up the meeting time and place during his Christmas Eve visit. With their parents treating them like children they’d woven the childish, cloak-and-dagger plan in order to avoid detection via an intercepted or overheard phone call.

His desire for erotic explorations had tempted him to abandon the plan and call her but he’d been able to curb his desire and wait out the two days of highly anticipated, pleasantly nerve wracking separation. Being incommunicado increased the possibility that if something happened on Mandy’s side that would prevent her from meeting at the school that she might stand him up, but Tony was confident that no news was good news and that either of them would have called the other in the event of a cancellation. He’d waited, but tonight the waiting was through.

Tony fumed at the thought of how their parents treated them. Senior year was halfway over and both he and Mandy would turn eighteen within the next four months. They were practically adults but their parents still saw them as little kids. Do this, don’t do that, remember God is watching. And the single thing his parents were most diligent about was reminding him of the sacredness of sexual encounters. If Tony’s dad had a favorite saying it had to be, “Promiscuity is ruining this country,” and Dad made it abundantly clear that promiscuity meant anyone having more than one sexual partner and that sole, life-long partner damn well better be a spouse. So far, Tony could still tell his parents that he hadn’t had any sexual partners, a statement that was literally true though the reality behind the technical truth surely fell far short of his parents’ expectations of proprietous behavior.

Despite the angry and amatory heats within Tony the previously pleasantly chill air was starting to feel disagreeably cold and Tony was becoming uncomfortable. He’d been watching the street to the left under the assumption that Mandy would make her way from her house on Pebblestone via Flintstone and then head north on Notley, thus arriving at the school from the south. Now he was starting to wonder if she’d gone a bit further north to Fieldstone and had already arrived from the north. Maybe Mandy had taken the side streets to the school for the same reason he was hiding in shadows, that she was trying to avoid prying eyes that might recognize her and then comment to her parents where they’d seen her; a neighborly revelation that Tony had experienced more times than he wished to remember.

He turned his gaze from the south and looked to the school. When he’d walked by ten minutes earlier the parking lot had been empty but now a single, big, dark sedan sat idling in the lot. Mandy’s parents had an early model, six seater, black, Ford Galaxie 500, “The Limo,” as he jokingly called the four-door behemoth, that she was allowed to drive. The Christmas Eve plan had been to walk to the school under the guise of admiring the Christmas lights because going out for a stroll should gain them an hour of away time without being subjected to the third degree or having to tell outright lies. After all, the Christmas lights were pretty and they did enjoy seeing them so their cover story was true, but seeing the car in the lot had Tony wondering if Mandy had been able to use the car and, unbeknownst to Tony, had driven right past him.

Staying in shadow to avoid being spotted by passersby Tony walked stealthily toward the parking lot. As he approached the car the familiar outline of The Limo, along with the silky haired blonde in the driver seat, confirmed that there had been a change of plan and Mandy had driven to the school rather than walked. “Christ,” Tony said to himself, “she probably drove right passed me and I didn’t even see her. I wonder how long she’s been over there?”

Tony circled around to the back of the vehicle and approached from the driver’s side. He could hear Mandy singing along with Rod Stewart who, like Tony, seemed to be standing in the shadows of love. He removed his gloves and shoved them in his coat pocket, crept up to the car and then slammed his bare palms hard against the driver door window, turning Mandy’s singing into a scream. She glared at him, shook her head furiously and cursed at him through the closed window, “You’re an asshole, you know that?!”

Tony laughed, reached for the door handle and pushed the button in to open the door. Locked, the door didn’t budge and Mandy gave Tony a mocking smile which she then replaced with a look of superiority. “Yeah! Who’s laughing now, shit head!” she declared.

“Oh, come on. I was just joking. Let me in.”

“Why should I? That was just mean.”

“I’m sorry. I thought it would be funny. Let me in? Please? I’m cold, I’ve been waiting out here for over ten minutes.”

“You’ve been waiting?” she responded, rolling the window down an inch. “I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes. Ten minutes I thought I wanted to spend with you but now I’m not so sure.”

“Mandy, I said I was sorry. Can I get in? I really am cold.”

“Poor, baby,” she said without sympathy. Hesitating for just a moment she added, “Yes, if you’re cold you may get in, but I’ve only got a few minutes before I have to head for home. Where have you been?”

Tony walked around to the front passenger seat and Mandy slid across the long, three passenger bench seat and unlocked the door. Once inside Tony tilted his head downward, installed a half smile and single raised eyebrow on his face and held his arms out for an embrace.

“Hmm!” Mandy responded, moving just left of center and rolling her window back up, “I don’t know that I want to kiss you.”

“Oh! Now that really stings!” Tony replied. “I gladly walk all this way in the cold, eagerly stand outside exposed to the raw elements while you sit plush and warm listening to Rod Stewart and I’m the bad guy? I said I was sorry.”

“Yeah, yeah. Fine,” relenting slightly she offered him her lips but kept her hands in her lap. After a kiss that was brief and dry she turned the heater up to full blast, laid her head against his shoulder and added, “You are a little cold, aren’t you? How’d we miss one another?”

Snaking his arm around her shoulder and dangling his hand on her jacket he contacted her breast and answered, “I was looking for you to be on foot. I’ve been standing on the far side of the school grounds waiting for you to walk past. You know, like we planned?”

“Well, Mommy dearest spoiled the plan.” Mandy snuggled into his embrace and added, “After dinner, she suggested that we all go for a, and no, I kid you not, walk to go look at Christmas lights. Kind of blew my cover story, you know?”

Sweeping the fingertips of his left hand lightly back and forth over her nylon jacket he answered, “Wow. That sucks. So, how’d you get out?”

“Mom, again. She said she had a few things she needed to pick up from Giant but then made it clear that it really wasn’t something she wanted to do, so I said I’d go. I hurried to the store, hurried through my shopping and then hurried here to meet you, but you weren’t here.”

“Hey! Don’t make me the bad guy! I was here. I didn’t change the plan.”

“I did the best I could. I almost called you and cancelled but then figured this would be way better than nothing. It is, right?” she asked, resting her hand on his hip. “Seeing me for a little while as opposed to not all?”

Tony coughed a laugh, smiled, unzipped his coat, turned the heater back down, and then reciprocated Mandy’s action by resting his hand high up on Mandy’s hip bone inside her unzipped jacket. “Of course it is. It’s just not what I’d been hoping for.”

“Oh, yeah?” Mandy asked, batting her eyelashes, “and what were you hoping for?”

“More of Christmas Eve?” he responded, pulling her toward him and kissing her.

As they kissed Tony slid his hand up and down her back. Her sweater was soft to the touch but he longed to remove it. He grunted softly as their kisses became longer and deeper and his hand moved from her back to her side and then cupped her breast. “Hey!” he declared. “You’re wearing my sweater!”

“Your sweater?” she responded, her mouth an inch from his, her hand likewise resting on his chest. “I thought this was my sweater.”

“You know what I mean. Do you really like it?”

“I love it! Angora cowl neck? Soft like bunny fur? It’s perfect. And you’re wearing your new hat! Is it warm enough?”

“Oh, yeah, sure,” he said pulling the hat off. “Plenty warm for today. You look really good in that sweater, you know? Just beautiful. I mean, you always look really nice but that sweater looks really good on you.”

Mandy tilted her head to the side, smiled back and placed her hand high up on Tony’s thigh. He moved his head forward and their mouths opened for one another. As they kissed Tony wiggled lower in his seat so that Mandy’s hand just contacted his crotch. He was aroused and wanted her to know it and hopes of losing his virginity rose with his passions. “Hey,” he whispered, “Uh, do you, like, want to drive someplace more private?”

Mandy returned his kiss enthusiastically and left her hand where it was, giving neither advance nor retreat toward Tony’s goal. “I do, but we really don’t have any time. I thought we’d get at least fifteen minutes together but that’s gone now. I’m sorry.”

“Well, how about the backseat here?” he asked, reaching under her soft sweater and undoing her bra strap. “I mean, it’s the size of a small bedroom.”

Mandy patted his erection quickly but then pulled away so that his hand was no longer under her shirt. “I can’t, really! Not tonight. Another time? Soon?”

“Five minutes? Please?”

“I’m already late! I can’t. But I want to. Another time?”

Deflated he again whined, “Five minutes?”

“Can’t. Soon?”

Tony exhaled his, “Fine,” and then immediately added, “When?”

“I’ll call you? Tomorrow? We’ll work something out. Tomorrow my parents go back to work. Call me in the morning?”

Tony sighed his disappointment, rolled on top of her so that his pelvis bisected hers, arched his back and pushed against her. Their half hour together had turned into five minutes and what little time they had together had not followed his game plan. “Yeah,” he conceded, sighing once again. “I’ll call you tomorrow,” he whispered, grinding against her one more time as their lips kissed and his hands fondled.

After another minute of impassioned embrace, she pushed him off her and in a low husky voice commanded, “Go. Now. Call me tomorrow.”

Tony looked at her with sad puppy-dog eyes, and sighed again before rearranging himself and opening the car door. Conceding that his amorous adventure had been thwarted he blew her a kiss and then exited. Mandy waved at him, watched as he slouched away, replaced her clothes to their proper areas, smiled a sad smile, put the car in gear and drove out of the school lot.

As she drove away he thought that she was awfully pretty and very tempting but he really wasn’t sure how much he liked her. He liked touching and kissing her and was looking forward to receiving whatever she was willing to give but he how did he really feel about Mandy as a person? It was an important question and one that he realized he should, but likely wouldn’t, answer before things went a whole lot further.

“Guess we’ll just have to see what tomorrow brings,” he said to himself, pulling his gloves back on, zipping his coat up and looking at his cap. “God but you’re an ugly thing. I guess you’re better than nothing though,” he declared as he headed for the swath of field that would bring him back to the community pool on his way home. “Sometimes being an adult makes things really, really hard,” he added with a smirk.