The Hereafter Game
NOTE: This story is based on a true experience as told to the author many years ago. As discussion on behavior between the sexes continues, it is worth noting this “me, too” story. . .
The desert, lying under a thick blanket of stars, was silent except for the hoots and rattles of night creatures and the occasional murmur and rustle of the young couple parked in its intimacy. Breaths come fast, windows steam, hesitation, then…the sound of a young man’s voice crooning into his date’s ear: “if you’re not here after what I’m here after, you’ll be here after I’m gone.”
It was a game. You know the sort. One of those games that are never talked about, but everyone knows the rules. The rules were simple, and many a young girl was seen limping into town with her shoes in her hand and her face streaked with tears after defying them. The desert was a scary place after dark and the walk was long.
Of course, the guys tried to choose a girl who was smart enough not to let mere principles rob her of her ride back into town. She would giggle and protest, then pouting prettily that he left her no choice in the matter, she would submit and everyone would be happy. They both satisfied their desires and she still felt like a lady. That’s why the game lasted, even when there were some who really didn’t want to play.
So there were two kinds of girls in our town — those who walked home and those who didn’t. Then there was me.
Of course this was back when I still looked at the world with shining eyes, back when I was still fool enough to think that, in the long run, it was your character people looked at and not your skin. Not that my skin was bad, no sir! It was a pretty shade of cinnamon inherited from my father who was a full-blooded Apache. Deep turquoise eyes inherited from my mother made me, in the words of one man, “an irresistible piece of flesh.” But I was still considered a half-breed.
I didn’t feel different than anyone else, other than maybe being a little more careful about my behavior after years of my mother’s warnings about “all those boys are after.” I went to slumber parties and giggled over boys just like all the other girls I knew. After all, we had grown up together. And in our small desert town that was equivalent to being family. At least that is what I thought until the year I turned sixteen, fell in love and learned my first bitter lesson of womanhood, all under the guise of a simple game.
It was the time of bouffant hairdos, ratted and smoothed around a pretty face. And no matter how I tried, I could not tame my dark locks into a beehive.
“I hate my hair~!” I cried for the fifth frustrated time.
“Now, Babydoll, you know you got the prettiest hair anyone ever did see,” my mother rebuked, coming by with a load of laundry, all neatly folded and stacked.
“It’s not pretty — I hate it! See? It just won’t lay smooth.” I jabbed another angry poke at a curl to prove my point.
“An ugly hairdo to try for anyhow, if you ask me. Wear it down.” My mother was not one to blindly follow the crowd — how else could she have dared to love my father?
“Wear it down?!” She might as well have asked me to cut it all off with a butter knife. “Hand me the spray, I’ll try again.”
“Well, hurry, whatever you do. It’s ‘most time for you to catch the bus. You don’t want to be late for school, do you?”
A few minutes later, I left the house on the run, my hair stiff with hairspray, but at least in style. Tight skirt showing flirtatious peeks at my knees and a pullover sweater flaunting my breasts finished my look. And except for degrees of color and prettiness, all my friends looked the same. Poor Milly just didn’t have a chance — horn-rimmed glasses and skinny as a beanpole, her skirt bagged in the back and her sweater sagged in front. Kathy Jo Jo, now, looked fine. Naturally white hair made her think she was another Marilyn Monroe. She was a favorite of the guys at school and I, for one, never did hear of her walking home from a date. Me, I was under strict orders not to date until I was sixteen — which would be in about one week. And talk about excited!
“Your parents say yet if you can have a dance for your birthday?” Milly whispered from behind me in class.
“No,” I hissed back. “We really don’t have the room, you know. And I guess all those boys (spoken with the same disdain my mother always used) would really make Mama nervous.”
We giggled together at the thought of “all those boys,” then the bell rang. Gathering up our books, we rushed out of class with the others.
I was getting on the bus when Donnie’s voice stopped me.
I stopped, one foot on the bus step, and looked back. With his d.a., white T and jacket, he looked like James Dean; I almost swooned. A few dark curls escaped his D.A. and he brushed them back with a grin that showed off his dimples. “Hi, Donnie.” I couldn’t believe I could know a boy so long and still feel all fluttery inside at the sound of his voice.
“Can I carry your books?” Without waiting for an answer, he lifted my books onto his own and guided me onto the bus. “Car’s in the shop, I’m riding the bus today,” he explained as we worked our way down the aisle, his hand burning into my back.
Sitting with him in a seat in the back, I busied myself with looking out the window, but, believe me, I didn’t see anything but his reflection.
“Heard you’re about to be sweet sixteen,” he teased.
I nodded shyly. “Come Friday I will.”
“You got a shindig planned?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I might.”
Leaning back, he waved his hand dismissively. “That’s what everyone does. You know what you oughta do?”
He sat up again and grinned (ah, those dimples!). “Go out with me.”
“You mean . . . like a date?”
“Yeah, like a date. I’ll take you to a swanky restaurant and everything. Wanna go?”
Wanna go?!? Of course I wanted to go! I couldn’t believe my voice came out so casually. “I guess so.”
“Great! I’ll pick you up at six, birthday girl.”
The rest of the ride was a blur. Donnie got off near his home; I danced off the bus at my stop and into the house.
“I’ve got a date for my birthday!” I called out to my parents as I rushed for the phone. “I gotta call Kathy Jo!”
If I hadn’t been in such a hurry, I might have noticed that my parents were not near as pleased as I was. Kathy Jo was, though. That’s all we girls talked about the next day.
“Isn’t he cute?” I squealed for about the hundredth time as we sat together at lunch.
Kathy Jo laughed. “Girl! What are we going to do with you? You wouldn’t be in love, would you?”
I swooned dramatically, then laughed. “Maybe. You know I’ve liked him for ages. Remember when we played Romeo and Juliet?”
“Yeah, and he got that stuttering attack!” Milly recalled, drily. We laughed together at the memory.
“He doesn’t stutter anymore.” I had to stand up for him. “Really, though, he is handsome.” I was beginning to sound like a parrot, but my friends understood.
“Yeah, you make a cute couple,” assured Kathy Jo.
“We’d have beautiful children.”
“They’d be gorgeous,” Milly said. “With your eyes and his nose, how could they not be?”
I smiled dreamily. “Mrs. Donald Anderson.”
“Oh, silly!” Kathy Jo bumped me playfully as she went on to class.
But I just wouldn’t let it go. In Science class, I doodled possible married signatures while the teacher lectured on chemistry. Talk about chemistry! “Mrs. Donald Anderson….Alice Anderson….Don and Alice Anderson…Mr. and Mrs. Don Anderson…”
Milly pushed her desk next to mine for lab and pulled my notebook over for a closer look, then tossed it back in front of me and opened her Science book.
I blushed. “Yeah, I’m dreaming. Why not?” I was so naïve, I was honestly puzzled.
Kathy Jo wasn’t so vague when I asked her after class about Milly’s reaction. “Oh, Alice, don’t be such a dodo bird. You know why,” she said, closing her locker.
I closed my locker and followed her down the hall. “No, I don’t. Why?”
“Because. Just because. Now, let’s end this crazy conversation. I’ve got to get to my bus.”
I stopped her. “Kathy Jo, why?” I asked her, demanding an answer.
She pulled her arm out of my grasp. “It’s not important, Alice.”
“It is to me. Why?”
She pulled her arm from my grasp. “Alice Feron, you make me so mad! You know perfectly well why you can’t ever marry him! Do you think his rich daddy will ever let him marry an Indian?
“But I’m not an –” Then I remembered I was. Alice turned and stomped off to her bus, angry. Angry at me, angry at herself, angry at the world. After a moment, I got on my own bus.
I rode the bus home, staring at my reflection in the window, trying to see what other people saw when they looked at me. But all I saw was a puzzled and hurt girl. If my own friends thought that — what do others think? I looked at the paler kids on the bus. Was that all they saw — a halfbreed? I grew up with these kids. Surely, fat Jody who I helped with math didn’t see me as “just an indian.” And Milly — did she really consider herself my superior when I was both smarter and prettier? Surely, Donnie, who had stuttered through his childhood crushes of me, didn’t see me as less than. He asked me out, didn’t he? Kathy Jo was just in one of her moods. Maybe jealous because Donnie had asked me out instead of her. Sure, that was why she said what she did. My self-confidence got shakily to its feet.
“Babydoll, you still wanting that dance for your birthday?” Mama asked me at dinner.
I looked up, surprised. “But I told you — I have a date.”
“I know, but — “ she looked to my father for help.
Apparently, he had no new ideas, so he used one of mother’s. He cleared his throat. “Doll, I don’t think this dating thing is a good idea. You don’t know boys. They –“
“But, Daddy! I’ve known Donnie since grade school!”
“I know, but — he’s not right for you.”
“Because I’m part-Indian? A half-breed?” I sneered at the derogatory term. “Well, you don’t have to worry, I already talked to Donnie. He says he doesn’t even think about that. See? People are different than when you and Mama married. They’re more open.”
“They’re still people.” Mama got up and took some dishes to the sink. “Still, I think it would be better for you to start off slowly. Start your dating with a dance, see how folks respond.”
I stared down at my plate. “But you said we didn’t have room.”
She scraped out some leftovers. “We don’t. You can have it outdoors.”
“Under the stars — how’s that for romantic, Doll?” my father teased, urging me to like the idea. “We’ll set your record player out on the porch and it will be like Elvis is out there on the steps singing just to you.”
It did sound nice. Before Donnie had asked me out, I would have loved it. “But what about Donnie?”
“Tell him about the dance,” Mama said. “He’ll understand. Later, you can go out if you still want to.”
“I’ll go call him.” Excitement began pounding in my head as I got more ideas for the dance. “And can I call Kathy Jo and tell her? We have to make plans.”
“Kathy, yes. Donnie, no. You can tell him at school tomorrow. A good girl doesn’t call boys,” my mother said, taking off her apron. “But first, get these dishes done.”
The next day at school, Kathy, Milly and I sorted through party ideas. Milly was in a bad mood. She had gone out with Robbie Lee, the red-headed class clown, and had had to walk home.
“The nerve of him!” she fumed, taking off one pump and rubbing her heel again. “He acted like he was doing me some sort of favor. What sort of girl does he take me for, anyway? And I told him that, too!”
“Desperate?” Kathy Jo suggested with a giggle, not being able to resist making Milly burn hotter.
Milly blushed. “I am not desperate! And if I was it wouldn’t be for him.”
“Calm down, Milly,” I soothed her. “You did the right thing and he’s a goof.”
“Anyhow, you didn’t have to walk home, you know,” Kathy Jo pointed out. Of course, rules were rules and no one ever suggested telling parents or police. It was something between the guys and the girls.
“Well, Miss Kathy Jo,” Milly huffed, “he made me get out. It was that or compromise some very important things to me. Like my virginity,” she hissed in a whisper.
Kathy Jo bent to straighten her skirt. “Well, you know how boys are,” she murmured.
“So, what do you do?” Milly demanded.
I had been listening with interest, taking notes for my own dates. “Yeah, did you ever walk home?”
Kathy sat up, primly indignant. “Of course I did! All good girls walk home at least once.” She opened a magazine. “Now are we going to plan this party or is it going to plan itself?”
Milly and I both studied our friend silently a minute. Then, mutually agreeing to forget it, we opened our notebooks. “What will we wear?” Kathy Jo asked. The subject was officially changed.
At least once. All good girls walk home at least once. After that — ? The question hung silently among us, but no one spoke it. Is silence a part of being a woman? I wondered.
We sent out 20 invitations. In a town where everyone goes to everything, I was real disappointed when seven invitations were refused. Still, thirteen were accepted. “See how folks respond,” my parents had said. Well, thirteen had responded. It was going to be all right.
We girls wore strapless party dresses in all colors of a pastel rainbow, wanting to dress up, but since it was outdoors, we let the boys slide by in just dress slacks and shirts. We danced to all the best records in our collections — Elvis, Johnny Mathis, Buddy Holly. With music, friends, and gifts, I felt lite-headed with joy. My parents were real good about staying inside and letting us young folks party. Mom came out once or twice to check on refreshments, but I don’t think Dad ever even peeked out. Now I realize it was more than just liberal parenting — he was trying to help me fit in by not reminding anyone who my father was. I love him intensely for that.
“You look real pretty tonight, Alice,” Donnie whispered as we swayed to Elvis. “Want to go for a ride?”
I giggled. “I can’t do that. It’s my party.”
“Sure, but look around. Everyone’s having a good time. Why I bet your birthday present that we won’t even be missed.”
“I already have my presents.”
He chuckled. “Not mine. I was just waiting to give it to you when we’re alone.”
“Will I like it?”
“Well, how can I know that unless I give it to you? Come on, my chariot awaits.” He danced me to the edge of the porch light and beyond, then, taking my hand, ran with me to his car.
We were both breathless and laughing by the time we slid onto the front seat of his car. Laughing, I leaned my head back against the seat. Donnie reached over and stroked my throat with one finger. “You know you really are beautiful, Alice,” he whispered. My laughter died as my eyes met his. Then, both of us became aware of my heaving chest at once. I scooted into a more proper position while he started the car.
Clearing his throat, he tried to bring back the easy fun of a few minutes before. “Bet I can get out of here without anyone hearing my engine run. She purrs like a kitten.” He looked at me, perched on the edge of the seat like a bird ready for flight, and laughed. “Come here, Alice. I’ll teach you the girl’s job on a date.”
My eyes widened. “The girl’s job?”
He laughed again. “Yeah. Come here, I won’t bite you. Promise. You need to learn this if you’re going to start dating, you know.”
“Yes.” Pulling me over to his side, he said, “Now, look. It takes two hands to drive — one to steer and one to shift. If you — the girl — wants one of my — the boy’s — arms around you, like this — “ his demonstration made me shiver, “ — then your job will have to shifting the gears.”
“Really?” I was interested for real now. I had been after my father for weeks to teach me to drive, but he claimed it was too complicated. “How will I know when to shift?”
“I’ll tell you. Now hold the shift stick.”
I grasped it like it was fragile glass, hot from a fire, making Donnie chuckle. “Not like that! Like this.” Removing his arm from my should, he closed his hand over mine, curling my fingers around the stick firmly. “Okay, now shift.” His hand guided mine over and down. “You see, it’s like a capital H. Now, shift.” Up, over, up. “Shift.” Down. Each time the motor responded to my movement of the stick and I laughed in delight.
“Want to try on your own?”
“Okay, shift…shift…pretty soon you’ll know all on your own when to shift. Okay, shift.”
Travelling like that, we were well out of town before I even cared to notice. It wasn’t until Donnie pulled to the side of the road, then stopped, that I looked around. “Where are we?”
Leaving go of the gear stick, I swung around to look behind us. Lights twinkled in the distance, but otherwise all was dark. A coyote howled. My skirts swished as I shifted back to face Donnie. “What are you doing?”
He was bent over, fishing something from under the seat. “Getting your present,” he said, coming up with a small box.
He held it tauntingly, then pulled it away, teasing me. “What do I get for remembering?”
“What do you want?” I flirted back, enjoying the game. The box was just the size of a ring.
“A kiss.” He took one almost as he spoke. My first kiss, aside from stolen ones playing “Spin the Bottle.” It was nice, but not what I expected. I pulled away. “Now, can I open my present?”
“I haven’t got my kiss yet, that was just practice.” Again, he kissed me. His lips were soft against mine and that was nice, but it lasted too long.
I was beginning to get bored — and a little nervous. I pulled away, this time also scooting across the seat away from him just to be sure he didn’t want to do any more kissing. “It’s hot in here, can I roll down a window?” I chattered, rolling down the window as I spoke. Maybe the night air would cool him down. “It was a real fun party, wasn’t it? Oh, we should be getting back, don’t you think?” I peeked at him nervously. He was still where I had left him, one arm across the back of the seat, one resting on the steering wheel. “You think we should get back, Donnie?”
Nodding slowly, he moved to lean against his side of the car, raking his hair back with one hand. Then, he rubbed his face wearily.
“Can I open my present first?”
“Why not?” Casually, he tossed it onto my lap. I pulled the papers away revealing a plain box. Raising the lid, I found, not a ring, but a pin. It was a small gold bouquet of flowers, each flower being a rhinestone. I had seen one just like it at the dime store. Some big spender he was. “It’s — it’s real nice. Thank you.”
“Like it? Come here, I’ll pin it on you.”
“Oh, no, there’s no room for it on this dress. But I do like it. Thanks for — “
“Come here, I don’t bite, I told you. I’ll pin it on your sweater.” His stern voice and his hand pulling my arm coaxed me back to the middle of the seat. His fingers fumbled in the darkness as he clasped the pin. Under my sweater, they brushed my bare skin. I tried not to notice, not to even breathe, studying instead the stars, the gear shift, the dangling keys. In the distance, a coyote howled and another answered.
“There.” The pin was clasped, but his hand remained, stroking me ever so gently, certainly too gently to complain about. All my efforts not to breathe told on themselves and I took a deep breath of air. My breasts rose as if on their own, nearer his hand. “Oh, Alice!”
His kiss this time was possessive, demanding unspoken things. Oddly enough, I enjoyed it more than the other kisses, more than I wanted to. It wasn’t until the car seat touched the back of my head that I came to myself. Opening my eyes, I looked at Donnie — and the stars beyond him. “Donnie, no. We have to stop.”
“We have to.” I struggled but could find nowhere to go. “Please, Donnie. Please!”
“For Pete’s sake, don’t start crying.” He leaned back, giving me air. The distance calmed me. “I’m not a monster.”
Feeling foolish for my tears, I tried to explain. “It isn’t that I don’t like you — I do! And it isn’t that I don’t want to, but I can’t. Not now. Not like this! I want it to be special when we marry, I want — ”
“Marry?” Donnie shook his head as if he couldn’t figure the word out. “Look, Alice, there’s no reason why we can’t enjoy ourselves now. You know you want to. Girls like you can’t get enough, I heard.”
“Girls like me? What — girls like me?”
“Look, Alice, why not? I like you more than any other guy in town. No other guy would buy you a present — ”
“ — some present! — ”
“ — or been as patient. They’d have just brought you down here and got down to business. But me, no. I have to be nice. And what do I get for it? Nothing!”
“Girls like me?”
“Look, you could do a lot worse than me. And might next time.”
“Girls like me!” Anger was rising within me like bubbles in a boiling pot. I felt strong, powerful — and mad! “You mean because I am half Apache?”
We sat in the darkness, staring at each other, both sweating from anger and passion. Then, he finally spoke.
“The truth is, you got a choice. Hear that coyote? Well, if you’re not here after what I’m here after, you’ll be here after I’m gone.”
“That’s what you think!” In one swift movement, I snatched the keys from the ignition and threw them out the open window. Somewhere in the night there was a clink. I turned back to Donnie. His mouth was open in comic amazement. I couldn’t help but laugh at the sight.
“You crazy — ! Now, how are we getting home?”
“That’s your problem.” Opening the door, I swung my legs out and discreetly removed my heels and stockings. “I believe mine is walking home.”
I hadn’t gone very far before he called me back. “Alice!”
I turned. He was standing beside his car looking very young and harmless, and a little afraid. “Yeah?”
“You help me find the keys and I’ll give you a ride home, okay? Your parents will be worried if you’re late. And,” he smiled, “so will mine. Deal?”
I studied him skeptically a minute, but you can’t just quit trusting friends, just like that. “Deal.”
Fifteen minutes later, my hand touched metal. I crowed in triumph and rose to my feet, dusting off my knees.
“Find them?” Donnie asked.
Taking a step back, I held the keys tightly in my fist. “That depends on if the deal is still on. Otherwise — ” I held my hand over my head, threatening to throw “ — and this time I won’t help you find them.”
He laughed. “Don’t worry. The deal’s still on.” Later, sitting in the car, Donnie asked, “do you want to shift the gears?
I looked at him guardedly. “Can I from here?”
“I think so. You can try.”
“Ready, shift. Good. Now, shift…shift.”
The engine responded to my hand every time and I smiled. I was in control. My name was Alice Feron. I was half Apache, half Caucasian. I was a woman. And from hereafter, I knew I would be in control.