In her grey cardigan and coif, the nun’s incessant voice droned a description of suffering souls in purgatory due to sin. “Pray for them,” she urged.
Out the window, squirrels chased each other’s tails up a sycamore. A blue-jay jeered and children shouted and laughed in the distance. The bright blue Los Angeles sky beckoned. Celine listened feeling like she was near death before she’d lived.
She sat in her itchy plaid skirt at an oak topped desk and said to Ginger, “Least they enjoyed their sin. I’m in purgatory, and I haven’t had any fun! Catholic school is a bummer.”
Ginger’s thick lips gave her a clownish look when she smiled. “No boys, right? We can fix that. I’m going to a cool party in Hollywood. You should come.”
Celine shrugged and said, “Yes, but boys always think they’re the answer to problems.”
“Poor you—I’d die to be so pretty,” Ginger said shaking her head.
Fifteen now and filling out, Celine was getting a lot of attention and bragged about it. Mom sent her to Catholic school. That made Celine angry. She was blond, slender, and long legged as her mother, a retired show girl. She wanted to enjoy it. All of a sudden mom got a conscience and thrust her into this uptight place.
To get even, Celine began talking churchy at home, praying at meals, amen, blessing every sneeze. Her mother couldn’t stand it, dad gone most the time, or drunk. In the middle of pretending, Celine discovered she liked the certainty of church. Rules were predictable, unlike her boozing parents. Still, she was bored and curious about boys.
“My mom had looks. All it got her was a good dancer who loves vodka.”
Ginger laughed and thumped the desk, “Likes booze, eh?”
Celine frowned, “Dad’s favorite saying is ‘If one drink is good, two is better.’”
“So you don’t want to party?”
“Didn’t say that, I don’t have a ride.”
“It’s cool, we’ll give you a ride.”
That very evening Ginger picked her up. She felt grown up in the back of Ginger’s boyfriend’s car and enjoyed a feeling of fear and excitement. Lying to her mother about ‘homework’ was fun. She was headed for adventure.
When they arrived, Ginger said, “This guy has parties all the time. His parents are gone. Look for us when you want to go. We might be, you know, in another room.” Ginger gave her a wink, and left her sitting alone in a corner of a spacious packed room.
The low ceiling and dim lights made it too dark, and the relentless song refrain ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ was deafening. The sour smell of beer made her uneasy. The adult free Hollywood hills house party felt a little scary. Not even a house, more like a creepy isolated redwood clapboard apartment built over a garage.
Her eyes adjusted to the dark. Kids danced the pony, mashed potato, or made out on couches lining the walls. The door banged open. Everyone got quiet. Older boys had crashed the party and were having a free-for-all, scaring everybody. Most of the kids pulled back to avoid notice. No one seemed to know them. The thugs were shouting for beer. One weasel faced boy walked in a circle relishing his power. He stopped in front of her with narrow eyes glittering. She felt terrified, her whole body tingling with fear, adrenaline racing.
He said, “Got any beer, doll?” She was quiet. He pointed with his thumb, “Want to dance?” A solid looking youth approached and the punk moved on.
Another kid had just broken a chair on the floor when a stocky boy came to sit next to her. “Cheap chairs!” He said looking like he wanted a laugh. She rebuffed him in silence.
“Nick’s the name. I’ll just sit here, and discourage them.”
Looking cool and composed, he wore a mellow blue cambric shirt, at odds with the cocky way he spoke. Nick turned all the rules over with ease. He had an absurd grin, bushy hair, and searching eyes. “You okay?”
Something about the concern in his eyes caused her to say things she’d been ashamed to mention it to anyone. “I’m used to craziness. Mom’s a Vegas chorus girl.” Her throat constricted at her confession. Her feelings confused her. It was painful and sweet. The stocky stranger seemed to have opened her heart so easily.
Nick said, “Dad’s in showbiz too.”
They watched the action, and she thought how her Mom predicted that boys would never leave her alone. She’d developed a silent treatment for eager ones. She wouldn’t tell them anything about herself, or they’d use it to pester her.
“Want me to get rid of them?”
He looked like he could handle them, but the possibility of violence scared her. “NO!”
He seemed to be thinking. He whispered, “Then, should I call the police?”
Wondering how they could get to a phone, she nodded in agreement. There was only one exit after all. The rowdy boys were in the way. What was he thinking?
His voice lowered, “Whoops, no phone! I’ll walk you out. We can go somewhere?”
His lame flirtation surprised her. It wasn’t the time for it. Everyone was focused on mayhem. Both angry and disarmed at the same time, she laughed and forgot to be afraid. It only lasted a moment then she hushed him with a finger to lips, and looked at the goofs across the room.
He didn’t lower his voice or relent. “Okay forget that, but the fact is, till I saw you, I was ready to leap out a window.”
She glared at him still concentrating on the crashers. They didn’t seem to hear Nick. Probably too busy acting like fools. She’d turned to examine his face with its compelling grin. Everyone else in the room was focused on the spectacle, except the two of them. It turned her on.
As if nothing was happening, he spoke to himself and said, “I could have made the jump easy, then I would have kicked myself for not talking to a beautiful woman in distress.” She gave him a frown.
He said, “Wow, those clear blue eyes just got darker. Am I too flip?”
She knew not to encourage boys, but said, “By half.”
He’d seemed satisfied, broke his steady gaze, and looked around the room, passing over the intruders. “Why don’t people do anything? Everyone just watches passively. Too much TV if you ask me.”
She liked what he said. Everyone in LA acted like they were watching a movie. “Smarty,” she said. She was pleased and tried to hide it. “Why don’t you try to charm those bullies?”
“I like it when you tell me what to do,” he said. He stood and went to the party crashers. “EXCUSE ME.”
Three of them turned, fists clenched, and circled around him.
Nick smiled and said, “Hear they got a full bar at a pool party down in the valley—ten minutes at most. Nothing happening here. Lots of chicks. Let’s crash it. ”
They were silent for a moment and looked at each other. The older one approached him and said, “Who invited you, dickhead?”
“Don’t have to. It’s at Moorpark and Roades, big house, looks like a castle. I’ll beat you there.” Nick walked out before they could react.
They gathered, the leader said, “Why’d you let him go?”
“I was thinking.”
“You were thinking? Since when do you think?”
Another interrupted, “Man, there’s nothing happening here. Let’s go!”
The creepy one who’d come up to Celine earlier glanced at her. “I was just getting somewhere.”
The leader took him by the collar, and pushed him out the door. “Get somewhere else.” He looked around, took a bottle, and followed.
The roar of starting engines caused some nervous laughter. Someone put the music back on. Nick sauntered back in and sat beside her, “That’s better now, we can talk.”
“You get in your car and go to that party down the hill?”
“Lucky break—I guess they thought I’d driven away already. Was going to lose them in the valley, but they saved me the trouble.”
The comic look in his eyes as he reengaged hers made her fight a smile. He’d an uncanny way to amuse. She started to feel grateful as he prattled on.
“We live in a society of sheep. Nietzsche says, ‘The noble man makes values—doesn’t need approval. Anyway—something like that.”
But he looked like he needed her approval. Who talks like that? She realized at that moment, she wasn’t afraid anymore. She felt free.
“See that smile! Glad I didn’t jump out the window. Looking at you though, you’re seriously fine, girl. I’m pretty much a lump.” He flashed his misshapen teeth. She couldn’t help but think of tusks, and tried to maintain her composure.
“But a cat can look at a king, if you know what I mean,” he continued.
Seeing he was not easily discouraged, her sass came back, “Now you’re in love?”
He seemed to welcome the fight, “I’m in love with life.”
“You love bullshit. You were gonna jump a minute ago.”
“We love life not because we like living but because we like loving.” He paused, “That’s my man, Nietzsche.”
“Are your folks teachers?”
“Showbiz, remember? As the son of an actor, I know how to memorize lines. Seriously, my dad’s been in movies and TV. Not that you’ve heard of him. Tell me about yourself.”
“Now you’re my friend, funny man?” Celine smiled.
“Some secret you’re trying to keep?” He obviously didn’t want to lose the connection they’d made. By then, neither did she.
She forgot to keep up her cool banter and said, “NO!”
He shrugged, “Whoops, I said the wrong thing. See there, I can’t do jokes. My dad’s the big funny man. Not that much fun, I know that.”
When he seemed suddenly sad she tried to soothe him with chatter. “My mom was in the biz, a chorus girl. Dad’s a lost cause. I’m into arts. I like to work with my hands. I can cook any kind of sweet thing, fudge brownies, all kinds of cookies: chocolate chip of course, oatmeal, snicker doodles, macaroons, you name it.”
“Musta been some good times with your dad?” Nick asked.
The look of rapt attention in his eyes encouraged her, “I’d make him deserts to get him to stay home. Skinny as he was, he had a sweet tooth. When I was little he bounced me in the air. That’s about the only time I felt happy with him.” Suddenly, she felt shy. She’d never been so open and wordy. Was it his charm or the scary situation?
He leaned closer and said, “Turns out you have a lot to say. I’m glad you feel better.”
She heard nearby kids bragging about how they would have jumped the crashers. She’d seen them remain silent while punks broke chairs, and pushed guests around. Nick had tricked them into leaving.
She felt generous and open with him. Nick was far from handsome, but good looking ones were always wrapped up in themselves. Nick acted too cool but it might be a cover for sensitivity. He wasn’t humble, way too heady, yet as the swirl of events faded, she still felt excited with him near.
He asked, “Got a car. How you getting home? Shall we go?”
“I don’t know where Ginger is, I might as well.”
Moments later she and Nick were racing down Ventura to Studio City in a neat two-tone blue and white Olds. The dashboard gleamed and reflected lights from the streetlamps, the night was balmy, palms on the boulevard cooling from the dry summer heat and gave off a smoky and slightly aromatic smell. She felt grown up getting through danger with him. Life seemed full of possibilities. He kept punching the waxy black buttons on the dash. Casey Kasem ranting, ‘Good golly, Miss Molly’.
Nicer car than most boys of his age, if they had a car, she thought. Something was up. She reasoned with herself—a lot of kids in Hollywood have glamorous cars. He just hopped in and turned on the ignition. She asked, “How come you drive with no keys?”
“Don’t need them on this car, and Dad leaves the ignition turned to the off position. Want to stop at Bob’s Big Boy?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Right, home then.” The scene on Saturday night on Ventura was hot rods and police cars. A cop car was behind them and all of a sudden he pulled off on a side street and shut the car off and turned off the lights.
“Why are we stopping?” She asked.
“Let’s talk for a minute.”
She’d wondered if he was going to try to kiss her. It wouldn’t be the first time. This was too public. She felt stirred but wary. “Just talk, okay?”
“Right again,” he started the car and drove her home in silence.
She felt let down going in her door at her home. He’d stopped the car but didn’t try to kiss her. Why didn’t he? She ran the scene over in her head. Before he pulled off and stopped there’d been a patrol car behind them! By then she didn’t care. She wanted to see him again. Celine ran her hand across her hair, dabbed her eyes with a napkin, and thought about how foolish she’d been.
Her mother smelling of liquor greeted her, “How come a boy left you off? Where’s Ginger? Are you crying?”
“I hate you! Quit asking questions.”
“Don’t cry. It’s not me you hate! I’ve gotten silly over a lot of men, sweetie.”