It was a mild day and, when I arrived at Cherry Bomb’s place, everyone was in the backyard. Cherry Bomb, of course was there, as were Cat Eyes and Sour Puss. I can’t recall if Suzie Q was there or not. The boys were there, too, and they had with them someone I’d never seen before. At six-foot-four Lanky Joe was noticeably taller than the boys in my class, many of whom weren’t yet done growing, and he was more than a foot taller than I was. It didn’t escape my notice that he kept looking at me. I didn’t know him and didn’t know how to respond. I made some lame jokes, walked away, talked to someone else, came back.
Finally, it began to get darker and the group started to move down the driveway towards the front porch where there was light. Lanky Joe slipped his hand in mine and held it firmly holding me back while everyone else disappeared around the corner of the house. He sat down on the steps leading to the backdoor and pulled me onto his lap. I began to make another lame joke but was halted in mid-sentence by a passionate kiss. We got up and rejoined everyone before they quite realized that we had gone missing.
I saw him a few more times, always in the company of the others, and we engaged in furtive kisses when no one was looking. It wasn’t long before everyone realized that we were “together.”
A few weeks after that first meeting, Sheepdog came back to visit his friends and he was there when I arrived. So was Lanky Joe. We were too young for jealousy, I think. In the evening, we moved indoors and we were all sitting in Cherry Bomb’s living room. Lanky Joe and I were seated on the sofa. At some point, we were alone in the living room. I don’t remember why. I’ve mentioned before that Cherry Bomb kept her records and her record player in her bedroom and, if I had to guess, I would guess that they had gone to listen to a new record and we had stayed behind for some more furtive smooching.
Lanky Joe picked up a decorative pillow and hit me over the head with it. We were still kids in many ways and that didn’t strike me as anything but playful. I picked up the pillow on my side of the sofa and hit him back.
“Hey, don’t do that,” he said.
“What? You mean this,” I said, and bopped him lightly over the head a second time.
He pushed me onto the sofa so that I was in a prone position. Then he slapped me hard across the face. This wasn’t playful and it wasn’t a joke. It seemed to me that he was making a fist. My parents didn’t believe in corporeal punishment and no one had ever hit me before, not in earnest.
“Hey, what are you guys up to.” It was Sheepdog’s voice. It had the sound of forced casualness. I looked up and he was standing in the opening between the dining room and the living room.
Lanky Joe straightened himself. “Nothing much. What are you up to?”
“I just thought I might join you two,” Sheepdog said lowering himself into an easy chair.
Slowly, the others began to wander in. Chuck E was twitchy and had a lot of nervous energy even on a good day. “Everything okay here?” he asked, taking his hands in and out of his pockets as if he wasn’t quite sure what they were doing at the ends of his arms. The awkwardness was evident.
“Everything’s great.” Lanky Joe said flatly.
After a few minutes, Sheepdog noted that I lived on the other side of town and that it was getting late. He offered to walk me home. It wasn’t that late and I walked home alone all the time. I understood what it was, a request to talk.
When we were a few block’s from Cherry Bomb’s house he said to me, “You need to know I’m not jealous. You know that, right? I couldn’t believe it when I saw you were with him. Did Chuck E tell you about him?”
I shook my head no.
“Do you know why you never met him before? He just got out of reform school. He beat up his last girlfriend, badly. I don’t know what his problem is, but he has a problem with girls. I can’t believe Chuck E didn’t tell you this.”
I felt confused and mixed up and started to cry. I wanted to be alone and told Sheepdog I could get home on my own.
What had happened hadn’t registered in my mind yet. I couldn’t believe the tall, skinny, sweet boy who kissed me when no one was looking was the same boy who beat up a girl so badly that he was arrested and sent to prison. I didn’t believe it was true. I wanted to think it was all a misunderstanding.
I told my father and he became livid when I seemed ambivalent about ending it with Lanky Joe. He insisted that I call and end it and he sat in front of me to watch and listen and make sure I did. I got a long lecture from my mother about how I must not ever let any man hit me for any reason.