This is the first part of a three-part story. Come back tomorrow to read the second part. Copyright is held by the author.
IF THERE’S anything you should know about Danny, it’s that he is in love.
Of course, you can’t tell he is in love by looking at him: he is standing in a driveway outside a remarkably small one-storey suburban house, next to a black sports car. The sports car belongs to Danny because his father, Danny Sr., just bequeathed it to him for his 16th birthday. What you may need to know about the car is that it’s a 1989 black Chevrolet Camaro and it’s the car that Danny was conceived in. At least, that’s what his father has always told him.
So here is Danny, a 16-year-old kid of average height with longish black hair and an ineffaceable black mustache that remains like a shadow of itself no matter how he tries to shave it from his upper lip, standing at the side of a black car, discovering with discomfort a foreshortened image of himself in the chrome of the passenger-side door and wondering if he should drive over to the local Holey Donuts shop and order coffee, because there is no place on earth he’d rather be, the main problem being that he is shy with girls.
“I’ve been learning to play the guitar,” he says to himself.
But no one knows he plays the guitar because he is rather shy about that too. It’s a shame, because he has some potential, if only he’d take some lessons. He’d only started playing the guitar to impress girls, but he realizes now that it may be necessary to join a band. So he is thinking of doing that. He has also been thinking of writing “playing guitar” in the what are you doing slot on his Facebook page, and seeing what happens, though it might mean his friends or even people he doesn’t know very well would demand he actually play something for them.
Having a black sports car should be helpful too, despite that the car is 20 years old. His father, Danny Sr., is a mechanic. Remembering the significant role the car played in Danny’s conception, his father kept the car, maintained it over the years, and now he’s fixed it with a new engine and has proudly presented it to Danny in commemoration of his ascension to driver’s-permit status.
“I did the work, myself,” Danny Sr. told him.
A new six-cylinder engine, new paint job, reupholstered interior, and . . . wait, Danny is getting cold, standing by the car. You see, it’s a late morning in late autumn. Danny is not wearing his jacket. His breath, warmed as if by the essence of hopeless adolescent romance, steams on the suburban air. And now some neighbourhood kids are playing nearby in the empty street, throwing a football, their squeaky, unignorable little voices interrupting the silence. An oversized dog is barking and running in circles with the children as if it hopes that by barking and running enough, it will, itself, magically turn into a small child.
Danny considers going back in the house, but instead he walks around the car, and gets into the driver’s seat, and locks himself in.
Dina is pretty. No wonder Danny loves her.
“That’s really sweet of you to say,” Dina says to her friend, Monica, “but I really try not to think about it. It’s not like I’ll ever be as pretty as I want to be, or as pretty as Brenda Kosowski. And anyway, girls are always judged by their bodies. I don’t want to be judged by my body.”
Nonetheless, Dina is pretty, and kind of skinny, and she has a large mouth though that isn’t something that affects her assessment of herself and it isn’t anything that anyone but Danny ever took particular note of. Dina gets good grades in school, and she would like to go to college and study to be a veterinarian if she can afford the loans, but for now she can be thought of as a good-natured 15-year-old girl who loves her mom and her friends and who works in the local Holey Donuts shop, and like Danny, is in love. Or at least she will be, momentarily.
“I like boys with a lot of confidence,” she says.
Unfortunately, this tends to rule out our young friend Danny, who despite his musical potential and his ostensibly attractive car is rather shy. Having expressed her preference, Dina goes every Saturday evening with Monica, Julie, Karen, and Sarah to the Landesdownesville High School varsity games to sit in the stands and watch the boys play football. She realizes early on that there’s something about football that doesn’t agree with her — perhaps the cold, or the discomfort of sitting on the metal stands, or the fact that she can’t tell any of the boys apart, what with their bubblehead helmets and their strikingly large but not very helpful white-on-red numbers and their marshmallow pants — and she comes to the conclusion that the first boy she kisses will not be a football player.
By the way, it’s true — unfortunately for Dina, and especially unfortunately for those who have never kissed her, which is everyone — Dina has never been kissed. She was taught by her mother to be —
“A prude,” Monica teases her.
Well, no, not exactly a prude. Like Danny, Dina is shy in her own way: She was taught by her mother to value her virtue, not so much in a moralistic sense but as a thing that has great value, not in the sense of a commodity or an object but a personally sacred value, not something to be given away to the first guy that comes along, or so Dina’s mother did her best to explain, and with no small measure of circumspection may have mentioned that she’d done something along those lines, herself, in days gone by, and didn’t want young Dina to make the same mistake, if you want to call it a mistake.
Through the workings of our collective imagination and a certain necessary suspension of natural disbelief, we are now afforded the privilege of an exceedingly personal vision of Dina through Danny’s tender adolescent eyes.
Dina is thin, skinny even. Her hair is long and dark. Her eyes are dark but have a wet sparkle when she laughs. Her bright expression suggests a happy, naive creature, utterly devoid of malice. She is not the prettiest girl in school, but by no means the plainest either. She has several exceptional physical attributes, as far as Danny is concerned, but there is one in particular that first caught his attention, and that is her mouth: it is large, the lips full and wide, arguably vulgar in its contour, yet it remains beautiful in Danny’s estimation.
It began with a laugh.
He’d walked into the 24-hour Holey Donuts one Saturday afternoon, where she worked behind the counter from 9 am to 3 pm in a donut-brown uniform complete with hat embroidered with bubblegum-pink lettering that accentuated her lips, and just at the moment Danny took up position at the counter to order his Saturday-afternoon coffee and donut, it happened that her nearby coworker said something that set her off, and she laughed out loud. This very honest, carefree laugh — a sound not unlike the fluttering of flutes in its femininity, or the supple babbling of a stream in its effervescence, or the warbling of spring robins in its sheer delightfulness — caused her head to shrink slightly down into her shoulders, her face to turn upward, her eyes meeting his own, and her large mouth to open quite wide, astonishingly so, so that upon glimpsing her girlish epiglottis for the first time, Danny not only fell instantly in love, but for a moment imagined this expansive opening in her small, delicate skull could open even wider, that it could potentially continue to stretch to some unnatural limit until she was capable of devouring basketballs and watermelons whole. And just as soon, it was closed again, and she looked at him, half-embarrassed, coquettish, as if she understood she’d revealed more of herself than she’d meant to.
Whatever she’d laughed at was a trifle, and had nothing to do with Danny. What aspects of timing and angles of vantage shaped this event, what incidental eye contact passed between them were all the product of sheer chance, yet they worked in such a way that the image remained in Danny’s mind from that moment.
He learned that Dina was in the 10th grade, a year behind him. She was not in any of his classes, and whenever he saw her after school she was invariably surrounded by an unapproachable gaggle of loud, cruel high school girls. He’d only known that her name was dina from her Holey Donuts name tag.
Soon his mind was full of images of her, snapshots of imagination, fragments of memory, her dark wispy hair, her skinny little body, her beautiful, gigantic lips. Mostly, he sat in his room and contemplated, among her many other appealing parts, her mouth and its girth, its every function, things she put into it, things that came out of it. He guessed as to what she ate for breakfast each morning, whether eggs or toast or a glass of orange juice, and whether her bottom lip left a lip-print on the drinking glass. One day, while sitting in math class, he was overcome with a daydream, an image of Dina nude but for the apron from her work uniform, her lips and teeth thoroughly smeared with a coating of dark crumbs and frosting, presumably after she’d eaten a chocolate donut, and his desire to taste that wet mess of crumbs and frosting with the tip of his own tongue made him especially restless, so that he began to fidget in his seat. Desperate to dispel the image, lest the teacher call him to the blackboard in a compromised state, he shifted his imagination to something appropriately antithetical, and now pictured her brushing her teeth, the toothbrush protruding under the skin around her lips and cheeks, her eyes blankly intent on the mirror, lost in girlish thoughts, and he even pictured her leaning forward to purse her frothy lips and spit into the running water.
Witness, now, the triangulation of our romance — sine, cosine, and tangent — as a black sports car pulls into the parking lot of the Holey Donuts shop on a cold Saturday afternoon in early December, and from it emerges not our Danny — for this is a black 2006 Nissan 350Z, and not a black 1989 Chevy Camaro — but Mark, a childhood friend of Danny’s and the young man with whom Dina is about to fall in love.
Or perhaps, in this case, love is not quite the right word.
Incidentally, what is it about this particular Holey Donuts franchise that so inspires these adolescent romantic epiphanies? Its convenient location along Main Street and Hamilton Avenue just before the entrance to the freeway? The warm, casual aroma of the universally recognizable coffee-donut amalgam? The greyish lighting? The reassuring presence of the value-satisfied, brand-loyal clientele? The brown-and-pink colour scheme of the uniforms and menu boards?
Mark is tall, lithe, his hair a preposterous but entirely natural white-blond. His features are statuesque, his skin a remarkable gold, which probably suggests a beach in a Southern California summer rather than a donut shop in upstate New York in winter but, remain assured, he appears exactly as described, and it may help to know he also has just a perfect little flush in his cheeks from the cold. His presence immediately registers with Dina as he steps into a short line behind two other customers. She has seen him before, in the hallway in school, invariably with three to six of his buddies, who are nondescript by comparison, and on the football field hurling himself around in the freezing cold in bobblehead helmet and inconsequential white-on-red numbers and embarrassing pants, where he is indistinguishable from the rest of the team.
What little she knows about him she knows from her friend Monica, who knows everyone. He is a wide receiver and safety. Whatever that means. But more significantly, he is a “player.” And not in the football sense. None of her friends have slept with him, but everyone else has, including Brenda Kosowski, the prettiest girl in school. And Monica claims to have made out with him at a party once. Regardless, Dina is aware of the danger and she knows she has had fair warning, but at the moment, all she can think is:
“A beautiful boy. What a beautiful boy . . .”
Yes, the words occur to her and she delights in them, repeats them to herself — and again — and her bony body flushes with hopeless adolescent romantic warmth, but she has to look away before he looks and sees her looking. In a moment, he is next in line, and she is hurrying things along with her current customer so she can be finished before her coworker on the other register to her left.
“ThanksforchoosingHoleyDonutshaveaniceday. . . . Can I help you?”
And now he strides up to her. She’s never seen him quite so close, and facing her, and so comfortable with her and with himself, and speaking to her, though he is only asking for . . .
“. . . Medium coffee.”
“Cream and sugar?”
One word. Magical word! Even as she inwardly melts like so much wet sugar she steps aside to put together a medium Styrofoam cup of black coffee with the standard quantity of grainy snow-white sugar, her head full of words matched with ideas, questions, and images — “Mark,” sugar, “Marcus,” beautiful, “Did he see . . . ?” medium coffee, “Did he?”
As she sets the coffee before him, she glances up at him, at his impressive six-foot-plus height, and misinterprets his expression — that is, the look in his eye — which, despite the luster of his skin and the perfection of his features, can only be described as vacant. It’s not that he’s an idiot. Of course, idiots, like donuts, come in many flavours, and being an idiot does not preclude societal functionality, or even success — the ability to get passing grades, to have success with the opposite sex, to be good at football — nor does it have any negative effect on self-confidence. Indeed, quite the opposite. No, Mark is more emotionally detached than intellectually vacant, though his concerns are hardly intellectual. His gaze, in any given direction, is half-lidded, as if he’s sleepy or bored. He doesn’t talk much, but he is entirely certain of himself, and can’t conceive of what it would be like to be otherwise. And that is what Dina sees in his eyes.
“Hey, you’re Monica’s friend, right?” he now says, without any expression. “Tina?”
“Dina,” she says, beaming and pointing quickly to her name tag without looking away from his face, and ignoring the fact that more customers are now waiting. “And you’re . . . Mark?”
“Yeah. Hey did she tell you there’s a party at Randy Guardi’s house tomorrow night, if you want to come. His parents are out of town. Gonna be a keg. You should come out.”
Dina does not usually attend such parties, which is part of what has earned her the reputation of being a prude. She doesn’t like parties all that much. But then, she never expected a tall, beautiful, golden boy to invite her to one, and she wants, very much, to attend this particular party.