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Christmas Gift

The names of people and institutions in this story, except for mine, will be changed. I still live in the city where the incidents took place and if many of the others in the story are still alive, they may still live here, too.

CANDY GIRL

It all begins at Forest Grove Junior High nestled comfortably a few miles outside the city limits. The first day is a transition for half or at least a third of my fellow classmates and me. Some of us spent part or all of our primary grades at Periwinkle Crest which three or four years earlier became a K – 6 school. Half or so of our sixth grade classmates from Periwinkle the year before went to a school just inside the city limits, Teagan. The rest of us went to this newer school. All three schools are among a dozen of feeder schools into West High School which is one of nine public and private high schools in the city. Both Teagan and Forest Grove were K – 8 which means we were aliens invading on pre-established friendships and cliques and are to rely on our charm and wit to find acceptance. I lack both, so am looking at an extremely uphill battle.

My two closest friends, we’ll call them Percy and Amil went to Teagan. I call them friends because Percy and I both like to draw cartoons and I went to his house once. Amil and I were the two starting guards on the worst grade school basketball team and we were both the shortest students, boy or girl in the sixth grade. I now believe that they were only friends in my own mind because we never reconnected during high school and Amil barely remembers me at each (twice: fifth and fiftieth) high school class reunion.

My girlfriend from Periwinkle Crest, on the other hand, attends Forest Grove with me. We ride the same bus to Forest Grove. She gets picked up in front of her house and I catch it later at the Periwinkle parking lot. I call her my girlfriend because I liked her. Looking back, I’m not sure she knew it so the tragic love story I am about to unfold should not place any blame on her. I was extremely shy, especially around girls and I was super naïve and immature. She liked one of my drawings once, too. For anonymity, I’ll name her Candy because “Candy Girl” was a 4 Seasons’ hit about this time. The 4 Seasons, by the way, was a very popular rock and roll group. the movie and play called “The Jersey Boys” is based on their careers.

It is hard for all of us that transferred. We lost old friends and had to prove ourselves to the new classmates to be accepted. Some of my Periwinkle Crest classmates pared better because their friends from Periwinkle also transfer to Forest Grove and remained friends adding new friendships from the Forest Grove nucleus. Candy and a few others had cousins or church friends who attend Forest Grove, so they fit right in easily. I quickly fit into the ranks of the fringe kids whose friends are from other places – church (like me), 4H, Scouts, etc. Of course, like every school year, romantic relationships often take a bit of a hit with the summer break. I guess “out of sight – out of mind” applies. Whether I had a “romantic” relationship with Candy at Periwinkle or not doesn’t matter. Now, I don’t. Like the 4 Seasons’ song “See You In September,” I must have lost her to a summer love.

Another remarkable thing I noticed on the first day of school at Forest Grove is that the students who were quickly accepted, male and female, resemble high school kids. We fringe kids could have blended in with fifth graders. Enter Apollo. Apollo likes Candy. Apollo is six feet tall, muscular, athletic. I am five foot two, eyes of blue, boney, bespectacled, and short. I still play with model cars and trucks. Apollo drives them. He spent the summer hitting home runs for the regional champion pony league team and I played second base for a rural league team – the guys who didn’t tryout or didn’t make the pony league. I didn’t try out. I never knew pony league or little league existed. I don’t think the guys at Periwinkle ever received that information. I don’t have much going my way so far. Of course, I’m too dumb to realize any of that matters. I like Candy, a lot.

“IT AIN’T OVER ‘TIL IT’S OVER”

Yogi Berra, a major league icon said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” At least, that’s what I must have thought. There were other lovely, precious girls all around me, but my heart belongs to Candy. I am determined. I learned from baseball last summer that there is always another at bat and each at bat takes three strikes. So, I devise a plan to ease back in to Candy’s life. A drawing drew us together, so a drawing might put her back into the picture, again.

I remember that a drawing that I drew during an art class was our first interaction. She said that she wish she could draw like that and I thought the whole class could hear my heart banging against my chest. I felt this tingling all over my body. She leaned over to take a closer look, I could feel her breath against my neck, and her hair brushed against my cheek. I did not want to move ever. It was wonderful and yet a little scary because I found it hard to breathe. She smiled and then moved on. I think she might have even touched my shoulder. Maybe I could reproduce that moment with another masterpiece.

I tried drawing during art class but never could get her attention away from Apollo. Apollo spent his recesses playing basketball, so I tried drawing during recess. She never notices. Drawing after drawing followed drawing. But something always went wrong. Other classmates notice and comment. Even one of the popular guys who is a super artist notices and compliments. Yet, always the timing is wrong. Candy never notices or if she does she has lost her fascination for artistic expression. I must try a more creative approach. I must make her take notice.

I draw a special drawing carefully crafting it over several days while I am supposed to be studying in my room. I sacrifice playing baseball or football with my brother and the neighbor kids. I go to my room which is also my brother’s room and forfeit great TV shows like The Flintstones and The Andy Griffith Show. First, I lightly sketched it out, then finished it in ink. I sprayed it with mom’s hairspray so the ink wouldn’t smear. I tell Mom it is for art class. I normally would never lie to my mother, but this is for a worthy cause. It is for love.

When complete, I carefully place it in a notebook and take it to my old school. Candy and I ride the bus together from our old school to the new school. I was going to give it to her then. I sat behind her on the bus. At the first stop to pick up other kids along the way, I start to give it to her but lose my nerve. I work up the courage between every stop but freeze at the last minute.

Once at school, in the hallway when she opens her locker, I quickly hand her the drawing, “Here I made this for you.” The words choke out beginning as the voice of an adult male, cracks like Don Knotts as Barney Fife, and then no sound at all.

When she reaches for it, I let go. Before she can latch on to it, it falls to the floor. Bryan whose locker is next to Candy’s slams his locker shut causing a rush of air to push the drawing farther into the hallway. Apollo bounds in, steps on it and leaves a dirty smudge on the back of it. I scramble to pick it up and hand to Candy. By now, all eyes are on this weird, awkward disturbance in the hallway. Some girls are giggling. Apollo snatches the drawing from Candy before she has enough time to really absorb its splendor.

“Look what Knight made me,” he flashes it all around, “I guess he thinks I like boys. Sorry, sweetheart, I like girls.” He punctuates it by throwing his arm around Candy and smiling sarcastically.

I forgot how to breathe for a moment. Outside, a warm, humid September day develops. Yet, I feel a cold chill cover my body. Derogatory comments about my sexual preferences echo off of the lockers and ricochet down the hallway to the Principal’s office.

Stepping out into the hallway, Principal Patton glares in the direction of his secretary’s long knotty finger, “You kids need to keep moving or you’ll be tardy for class.”

Apollo tosses the smudged artwork into Candy’s locker and it disappears forever. Candy barely looks at me and never says a word about it – ever. Embarrassed, I stumble to my locker to get my books for my next class.

FEELS LIKE IT’S OVER

I am last to enter the classroom. I overhear an assessment about my low intelligence quotient followed by smirks and giggles. I never realized how far I sit from the door of the classroom. I try to act cool but my eyes and cheeks burn and I feel somewhat nauseated.

My desk sits on the isle next to a row of windows looking out on the parking lot. I turn my head and pretend to gaze nonchalantly out a window. I never noticed the field of wheat across the road from our school. There is a woman starting to get inside a pick up parked near the field. Her visage suddenly blurs behind a sheath of moisture. After a couple of blinks of my eye, the landscape comes into focus but she is gone and the teacher is giving instructions. I turn my attention on the teacher after a sniffle or two and a deep cleansing breath.

Carol who I now notice has large dark brown eyes sits across the aisle from me and whispers without looking up from her text, “I thought it was beautiful artwork.” I smile and thank her.

I spend the next few days avoiding any sudden moves that will draw attention. I don’t even raise my hand in class which I seldom do any way. I skip lunch and stay to myself at recess. Matt Dillon, a TV western marshal might say I lay low for awhile.

CHRISTMAS BRINGS HOPE

September rolls into Fall. October brings football games at the high school, a fall festival and parade, and of course, Halloween. November has its Columbus Day and elections but of course premiers with Thanksgiving. But then quickly after thanking God for everything we have, we begin to start a list of things we want that we don’t have and hope to get for Christmas.

Television commercials provide a plethora of ideas for gifts and games. Our TV also shines with flashes of sports. My dad loves to watch his sports. November through March a majority of those images ablaze on our TV is basketball, especially our hometown college which had one of the best Division II teams in the country. Sometimes I am allowed to stay up late and watch the Aces on a taped delayed game.

I love the sound of the crowd, the ball bouncing on the hardwood, the squeak of sneakers – it is like music to my ears. I admire the rhythm of motion as the players weave in an out catching and tossing the ball, jumping and shooting and dribbling with such speed and precision. I remember how much I enjoyed playing on our fifth and sixth grade team. I know Apollo plays basketball and maybe if I make the team, Candy will like me.

Tryouts after school come. Now, I can implement my new romantic plan. It seems like every boy in the school is there trying out. Our gym teacher is the coach and he hasn’t shown up, yet. So, balls are flying everywhere at both ends of the court in the direction of the goal. Sometimes the orb finds its intended target and sometimes it is hard to determine if the basket is the target at all.

One of the orbs strikes me square in the back as I bend over to pick up another. I am not sure it was done on purpose but when I look around Apollo is looking at me with this stupid smirk on his face. I think nothing of it because that stupid smirk seems to be his default facial appearance.

Finally, the coach, a member of one of our high school’s first state champions, strolls in. Hands on hips, Mr. Jeri blows his whistle. We have been trained through many weeks of gym class that when he blows the whistle, you stop immediately…or else. The gym is completely silent except for the gentle crackle of a stray ball rolling slowly from one end of the court to another until it strikes the bleachers and comes to a stop next to a few other stray basketballs.

Mr. Jeri spits out about fifteen names, mostly boys who attended this school since kindergarten, “The rest of you head down to the other end and take turns shooting free throws.”

After about ten minutes, two others join our free throw group which starts out fairly organized but diminishes to a cautious chaos. A slower, clumsier version of what I watched with my dad on TV plays out on the other end of the court for about twenty minutes. Mr. Jeri marches to our end of the court. I believe it is about to start tryouts for this group. He doesn’t. He orders us to go into the locker room and get dressed. I don’t remember everything else that happened after that or how the information is given but before we leave, we learn Mr. Jeri has picked his team and I’m not one of them.

“I didn’t make it,” I slide into the front seat when my dad picks me up.

“How come?” Dad sits with his hands on the steering wheel staring at me.

I shrug and my eyes begin to burn and my lip trembles. I squeeze my eyes shut tight to suppress any tears. Dad asks no more questions. I think he starts to reach over to touch me or something, so I turn my head away and out the window. I see another boy, what’s-his-name from 7A. He looks like he is crying. Normally I might judge him to be a big baby, but not this time. Hurt and anger has to bubble up somehow when you’re a seventh grade boy with no right to question a gym teacher or his methods.

Dad pulls away. He says nothing all the way home but every now and then he glances over at me. That night when I’m finally in bed, I stare out the window sniffing back tears until sleep sneaks in and quietly covers me. My brother, Den must know my hurt because he completely leaves me alone to mourn.

A JEWEL OF AN IDEA

After a few days, I recover but I never forget the pain of disappointment. I still enjoy watching basketball with my dad. It is during one of those games that I came up with what turns out to be my last effort to win over sweet Candy. It was a Kay’s Jeweler Commercial.

“What woman can resist a beautiful gift from Kay’s?” the announcer sounds so knowledgeable and sincere.

One obstacle stands between me and a beautiful gift from Kay’s. It’s known to the common man as money. I have none. I quickly devise a plan.

The Aces were winning, so Dad is in a good mood, “Dad, I need some money for a gift exchange for school.”

I hadn’t ever realized Dad’s devotion to the poor and needy of this world before now. I listen intently to his ranting about institutions who forget that not everyone can afford to buy gifts for gift exchanges and school functions. There are poor kids in the school who will be embarrassed because they won’t get a gift because they can’t afford to get one. I hope he doesn’t mean me although other rants have lead me to believe that we are poor, a fact I did believe until I became an adult and learned what poverty really looks like.

“How much you need?” Dad doesn’t take his eye off the TV.

I have to quickly remember what other gift exchanges cost, because we really aren’t having an official gift exchange, although technically, I did hear that some kids were going to give other kids gift. Which makes this just a little white lie.

“I think it’s two this year.”

“Two dollars?”

Maybe I went too high. I start to change it to one.

“Remind me in the morning.”

I do. I get two dollars. Now, I have to get to Kay’s. As far as I know, we have never gone to Kay’s. I have seen jewelry at Sears, J C Pennies, and even Shopper’s Fair. So, the next time Mom makes Dad take us all shopping (he likes to do the shopping himself-alone), I’ll buy some jewelry with my two miracle making dollars.

That day comes. I learn that you don’t get much jewelry for two dollars, even back in 1963. I also find out that I know nothing about jewelry. I do meet a really nice lady clerk who helps me find what I’m looking for at a price I can afford. Dozens of necklaces hang on this one rotating display right on the counter. I say dozens because the charm on the end of a gold colored chain are letters of the alphabet. I say gold colored because the lady explains that the chain is not real gold. I’m somewhat disappointed but she explains that two dollars probably doesn’t buy a real gold gold chain. I only have two dollars and this not only is a chain but it is also a charm with the letter “C.” Perfect. What’s even better, they gift wrap upstairs for free.

CRIME OF PASSION

For some reason, the pride that I first feel from this perfect purchase turns into some other strange emotions. I stand holding this beautifully wrapped small box and I realize my plan does not include how I am going to get this present to Candy. She is always hanging around Apollo. I don’t think it will be beneficial for my health and well being to give it to Candy with Apollo within reach. Now, I have butterflies crashing into the walls of the pit of my stomach. But what I don’t realize is that things are about to get worse before they get bad.

I meet up with my family and we pile into the car. I have two brothers. Dan is ten years younger than me. Den is closest to me in age. Den and I sleep in the same room and in the same bed. There isn’t much that I do that he doesn’t know about. He knows there is no gift exchange and he knows this is a Christmas present for a girl I like. He knows I lied to Dad to get the money for the gift. Besides being roommates, we are also the other one’s counter intelligence officer. This often involves intel when it is uncovered that Dad has received evidence which may lead to the arrest and conviction of one or the other or both of us. Den greets me now with some intel.

“Dad found out there is no gift exchange at your school,” Den’s eyes are twice their normal size, “and I didn’t tell him.”

We follow our parents out to the car. Mom carries Dan. Den drills me to try and find out what diplomacy I will render that will produce the least amount of punishment. Lying to parents is a capital offense, especially when it involves family funds. Fortunately, we are parked far from the entrance. I have time enough to devise a plan. I will confess and throw myself on the mercy of the court.

Dad is the last to slide into the car, “I ran into your English teacher in the department store. He was unaware of any gift exchange.”

My confession becomes less powerful as now that the evidence against me is more than circumstantial. My Dad is also an English teacher and the word of another English teacher is sacred. I still must confess but I need to add remorse and an insanity plea to it. Where is Perry Mason (TV defense lawyer) when you need him?

“I-I am so sorry. I could return the gift while we are still here and give back the money,” I can’t believe what I just said.

“If there is no gift exchange, why buy a gift?” Had Dad suspected that I embezzled from the family coffers for selfish reasons?

Dad for some weird reason looks over at Mom and the tone of his voice is not his normal “just wait until we get home young man” tone. Is he aware of the real reason? Has he interrogated my brother and forced Den to squeal? I look over at my brother. The pleading look he gives me says he is innocent of any wrong doing. So, how does he know?

“I bought a necklace for my girlfriend,” those words were never spoken by me before and as far as I can remember, never spoken again.

“You have a girlfriend? What’s her name?” the words are coming from my dad’s lips but this cannot be my dad.

“Candy.”

“Well, isn’t that sweet,” Dad then begins to chuckle at his own pun. Dan, who has no idea what is taking place giggles, too.

Den and I look at each other in disbelief but decide it is best not to chuckle or say or do anything to draw attention to ourselves. It must have been as weird and spooky as it appears because now Dan cries. At least, something makes Dan cry. Mom bounces Dan on her lap and Dad frowns and starts the car.

As Dad is backing out of our parking space, he turns and gives me a scowl, “We’ll discuss this further when we get home.”

When we get home, I learn that I will be paying Dad back with whatever chores he and Mom can find for me to do for the next two weeks. We never really discuss girlfriends, lying, or gifts. Dad tells us to get ready for bed and he goes to the living room and turns on the TV. Mom puts Dan to bed and then she slips quietly down into the basement and wraps our Christmas presents and hides them in the usual hiding place. I feel certain that the joyfulness of the Holiday spares me from any corporal punishment.

THE PERFECT PLAN

The bus bounces and jostles as uncomfortably as before. As usual the bus’s heating system melts the soles off our shoes while the frost on the window grows. But I don’t care. In my lap, protected by both hands in front and my body behind sits a plain brown paper bag with the precious cargo – a necklace for the sweetest, girl in junior high. I smile because I know the moment I will give it to her. I know it will warm her heart and she will fall into my arms realizing the amount of love and admiration this gift represents. Well, maybe she won’t fall into my arms but she will see what a wonderful guy I am and how much she means to me.

Our first home basketball game is today after school. Apollo will be busy being his super jock self on the court and Candy will be courtside with the rest of us loyal Black Cat fans. That’s when I give her the present. There will be an audience that will witness how much I care about Candy and they will urge her not to ignore true love.

The whole scene plays out so many times throughout the day. It helps me perfect the action and the timing. I think I play the scenario out in my mind once in every class except for Geography where we are talking about the North Pole because its Christmas. It is so meaningless and boring that I go over the scene twice.

Finally, the school day ends. Apollo and Candy say their goodbyes and Candy wishes him good luck and off he goes to the locker room to get dressed out for the game. Candy’s girlfriends gather around her and they excitedly travel the hallway to the gymnasium. They stop at the concession booth conveniently located in a back room of the cafeteria. I am tempted by the waft of burnt popcorn and melted butter and the fizzing of soft drink to order me something. But I do not want to let go of the paper sack I grip tightly which carries the present which no doubt is about to change my life.

I follow Candy and her friends to the gym. They find a few more friends already seated in the bleachers and sit with them. It seems all of these girls have boyfriends on the team. I sit behind them clutching my brown paper sack.

Wayne Snodgrass spies me sitting behind the girls. I try not to look his way hoping he will sit anywhere else in this huge nearly empty gymnasium. He doesn’t. It’s not that I mind Wayne so much. Who am I kidding? Everyone minds Wayne so much. He’s a nobody like me but he doesn’t know it. I think his dad is a dentist or optometrist or something but you’d think his dad was a brain surgeon to hear Wayne talk. When Wayne talks, it is always at the same high decibel. He never whispers even when he should.

“What you carrying in the bag, Knight?” I and every girl in front of me jump. Wayne’s voice is loud but he sneaks up on you. I think he does it on purpose.

I try to distract him but he grabs for the bag. I must admit that his hands are quick. Before I can answer his question, he has the bag in his hands and has pulled the present out of it.

“It looks like a Christmas present,” Wayne rolls it around in his hand as I try to snatch it away from him. “Hey, Candy, it has your name on it.”

Candy turns to see and Wayne hands her the present. I think every fan in the gym, most of the members of our team, some of the other team and a referee are now staring at the present in Candy’s hand.

“Is this for me, Doug?” She remembers my name at least. I take that as a good sign.

I nod. This is not how all of this was to play out. Wayne was not in the picture. It was supposed to happen after the game started, not during warm up and everyone’s attention would be on the game, not the present.

Julia pokes Candy, “Open it.”

Candy looks at me as if to ask my permission. I grant it with a timid little squeak that was supposed to be a confident “by all means.” She carefully removes the wrapping paper and sets it neatly on the floor at her feet. She opens the box and pulls out the necklace and holds it up for everyone to see. I’m beaming with pride, at least for a short moment.

Marianne lets out an awful, “Pfffttt” followed by some suppressed giggles that crescendo into uproarious laughter from the girls, including Candy. I pause not certain about what was so funny until Wayne made it clear for all the gym crowd to hear.

“Did you get that out of a gumball machine?” Even Wayne is laughing and he is usually the one being laughed at.

I don’t know what to say. I do have just enough maturity to know that now is not the appropriate time to declare my love. I decide to leave. As I skulk out, I hear one or two spew out apologetic words but it is hard to know how sincere they are because it is said in the midst of their laughing. I do notice that Candy is laughing the loudest, that is except for Wayne.

On my way out of the gym doors, I hear the game buzzer sound off. The sounds of giggles and laughter subside as the game will soon be starting. The gym doors shut behind me and I proceed toward my locker. I nearly bump into a parent talking with one of the grade school teachers. For some reason, this jogs my thoughts enough to realize that I never told Dad I was staying after school.

Mom is probably worrying. Dad will be fuming. I sort of hope he is so mad he beats me to death or at least hospitalizes me. But I know he won’t. He might spank me with a belt or yardstick which only hurts for a little while. He’ll probably lecture me, maybe even scream at me. But he has never “beaten” me. But if he did, I don’t know if it could hurt this much. I am a seventh grade nothing. What could be worse than that? Maybe when Peta Paparelli pee’d her pants in Math class. Maybe.

I get the lecture. I am reminded of how irresponsible this is, how much unnecessary worry this causes my mother, and how disappointed Dad is with me.

“What’s got into you? When are you ever going to grow up?” Dad’s voice is loud, so loud that Den, Dan and even Mom are completely silent and troubled.

I want to tell him but I am too ashamed. I want to explain that his expectations are too high for a seventh grade nothing. I want to say what I think and that I, too, wonder when I’ll ever grow up. That he is right. I should have had enough sense to know that the necklace was a stupid idea and that I should know a girl like Candy would ever go for a pipsqueak idiot like me. Even Wonky Wayne is smarter than me.

All I can do is bow my head, hands folded in my lap and whisper a little, “I’m sorry.”

The room is so quiet. The last time it was this quiet was when Dad told us he had to put our beagle who had been badly injured to sleep. I think I experience the same kind of ache in my heart, the same kind of unexplainable hurt and anguish, and the same kind of feeling that you have no control over any part of your life and every answer to why is a wrong answer.

After an unusually lengthy period of sickening silence, “Go to your room until supper, son.”

On my way to my room, I wonder if he knew the whole story would he still call me son?

Categories: Author Confession

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Douglas Knight

I write about what I'm thinking or what I've imagined in an effort to regain that childhood imagination and marry with my many years of real experiences. I'm getting better at it the more I write.I am a published author of two romantic intrigue novels.My books can be found at Amazon.com or if you want a personalized copy, by emailing me at douglasknight85@gmail.com.

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