It was sophomore year at West Mid-High, and I was running for band president. My opponent, Jake Evans, had run a smear campaign against me. It wasn’t really a mean-spirited campaign. It involved a few posters with slogans like Brian Roberts’ mom wears Army boots. But it worked. Each of us were required to give a speech before the vote. I made no campaign promises. I really only ran for the notoriety. I lost.
When the band director, Mr. Watkins, called for candidates for vice-president, I raised my hand. Jake’s running mate won. I ran for every office that day. I lost every one but the last, because no one ran against me. I won the position of band manager, whose responsibilities included setting up and putting up chairs so that the janitorial staff could vacuum. I would do such a poor job at being the band manager, that Mr. Watkins would have to ask Chris Manning, the other tuba player who I suspected of being mildly retarded, to help me. I would quit after a month.
After rehearsal, as I was putting up my tuba, a flute player approached me. She wore big pink framed glasses and had poofy bangs. She didn’t look me in the eye at first, she just watched as I put my beaten up school tuba into it’s worn case.
She said, “I voted for you.”
“For president?” I asked.
Her smile was playful when her eyes finally met mine. “For everything. I thought, this guy’s not going to give up, so neither am I.”
“You felt sorry for me, ” said.
Her grin widened. “Maybe just a little.”
“No! C’mon. It’s not like that. You just seemed like a nice guy.”
This was the first conversation I’d ever had with Cheryl Tully. I’d never even noticed her before that moment. She was just one of the nameless gaggle of flute players who never came to the back row with the tubas and trombones and who never hung around at the end of rehearsal because all they had to do was put their flutes in a little case and head out for second period.
The next time I saw her was in fifth period geometry. I paid closer attention to her. She wore a blue knit sweater, tight jeans with zippers at the bottom of the legs, and Nike Velcro high-tops. I found myself staring at her perky breasts while the teacher explained isosceles triangles. I wondered if she would go on a date with me, so I did what any red-blooded American teenager would do: I passed her a note.
That Friday night, I took Cheryl to the pizza place next to the movie theater and bought her a Coke and a hamburger, onion, and mushroom pizza. I don’t remember what we talked about but she kept telling me how funny I was. I wasn’t trying to be funny at all, but I took the complement anyway. I paid for her to play Ms. Pacman in the small arcade in the back corner of the restaurant. I watched over her shoulder. I still remember the smell of her hairspray and perfume. I wondered why she agreed to go out with me. She ran with a much cooler crowd than I did. I didn’t really have a crowd. She was pretty good at Ms. Pacman.
It was November and the temperature was dropping. I’d been on very few dates and didn’t have the courage to hold her hand as we walked over to the theater to watch Dirty Dancing with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze.
“So what about Jake Evans? Do you really think he’ll be a good band president?” I asked as we walked passed the soft serve yogurt shop.
“Jake is an asshole. All he cares about is being noticed. Like he just wants the notoriety.”
“Yeah, what an asshole.”
I spent half the movie checking to make sure I didn’t have bad breath and gathering the courage to hold her hand. She made it easy on me, though. She put her hand on my leg and I put my hand on top of hers. A warm feeling ran up my hand into the rest of my body. My stomach fluttered. I held her hand the entire rest of the movie, despite the sweat that poured from my hand.
The kiss was just as difficult for me as the hand holding. I’d only kissed three girls. Once at church camp at an old mission school in southeastern Oklahoma. Another at summer band camp at Kansas University. And the other after a date with the pregnant girl from driver’s ed. I didn’t know she was pregnant until she came back to school a year later. It was a scandal. But this felt different. I was going to see this girl at school the next Monday. I didn’t want to screw it up. We walked in the cold around the plaza twice before I finally turned to her and leaned in for our first kiss. I was much taller than her. She craned her neck and rose up on the tips of her toes to reach me. It only lasted for a few seconds, but I felt a bond form between us as our lips touched. Her lips where firm and smooth from playing flute.
I asked her to go steady on our second date.