by Randy Reynolds

The problem with living in a small town like Covington was that everyone knew what everyone else was doing. And when they were doing it. And where. It was pretty pathetic, for instance, that I couldn’t even skip school to meet my girlfriend without being noticed by Coach Salter, who certainly hadn’t noticed me for those few weeks that I had sat on his bench dying to get into a game. Somehow, though, as he watched me walk away from school in the middle of that day in 1965, his memory was restored, my name came back to him and he reported me to the principal, Louis Wagner.

A beige, eight-passenger 1964 Chevy station wagon crossed the intersection in front of me as I neared my girlfriend's house. I noticed the car because we had one just like it, and whichever model we had in a particular year, it seemed like those were the cars I noticed the most.

(What are the odds of a truant crossing paths with his dad a half block away from his girlfriend’s house en route to a romantic tryst? Like I said: small town.)

Dad continued on to the hospital to visit some sick church members, stopping at the front desk to borrow the phone to call my principal.

Mr. Wagner was a former Navy Captain. He took pride in running a tight ship at Covington High and he did not appreciate men (or boys) going AWOL. He especially did not appreciate being put on the spot. So when my dad said, “Can you explain to me, sir, just why you allow your students to roam the streets of Covington in the middle of the school day?” the wheels of military justice began to turn in Captain Louis’ head.

On my girlfriend's front porch I popped a Lifesaver into my mouth, intending to stand there just long enough to crunch it and give my breath that sweet Wint-o-green smell, but the girl hadn't invited me over just to be a porch ornament. She flung the door open wide, looked both ways, up and down the street, and jerked me inside, double-locking the door and lip-locking me all in one fluid motion.

(Rendezvous underway! It would be jeopardized by yet another witness, but that was later, minutes into the future and I was in no position to heed the future. All I cared about was 'now.' My biological clock was ticking.)

She stripped the school books from my hand, flipped them onto the couch and maneuvered me toward her bedroom, a place where we both knew that nothing much was going to happen because the instant it could happen, she’d give me her “Respect” speech-- the one about how much my respect meant to her, how it meant more than all the joy a boy and girl could have; how it was 'forever;' and ‘forever’ was more important than ‘now.’ That speech of hers could have stopped Pharoah’s army at the edge of the Red Sea. The way she delivered it could make a grown man cry. And I, a lowly sophomore, was nowhere near being a grown man. She, therefore, had no qualms about slipping into the bedroom with me in the middle of the school day and testing her resistance to temptation.

We were getting close to her self-imposed limits--the "Respect" speech was probably on the tip of her tongue--when someone banged on the front door. Our tongues retreated into our own mouths, our lips came unglued from each other and all four of our feet hit the floor at the same time.

“Who IS it?” she yelled. The person on the porch kept pounding.

Despite her petite build, my girlfriend had the strength of a sumo wrestler--or else her adrenalin kicked into high gear like those people who do superhuman things in emergencies, like lift a car off their baby when it falls off the jack. She grabbed me by the front of my shirt, dragged me across the room and threw me into the closet. “Get in! And if you make a sound, I’ll kill you.”

I knew she meant it: she would not think twice about killing me if I did anything to jeopardize her reputation.

The knocking continued. “Just a MINUTE!”

She opened the closet door again, threw my books and shoes at me, and hissed, “Stay!”

Crammed in among the women's clothing, trying to will myself not to scratch what itched, and trying not to sneeze, I poured out my soul to Jesus. I made Him every promise in the book, everything I could think of to make Him happy, and all I asked for in return was for Him to keep my dad from marching into this house, yanking me out of the closet and belt-whipping me in front of my girlfriend. I was saying, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus..." just like the old ladies at church, when I heard the front door open.

My girlfriend greeted someone way too cheerfully. Then a voice that definitely wasn’t my dad’s asked if he could come in. The voice got closer, so I figured the answer was yes. He was in.

It was her other boyfriend. Supposedly her ex, but if he was an ex why was he stopping by in the middle of the day when she was skipping school? How did he even know she would be here? Was this a habit of hers? Had she skipped school with him, too? He was a friend of mine, but a couple of years older than me and I had to ask myself what I would do if he opened the closet and found me. Should I say something clever, or just knock him down and run for my life? Unable to think of a good one-liner, I decided that violence was the way to go.

Someone turned on the TV set. What the hell? The Cardinals were playing the Yanks in the World Series. The volume got louder and all I could hear was Curt Gowdy describing Bob Gibson's high hard ones that the Yankees couldn't handle. This was infuriating: were my girlfriend and her boyfriend really interested in this ballgame, or was it on just to keep me from hearing what was really going on? I couldn't stand this any longer!

I eased out of the closet and over to the bedroom door. Opening it just a crack, I could see the two of them still standing. It looked like he was trying to get further into the house and she was blocking his way. If the fool got to the bedroom and discovered me in there, the girl would kill us both. She’d get a butcher knife and slaughter us where we stood rather than allow her reputation to be compromised by one boyfriend’s discovery of another in her bedroom. She was that concerned with her reputation.

Deciding to save her the trouble, I put on my loafers, picked up my books and snuck out the kitchen door. I made it back to Covington High in time to hear the final bell and blend in with the crowd that erupted from the school.

Riding the bus back to the country that afternoon, I was oblivious to the other kids around me. Half-listening to Robert E. Rabbit on WTIX, I stared at my slyly smiling reflection in the window between me and the Lee Road scenery that I knew so well. After every emotion I’d felt that day—fear, anger, jealousy, a couple of minor heart attacks, a chance to test the “Respect” rules again, I felt relieved. Triumphant.

Life was good for a boy who figured he was too smart to get caught.

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