Dancing with Anthony

Her first sentence told me all I needed to know.

“Your outfit’s so cute!” she squealed in her million-dollar gown. My clothes weren’t cute; they were miles from cute. Cute had disappeared due the curvature of the Earth. I’d ransacked my mother’s closet and trunk, coming up for air with a faded pair of denim overalls with daisies stitched on the front, a red gingham shirt, and a bra so big I put it back. I wore my red Converse high-tops, and tied my ponytail with blue yarn.

My hair’s prettier than yours, I thought, staring back at her, and it was the truth. I had hair the color of a sorrel mare, maybe sorrel with flax, thick and heavy and flowing. I said, “Thanks. You look like the Queen of England.”

I figured there were two ways she could take that. She took it for a compliment, of course, like I expected, and she did look pretty good. Long blonde hair, the kind of wavy you only get by dropping forty dollars at the hairdresser. She was kind of short—medium short, I guess—and curvy as a country road. She had a real pretty face with four hours of makeup on it. Me, I looked like a high school shortstop, skinny as a stick, not a dab of makeup, still growing into my sneakers.

I didn’t have a chance and we both knew it. See, there was this boy, Anthony—is that beautiful, or what? Can’t you imagine leaning into him and whispering “Anthony” into his ear?—oh, he had a big strong body and dark eyes and dark curly hair, and he was just beautiful, that’s all. Anyway, Gloria—the blonde with the body—liked him and I just flat loved him and I reckon a lot of other girls had feelings for him as well. And I was just skunked; here’s Gloria, with everything a boy looks for in a girl, including money, and here’s me, with pretty hair and a paper route.

We were at the town’s only soda fountain, the Candy Palace, on a lazy afternoon two weeks before a major dance at school. Mr. Finch, who owned the place, was in the store room out back, resupplying. He kept his magazine rack out front, facing the sidewalk—I bought Mad Magazine there when I had the money—and a couple of junior high boys were sneaking a look at a copy of Playboy. So it was just me and Gloria inside.

Anthony worked there. He was a couple minutes late.

What the hell. I stepped behind the counter and said, “What’ll you have?”

Gloria looked at me like I was a Martian and finally said, “I believe I’ll wait for Anthony.” God, what a snot.

I said, “Suit yourself,” and started making myself a chocolate Coke with chocolate ice cream. I was feeling so damn low I needed a double, two slugs of Coke, two scoops of ice cream, some fizzle. I loved the nozzles and stuff back there, and the big iron cash register, embossed with the manufacturer’s name, National. Right in the middle of all this, I hear the boys outside scattering and in walks Anthony—jeans, tight white T-shirt, those gorgeous eyelashes.

“Yikes,” I said. “I was going to pay for it, honest!”

He laughed, a laugh big enough to hug somebody lucky, and said, “I know you were. Hell, Allie, I’d’a give it to you. Where’s old man Finch, out back?” I blushed and nodded and blushed some more, couldn’t get a word out, felt like an idjit. But I felt a warmth, too—my born name’s Alicia, which I hate, and I loved it when Anthony called me Allie.

“I’d love one, Anthony,” Gloria cooed, “if you’d make it for me." I could have busted her teeth out. I took my float and moved back to my own side of the counter and sat as far from her as I could get.

Anthony grabbed a fresh apron, put it on and said, “Coming right up.” I watched him make it. He moved like a big cat, the jungle kind. Ever since I started to notice boys, I’ve never thought a guy had to have muscles to be interesting, but it sure doesn’t hurt, either. Anthony was pretty lean, actually, but you could tell he’d done hard work in his lifetime.

Grabbing his ice cream scoop, he said, “Pretty flowers on your clothes, Allie. You sew ‘em on yourself?”

I turned purple again, and mumbled, “No, my mom was a hippie and she did the sewing. Back in the Sixties, I guess.” I felt foolish but hey, at least he was talking to me, not Gloria. I glanced at her. She was pissed.

“They look like flannel pajamas to me,” she said. I got red again. That little blonde bitch.

He handed her the float and laughed. “Hey, pretty girls in pajamas are just fine with me,” he said. I laughed too, maybe in shock, and so Gloria had to laugh because we were. I bet it took an effort.

Mr. Finch came in then, loaded down with boxes of candy bars, magazines, you name it, and Anthony jumped to relieve him before he blew a valve. “I see you made it on time today,” Mr. Finch said, and Anthony said, “Uh-huh” and looked over his shoulder and winked. He didn’t exactly wink at me and didn’t exactly wink at Gloria, so it didn’t quite satisfy either one of us.

Mr. Finch turned and walked out back again, and there were the three of us once more, and only Anthony looked to be at ease. Gloria and I both wanted the other to leave, but we were damned if we’d leave him alone with the other.

I had an idea so dumb it made me dizzy, and before I could change my mind I said, “Anthony, are you going to that dance a week from Friday?”

He was washing glasses and had his back to me. He said, “I haven’t thought about it much, but it sounds like fun. And I’m not working that night. You going, Allie?”

I swallowed hard and glanced at Gloria. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. I said, “Not sure. I don’t have a date yet.” I barely remembered to say “yet.”

Anthony said, “Will I do?”

I tried to speak and couldn’t. I’d forgotten all about Gloria and my crazy mother and what a loser I was. Finally, I managed, “Yeah, Anthony. You’ll do just fine.” Then I put some money on the counter and got up.

“Great,” he said. “Wait, I’ll walk you out. I’ve got to straighten out those magazines anyway.”

He came around the counter and just about blinded me with a grin and we walked out. On the way, he said, “Hey, hope we see you there too, Gloria.”

And in my heart I laughed a wicked laugh, a delicious laugh, a laugh I knew would send me to hell someday. And I didn’t give a damn.

About the author:

Bob Arter*'s stories have graced the pages of the Absinther Lit Review, Bonfire, Frigg, Gator Springs Gazette, Lit Pot, Ink Pot, Juked, Zoetrope All-Story Extra. and such assorted other sterling venues as the magazine you are presently holding. He resides in sunny Southern Cal where, though summer has faded, the oranges on the tree in his back yard bore all of the hope & promise that the holiday season has traditionally brought.