High school can be a confusing time.
I still remember the constant pressure to appear cool and sophisticated when half the time we were just trying to figure it all out.
There was also the pressure to understand women.
Our confusion was compounded by the fact that, not only were we struggling to understand women, but they were constantly sending us mixed messages.
One misunderstanding occurred soon after I met Hannah.
She transferred to our school during my sophomore year.
I noticed her right away because she had hair the color of wheat drying in the afternoon sun, and eyes as pale and blue as a winter sky. She wore a lot of white shirts, ribbons, and flowing skirts. There was nothing tight-fitting or revealing in her wardrobe, but her smile radiated a certain warmth.
We had a couple classes together, but she sat on the opposite side of the room, so I didn’t get much chance to talk to her.
I saw her from a distance when she was with some other girls. I could have sworn I caught her smiling at me.
The girls she hung out with tended to be the intellectually-gifted crowd who pretty much kept to themselves.
Once, I overheard some girls talking about Hannah in the hall. All I caught was a mention about her parents being very strict.
Despite Hannah’s aloof friends, there were a couple of occasions on which I was certain she had been smiling at me.
The first time she spoke to me occurred one morning before class. I was leaning on the wall outside the school smoking a cigarette, and she was on her way to class. She paused for the briefest moment, gave me a flash of a smile, leaned toward my ear and whispered, “Good girls don’t, but I do,” before hurrying on and disappearing through the doorway.
I was stunned. Stars danced before my eyes, and I experienced the same sensation I once had while running through a yard at night when I had the misfortune of treading on the head of a rake, causing the handle to spring up and smite me briskly between the eyes.
I could hear the throbbing beat of a song by The Knack that was climbing the charts at the time, titled, “Good Girls Don’t.”
When my eyes began to clear, I glanced quickly around, wondering if anyone else had witnessed the remarkable thing which had just occurred. There were a few scattered groups of students talking and smoking, but none were paying me the slightest attention.
I finished my cigarette in silence, and lit another. I needed to think.
It was while I was smoking the second cigarette I realized I was in love with Hannah. The more I thought about it, the more surprised I was that I hadn’t noticed it sooner.
When Hannah and I were in our shared classes later that day, I tried to catch her eye for a confirmation of the startling revelation she had made earlier, but she acted as if nothing had changed. I assumed she was just playing it cool.
I didn’t see her the rest of the day, and she disappeared immediately after school.
The next morning, I took up my position near the school door earlier than usual, determined to catch Hannah and actually talk to her.
After what seemed like an eternity, my patience was rewarded, and along came Hannah. Again she paused briefly and gave me that flash of a smile.
Before I could speak, she pressed a small, folded piece of paper into my hand, and said in a whisper, “I’ll be babysitting Friday night. Here’s the address. Why don’t you stop by and see me?” She started to walk away, and then, as an afterthought, darted back and whispered, “good girls don’t, but I do,” and then she was gone.
I was beginning to find this series of disappearing acts disconcerting, but there was something intriguing about the mystery of it all.
I lit another cigarette and unfolded the note. In loopy girlish handwriting, it contained an address and mentioned a time after which the kids would be in bed.
Hannah managed to avoid me all day Thursday and Friday. It seemed like every time I passed a radio, that song by The Knack was playing at maximum volume.
Friday night finally arrived. I still had no idea what to expect, since I had never actually talked to this girl. Several possibilities had occurred to me, each of them steamier than the last, but there was an element of uncertainty. This was new territory for me.
I arrived early, and had to pass some time pacing back and forth on the sidewalk outside the house before quietly tapping on the front door.
She answered almost immediately, and quietly led me through the house and onto a deck that looked out over the fenced-in back yard. She asked me to wait a moment while she checked on the kids and disappeared. I was getting used to that.
I sat in the dark and lit a cigarette. Before long, she was back. She sat down very close to me on the bench.
“Thanks for coming,” she said.
Suddenly, I felt her hand inside my jean jacket. This girl doesn’t waste any time, I thought. The hand emerged with my cigarette pack. She placed one between those gorgeous lips of hers and leaned closer to light it off of the tip of mine.
She leaned back and took a long, deep drag, and slowly exhaled.
“God that feels good,” she said. “I haven’t had a drag in weeks.”
She replaced the pack in my pocket, looked me in the eye and said, “My mom says good girls don’t smoke, and she would kill me if she knew, but I have got to have a cigarette once in awhile, do you know what I mean? I was sure I could count on you.”
The Knack quickly faded, and all that was left was the sound of the autumn night and two people smoking under the stars.