Chrysalis

(© 2018 by Russ Lewis All rights reserved)

 

The Dipsy Doodle drive-in's dining room was almost deserted when Rob got there. Unusual for a Friday night. But then, it was after eleven o'clock. Rob's friend, Jeff and Jeff's girl, Elizabeth already were there and the three kids from Birmingham came in right behind Rob. He moved some chairs from the next table so the Birminghamers could sit with them, making sure the girl would sit next to him. She had dark, shoulder-length hair, dark, dark eyes, and wore an unusual scent that excited him. When he looked at her the conversation among the other four at the table faded to a background hum. "Hi," he said. "I'm Rob Forrest. I've seen you at a couple games."

She flashed a smile and his heart did a little pirouette. "Yeah," she said. "I've seen you around too. I'm Jen… Jen Fox."

"I guess I won't see you at any more games."

"Why not?"

"I graduate next month."

"You can still go."

"I'll be in college." He stood up. "I'm gonna get a dog. Want anything?"

"Maybe a fudge sundae." She reached for her small purse.

"No." He waved her hand away from the purse. "I've got it."

She smiled at him. "Thanks."

When he got back from the counter he asked her, "What do you do in Birmingham besides go to football games?"

"I help in the shop. And I have a horse out at the stables."

"Which shop?"

"Fox art supply."

"Where do you live?"

"Over the shop." She seemed uncomfortable with the answer.

"If I lived over a shop I'd watch the people down in the street all the time."

"Sometimes I do." She smiled again.

Rob's buddy, Jeff Anders stood up and coaxed Elizabeth Ross to get up too. "We gotta go," Jeff said.

The two kids across the table who were from Birmingham pushed back their chairs. Jennifer started to push back too, but stopped. "I've got stuff coming."

"You can eat in the car, Jen," Ralph, from Birmingham said.

"I can drive you home," Rob said.

She hesitated, but nodded.

By the time their food was ready Rob and Jennifer were the only ones left in the drive-in's dining room. There were two cars outside in service slots and one carhop waiting for the final orders to be up, but the Dipsy Doodle was going to close at midnight, and the kitchen help was gradually shutting things down. Rob brought their food to the table on a tray.

"You graduate next month?" Jennifer asked him.

"Yeah." He inhaled her perfume and met her eyes.

"I still have a year to go," she looked away.

Breathing her scent gave him courage to ask the question that had been at the forefront of his mind ever since she'd come through the door. "Would you like to go to our graduation dance with me?" He waited while she took in his unexpected question. "I don't have a date yet." He held his breath, expecting her to say no.

She thought for a minute. "Yeah. Okay," she smiled. "If it's okay with my mom."

They finished their food and talked a few minutes longer. He got her to write her phone number on a napkin, which he put away carefully in his back pocket. The Dipsy was closing when they left. He drove into Birmingham to the Fox art supply store, parked at the deserted curb and walked her to the lighted stairway door at the end of the long, dark building. He thought about kissing her, but was afraid to try. "Goodnight, Jen" he said. "I'll call you." She unlocked the door, smiled at him, said goodnight, and was gone. He drove home intoxicated by her smile and by her scent.

 

The January graduation ceremony took place in the afternoon. After it was over Rob drove through light snow to Birmingham and parked in front of Fox art supply. It was almost dark, and the light over the stairway door was on. He rang the bell. "It's open." Jennifer's voice came from a small speaker next to the bell.

The living quarters over the store were pleasant and extensive. In a large, comfortably furnished living room beyond the entryway a middle-aged woman sat in a plush reading chair under a lamp, and Jennifer stood next to her in a pretty blue prom dress with a pleated, knee-length skirt. "Mom, this is Rob Forrest," Jennifer said as he came into the room.

"Glad to meet you," Rob said to the woman who was giving him the once-over.

"You're from Ferndale?" she asked. "The dance is at Lincoln High?"

"Yes."

"And what about after the dance?"

"If it's okay with you, we'll go to a friend's house… At least for a while. We should be back by midnight, or a little after."

"You just graduated," Jennifer's mother said. "And you're how old?"

"I'll be eighteen next month."

"And you have a car?"

"My dad's."

Mrs. Fox opened her book and smoothed it in her lap. "All right," she said. "Try to be back before dawn." She looked at Jennifer. "And you be careful what you do."

Jennifer opened a closet in the entryway and put on a padded jacket before they went down the stairs. In the car, she said, "She just doesn't get it."

"Get what?"

"That I'm not a little kid any more."

Rob started the car. "How about your dad? Does he get it?"

"My dad's in California with his new wife." She screwed up her face. "The artist! She paints crap!" Rob didn't know what to say. "I wish he was here. He doesn't treat me like a little kid all the time. I'm not a little kid."

The Lincoln High gym was decked out with papier maché goblins and a huge devil's head at one end of the basketball court. A sign over the railing in front of the bleachers said, "Good Luck Class of  '48." As Rob and Jennifer came in, Fats Domino's "My Blue Heaven" was blaring from some loudspeakers and the band was getting ready to play. "I'm not a very good dancer," Rob said.

"Me neither," Jennifer laughed.

Fats finished his song and the band began a slow number. "Wanna try?" Rob asked her. She came to him and he put one hand on her back and held her hand with the other. He began a slow step and she followed. "Maybe we're better than we thought." She felt wonderful and light in his arms, and her scent overwhelmed him.

After the dance they went to Elizabeth Ross's house with a bunch of the kids. They sat in Elizabeth's living room, ate the snacks Elizabeth's mother had laid out for them, and talked about what they were going to do now they were out of high school. Jennifer fell asleep in an armchair next to Rob, and watching her face as she slept he knew he was in love with her.

It was nearly two when they pulled up in front of Fox art supply. When Rob shut off the engine she moved closer. He put his arms around her and kissed her. She kissed back. He thought about going further, but he was afraid to try, and kissed her again. They kissed for a long time, until the car became uncomfortably cold. He walked her to the door and they kissed one last time. He drove home drunk on her kisses.

 

During February and March Rob was too busy getting started at Highland Park Junior College to do much else. He called Jennifer regularly. They went out once. He took her to see "Golden Earrings," a movie with Gypsy music his mind somehow connected with her perfume. They kissed for a long time before she went in.

Then, one Sunday morning he came down to breakfast and his dad was sitting at the table reading the Detroit News. For some reason Jennifer's scent was in the room. It was faint, but it was there. He picked up the comics and a section inside the comics fell out onto the table. The scent was stronger now. He flipped through the advertising section on the table, and there it was! An ad for a perfume named "Tabu," printed with an ink that was saturated with the fragrance.

"What's that perfume?" his mother asked as she came in from the kitchen with a tray.

"It's Tabu," Rob said, showing her the ad. "Jennifer wears it… The girl I've been going with."

"That's a perfume for an adult woman. Not for a teenager."

"I think it fits her," Rob said.

"I'm surprised her mother would let her wear it."

"Her mother thinks she's a little kid too. She's not."

"How old is she?" his mother asked.

"Seventeen."

"Well, she may not be a little kid, but she's still a kid. That perfume is for an adult woman who's after a man."

 

In May Rob asked Jennifer if she'd like to see The Student Prince at the Fisher Theater and then go to dinner. She checked with her mother, and the date was on.

He picked her up Friday evening at five and they drove into Detroit. The play was fun and the theater was gorgeous, but Jennifer seemed distracted. At dinner she was quiet and he had to put questions directly to her to get her to talk. Finally, they drove back to Birmingham and parked in front of the shop. The weather was warmer now, and they necked for an hour in the car. As usual, Rob thought about going beyond kisses, but his image of Jennifer wouldn't let him do it.

Finally they broke and he walked her to the door. They kissed again. She stepped back and looked into his face. "Why don't we get married?" she said. "If we were married we could be together all the time and my mother wouldn't be able to run my life any more."

It took Rob a minute to get his head around what she'd asked him. "I've got to finish school, Jen... So I can make a living."

"You could get a job."

He didn't know where to go from here. He was head-over-heels in love with this girl, but she was asking for something he couldn't give her. "Can't you wait for me to finish?" he asked. "I love you." He was glad it was dark because he knew he was blushing.

"I've gotta get out of here," she said. "I've gotta get out now! My mom runs my life. Every minute of it."

"You're seventeen. How could we get married?"

"I'll be eighteen in six months. We could get married then."

He thought about what it would be like to hold this girl in his arms for the rest of his life. It would be a dream beyond anything he could imagine. "I can't do it, Jen. I've got to finish school."

She opened the door and stepped inside. "See ya," she said in a firm voice and closed the door.

"I love you, Jen," he whispered.

When he got home he went up to his room and got out the perfume advertisement he'd hidden in his desk drawer. He sat with it for a long time; bewitched, remembering… inhaling Jennifer’s scent.