I loved that top. It had gold threads woven through it in a tic-tac-toe pattern. It was made to go to the disco. I was sitting at my desk playing with it one day before lunch, undoing and redoing the buttons, when I got the idea to tie the edges in a knot, like the dancers on Soul Train.
Then Mr. Scheer called lunch so I stood up. And Steve O’Connell looked at me, then Jeffrey Frohan did, then Keith O’Grady and Nick Dimitris did, and I understood what I’d been searching for my whole life: that feeling. It was the opposite of someone looking at me with annoyance, a feeling I knew in my bones. It was someone looking at me like…like they liked me. Sweet-sweet-better-than-candy-bars rush, they liked me.
I’d never had that feeling before. Nobody liked me. But suddenly the cutest boys in fifth grade did, because I showed my belly. Nobody had to tell me that’s why. I just knew.
My disco shirt was my new good luck charm. I started wearing it three times a week. Next thing you know, Jeffrey Frohan was serenading me in the lunchroom with that top 40 song, “Take Your Time—Do It Right.” Everyone watched really closely, especially the girls who always said they had too many for hopscotch, that I should go hopscotch by myself.
Everyone was sitting down except Jeffrey, who was standing right next to me, singing. About doing it. To me. I felt like Miss America. Nobody had to tell me this meant Jeffrey was my boyfriend now. I just knew.
The day Jeffrey came over my house was the first day I walked right up my driveway, no shame. Who was gonna laugh at my shitty house? Who was gonna make mooing noises at my back? Nobody was, because I had a boyfriend with me.
My mother smiled and made us ice cream cones, a bigger miracle than Jesus pushing that boulder aside and rising from the dead. My mother was a snapper and a spanker, not a smiler and a scooper. But a boy was at the house. A boy changed everything.
For one glorious week, I was popular. I was Jeffrey’s, so I was worth something. At recess I had a place to sit: on the sidelines of the kickball game, in my burnt sienna shirt, calling out, “Go, Jeffrey!” when he caught or kicked the ball.
But then he invited me to his house. And told his mom we were gonna do homework. And his mom let us go to his room. And close the door. Jeffrey put on a tape of the Do It song, but I didn’t feel like Miss America anymore, when there was no crowd to watch him sing to me.
I backed away from him in a horseshoe shape, shuffling my butt along the carpet, following the edge of his bed. The more he sang, the closer in he leaned. Finally, I shuffled my back up to the wall. When he leaned in, I had nowhere to lean back. His lips were a “do it” away from mine.
And I said, “No.”
Jeffrey got up and clicked the song off. He opened the door to his room and walked out. When I got downstairs his mom said, “You don’t feel good, Cyndy? I’ll take you home.”
The next day at school, there was no open spot at the lunch table. The boys didn’t get out the kickball. I had to play hopscotch alone.
Somebody should have told me that “No” ruins everything. I never knew.