So. I'm working on this project -- a book, actually. For NaNoWriMo. I don't like calling it a book because that scares me. "Project" seems less frightening and not so pretentious.
Here's the first "chapter of sorts," in all its first draft glory. I'm tossing it out there to give myself a feeling of legitimacy. And to garner some accountability.
Here goes nothing. Be kind, 'kthx.
The voice bellowed from across the refreshment table.
“Hey Nixie! Look how much my feet sweated when we were dancing just now!”
Ansel Mahler, shoe in hand, hobbled over to the punch bowl where I was pouring my third cup of sherbet drink. Being nervous made me thirsty.
“Wow Ansel. That’s something.” I tried to look interested. Mama and Nana always told me to be polite when “engaging in conversation.” All part of being a lady. Especially in social situations. Even gross ones like this.
“Isn’t it, though?” He grinned from ear to ear. “Wanna dance again later? When they play ‘Stairway to Heaven’?”
“Maybe.” I looked around to see who, if anyone, was watching us. No one was.
“Cool. I’ll come find you.” Ansel lumbered over, shoe still in hand, to the corner of the room where the football players were giving each other noogies and engaging in cookie-eating contests. Their suit jackets were tossed on chairs and their ties loosened. They all looked at the sweaty shoe like it was some sort of prize in a contest. High-fives started flying Ansel’s way. He turned to look at me and smiled shyly.
It was the last junior high dance of the year. The Spring Fling,. I was wearing my brand new Gunne Sax -- a denim sundress with ribbon and lace trim that made me look at least 14. Well, I thought so anyway. And I was practically in eighth grade now -- that had to count for something. Seventh grade was already almost a memory. Two more weeks of school and it would be summer vacation time.
I was thinking about having another glass of punch and was reaching for a cup when my best friend Pammy came rushing over, frantic and talking.
“Nixie! Oh my gosh you will never believe what I just heard. Jenny Parker told Susie Barnes who told Kate Zimmer who told me that a couple of boys stole some...” Her voice dropped to a stage whisper. “... vodka from their parents’ liquor cabinet and poured it in the punch. You better be careful.” Pammy was always worried about stuff like that -- she was a true blue friend but sometimes she was really a big goody-goody spoilsport. You’d never think it to look at her, though. Pammy was the prettiest girl in school -- at least I thought so. Tall, with long blond hair. Like a Breck girl. But she was a little too prim and proper to be in with the popular crowd. Which didn’t seem to bother her at all. I envied her for that.
I grabbed the punch ladle and poured the fullest cup of punch I could and then drank it all in one big gulp, watching Pammy’s eyes bug out in horror.
“Aw Pammy -- you need to take a chill pill. Don’t be such a stick in the mud. Do you drink I’ve been thinking?” I staggered around a bit to make my point, grabbing onto the table for balance. “Look. I can still touch my nose. Kinda. Now watch me try to walk a straight line. I saw this on an episode of ‘Columbo’ once. Or maybe it was ‘Hawaii 5-O’”
“Don’t worry -- there’s nothing in this punch but 7Up and rainbow sherbet. Here, taste.” I refilled my glass and made her take a sip. I needed to stop, though. Too much of this stuff had made my tummy ache a little. “Um, did you hear which guys had the vodka?” I tried to sound cool and casual when I said it, but my heart was racing just a bit, hoping to hear one name in particular.
“Um, no, not really.” Pammy was a little distracted as she poked around the half-empty trays of cookies. The football players had made a mess of things when they raided the refreshment table before their cookie eating contest. “I’m looking for some of those chocolate chip cookies my mom made. I can always tell which ones are hers because she puts nuts in them. Not many people do that -- but they should, because the nuts just make them taste better, don’t you think...”
“Yeah.” Now I was the one who was distracted. I was watching a group of guys at the front of the room, up by where the disc jockey -- not anyone great, just Coach Hall, the basketball coach/boys PE teacher -- were standing. Honestly, I wasn’t sure why these things were called dances -- they mostly were all about groups of boys and groups of girls standing around, talking to each other, with the occasional group dance and every-once-in-a-while couple dance. The dance I had with Ansel was the only one I’d had as part of a couple that night.
What I was hoping for -- what I had thought about for weeks, what I written in my diary about, what I had dreamed about -- was the chance to have a dance with Kevin Ritter. He was the reason I was distracted, why I was watching that group of boys, who were now gathered around the audio equipment, looking at albums and telling Coach what to play next. He was why I picked this particular dress for the dance and worked so hard to get my hair to look just right and not so frizzy, which is hard to do with thick curly hair like mine that has a mind of its own.
Kevin Ritter. With his wavy light brown hair and brown eyes. And that smile -- even with braces, it was dazzling. Better than Donny Osmond. And David Cassidy.
“Whatchalookingat.” Pammy came and stood beside me, still chewing. The football players had obviously missed some of her mom’s cookies when they raided the refreshment table. Pammy’s mom had the reputation of being a great cook -- Mrs. Campbell’s cookies were always really popular at bake sales and parties and dances.
“Oh, nothing.” I wanted to sound confident and not give anything away. Too bad that didn’t work.
“Oh yeah... Kevin Ritter. He looks pretty groovy tonight.” Pammy wiped her mouth with a napkin.
“Kevin Ritter always looks groovy.” I said, a little too quickly.
“I haven’t seen him dance with anyone tonight. He’s just been hanging around Coach Hall with those other basketball team guys, trying to be cool.”
“Kevin doesn’t have to try to be cool. He just is.” I sighed, even though I didn’t mean to.
“Jeez, Nixie. You so like him.” Pammy laughed.
“Do not. Well, yeah. Kinda.”
“Kinda nothing. Do you know him. like know him know him... or better yet, does he know you? Those jocks stick to themselves. Or the cheerleaders.” Pammy nodded towards Jenny Parker and the other members of the cheerleading squad, who were attempting to flirt with Kevin and his buddies.
She had a good point. Ansel, who was one of the stars of the football team, was an exception. We had math class together and sat across the aisle from one another. I let him copy down our homework assignment a couple of times, when he’d been absent because of an away football game. That obviously had made a good impression on him and his big sweaty feet, because he always seemed to make a point to say hi and talk to me whenever he saw me out of class. I took a quick look to see if he coming to ask me to dance again, as things were starting to wrap up, as it was nearly 10 o’clock.
“I think he does. Know me. He was on the stage crew for the musical this year, so he has to at least know my name. Right?” I had a pretty large part in the junior high play -- not the lead, but I got to sing a solo. And the yearbook had a couple of pictures of me from the show, about which I pretended not to care but was in fact secretly really excited.
“You’d think so.” Pammy sounded skeptical. I chose to ignore that comment.
The sounds of Three Dog Night and “Joy to the World” came blasting through the stereo. Coach had let one of the basketball players mess with the sound system and whoever it was obviously had good taste in music but didn’t know what he was doing.
“Oh wow -- I love this song.” Pammy started moving to the music, not caring that no one else around us was dancing.
“Me too.” I moved a little myself, careful not to be too obvious and draw a lot of attention.
Pammy stopped abruptly and looked thoughtful.
“What if we went up front and just sat on the edge of the stage -- close to where he’s hanging out. Then it wouldn’t be so weird and obvious for you to go and talk to him.”
“Hmm.” I wasn’t sure about this at all.
“C’mon. It’s not a big deal. Especially if you don’t act like it is.”
She had a point. “Fine. You go first.”
Coach had put “Rockin’ Robin” on the stereo and kids were moving onto the dance floor as Pammy and I weaved our way through the crowd to the front part of the stage. Kevin and his pals were still there, some sitting backwards on the metal folding chairs, others leaning back supported only by the back chair legs and a couple were up by the sound system with Coach.
We walked by their little group to a vacant section on the stage. I flipped my hair and laughed loudly as we passed by, trying to act cool but looking out of the corner of my eye to see if Kevin was watching. He wasn’t.
We sat on the stage, legs dangling and swinging in time to the music. The dance floor was packed -- kids were moving in couples and in groups. Part of me wished I was confident enough to go join them -- but I wasn’t.
“Well, did he see you?” Pammy finally asked.
“No. At least I don’t think so.”
“Boys are so stupid sometimes.”
I suddenly was ready for the dance and the evening and my unmet expectations to all be over. The beginning notes of “Stairway to Heaven” -- the traditional last dance song at our school -- began to play. I saw Ansel look around the room -- I figured he was looking for me. I smoothed my hair and straightened my dress. It was a big deal to dance the last dance of the night. Ansel finally caught my eye and lumbered forward to the stage, reaching me and holding out his hand.
“Hey Nixie. Wanna dance?” Straight and to the point. He had both his shoes on. Thank goodness.
With a glance over to Kevin, who was still sitting with his friends, still too cool to dance and still ignoring the cheerleaders, I nodded yes and followed Ansel to the floor. He put his arms around my waist and I put my hands on his shoulders -- he was too tall for me to reach around his neck -- and we began that standing and turning in a circle thing that we called slow dancing. I sighed and closed my eyes, just focusing on the music, trying not to get dizzy. Or to think about Ansel’s sweaty shoes.
May 17, 1973
School dance tonight -- the last one of the year. No more seventh grade -- yeah! It was a pretty good dance, even though YOU KNOW WHO didn’t even look at me once. And I was wearing my new Gunne Sak and everything. At least he didn’t dance with anyone special, not that I could tell anyway. Including that Jenny Parker. Blech. Oh -- that blech is for Jenny Parker -- NOT YOU KNOW WHO. Danced a lot with Ansel M.-- he’s nice, but just friend-nice. Not boyfriend-nice. But I think he might like-like me as more than a friend. What am I going to do about that. I don’t know.
Can’t believe school is almost over for the summer. I so want to get high honors on my last report card to just show up that smarty JP. And Uncle Tommy gets here the last day of school -- yeah! He’s not teaching any classes at his college this summer so he’s going to be with us at Nana’s lake house the whole time I’m there. Yeah again! I’m glad he’s driving me up there instead of Mama and Daddy -- they are so unfun and when they drive, we have to listen to their boring music on the radio. YUCK! I hope both Porter and Harry’s baseball teams keep winning so M&D stay here as long as possible and I can be on my own and have fun! Who knew my stupid brothers would be actually good for something?
Wonder what YOU KNOW WHO is doing this summer -- maybe I’ll get up the nerve to ask him before the end of school and then see if maybe we could be pen pals -- with me going away, that makes sense. I’ll see what Pammy thinks about me doing that -- how cool would it be to be pen pals with HIM? Uncle Tommy says that writing as much as I can is good practice for being a writer. Which is why I try to write in you so much, Diary. Being pen pals with YOU KNOW WHO would be a double great thing. I could get to know him and impress him with my writing. That’s what I’m going to think about tonight as I fall asleep -- reading letters from YKW on the porch at Nana’s. Oh -- I’m also gonna think about Pammy’s skating party tomorrow afternoon, which is going to be so much FUN. I think Ansel’s going to be there because he’s friends with Pammy’s brother Jack and it’s his party too. Oh boy. Oh well.
Until tomorrow, Diary.
Bryant Junior High
Home of the Pirates
Property of Nixie McKey
It’s been great sitting next to you in Math class. Thanks for all your help with the homework and everything. Your a great girl whos really cute and smart and a really good dancer. I hope that I can get to know you better and stuff next year. Or maybe even over the summer.
#78 Go Pirates!
Nixie Nixon (ha-ha -- don’t you think that’s funny?)
Have a great summer, Miss Smarty Pants.
I’m not gonna write a lot since we’re gonna see each other all the time until you go to your Nana’s house but it’s been a great year, hasn’t it. You are the best friend a girl like me could ever have (most of the time) and I can’t wait until we’re cool 8th GRADERS! Yeah! Oh -- thanks for all your help in English class with my essays. You’re the best writer I know and I’m so glad that we’re friends now cause that will be so cool when you are famous! I’m not going to tell you to have a great summer because I know you WILL! Wish I could go with you this year -- stupid music camp. Oh well.
It has been a pleasure having you as a student this year. Your participation in class is always interesting and appropriate, particularly on Current Event days. You have also grown as a writer, and your Uncle Thomas should be very proud of you. I look forward to having you in my eighth grade honors English class next year. Please give your uncle my best. Have a good summer.
Didn’t we have fun doing the play this year -- and you’re right -- "Around the World in 97 Days would still be a better title." You were SO great as Mrs. Murchison and can sing SO well -- almost as good as me. Ha ha! Can’t wait until next year’s show -- wonder what MK will pick out for us stars to do. Have a great summer -- maybe we can get together and go to the movies -- call me!