Later that night, Myrtle was alone in bed thinking about loss. In a very short time, she lost her soulmate, Bradford, and her first love, Pop. Feeling tired and lonely, she pulled out her journal.
In 1968, 16 years old meant you were practically a full grown woman. I had celebrated my birthday a few weeks ago and was still suffering some disappointment. Vera, Pop and I had been friends for about 8 years and an inseparable trio. While I loved Vera like one of my sisters, I knew that Pop was more than a friend. I just kept waiting for him to realize the same thing. In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I had convinced myself that he was just waiting for that milestone and once I hit the magic age of 16 he would profess his love. Instead, I received a funny card and a sweater from him while we were all hanging out together.
Football season was over but Pop also played basketball so Vera and I attended as many of the home games as we could. Neither one of us were the cheerleader type but we didn’t mind screaming and jumping up and down in the stands. That night, Pop played exceptionally well scoring 25 points and making several key plays. After the game, everyone was congratulating him and we could barely get close enough to say hello. When he saw me, he grabbed my arm and drew me and Vera off to the side.
“I’m so glad you guys made it. Can you believe that game?” Pop’s eyes were shining with excitement and pride.
“I hate to say it but even a knucklehead like you can do good sometimes. And, you did good Pop.” Vera still loved giving him a hard time at every opportunity.
“It was great, Pop. We are so proud of you.” I was ready to get out of the crowd so was about to tell him that Vera and I were leaving.
“Hey, why don’t you guys come over to my house for a while. Some of the team and their girls are headed there after we shower. What do you say?”
Vera and I looked at each other and both nodded. “We’ll meet you there in a little while.” I told him.
Pop usually didn’t invite anyone over to his house. We were his best friends and I could count on one hand how many times we’d been there. So I was a little surprised he had asked the team to come. When we got there, I realized that his parents and sister weren’t home. That explained everything. Pop wasn’t a shy person but he didn’t want to take any chances with his parents embarrassing him and he was very protective of his little sister.
“Come on in Myrtle and Vera. Do you want a soda?”
“Sure, I’ll take one.” I told him and Vera quickly said yes too.
We walked through the rooms speaking to people we knew but both of us felt out of place. Pop was our friend but many of the basketball players had cheerleader girlfriends and we weren’t close to any of them. Some were mean girls but most just had their own groups of friends that they spent time with so we didn’t know each other very well. Even in a small town in the 60s, people tended to keep to their own small cliques.
I sat down on a couch in the library and Vera went to get another drink. I briefly saw here through the doorway talking to Joe, her sometimes boyfriend who had just arrived. With a sigh, I leaned back knowing that I was probably on my own for the rest of the night. After a few minutes, Pop came through the door and shut it behind him.
“Did she ditch you for that loser?” Pop actually liked Joe but was protective of his friend, Vera, and didn’t like their on and off relationship.
“It’s fine. I’m enjoying some quiet time. Your dad has a great book collection.”
“Don’t let it fool you. These are all for show. Dad doesn’t spend time on anything that doesn’t make him money or give him new connections.”
The acid in Pop’s voice bothered me. I had a close relationship with my family and sometimes had a hard time understanding the disdain he had for his parents.
“Well, anyway, they are pretty.” I said.
“That’s why I like you Myrtle. You can see the beauty in something that has none to other people.”
I didn’t know what to say so I just looked at my hands.
“Did you have a good birthday a few weeks ago, Myrtle?” Pop’s voice had gotten softer so I looked up. His face was only a few inches from mine and my breath caught.
“I guess so.”
“Oh, okay. There was something I wanted to give you that day but I chickened out.”
I grabbed his hand and asked, “What was it, Pop?”
When he looked at me again, I knew. As he leaned in closer, I was afraid I would pass out. ‘Keep it together, keep it together. Don’t let him know you’ve never been kissed.’
When his lips touched mine, it was so soft that I wasn’t sure if he had truly touched me. I exhaled as he pulled back slightly and then he grabbed the back of my head. With his hand in my hair, he kissed me again and this time I definitely knew he had touched me. It was everything I had dreamed of and I didn’t want it to end.
Too bad Vera chose that moment to barge in with Joe.
“It’s about time. I didn’t think the two of you would ever play tonsil hockey. Don’t worry Joe and I will find another room.”
Pop looked at me and busted out laughing. “She does have a way with words, doesn’t she?”
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