At Jennifer’s house, it was UNO at the round glass table by the pool with her parents.
At Emily’s house, it was Life in the huge fancy dining room during a sleepover, her mom setting out hot pizzas around us.
At my house, it was Monopoly with my Mom and brother, or Go Fish when Nana visited.
But times were changing.
Most of us on my side of town were latch key kids. We took turns at each other’s houses until we knew which were the best for what we wanted to do that day.
Suzie’s parents had every cable channel, so that’s where we watched HBO.
Tonya’s mom had the toy-filled basement, complete with desks and chalkboard, to play school.
But Mike’s home was different. Even when his mom was around, she was sequestered in her bedroom. We could do anything there, as long as we didn’t bother her or eat her Ho-Ho’s.
So this is where we went to listen to music and talk about playing Spin the Bottle or Seven Minutes in Heaven.
I had no interest in those kinds of games, wasn’t even sure what to do. I was happy when the topic was dropped and an old movie was put on.
One day at Mike’s the topic came back up and I waited for it to drop again.
But someone pulled a warm bottle of Tab from the kitchen and placed it on the rug. I had no choice but to join the others in the circle.
So I did.
I prayed the soda bottle didn’t point to me.
But it did.
To hoots and hollers I entered the cleared-out hall closet with Mike.
We stood in the dark. I could hear him breathing. Feel his heat in the small room. Smell his earthy boy-sweat smell that was unique and familiar.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like Mike. He was always nice to me. He was a huge Three Stooges fan. How could I not respect a kid with such good taste in TV?
He wasn’t bad looking, either. Smooth dark skin in such contrast to mine. Inky hair. Eyes black and thoughtful. A shy smile that made him almost beautiful to look at when he forgot to be self-conscious.
He wasn’t smiling now. I could tell.
I had always been just one of the guys. All the kids we hung out with treated me as such.
But I had a hunch about Mike.
A hunch that was confirmed in that closet.
He was one of the few boys actually taller than me. I felt his presence trembling before me, hesitant.
I adapted to the dark a little, and I saw the flicker of his eyes. A hot, large hand rested on my waist.
I wanted this to end but didn’t want to make a scene. My heart thumped faster.
I took advantage of the nice boy in front of me whose secret hopes I could feel moving through the fingertips gently pulling me towards him.
“Please don’t”, I whispered.
He froze, then dropped his hand.
“It’s just a game,” he whispered back, not unkindly.
“I know. But still.” I looked at the floor, our feet inches from each other, silhouetted by the crack letting light in beneath the door.
He took a deep breath and huffed it back out. “Okay. But I’m not leavin’ til they tell us time’s up.”
For the next five minutes I stood inches from a sweet, cute boy I had no reason not to like yet no desire to kiss, as he stood facing the girl he’d give anything to kiss.
His restraint in that closet and the secret we held once the door was swung open on us, tumbling our blinking selves back into the light of day, was my initiation from the board games and imaginary play of our youth into the more grown-up games of the heart.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This post was written for The Red Dress Club Memoir writing prompt.
The prompt went like this:
This week, we want you to recall the games you played when you were young.
Did you love Monopoly, Yahtzee, or Uno? Or did you prefer backgammon, Trouble, or Scrabble?
Write a piece that explores one of your memories.
I have always enjoyed board games. Even now I am addicted to Scrabble on my iPad. I play pretty much
hourly daily. So this prompt made me smile.
The more I tried to single out one particular childhood memory for this, the more the post wrote itself around that time in the closet. I didn’t even know my point until I finished and realized what the last sentence would be.
Mike was a real kid (though all the names here were changed), someone who maybe I could have learned to like That Way if I gave it a chance. I never told anyone that I figured out he liked me-liked me, and I’m guessing he never told anyone, either.
Hindsight being what it is, he’s exactly the kind of guy I wished I had kissed when I was young. Sorry, Mike!