CRUISIN' THE NIGHT AWAY
This Valentine's Day Americana fantasy belongs in the Uber/Original category. All characters are created by me, though a few may remind you of someone.
All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
The registered trademarks mentioned in this story are © of their respective owners. No infringement of their rights is intended, and no profit is gained.
This story depicts a budding relationship between consenting teenaged women. If such a story frightens you, you better click on the X in the top-right corner and find something else to read.
This story contains a touch of profanity. Readers who are easily offended by bad language may wish to read something other than this story.
NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR:
Written: for the 2016 Royal Academy of Bards' Valentine's Day Invitational.
- Thank you very much for your help, Wendy Arthur :)
As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D
Description: Sometimes, a photo can send the person looking at it on a nostalgic trip back to their younger years; to a simpler, more innocent time. For Frances Maguire, a black-and-white snapshot from 1962 of four people posing in front of a '55 Chevrolet One-Fifty sends her back to a time of black shades and dark-blue dungarees, of undiluted rock'n'roll and the growl of small-block V8s, of friendship, love, and cruisin' the night away…
CRUISIN' THE NIGHT AWAY
Author's note: This is a fantasy, pure and simple… ;)
The garage belonging to Frances Maguire was dark and quiet. Larger than usual at eighteen by thirty feet, it had a row of toolboxes at the far wall and a system of shelves lining the near wall. The back end saw a couch and a low table that carried an unruly stack of old car magazines, a few napkins and a wrench that Frances had forgotten to put back into the proper toolbox the last time she had been in there. The fire and burglar-proof sliding door that led to the house itself stood between the system of shelves, and a metallic clang from the handle proved that someone was about to enter the garage.
Tiny, blinking red lights on the two smoke detectors in the ceiling were soon joined by a series of dizzying flashes from the strip lights. It didn't take long for the garage to be fully lit up which revealed a flip-over calendar on the wall that offered plenty of bare, female skin, a long marquee that said GM Goodwrench Welcomes All Race Fans to the California Speedway, several black-and-white photos in brushed aluminum frames, and finally a car-shaped lump in the middle of the floor protected by white sheets.
Frances moved the sliding door fully aside and stepped over the threshold. Having just turned seventy in January, she had gone gray, become slower and more rounded - and perhaps mellowed out just a bit compared to her younger years - but she had lost none of her spunk, nor the silvery-blue luster of her eyes that still shone like beacons. What annoyed her the most was the fact she had begun to grow shorter. She had always been five foot eleven in socks, even as a teen, but she had lost a full inch and a half somewhere. It would only get worse, she knew that from her late mother, and it bothered her.
Grunting, she shuffled around the car-shaped lump, admiring the outline of the round headlights, the hood ornaments and the protruding tailfins. She wore regular clothes - a cream flannel shirt and dark-gray slacks of the sensible, high-waisted kind - rather than her indispensable khaki coverall, so she wasn't about to get down on her back and roll in under the vehicle to tinker with it like she loved to do.
She carried a mug of tea, but the steam that poured off the surface proved it was still far too hot to drink. Instead, she shuffled down to the couch at the back of the garage and put the mug on the low table next to the napkins and the car magazines.
A smile graced her features as she turned back to the car-shaped lump. It was an expensive hobby to have for a retired journalist, but restoring the old car was the next best thing in her life. It gave her an opportunity to reminisce while still working on a project that looked ahead. She and her neighbor's car-crazy nephew - at twenty-two, he was barely out of kindergarten - had worked hard on putting the vehicle back together after she had bought it at a 'Last Chance Before The Junkyard'-auction for just under seven thousand dollars.
The lure of the rounded shape proved too strong, and Frances began to pull off the protective sheets one section at a time. It didn't take long for the 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air two-door to come into view. Now sporting a custom paint job of swirling gold and metallic purple rather than the drab beige it had arrived in, the car was in good shape - and what a shape it was. The swooping curves from the round headlights with the chrome hoods, past the near-vertical windshield, over the reclining roofline, and down to the large trunk and the two huge fins housing the tail lights were just as awesome and sexy as they had been in 1955 when the basic model line known as the General Motors TriFive had been introduced.
"Hell yeah," Frances mumbled, kicking the sheets aside so she could really look at the car she had been working on for close to four years. Apart from the wild paint job and the mint interior, the rest of the vehicle was surprisingly uncustomized - like the steel wheels that had merely been painted a reflective silver - but her goal had always been to make it a solid car for weekend cruising rather than a showroom special that would require skills and wealth that exceeded what she could throw at it.
Her sharp eye noticed a dull spot on the left-side fender so she made a beeline for the nearest shelf to find the soft rag she always used. Whistling through her teeth, she polished the offending spot into oblivion before she moved all the way around the car to see if other dull spots were trying to sneak up on her.
Everything seemed to be all right, save for a touch of rust on the rear bumper that she already knew about, so she threw the soft rag back onto the shelf and headed for her tea at the low table. Before she could make it there, her eyes fell on the collection of black-and-white photos next to the calendar with the scantily-clad mechanics' favorite.
The photos had always had a strong pull on her. Today was no exception, so she made a ninety-degree right-hand turn and shuffled over to the wall. One photo in particular called out for her as it always did. Smiling, she took the brushed aluminum frame off the wall and gazed at it warmly. Four cool cats wearing high-tops, dungarees, white T-shirts, dark car coats and black shades were posing in front of a 1955 Chevrolet One-Fifty four-door, the same basic shape as her own '57 Bel-Air, though much cheaper to buy.
Overcome by a wave of nostalgia, the smile faded from Frances' face as she shuffled back to the Bel-Air and leaned against the side. Feeling the car like that wasn't enough, so she opened the door and slid onto the bench seat behind the thin, white steering wheel that sported a chrome inner circle for the horn.
To be in the proper position for cruising, she slipped down low in the seat while she looked at the youthful faces of the cats who were trying so hard to act cool it almost turned into a joke. It hadn't been a joke that day, Valentine's Day 1962.
Frances chuckled as she looked up from the photo. Though the sliding garage door blocked her line of sight, she could almost see the old Chevy One-Fifty crawl up the steep road to her parents' house late in the afternoon. Better still, she could hear an ethereal echo of the original, undiluted rock'n'roll that blasted out of the car's open windows.
Combing her ducktail to get every last strand of well-greased hair down smooth, the sixteen-year old thoroughbred-tomboy Frances 'Frankie' Maguire stepped out onto the garden path in front of her parents' house up in the hills just north of the city of Messalinas, California. The shadows were already lengthening though the clock had barely reached four in the afternoon, but it didn't stop her from sliding a pair of black shades up her nose so her precious silvery-blue eyes wouldn't be harmed by the sun's last rays. A positive side-effect was that it looked cool beyond belief.
She wore red Converse high-tops, five-pocket dungarees in the proper dark-blue color - with turn-ups, obviously - a white, men's T-shirt and finally a gold-and-purple car coat that sported an illustration of a prancing stallion on the back. The car coat had been zipped up to half-mast like it should.
The Prancing Stallions. That was the name of the crew she was a proud member of. They weren't a gang though some of the town's older folks yelled at them and called them delinquents, but they knew how to have fun. She was the youngest of the four members - not to mention the only girl - but she had been a tomboy since she could walk and had enough raw power to kick everyone's asses if she had to. Not that she would. Chuck, Rusty and Jimmy were her buds. The best crew anyone could ever hope to ride with.
Frances had only had her driver's license for a month following her sixteenth birthday in January, but by sneaking out to test-drive her father's Edsel, she was already a better driver than the eighteen-year old Jimmy whose Chevrolet One-Fifty they always used for cruising the neon-lit streets of Messalinas.
The black four-door Chevy had been a hand-me-down from Jimmy's father. It was six and some-odd years old and it was only a bog-standard model, but it served them well. It was a gas-guzzler, the radiator would boil at regular intervals, and it could gobble up a quart of oil faster than Frances could drink a large Coke, but it got them from A to B, and it had a three-speed manual transmission and a two-sixty-five cubic inch Turbo-Fire V8 so it could even go fast if they wanted to.
It wasn't long before Frances could hear it chugging along, groaning up the hill in second gear. Taking a stick of Ripley's spearmint bubblegum, she stepped further down the garden path so she would be ready for when her buds would show. The ducktail needed a touch-up, so she took her indispensable comb from her rear pocket and smoothed down a few stray strands of her brown hair that was so dark it looked black in certain situations.
Once the One-Fifty carrying the Prancing Stallions arrived at the top of the hill and drove into the cul-de-sac in front of Frances' parents' house, it was ticking and steaming from the long climb. Frances chuckled as she opened the garden gate and shuffled out to her buds. "Hey, fellas. Man, I think ya need some water before we can go anywhere… dontcha ever check the radiator, Jimmy? Smells like ya almost ran it dry."
"Hey, Frankie," James 'Jimmy' Cahill, jr said as he climbed out of the Chevrolet. "Sure I check it. It's up front where it's always been."
Frances chuckled as she slapped the gangly Jimmy's palm in the traditional Stallion greeting. He had several inches on her, but she still managed to appear larger because of her greater mass. "Is that a fact? No, I meant, didya check how much coolant ya got in there?"
"Ya probably shoulda."
"Meh," Jimmy said with a shrug. Unlike Frances who could quote from the General Motors promotional material, he wasn't a car enthusiast. He used his wheels to get around and to pick up girls, sure, but how it actually ran was beyond his sphere of interest. It had taken him a week to find the oil filler cap when he first got it, at which point the Chevrolet's V8 engine had nearly become a lump of molten metal. He knew Frances was itching to buy the car off him because her folks didn't want to get one for her - they didn't think a girl should be driving on her own - but he had promised his father to keep it for at least three years until he got a job good enough to buy a newer car.
"Ah, don't matter. We can steal some of pop's gardening water. He won't know," Frances said and turned towards the other two Stallions. "Hey, fellas. Are ya ready to cruise the night away? It's gonna be a great Valentine's Day. There's gonna be girls, girls, girls everywhere in town tonight, dontchaknow," she continued and slapped palms with Rusty and Chuck who swarmed out behind Jimmy.
Like Frances and Jimmy, Rusty and Chuck wore the standard-issue uniform of red high-tops, dark-blue dungarees and a white T-shirt. Their car coats were zipped to half-mast, and their black shades were hanging from the hem of the T's, ready to be put on when the situation called for it, or whenever cute girls were near.
"Hey, Frankie. Yeah, we're definitely lookin' for some teenyboppers tonight," Russell 'Rusty' Cobb said. He was the sensitive one of the bunch, and if hard-pressed, he would admit to having a crush on Frances. It was wholly inappropriate since she was a fully-fledged Stallion too, but at least she hadn't noticed anything. If she ever did, he would have to crawl into one of the Carlsbad caverns in New Mexico and disappear for a century. At nineteen, he was the oldest of the four, and his youthful looks were already maturing - the row of soft downs on his upper lip proved it.
The eighteen-year old Charles 'Chuck' Sassnick jr. was the last but by no means the quietest member of the Prancing Stallions. To compensate for his short and wide stature, he was always good for a joke or two or three - or twenty. Chuck drove everybody nuts at regular intervals, but he understood to keep most of it under wraps when cruisin' with his buds. On the days where he forgot, Frances would make sure to remind him by shooting silvery-blue fire at him until he would shut up, which would be PDQ. "What's buzzin', cuzzin Frankie?" he said as he slapped her palm. "They're standin' in a big line already."
"Aw yeah? No kiddin'?"
"Cross mah heart, bust a gut. There's a big star in town today. Jackson Fernley, the former lead singer of The Truehearts. He's signing records down at DelMarco's on Main. Giving away roses too!"
"Awwwww!" Frances said and pretended to swoon. The others duly laughed at her antics because they all knew that come hell or high water, Frankie Maguire would never, ever swoon at anyone or anything, full stop.
"Yeah," Rusty said, picking up where Chuck had left off, "the dolls were lined up five deep when we drove past just now."
Jimmy's hair was thinning even at eighteen so his favored hairstyle was a flat-top crewcut that never needed any attention, but the other two sported ducktails like Frances, and their combs were hard at work keeping all the locks in place in the windy conditions at the cul-de-sac atop the hill.
Before Frances could shuffle into the garden to fill a container so they could water the One-Fifty's radiator, the front door opened and her mom came out waving her free hand in the air. The Kodak she carried in the other made it clear what her intentions were. "Boys! Yoo-hoo!" the elder Mrs. Maguire cried as she hurried down the garden path. "Hello, James… Charles… Russell. You're going to take good care of my little girl tonight, aren't you?"
"Yes, Mrs. Maguire," all three teenagers said, nodding.
"Please remember the midnight curfew. She's only sixteen, you know. And please, no beer. Not when you're driving."
"Yes, Mrs. Maguire. Of course not, Mrs. Maguire," all three teenagers said.
"Good! Good… before you all go, please let me take a photo of you. Oh, you look so dashing in your- Frances? Frances? Where did she go?" Grace Maguire said and looked around for her daughter who had used the moment to vamoose.
Jimmy, Chuck and Rusty all glanced at each other while Mrs. Maguire searched for her daughter. It was hard to fathom the flighty Grace could be the stoic Frances' mother, but the similar coloring and the silvery-blue eyes they both bore gave strong hints they really were blood relatives. At forty, Grace Maguire was an old, old woman - really only one step away from mummification - and the tan dresses she insisted on wearing didn't do much for her somewhat round figure.
Grace finally dragged the reluctant Frances back to the Chevrolet One-Fifty and arranged the four Stallions to line up in front of the car. She sighed and rolled her eyes when the four teenagers insisted on wearing their shades, but she followed their whims and got the Kodak ready. "Say cheese!" she said and waited for the teens to comply. After a few seconds, she realized that a pout was big that year. She nevertheless pressed the button, and the camera's shutter replied by clicking and whirring. "Oh, thank you. I think it'll turn out great," she continued and stepped back.
Once they were done, Jimmy nudged Frances' shoulder. "I got the wheel for the first spin of the town. Yeah?" he said under his breath so Mrs. Maguire wouldn't hear it while she fiddled with the camera.
"Sure thing, Jimmy. We're rotating, right?"
"O-yeah. Me, Chuck, Rusty… and me."
"Oh, you're a big tickle today, ya know that?" Frances said, but that was all she had time for before her mother hurried over to her and began to pull her collar straight though it sat just perfect to begin with.
"Now, Frances, remember what I told you," Grace Maguire said and tried to brush away a couple of errant hairs from her daughter's car coat. "No hard liquor. No beer. No wine. No mixing beer and wine. It'll only make you sick."
"And no smoking. Smoking is bad for your skin… remember what happened to Uncle Harry."
"I sure do, Mom."
"Also, if a boy wants to kiss you, remember to turn your head and say no. It only takes one, little mistake for a girl to gain a bad reputation these days."
"Of course, if it's Mr. Marsden's cute son Jeffrey, you may kiss him. It needs to be chaste, however. No tongue."
"Oh Gawd, Mom!" Frances croaked, sporting a pair of cheeks that grew redder by the second. She glanced at her fellow Stallions who promptly looked away.
Jimmy, Rusty and Chuck didn't even snicker at Frances' predicament. They had all been given a similar speech by their parents before they left - except for the part where they had been told that if a girl rejected them at first, they should try, try and try again, and she would let them kiss her eventually. It was all part of the mating ritual.
Her daughter's flaming embarrassment went clean over Mrs. Maguire's head, so she leaned in and placed a smooch right on Frances' kisser for good luck. If that wasn't bad enough, she delivered the killing blow by pinching her daughter's cheeks. "Please… don't do anything I wouldn't do. And don't forget the midnight curfew."
"I won't, Mom. On either account," a mortified Frances croaked while a searing heat scorched the skin on her cheeks and her neck.
The One-Fifty's radiator had been replenished, the steep descent had been negotiated safely, and Frances' blush had finally receded by the time the Stallions crossed the Messalinas town limits. Despite the mid-February date, it was a warm late afternoon so they had all rolled down their windows and sat with their elbows up on the sills like all halfway-decent cruisers would.
Cruising along Main Street at eighteen miles per hour, Jimmy had the wheel, Chuck rode shotgun, Rusty sat in the rear-left, and Frances occupied the rest of the back seat. The Chevrolet wasn't equipped with seat belts, so they all flaked out to the best of their abilities. Ahead, behind, and everywhere else around them, other teens were out in force cruising the streets in their flashy convertibles, drab family sedans or hopped-up custom specials.
The preferred route took the cruisers all the way south on Main until they all made a left onto Eighth Street, then crossed over to G Street, the road running parallel to Main, then back to Main via Seventh Street. That way, they could run in a loop without needing to cross the lanes even once - they had to make a U-turn at the sign welcoming everybody to Messalinas, but that had never posed a problem for anyone. Earlier, a few intrepid souls had chosen the spot to perform burnouts, but once the city police had discovered the reason for the black lines on the asphalt just outside the city limits, they had sent out a roaming squad car that made sure everybody adhered to the strict letter of the traffic code.
All the important spots were placed on the outside of the loop: the gas station, the drive-thru at the Silver Boxcar Diner, the drive-in cinema - that wouldn't open for business until mid-March - the regular movie house, and an Episcopal Church in case anyone felt the need for a little spiritual pick-me-up after cruising. In reality, the large, dark parking lot in front of the building housing the church was the real crowd-puller. In the evenings and late at night, it was possible to make out with your sweetheart for as long as you wished without running a risk of anyone seeing you.
When the storefront neon lights were turned on at the stroke of four-thirty, a cheer rose from the crowd of people on the sidewalks and inside the cars. The hours of darkness belonged to the sub-species of the human being known as the teenager. The night had its own rules and laws that everyone needed to follow; it also had its own magic that could strike anyone, anywhere and anytime.
At night, the streets of Messalinas would change into lanes for cruising and occasionally for drag racing, and the sidewalks would be populated by sharp-dressed boys in tight pants and short jackets or lettermans, and by spry, young gals in bobby socks and pastel-colored dresses with big skirts and stoles to protect their shoulders. Inevitably, it would lead to the ancient game of shy glances and stolen kisses being played out on back seats and in the deep shadows between the stores. Since it was Valentine's Day, everything would be enhanced tenfold.
And above all, the rock'n'roll that blasted out of every single vehicle in Messalinas was the heartbeat that kept everything going. All the cruisin' cats listened to XERC, the local radio station, whose disc jockeys worked flat out from dusk to dawn to feed the hungry masses of teens. They played all the hits; the current Top-One Hundred groups and solo artists like Del Shannon, The Cleftones, Chubby Checker and Dion & The Belmonts, but also oldies from the mid to late 1950s, like The Crests, The Platters, Johnny Burnette, The Skyliners or even the immortalized Buddy Holly.
Jimmy turned up the radio to full blast when Chuck Berry's oldie Johnny B. Goode was played. The frenetic tune was followed by the far softer I Want You, I Need You, I Love You by Elvis Presley that caused a lot of snuggling and smooching in the cars closest to them.
Rusty and Chuck displayed their impressive lack of singing skills as they mangled the old hit; it was so bad it caused Frances to stick her fingers in her ears and look away out of sheer horror, but she had to laugh at her buds' antics.
When they rumbled past the Silver Boxcar Diner headed for the intersection at Fifth Street, she caught a glimpse of a gorgeous gal she knew from junior high. The strawberry-blonde seemed to stomp along the sidewalk on a mission, but the One-Fifty went past the scene so fast that not even hanging halfway out of the open window could help Frances figure out what had made the gorgeous gal so frazzled.
She slipped back inside and was about to comment on her sighting when Jimmy brought the car to a halt at the intersection. A '59 Mercury Park Lane Convertible carrying four great-looking teen gals drove up next to them in the outer lane, and that stole all of Frances' attention. Leaning across Rusty, she quickly fixed her ducktail before she stuck her head out the other window and whistled at the four gals who all had fabulous hairdos, pale, smooth skin and nice dresses.
They didn't seem to mind being whistled at, so Frances moved in for her favored kill shot and lowered the black shades so she could flash her silvery-blue orbs. As always, her eyes did the trick, and the four gals sported a lot of cute blushes. "Hey… you're new in town, aintcha?" she said, directed at one of the gals in the back of the Mercury. "My, you're a pretty one. What's your name?"
"Susan!" the gal said.
"Susan, my, that's such a pretty name."
"Frankie. You goin' steady or something?"
"No, we're just us, Frankie."
"None o' ya goin' steady?" Frances said and cocked her head. "Come on, not four beautiful gals like you. Don't believe that for a second."
The girls snickered. Two of them shook their heads, and the other two nodded.
Frances grinned and winked at Susan in the back of the Convertible. "Right-O, darlin'. Hey, there's four o' you, and four o' us. Ain't that a match made in heaven? Ya wanna swing by the church o' love so we could, you know, talk a little?"
Susan blushed and shook her head, but the shy glance she sent Frances proved she wasn't fully immune to the silvery-blue charm. When the lights changed to green, the driver of the Mercury mashed the gas and made a sharp U-turn that brought Susan and the rest of them away from the Chevrolet One-Fifty in an almighty hurry.
"Hey! Awwwww," Frances said and slipped back to her own seat. She noticed that Rusty wore a curious, flushed expression on his face after she had used him for a cushion throughout the conversation, but she had no idea why. "They were real classy, fellas. Let's hope we'll see 'em again later on."
Jimmy settled for nodding as he stepped on the gas, but Chuck moved around on the seat and offered the back seat passengers a broad smile. "I got dibs on the driver. She was a brunette. Luurve me some brunettes. Present company excluded, of course, Frankie. You're just too ornery."
The 'ornery' Frances just rolled her eyes and let out a resounding "Pah!"
Fifteen minutes later, the Stallions pulled over at the gas station in their regular rotation of taking turns at driving. Rusty took the wheel - and he seemed curiously happy to get away from Frances - while Jimmy got the shotgun spot. Frances scooted over to the left of the back seat and Chuck climbed in next to her.
"So," the joker said as Rusty drove off the lot and back onto Main Street, "whatcha get if you breed an Alsatian with a poodle?"
"Puppies?" Frances said, busy scouting for the Mercury Park Lane Convertible. So far, they had only seen it once more, and it had been parked at the drive-thru like the four gals were eating.
Chuck shook his head. "Naw, come on…"
"A ball of yarn on crooked legs."
The flat joke could only garner a flat response. Rusty grunted, Jimmy rolled his eyes, and Frances went back to looking out of the window.
When Chuck realized nobody wanted to laugh at his joke, he shook his head again and reached out to slap Frances' thigh. "Oh come on, fellas, it wasn't that bad."
"Hell yeah it was," Frances said and reached for her pack of spearmint bubblegum. With The Coasters' old hit Charlie Brown forming the soundtrack on the radio, she held up the sticks. "Gum, anyone?"
Rusty already chewed on a wad of his own so he grunted and shook his head, but Jimmy and Chuck both reached out to get a stick from their fellow Stallion.
Before Frances could feed her friends, she spotted a group of teenaged boys who were dressed in the uniform of the common intellectual: brown corduroy pants and a matching college blazer, a tan turtleneck, dark-brown, horn-rimmed spectacles and hair that was longer than usual. As always, the young men wore deathly serious expressions that made them appear they had inside knowledge of the date the world would go under. Frances didn't understand them or their cerebral ways, not even for a second, but she couldn't argue with the amount or the quality of the girls that flocked around them.
"Man…" she said, throwing the stick of bubblegum she had meant to give Chuck into her own mouth. "I don't get it. How can those eggheads get all those fine chicks?"
Chuck shot an annoyed glare at the way Frances' jaw moved as she chewed on the stick of spearmint. "Well… it's all connected somehow. Eggheads and chicks… it's all in the family. And you're chewin' on my gum."
"Huh?" Frances said and looked back at her friend. "Oh… yeah. Right. Sorry. That was my last piece," she continued, crumbling up the little piece of paper that had protected the stick.
"Figures," Chuck said and shuffled back around.
To the bouncy sound of Who Put The Bomp? by Barry Mann & The Halos on XERC, Frances slid behind the wheel of the One-Fifty and shut the heavy door behind her. The broad grin on her face proved that she was more than eager to take the wheel. They had gone on for far too long already, but now, Frankie Maguire was ready-teddy for some action of the four-wheeled kind.
Rusty had left the engine running so she didn't need to twist the ignition key. Instead, she reversed out of the parking bay at the Episcopal lot near the Sixth Street intersection and let the black Chevrolet rumble up to the traffic lights which turned red just as she reached them. "Northbound or southbound?" she asked over her shoulder.
"North," Jimmy said, but Chuck and Rusty both said "South," and the majority always won among the Prancing Stallions.
"And southbound it is," Frances said and squeezed the gas when the lights turned green. She didn't race around the corner - there would be plenty of time for that later - but steered the heavy One-Fifty into the turn and let it glide onto Main Street.
The blessed darkness had fallen while they had been cruising, and Frances had hung her black shades on the hem of her T-shirt. She was down low in the seat as one should be when cruising with the buds, Chubby Checker did The Hucklebuck on XERC, they still had some gas left in the tank, there were pretty girls everywhere out on Valentine dates, and behind her, Chuck did his worst to sing and jive along to the Hucklebuck. Well, four out of five wasn't bad. In short, everything was all right in her world.
Coming up to the Seventh Street intersection, she mashed the gas to get the heavy One-Fifty across before the lights changed to yellow. The growl of the Turbo-Fire V8 grew in intensity which sent a pleasant rumble up through the floor and into the seat of her pants. Grinning, she shuffled around and enjoyed the moment. It wasn't too often she got to experience that.
They quickly reached Eighth Street which saw everybody turn left to cross over to G Street before they got back on course. A few made U-turns on Main, but it was the minority, and it didn't really give them anything since it shortened the cruising circuit.
Coming back around Seventh Street with Tonight by The Velvets blasting out of the speakers, Frances had barely made the right-hand turn onto Main Street when a hopped-up 1960 Ford Fairlane drove alongside them and blipped its engine. The machinery was a four-door sedan and not one of the sportier models, but it had a custom paint job featuring red and yellow flames that reached back from the wheel arches and further along the doors.
"Ooooh," Chuck said, hanging out of the window, "we got ourselves some com-pe-ti-shun! Cool cat in a cherry-ride Fairlane. How about it, Jimmy? Is it time for a little draggin' action?"
Jimmy squirmed in his seat next to Chuck like he didn't know what to say. He craned his gangly neck to check out the Ford before he cast a worried glance at the young and fairly inexperienced Frankie behind the wheel. "Gee, I don't know… Rusty, you wanna-"
"I got the wheel!" Frances said sharply.
"I can take him, awright. Hey, listen," Frances said and briefly turned around so she could look the car's owner in the eye. "I'll take care, but there's no way we're losin' to a Ford. No way. Not on Valentine's Day."
"Wh- what in Sam Hill does that have to do with anything?"
Frances glanced to her left at her would-be opponent. The driver of the Fairlane was cool, but she was cooler. "Everything, Jimmy," she said decisively.
"But it's a much newer car…"
"It ain't the machine… it's the man," Frances said and nodded at the driver of the Fairlane next to them. He nodded back, and they slowed down even further to make sure to time their approach to the red lights at the Sixth Street intersection.
Frances gripped the thin, two-spoke steering wheel as she kept an eye on the traffic lights. Rusty and Chuck chanted words of encouragement in her ear, but she didn't hear any of them. Jimmy seemed to whimper, but she didn't hear that, either. Selecting first gear on the manual transmission, she found the bite point for the clutch and settled down to wait for the lights to change.
The millisecond the red light went out, she dumped the clutch and mashed the gas. The Turbo-Fire V8 roared like a lion and sent the lumbering One-Fifty blasting across the intersection with only a small amount of wheelspin. Second gear was in, and she punched the floor to get the most out of it. The traffic on Main was too heavy to drag for real, so she applied the brakes once she hit forty miles an hour and fell back to a comfortable speed for cruising - there wasn't any point in rubbing salt in the other fellow's wound. She had defended her corner and had shown him a clean set of tail lights.
Next to them, the Ford Fairlane had been beaten fair and square in the reaction test, but the other driver didn't appear to care much for the safety of his fellow motorists. The defeat didn't sit well with him, and he kept his foot down and roared along Main Street to a chorus of honks and a few angry words.
Behind Frances, Chuck did his best - or worst - to pop her eardrums by letting out a jubilant whoop. Rusty reached across and gave Frances' shoulder a few slaps, while Jimmy groaned and buried his face in his hands.
"No way I'm losin' to a Ford," Frances said, resting her elbow on the windowsill. XERC started to play Bobby Vee's Take Good Care Of My Baby, and she turned up the radio even further and sang along to the newish hit.
Two complete tours of the Main Street cruising circuit later, Frances stopped singing along to Ben E. King's Stand By Me when she spotted a young couple arguing on the sidewalk. It only took her a few seconds to realize that one of them was the gorgeous gal she knew from junior high. Mindy Bartholomew was in a bitter row with a young, sharp-dressed man who looked like he wanted something from her she wasn't prepared to give.
Frances furrowed her brow and applied the brakes in the slow lane though it earned her a symphony of honks from the cars behind her. On the sidewalk, Mindy wanted to carry on past the all-night bakery she was standing in front of, but her date stopped her by grabbing her arm and yanking her back. Frances' face instantly turned dark, and she spun the steering wheel to the right to get closer to the drama. "Fellas, there's something I need to do," she said and came to a halt at an oblique angle to the sidewalk. Opening the door, she was gone from the One-Fifty in a flash.
"Huh?" Jimmy said, looking up in a daze. "What? Where?"
"She's gonna rescue a damsel in distress, Jimmy," Rusty said and pointed out of the windshield.
Chuck looked at his buds before he opened the door and began to climb out. "When a Stallion is in trouble, we all help… right?"
"Right," Rusty and Jimmy said as one as they exited the car. Before Jimmy went anywhere, he reached below the steering wheel and took the keys so the engine wouldn't get too hot idling for no good reason.
On the sidewalk, the party-clad teens out for a romantic Valentine's Day evening parted like the Red Sea when Frances stomped along in her high-tops. The look in her silvery-blue eyes proved she was on a mission and that she would stop at nothing to get there.
"Hey!" she shouted, making Mindy and the fellow manhandling her spin around and look up the sidewalk. "Get ya stinkin' hands offa that girl… or I'll give ya a knuckle sandwich ya can taste for a week, man!"
The threat was too much for the well-dressed fellow to handle so he took off in a frantic sprint for safety. Gasping, Mindy shied back as well until she recognized Frances who presented an impressive sight in her dark dungarees and bright car coat.
Jimmy, Chuck and Rusty followed their fellow Stallion at a few paces' distance. "Oh, that's some gentleman, huh?" Chuck said. "Leaving his date to the advancin' horde. A real hero… running like that from a girl."
"Yeah, but… wouldn't you run?" Jimmy said, waving his hand at Frances' frame stomping along the sidewalk.
"I'd run my ass off! Speakin' o' which… hey, Rusty?"
Rusty reluctantly tore his eyes away from Frances' swaying rear to look at his brother-in-arms. "Uh… yeah?" he said while a blush was already creeping onto his cheeks.
"Whatcha lookin' at, friend?" Chuck said and winked in an exaggerated fashion.
"Oh, shut the hell up…" Rusty mumbled; his acute discomfort made it all come out as one word.
Up front, and oblivious to the exchange though it involved a vital part of her, Frances caught up with Mindy and reached for the frazzled strawberry-blonde.
Mindy Bartholomew was a tender seventeen-year-old whose face looked younger than that, but whose body already had the curves of a woman. Her long, reddish-blond hair, her fairy-good looks and her sincere green eyes made her attractive to a great number of people, most of whom were only interested in getting her on her back. Mindy stood firm, however, and saved herself for her future husband like her parents and Father Michael had said she should.
"Are you all right, Mindy?" Frances said and put a gentle hand on the blonde's arm.
Mindy nodded. Her pink-and-white crinoline dress had fallen into a state of disarray, and her hairdo that she had spent half an hour on in front of the bathroom mirror had become loose and messy. Pink, two-inch-heeled shoes and white bobby socks with a pink stripe at the ankle completed the ensemble. She had worn white gloves earlier in the evening, but they had been too warm so she kept them in her small, pink clutch. "Yes," she said in a downcast voice as she reached into the purse to find a brush. "Yes I am. Thank you, Frances."
"No problem. Who was that? Your Valentine?"
Mindy chuckled darkly and looked up the sidewalk to see if Perry was still there, waiting for the knight in a shining car coat to leave. When her green eyes swept the sidewalk and offered a silent accusation at the people near her who had been busy watching the arguing without doing anything, they all looked down and continued on their merry ways. "Yeah. Perry Penwald. Do you know him?" she said and began to touch-up her hair.
"I thought I did. I didn't."
The crew of Prancing Stallions gathered a certain amount of attention on the sidewalk in front of the all-night bakery, so Frances put out her hand at Mindy to guide her away from the scene. The strawberry-blonde was reluctant at first, but she shuffled on with her rescuer close by.
They moved a bit further south on the sidewalk of Main Street and came to a halt at a construction site. The site was protected by a wire mesh fence that offered a good view of the deep hole in the ground where a bar had been until it had burned down the previous November. Work had been halted over winter, and some of the citizens of Messalinas had begun to write public letters to the editor of the local newspaper asking the contractor and the town council if it would ever restart.
Mindy looked up at the three male members of the Stallions with a puzzled expression on her face. "Tell me… are you a gang of delinquents or something? Did I go from the frying pan and into the fire?"
"Aw, no," Frances said and gestured at her buds. "These smart-lookin' cats here are the Prancing Stallions. Jimmy, Chuck and Rusty," she continued, pointing at each of her friends in succession.
"Hello, Miss," all three teens said.
Mindy smiled nervously and performed a small curtsey like she had been taught. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Mindy Bartholomew." She fell quiet after that and glanced up at Frances with a look that said she had something she needed to share, but not in front of three teenaged boys, no matter how well-behaved and pleasant they were.
Frances caught the hint at once and shuffled over to her buds. "Tell you what, fellas… why don't you keep on cruisin' while I talk to the nice girl? We gotta have a little girl-talk, dontchaknow."
The bait was far too easy for Chuck to snap at, so he snorted out loud and swatted at Frances' stomach. "And since when did you become a girl, killah? We can handle the truth… you just wanna give her a slice of your action and rub her in all… the… right… spots…" The joker stopped talking from one syllable to the next when he got a full dose of the silvery-blue death rays that blasted out of Frances' orbs. "Uh… yeah. Sorry. Okay, uh… don't go ape on me now. Never mind," he mumbled, looking down at his high-tops.
Rusty bopped Chuck over the head before he stepped forward and slapped Frances' palm. "Sounds like a plan, Frankie. We'll keep on a-cruisin'. D'ya wanna hook up later on over at the diner or something?"
"Yeah, or something," Frances said with a nod. "Don't wait around for me. I'll catch up with ya. Go on, ya crazy cats. What, ya can't drive without the girl?"
"Yeah, yeah," Jimmy said and guided his fellow Stallions back to the One-Fifty. "Catch ya later, Frankie. Don't forget, don't do anything your momma wouldn't do." - The last part was delivered with a wink.
Frances chuckled and turned back to Mindy who was still blushing after Chuck's direct language. "I'm sorry 'bout that, Mindy. Don't pay any attention to the joker. The only one laughin' at his jokes is himself."
"I won't," Mindy squeaked.
"Good." Behind the two teenagers, Jimmy fired up the One-Fifty and drove out onto Main Street while The Diamonds sang about their Little Darlin' over the radio. Frances scrunched up her face at the sight of her Stallions carrying on without her, but she had a hunch that whatever would happen concerning Mindy would have a far greater impact on her evening than cruising would have.
Mindy smiled at her savior before she began to stroll north on Main Street. "Oh, I guess it's an all-too common tale," she said as she avoided stepping on some of the cracks in the pavement. "We've been going steady since last summer, and I guess he wanted to take it to another level. Well, I say that… he didn't mince his words. He told me he thought we should have sex. Tonight. To mark the date. I'm just not ready for that, Valentine's Day or no Valentine's Day. So…"
"And he wouldn't take no for an answer?"
"No," Mindy said and shook her head wistfully. "He got upset. Then he got mad and began to yank me around. I think my arm will bruise. I probably need to wear long sleeves for a week… if not more."
"He better see me before I see him… or I'll give 'im an ass-whoopin' he won't forget in a hurry," Frances growled under her breath. "And all of that crap because he had a bad tickle behind his fly."
Mindy blushed but nodded. "I do like him… sort of. And I know I'm old-fashioned, but it only takes one tiny, little mistake for a girl to get a bad reputation… I don't want the other girls to whisper about me and call me names behind my back," she said quietly.
"Hey," Frances said and pulled them to a halt. "Mindy, that is, and will always be your decision. No-one elses. You hear me? That he's too bone-headed to understand a 'no' is just something he's gotta work out for himself… while he's workin' on another boner entirely to blow off some steam," she continued, jerking her hand back and forth in a most lewd gesture.
"Oh, Sweet Mother of God, I can't believe you just did that… and in public!" Mindy said while she looked at anything but her companion to stop the blush she knew was coming from exploding onto her cheeks.
Frances chuckled and continued strolling along the sidewalk. "Sorry," she said, though the grin she wore negated her words.
"No, you're not. Are you sure you're not a juvenile delinquent?"
"O-yeah. I'm just the sweetest li'l purrin' puddytat you'll ever hope to find."
Mindy fanned herself and let out a nervous chuckle at the inappropriate direction the conversation had gone off in. "Oh God, I'll need new skin on my cheeks before the night is over. I'm burning up!"
"Mindy, seriously now…" Frances said and leaned in to prove she wasn't being facetious. "Are you uncomfortable with the company? If you are and you prefer to go home or something, just let me know…"
Mindy blushed once more and cast a shy glance at her taller rescuer. "No, I… it's all right, Frances. I enjoy your company. For a while there, I was worried my Valentine's Day evening would be awful, but I feel safe now."
The praise made Frances break out in a beaming smile and gain a new spring in her step. A handful of cars cruised past - all with Blushing Bride by The Truetones playing from their radios - before she leaned down again. "You don't have to worry 'bout anything when I'm around. That's a promise. And I always keep my promises."
The two teenagers glanced at each other and broke out in identical shy smiles. Mindy crinkled her nose in joy, and moved just a little bit closer to the taller girl next to her.
The best part of cruising on Valentine's Day proved to be the fact that everyone on the street was ready, willing and able to open their hearts and just love a little - at least compared to any-old dull day of the week. Thus, nobody batted an eyelid at the sight of Frances and Mindy strolling along the sidewalk holding hands and having a gay ol' time doing it.
The neon panels sitting above the marquees on the closed stores shone onto the pavement and created magical patterns of multi-colored light that could be interpreted as anything the onlookers wanted them to be. Frances and Mindy had plenty of fun together trying to jump across the patterns, or pretend the colored fields on the pavement were critters out to get them.
When Johnny Burnette's You're Sixteen started playing from the many radios close by, Mindy grabbed Frances' hands and began dancing around on the sidewalk between the other Valentiners. The joyful dance started small but turned into a colorful Broadway production number, and soon, everybody joined in. The guys were a little slower on the uptake than the girls, but when they noticed how animated their Valentine dates suddenly became, they cast off their inhibitions and danced along with the rest of them.
At the end of the short, bouncy song, Frances was out of breath but the grin she wore couldn't be pried off her face with a crowbar. XERC continued with The Five Satins' To The Aisle and Two Silhouettes On The Shade by The Rays, and the down-tempo, soulful songs gave her a strong - nearly overwhelming - urge to wrap her arms around the pretty Mindy and just dance slow and tight for the rest of the evening.
Mindy seemed to sense that a few barriers had been torn down by her improvised dancing, but she reacted shyly and slinked away before her companion had time to suggest anything.
Holding hands once more, the two teenagers strolled along the sidewalk until they stood opposite the Silver Boxcar Diner located on the other side of Main Street. The parking lot in front of the diner was hopping with a row of cars all being tended to by skater-hops who carried trays of food and drinks while wearing square roller skates, tight pants, white shirts and little, pillbox hats.
One of the cars was a familiar black Chevrolet One-Fifty, and the one right next to it was the 1959 Mercury Park Lane Convertible that Susan and her three, pretty companions had been driving the first time they had met the Stallions. Frances chuckled at the thought of Jimmy, Rusty and Chuck trying to act like men of the world to impress the four gals. It would never work; the cats were great buds, but they just didn't have that certain killer instinct needed to make an instant connection with the fairer sex.
The sound of tuned engines revving at the Fourth Street intersection stole Frances' attention, and she turned around just in time to see a light-weight 1961 Corvette comprehensively beat a far bulkier 1958 Impala two-door off the line and across the intersection. A cloud of tire smoke drifted through the air and assaulted her nostrils - she crinkled her nose and fanned herself to make it dissolve.
The drag racers lived a charmed life: the roaming squad car from the city police went the other way on Main at the exact same time, but the traffic was too heavy for the officer to make a U-turn and engage in a pursuit of the speeders.
Realizing Mindy had spoken to her, Frances turned back around and offered her companion an apologetic smile. "Sorry, Mindy, I was watchin' the race."
"I said," Mindy said and pointed at the well-lit store they were standing in front of, "would you fancy a shake? My treat."
Frances looked up at Abraham 'Abe' Spielman's famed milkshake parlor that saw teens flocking from near and far whenever the master shaker created a new mix from old ingredients. Since the parlor was only half-full for some mysterious reason, it was a good offer - save for one little detail. "I'd love to… except that I'm buying. It's a principle, see."
Mindy had already dug into her clutch to find the fifty cents needed to buy two milkshakes, but she shrugged and put the coins away. "If you insist…"
"I do," Frances said and offered Mindy her arm. The strawberry-blonde took it with a smile, and they strolled into the parlor to place their orders.
A few minutes later, they carried a large, twenty-five cent milkshake each as they continued along the sidewalk among all the other couples out celebrating Valentine's Day. Mindy enjoyed a vanilla-raspberry, and Frances sucked on the straw that produced a creamy chocolate-strawberry - Abe Spielman's shakes were world class, as expected.
The hands of time moved forward in relentless fashion, and the clock had already gone past eight PM. Frances only had four hours left before her curfew would be enforced. She had tried coming home later than that, but only once. Not only had she been grounded for two weeks which had been murder on her good mood, she could still feel a faint echo of the thrashing she had been given by her father whenever she sat down too quickly. Her behind had been redder than a baboon's that night.
On the radio, XERC moved onto one of their trademark shows, the Tune Triplet, where they played three hits in a row by established artists. Thus, Elvis Presley filled the airwaves once more though it had been nearly a year since the King had had a number one hit. Roy Orbison was next, followed by the incomparable Fats Domino.
Mindy finished her milkshake first, and she threw the empty cardboard container into one of Messalinas' many wire mesh trash cans. Moving back, a shiver raced over her shoulders, and she rubbed her bare arms to make the goosepimples go away.
It only took a split second for Frances to put down her milkshake and unzip her purple-and-gold car coat. "Here, Mindy," she said and held up the jacket. "We don't want ya to catch a cold tonight. It's probably a little too big for you, but eh… it's warm."
"Golly Gee, I don't want to take your jacket, Frances… then you'll be cold," Mindy said and felt the soft fabric between two fingers.
"I'll manage. G'wan."
Mindy smiled and slipped her arms down the sleeves. Turning back around, she wrapped the large jacket around herself and gave off the impression of a young girl who had found her daddy's winter overcoat. She opened her mouth to speak, but closed it again at once. Her eyes zoomed in on Frances' chest where the two female peaks strained against the white fabric of the tight men's T-shirt she wore.
"What's wrong?" Frances said and looked down at herself to see if the chocolate-strawberry shake had made a mess on her T. She couldn't find any stains anywhere, so she picked up the milkshake and continued sucking on the straw.
Mindy blushed and looked away. "Oh, nothing… I had almost forgotten you're a girl… that's all. You're just so… well, your mannerisms and your personality are so… well, boyish."
"I should be so lucky," Frances said with a shrug.
"But you're so pretty!" Mindy said, cocking her head and shooting the taller woman a puzzled glance. "You wanna be a boy? What's wrong with being a girl?"
Frances shrugged again. "Nothing." She had more to say but kept it inside. The two young women locked eyes for the briefest of moments while a couple of cars drove past. The Everly Brothers formed the soundtrack as they sang that all they had to do was dream. It was all getting a little too intimate for Frances, and she shuffled around uncomfortably. "Listen, you wanna go over to the diner-"
"Wait, Frances, there's something you're not telling me," Mindy said and put a chilled hand on her friend's arm for effect.
Frances smirked and carried on along the sidewalk so the people around them wouldn't eavesdrop too badly. Mindy followed in silence, clearly waiting for a reply. "Being a girl is just fine for some people," Frances said quietly once they had made it a short distance up the street. "It was just fine for me too until just recently tho' I've always been a tomboy. But sometimes… often… I feel like I don't belong in the skin I'm in. You know?"
Mindy hooked her arm inside Frances' and leaned against the taller teen as they strolled north on Main Street. They moved past a leatherware store that sold gloves, purses and pocketbooks. The characteristic smell of the leather traveled out to the sidewalk even though the door was closed and locked. "Not really…" Mindy said after a brief delay. "I think your skin suits you just fine."
"Thank you, but… oh, it's nothing," Frances said with a new shrug as a blush crept over her cheeks. She wasn't a fan of blushing, especially not when she had such a pretty girl on her arm. She wasn't a fan of talking about her inner life, either - but that part she could control. "Really. Let's forget about it."
"I'd love to talk about it sometime… I mean, really talk about it."
Frances sighed but carried on. "So would I, Mindy. I just can't find the words that would explain how I feel."
"Perhaps we could find them together…?" Mindy said and shot Frances a glance that was the shiest she had produced in the time they had spent together.
Frances came to a halt and put her hands on Mindy's slender shoulders before she let out another brief sigh. She was unsure of what to do or even what to say, but a passer-by decided to add his two cents' worth to the conversation without being asked:
"Just kiss her, you big oaf!" the cat said before he disappeared into the crowd cruising Main Street on foot.
Frances would like nothing more than to do just that, but she settled for growling at the teen offering the friendly advice before she turned back to the strawberry-blonde and her youthful, and terribly pretty, face. "I'd love to spend some time with you, Mindy… but somehow, I don't think Messalinas or even the world could handle two girls goin' steady. Not even if one of them pretended to be a boy."
"I think you're right," Mindy said and swatted at Frances' stomach behind the white T-shirt. "Good thing that wasn't what I was suggesting, then. Huh?"
"Uh… yeah," Frances said and let out an embarrassed chuckle. Now the blush really did come. In an instant, it tainted her cheeks and neck lobster-red, and she could feel the blood setting fire to her skin. She licked her lips a couple of times while she racked her brain to come up with something intelligent to say after the small rejection, but it was to no avail; everything up there had turned to mud. She disguised her befuddlement by sucking on the milkshake. She was rarely tongue-tied in front of girls, no matter how pretty they were, but there was something about Mindy Bartholomew that made all her little tin soldiers fall over and enter a state of abject confusion.
They weren't too far from DelMarco's record store where Jackson Fernley of the Truehearts was busy signing his newest forty-five-RPM single that was already well on its way to the top of the charts. It wasn't difficult to see where the store was: the thick crowd of teenagers on the sidewalk marked the exact spot.
When Mindy caught a glimpse of the goings-on, she clapped her hands in excitement. "Oh! Oh, he's still signing autographs! Yippie, I thought I had missed the whole show. Oh, don't you think Jackson Fernley is so boss? He's by far the coolest of the black artists my parents will allow me to listen to. C'mon, we don't wanna miss anything!" - With that, she hurried up the sidewalk to get there before the autograph session would end.
Frances let out a sigh of relief for the reprieve, and she slapped her cheeks to make the searing heat go away. Just as a reminder of her embarrassment - and that gals shouldn't jump to conclusions - XERC chose that moment to play Bill Haley's Ooh Look a-There Ain't She Pretty?
DelMarco's resembled the Las Vegas Strip on a Friday night. There were so many excited girls in the store the oxygen was getting scarce, and the star and his minders were clearly bowled over by the deafening, squealing reception.
The twenty-four year-old Jackson Fernley - formerly the lead singer of the chart-topping group The Truehearts, but now a successful solo artist with a top three and two additional top ten hits behind him - sat behind a table not far from the entrance. The plan had been that he needed to sit there for the signing session so he could be seen from the street, but it had failed to take the all-conquering teenage-invasion force into account.
"Whoa…" Mindy said as she and Frances came to a dead stop in the door. She stared wide-eyed at the countless young girls in the record store who all seemed to be on the brink of swooning over the handsome singer.
Luigi 'Lou' DelMarco had built the store from scratch. Before the Italian-American opened his shop for business in the summer of 1956, it had been a barber shop, and he had kept the black-and-white tiles on the floor as the new store's trademark. Wooden racks kept forty-five-RPM singles, albums and even old seventy-eights throughout the length and width of the store, and an impressive line of gold and silver records graced the upper part of the walls. Of course, they were merely unsellable vinyls that had been painted gold or silver rather than the real thing, but that was a minor detail. At the back, three tall barstools at a wooden counter offered the potential customers an opportunity to listen to the latest hits through headphones that were connected to high-quality turntables.
Usually, XERC would be playing from the many speakers set up in the store, but the massive number of squealing girls drowned out the music. Somewhere behind the wall of oversized college lettermans, crinoline dresses and lacy skirts in all the colors of the pastel palette, Jackson Fernley tried to keep up with the friendly mob.
The recording artist's minders had arranged for the star to sign the neutral sleeve of his newest hit, Love To Think Of You, and then give his fans a red rose as a Valentine's Day gift, but the demand far outweighed the supply, and the pile of roses were getting smaller in an almighty hurry.
Mindy's shoulders slumped at the sight of the heavy crowd, and she let out a sigh. "It's no use, Frances… let's go over to the diner."
"No, wait," Frances said and put her hands on Mindy's shoulders. She cast an expert eyeball at the unruly crowd of squealing girls and began to work out which would be the quickest and easiest route to the star's table. With her superior height compared to most of the other girls in the store, she was able to see a few shortcuts and soon had everything planned in her mind. "Right-O, I got it. C'mon, let's carve a path-"
"Oh… would you do that for me?" Mindy said and wrapped the car coat tighter around her dress.
"Well… of course I would."
Mindy smiled shyly and shuffled back and forth on the spot. "Thank you. But I think I'll wait here if you don't mind…"
"No problem. A rose and a record?"
"Yes, please… you'll need to pay for the record first," Mindy said and dug into her clutch to find the money needed.
"Uh… okay. Didn't see that one comin'… but never mind," Frances said and took the one-dollar bill. When their fingers touched, they tickled each other briefly which made them break out in identical snickers.
Spinning around, Frances barged her way through the crowd of squealing girls. She got several Evil Eyes along the way, but the cute look in Mindy's green orbs far outweighed the venom shooting from the eyes of the others. It wasn't long before she arrived at the head of the line.
Jackson Fernley was a handsome fellow in his mid-twenties who wore a dark suit, a white shirt and a narrow, black leather tie. He had plenty of Brylcreem in his hair which made it slick and shiny, and his pencil-thin mustache was a good match to his dashing features. The lights in the record store made his dark complexion stand out, and the row of tiny beads of sweat along his hairline proved that he had been hard at work for his fans.
"Good evening, Miss," he said in his renowned baritone when Frances approached the table. He took the record at once and began to sign in the corner of the neutral sleeve. "It's such a blast to see you all here. I hope you'll enjoy my new record."
" 'Evenin', Mr. Fernley," Frances said and put the one-dollar bill Mindy had given her into a cash box that was kept by one of the star's handlers.
The recording artist finished signing the record and handed that and one of the last roses to Frances. When he got a good look of the unusual girl in front of him, he cocked his head but kept the wide grin on his face. "Oh… I gotta say, you don't look like the majority of my fans…"
"Well, it just so happens I'm buying this for a friend, Mr. Fernley," Frances said and tried to wave Mindy over to her - the strawberry-blonde shook her head vehemently.
Jackson Fernley chuckled and leaned to the side to get a view of the shy girl in the background. Winking, he blew the strawberry-blonde a kiss that nearly sent her to the floor in a pile of heaving goo. "Thank you, Miss. It's great that you're looking out for your friend."
"Yes, Sir," Frances said and shuffled away from the table clutching the signed record and the red rose. The other girls around her gave her a new wave of Evil Eyes for getting such a personal treatment from the star, but she brushed them off with a nonchalant grunt.
Mindy leaned against one of the wooden racks by the time Frances came back to her. Her cheeks were once again alight, and she kept looking over Frances' shoulder to get Jackson Fernley's presence etched into her brain.
Frances smiled and handed her friend the flower and the record in the plain, brown sleeve. "Here ya go, Mindy… he was a cool cat, awright."
"Thank you, thank you, thank you… oh, he blew me a kiss… did you see it?" Mindy said in a dreamy voice that made her appear like she was on the brink of swooning. She sniffed the rose and broke out in a wide smile.
"I saw it, awright. I was right next to it when he sent it to ya. And you're welcome."
"Ohhh… he's so boss. Don't you think he's boss?"
Frances chuckled and looked back at the star. "Perhaps so, but he's far too old for you."
"No, no, no… I like older men…"
Frances matched Mindy's smile and put a protective hand on the other girl's shoulder. "Not that old… he's gotta be close to twenty-five. C'mon, I'm hungry. Let's go over to the diner and grab a bite to eat."
"Okay," Mindy said, but her eyes didn't leave Jackson Fernley before she and Frances stepped out of DelMarco's record store.
On the sidewalk, Mindy kept a firm grip on the rose and the record, but she hooked her free arm inside Frances' and pulled the taller girl closer to her. It was clear she wanted to say something, but the broad smile prevented her lips from articulating the words she needed to speak. Instead, she snickered and snuggled up next to Frances.
Standing in the shadows at the mouth of an alley, Perry Penwald used his vantage point at the Second Street intersection near the Silver Boxcar Diner to watch the two girls stroll away from the record store across Main Street. He already wore a dark, gloomy expression on his face; it only turned darker as he watched how the girls walked arm in arm.
Frances wanted to run across Main between First and Second Street to get to the diner quicker, but Mindy insisted they waited for the traffic lights to turn red at the First Street intersection before they ventured out among the countless cruisers.
The tough Frances felt that waiting for the lights transformed her into a boy scout, but she was powerless to resist the look in Mindy's eyes - thus, they lined up at the white stripe on the road and didn't move until the green light said they could.
Finally on the west side of Main Street, they strolled along the sidewalk that was narrower there because of the lack of shops. The west side was dominated by larger units like the Silver Boxcar Diner, the drive-thru connected to the diner, a bank, two grocery stores that were pulled back from the street, and the Episcopal Church further down Main.
The two girls minded their own business. Holding hands, they swung their entwined fingers back and forth as they walked while singing along to the music that blasted out of the cars driving past. At present, XERC was playing Eddie Cochran's C'mon Everybody, an oldie from 1958 that happened to be one of Frances' favorites.
Moving past the dark mouth of an alley that worked as the truck exit lane from the nearby gas station, Mindy gasped and came to a dead stop. Moments later, Frances stopped as well and stared wide-eyed at the two figures who stepped out of the shadows. Her wide-eyed expression turned into a deep, dark frown upon realizing that Perry Penwald was indeed as bone-headed as he looked - and he had even found a 'friend' somewhere.
The ducktail was the only thing she had in common with Perry. She was tall; he was at least four inches shorter. She had an athletic build; he was plump and coarse. She had large, silvery-blue eyes; he had beady, little brown things that were placed at random on either side of his nose. How such a fellow could stir up enough interest in Mindy for them to go steady since last summer was beyond her.
Frances assumed a neutral expression. Taking Mindy by the shoulders, she moved the smaller girl behind her before the situation would escalate into real trouble. "I figgered we'd run into one another sooner or later, chump. Who's your friend?"
"None o' your Goddamned business," Perry growled, staring daggers at the tall teenager who seemed to have taken over Mindy completely. He wore tight, black pants and a sports blazer over a red-and-white checkered shirt, and he opened the top two buttons to let some of the fear out. "Your filthy paws are all over my girlfriend. Get 'em off 'er or I'll make you regret it!"
"Perry! How dare you?" Mindy cried, but neither of the two main combatants seemed to pay any attention to her.
"Ooooh, tough guy," Frances said in a voice that dipped into the lower registers. She glanced over at the second man who looked like a hoodlum-for-hire. In his mid-twenties, he had a military-style buzzcut and he wore a pair of ragged dungarees and a dirty T-shirt. "That cat there ain't got what it takes to make me regret anything… so whatcha gonna do, huh? Bore me to death? Why dontcha be a good little chump an' give up before your teeth will start flyin'."
Perry's jaw worked overtime. His beady eyes darted from Frances, to Mindy, and over to his rented muscle who had bragged about how his decorated tour in the US Army had enabled him to whoop anything on two legs. "Don't just stand there, you big, dumb lug! Make her pay!" he said and grabbed hold of the hoodlum's T-shirt.
Mindy cried out again as the so-called big, dumb lug moved ahead with his fists up, but Frances pre-empted the strike by jumping ahead and firing off a thunderous punch to the bruiser's gut that snatched the wind from his sails. The punch was followed at once by a knee to the groin that made him squeal out loud - it also made Perry cross his legs in sympathy.
Frances and the bruiser wrestled for a few seconds - enough to give Perry time to jump forward and grab hold of Mindy's arm all over again - but Frances finished the fight almost before it had begun by ramming her fist into the thug's gut for a second time.
All the fighting spirit fizzled out of the older man, and he groaned in pain as he doubled over and fell to his knees. Frances had an urge to send him to cloud cuckoo-land by introducing his nose to her knee, but the sight of Mindy's quivering chin made her stop before it got out of hand. "Two punches, Perry… two punches," she growled as she shoved her fist close to Perry Penwald's face. "May I suggest ya let go of Miss Mindy's arm before we find out how many punches ya can handle? Huh? Wanna try, chump? Huh?"
"Frances, please…" Mindy squeaked, but she was ignored once more.
Perry hurriedly let go of Mindy and ran across the narrow alley to get away from the fightin' gal. "You're sick! What kind of girl are you?!" he said while he scooted away from the insane chick by pressing himself up against the filthy wall with little regard to the state of his sports blazer.
"The best kind, chump," Frances growled, rolling her shoulders to be ready for anything.
Behind them, the hired goon clambered to his feet and staggered away from the alley with nary a look at his employer - he was off to nurse his sore gut and crotch in a bar somewhere. Perry sneered at the inefficient muscle.
"Hope ya didn't pay too much for 'im…" Frances said, eyeing the retreating form. "Right-O, chump. It's you an' me. Anytime you're ready. What, cat got ya balls? Ya scared of fightin' a chick? I'm ready-teddy, just you come and get me."
The odd-sounding mix of Perry's panicky whimpers, Mindy's quiet sobs and The Tyrones' punchy, rockabilly hit Blast Off playing from the radios was enhanced even further by the familiar rumbling noise created by the exhaust of a Chevrolet One-Fifty.
It wasn't long until the black car bounced over the curb and drove the wrong way into the mouth of the alley. The round headlights illuminated the scene and literally cast light on the proceedings. Jimmy, Chuck and Rusty - who had been behind the wheel - swarmed out of their ride to come to their fellow Stallion's assistance.
Though Rusty had tried to hide his crush on Frances out of fear of being ridiculed or simply rejected, he threw his inhibitions aside and ran up to the tough fighter. "Frankie! Are you all right? Didya get hurt?" he said and put his hands on her upper arms so he could give her a thorough check from all angles. "We saw that bruiser slink away from here… we'd been tracking you guys but you suddenly vanished and we put two and two together…"
"I'm just fi- Rusty, what- Man! What the hell?" Frances said when she was pulled into a crushing hug. "I'm just fine! Oh! Mind the nest, man! Rusty! The hair! Oh, fer cryin' out loud!"
Once Frances was finally granted a release from the death grip, she shimmied around to get everything back in place. A few locks of hair had escaped her ducktail and she reached for her comb at once to get the little buggers back under control.
Slipping the comb back into her rear pocket after smoothing down her 'do, she stared in wide-eyed befuddlement at her would-be rescuer whose cheeks suddenly caught fire. Chuck didn't rise to the bait which was a surprise, but Jimmy and Mindy both wore startled, lopsided grins at the odd situation.
In the middle of all that, Perry Penwald tried to slip away unnoticed. Three of the four Stallions caught up with him in a hurry and held him against the wall. The fourth - Frances - waved her hand in dismissal. "Ah. Forget him, fellas. No need to waste any sweat on that chump. Ya learned ya lesson, didn't ya, Perry-boy?"
"You sure, Frankie?" Jimmy said, shooting the defeated Perry a stare that wasn't half as effective as those Frances could fire off with her silvery-blue orbs.
Perry's face scrunched up into half its regular size. He looked at his girlfriend of the past seven months to get some moral support, but it was clear by the dark look on Mindy's face that she wasn't prepared to stay with him for a minute longer. Though it seemed to cause him physical pain, he eventually nodded an affirmation of Frances' words. The Stallions let him go, and he ran away from the alley without looking back.
Frances nodded and shuffled over to Mindy to check up on her friend. The red rose and the signed record had both been dropped to the ground in the melee, but they were none the worse for wear, save for a petal that had broken off the flower. "That's also who I am. I hope you won't hate me now," she whispered for Mindy's ears only.
"Of course I won't hate you… you fought for my honor," Mindy said and reached for the fist Frances had used to thump the hoodlum. She ran a thumb over the knuckles that had turned a little red from the fighting; touching wasn't enough, and she pulled the fist to her lips to offer a more intimate way of comforting her rescuer.
Frances hadn't expected the tender kiss that followed, nor that it would feel so good, but it did. Locking eyes, the two teens let out a few snickers before the moment was broken by the remaining Stallions shuffling over to the One-Fifty while letting out a random selection of kissy sounds. Frances shot them a blue glare before she turned back to the pretty girl who still held her fist near her lips. "Mindy, if you want us to drive you home, just say the word-"
"Drive me home? No way, Frances… we're on a Valentine's Day date, aren't we?" Mindy said and gave Frances' hand a little squeeze. "The night is still young. But perhaps we should cruise down to the diner with your buds instead of walking?"
"Sounds like a plan," Frances said and made a beeline for the black Chevrolet. Opening the back door, she leaned in to address her fellow Stallions. "Thanks for the rescue, fellas… I owe you one. Let's grab something to eat. I'm starvin' here. Oh, and me and Mindy got the back seat this time."
Jimmy and Chuck were already flaked out on the back seat the way only cruisers could, so they groaned out loud and shuffled out of the other door to make room for the two gals.
Once Rusty had reversed out of the mouth of the alley and had found a gap in the traffic, the One-Fifty rumbled on down Main Street towards the diner. He kept on glancing in the rear-view mirror to see if Frances would react to the embarrassing hug in the alley, but so far, all of the tough Stallion's attention was directed at the cute strawberry-blonde sitting next to her.
"Fellas," Frances said and leaned forward which made Rusty's eyes zip back to the windshield so he wouldn't get busted all over again, "I got an idea. I'm starvin', but wouldn't it be fun to show Mindy how the Stallions cruise? I mean, just take a spin o' the city with a little music and stuff? You know, see the town?"
"Sure it would," Jimmy said. He and Chuck were mashed up against each other so Rusty had room to operate the floor-mounted gearshift. His gangly frame and Chuck's compact body weren't good bedfellows, but they would have to suck it up for the time being. "Rusty?"
"Works for me, Jimmy," the driver said, carrying on past the entrance to the Silver Boxcar Diner.
Mindy reached over and put a warm hand on Frances' thigh. She wasn't oblivious to the fact the gesture made the tough Stallion lick her lips and break out in a blush; she kinda liked the reaction to the simple touch. "Oh, I'd really, really like that," she said with excitement nearly bubbling over in her voice. "I've only ever cruised with Perry, and he was so full of himself it wasn't much fun…"
"Oh, it'll be fun, Mindy. Hell, not just fun… it's our way of life!" Frances said and snuggled up next to the strawberry-blonde. "Rusty… turn up the tunes. It's time for the Stallions to be prancin', dontchaknow."
"Yes, Sirree!" Rusty said and turned the radio back up to a level that was a single notch under 'deafening.' Almost at once, the immortal Rock Around The Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets began playing on XERC. It was the perfect oldie for the perfect moment, and it didn't take more than a few seconds after the familiar intro played before the entire teenaged population of Main Street had turned up their radios.
Frances put her elbow on the windowsill and rocked along to the golden rhythms by singing loudly and nodding her head to the beat while Rusty cruised Main Street at eighteen or so miles per hour. Mindy caught on at once and boogied on the back seat. For each bounce, she moved closer and closer to Frances until she was so close she couldn't get any further while they were still dressed. The two gals locked eyes and stuck out their tongues at each other before they went back to boppin' to the beat.
It was almost too good to last, but last it did. All around the black One-Fifty, family sedans, sporty cars and custom specials were going at the perfect speed for cruising, and they were all filled with happy, singing kids. Some were sucking on milkshake straws, others were smooching or making out on the back seat, but they all behaved themselves. The roaming squad car from the city police was at the center of the group, but they had very little to do on the night.
Once Rock Around The Clock faded out, the disc jockeys at XERC went into a 1950s frenzy and began playing Jerry Lee Lewis' High School Confidential which garnered just as enthusiastic a response as the other oldie had done.
By the time Rusty brought the One-Fifty to a halt at the Eighth Street intersection to begin the loop for home, he leaned forward and tapped a fingernail against the glass of the fuel gauge. Smirking, he leaned back when the lights turned green. The music was so good there wasn't any time to get worried about the low tide in the tank, but he kept an eye on it nonetheless.
As fate would have it, a familiar Mercury Park Lane Convertible drove up alongside the Chevrolet when they were at the back part of the circuit. Susan leaned her elbow on the side of the convertible eager to re-establish contact, but her face fell when she spotted the strawberry-blonde who had her arms wrapped around the cute boy with the silvery-blue eyes.
Frances looked back at the girl in the convertible, offering her an apologetic smile. It was returned in kind before the two cars were separated by a white 1960 Impala.
"Aw, man!" Chuck said and tried to wiggle free of Jimmy's overgrown limbs that squashed him down into the seat. "That car… ain't that the '59 Merc rag-top with all those cute dolls?"
"Sure is, Chuck," Frances said from the back.
"Man… they were so cute. We had 'em eatin' outta our hands back at the diner a little while ago. Ain't that right, fellas?" the joker said, nudging Jimmy in the side.
Jimmy chuckled and elbowed Chuck right back. "Kinda right. They were talking to us, awright. About you, Frankie. You had 'em really going with your little stunt before. They yapped on and on about ya… wanted your phone number and everything… kept asking if we knew if you were goin' steady and stuff. Hell, they wouldn't shut up about ya."
"Yeah?" Frances said and broke out in a shit-eatin' grin. " 's what I've always said, fellas. If you want something done right, just send the-"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Jimmy said and reached across Rusty's arms to toot the horn twice so Frances would buy a clue and pipe down.
Mindy stuck out her tongue at the Stallions before she snuggled up even closer to the girl next to her. They grinned at each other before Mindy leaned in and rested her head on Frances' shoulder. She still wore the car coat, and she pulled the warm, soft fabric closer around her so she could inhale Frances' scent.
On the radio, the 1950s theme continued with Danny & The Juniors' At The Hop which segued into Little Richard's Long Tall Sally. After all those golden oldies from the previous decade, it was time for a selection of newer hits, and the disc jockeys got the ball rolling by playing a brand new romantic song by The Cascades called First Love Never Dies.
Mindy moved back from Frances' shoulder to look the younger, but far tougher, girl in the eye. "You were right before… cruising is a way of life. I didn't think of it that way, but you were right. It's addictive, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Frances said and gently slid her arm down her friend's back. The romantic song playing on the radio made the urge to kiss the pretty strawberry-blonde stronger than ever, but she knew she couldn't act on that urge, or at least not at that moment in time. Mindy was getting touchy-feely, and that was always a good sign, but there was something about the young woman that sent a pack of butterflies flapping through Frances' gut.
Perhaps it was the way Mindy fully accepted her and her unusual appearance and behavior. Perhaps it was the way she hadn't mocked her during or after the conversation they'd had where they talked about the concept of being boys or girls. Perhaps it was simply her pretty face and her warm personality. Whatever it was, Frances hoped she would be allowed to live and love a little with the girl next to her - Mindy Bartholomew had far, far greater worth than merely being the object of a simple, one-night fling, that was an undeniable fact.
Noticing she had zoned out, Frances cleared her throat and sat up a bit straighter. "Uh… yeah, it's addictive. I mean, it's just so much fun to ride around like this. Talk to your buds and flirt a little with the pretty girls you drive past… stop at the diner and have a Coke and some fries. Which reminds me-"
"Fellas," Rusty said from his spot behind the wheel, "I don't wanna be Captain Party Pooper here, but we'll be walking for the rest of the evening if we don't gas up within the next ten minutes or so."
"Oh, man!" Jimmy said and reached over to tap on the fuel gauge. "Why didn't you tell us sooner, Rusty?"
"The gauge is right there," Rusty said and tapped it again like it would make a difference. "You're closer to it than I am… and it's your car…"
"Never mind that now," Frances said from the back seat. "Anybody got any green bread? I'm kinda low at the moment… and I need some food in my guts before they pack up and head for Florida."
"I have money for gas," Mindy said, but the four Stallions didn't hear her.
Jimmy shook his head. "Naw. Blew it all on the last stop at the diner."
"I'm down to my last moth, too," Chuck said, shaking his head in sympathy.
Everybody stared at the teen behind the wheel of the One-Fifty. Rusty noticed but didn't have anything to give his buds. "The tide is low, fellas. Even lower than the amount of gas left."
"Everybody, please listen," Mindy tried again, holding up a few dollar bills, "I have some-"
"Man, I don't wanna walk home!" Frances said and thumped her fist into the back of the driver's seat. "And my curfew is comin' up, too!"
Mindy shook her head and waved a dollar bill in the air so the Stallions couldn't fail to notice it. "Will you guys listen to me? I have money for gas right here!"
The four Stallions fell quiet. Frances stared at the bill, but she smirked and moved Mindy's hand back down. "Thanks for the offer, but it's a no-can-do. It's a principle, see. Girls simply do not pay for the particulars of a date."
"Boy, you're the most stubborn person I've ever met!" Mindy growled, earning herself a belly laugh and an 'Uh-huh!' from Chuck up front. "But all right. You've had your chance. I live here in town so I can walk home just fine," she continued and put away the dollar bill in a huff.
Jimmy groaned out loud and tried to turn around to glare at Frances to make her change her mind, but Chuck was still sitting too close for it to work.
Frances smirked and looked out of the window in the hope a solution would present itself to her in an almighty hurry. It didn't even improve her mood when XERC began to play a song from the new and exciting group The Beach Boys called My Four-Oh-Nine.
The rumbling of a race-tuned engine somewhere behind them was a golden opportunity that Frances wasn't about to pass up. Scooting around in the seat, she stuck her head out of the window while at speed to see if she could spot the car she thought she had heard. The wind caught her ducktail and made a mess of it, but in the circumstances, it was less important than looking for the other car.
Sure enough, five or so vehicles back out in the fast lane, a 1960 Pontiac Catalina painted black and gold rumbled along between an Edsel and an Oldsmobile. The driver was sitting by himself indicating he was between girls - just what Frances needed in the situation.
"Hey, Rusty, slow down will ya…" she said and tapped the driver's shoulder. The very next thing she did was to reach into her rear pocket to find her comb so she could give the hair a touch-up.
"Whatcha got in mind, Frankie?" Jimmy said, once more trying to turn around - and once more failing to do so.
"Oh, gettin' some gas money. Remember Curtis Deacon and his bitchin' Pontiac?"
"He's some-odd cars behind us as we speak," Frances said and pointed over her shoulder - everybody looked behind them to spot the car with the familiar custom paint job. "I'm gonna flag him down once he gets here. Ya mind?"
"Works for me," the driver said and took his foot off the gas pedal which made the One-Fifty slow down at once. Since he had been going at less than twenty miles per hour to begin with, it didn't take long for the black car to trickle along at a walking pace.
Mindy shook her head and shot everybody a puzzled look. "I don't understand, Frances… how are you going to get gas money from that driver? Are you going to mug him? If you are, I'd like to be dropped off right here…"
"No, no, don't worry. We're gonna race him for cash. Or I am," Frances said with a smile.
Furrowing her brow, Mindy turned around in the seat and looked out of the Chevrolet's curved rear window. "Well, excuse me for being blunt, but I honestly don't think this old car will be able to beat that one… did you see the paint job on it?"
"Number one, it ain't the machine, it's the man," Frances said and let out a knowing chuckle. "And number two, it's only skin deep. Ol' Deke can't drive worth a damn. But he's a showboat so he thinks he oughtta race at the Indy 500."
"Oh…" Mindy said and turned back to her new friend. "I must admit I'm not convinced…"
Frances chuckled and leaned in to bump shoulders with Mindy. "Watch me dance."
A few cars behind them began to honk, but Rusty stuck his arm out of the window to wave them past. When the custom Pontiac got closer, he changed his gesture to catch Curtis Deacon's attention.
At the same time, Frances stuck her head out of the window all over again. "Hey, Deke!" she shouted, waving the driver closer to the One-Fifty.
Curtis 'Deke' Deacon caught on at once and matched the slow speed so the open windows were opposite each other. "Hey, boys. Frankie. Lookin' fine as always," he said, leaning toward the window. At twenty-three, 'Deke' Deacon was perhaps a little too old to be cruising with the teens, but he hadn't had the opportunity when he was younger so he had gone all-in when he had moved to Messalinas. He wore an elaborate ducktail and the classic outfit of a white T-shirt, black dungarees and polished wingtips. As the son of a trucking magnate, he had more dollars than sense, and he had spent a good slice of it buying the Pontiac Catalina and getting it souped-up.
"Ya feelin' racy tonight?" Frances said strongly to be heard over the music.
"I might be, yeah."
" 'Cos we got a little proposition for ya."
"Whatcha got in mind?"
"Oh, a little test o' skills. Yours against mine."
'Deke' Deacon slipped back behind the wheel and tapped the narrow rim. Nodding, he leaned forward again. "G and Third Street in five minutes."
"We'll be there, Deke," Frances said and slipped back inside. At once, she had her comb in her hand to get everything down smooth. "Ya heard, Rusty? G and Third in five minutes."
"I heard," Rusty said and hung a right to cruise over to G Street, the road running parallel to Main.
Mindy scrunched up her face as they drove through the quiet side street. She had never been directly involved in drag racing before, but she knew the basic objective - they were meant to beat the other guy by going faster than him. In fact, they were meant to go faster than fast. The One-Fifty didn't have any seat belts in the rear, and that particular aspect didn't sit too well with her. "Ummm, Frances… I'm not sure that-"
"I'm obviously gonna be racin' alone, Mindy… if I cream it, I'll only kill myself," Frances said and patted Mindy's hand.
Frances offered her back seat companion a reassuring smile. "Just kiddin'. Mostly."
The two teens looked at each other for a few seconds before Mindy let out a grunt. "You're not helping, Frances. You know that?"
"Trust me. I got 'im covered."
"That's not what I meant!" Mindy cried and rolled her eyes. "Oh, you're such a-"
"Cute and friendly fella?" Frances said and winked in an exaggerated fashion.
Up front, Chuck finally rose to the bait. "Naw! She was gonna say a pig-headed, ass-stubborn-"
"Knock it off, guys," Rusty said and made a left-hand turn onto the deserted G Street at the end of Third, "we're here. G and Third. Frankie, you sure about this?"
"Sure I'm sure. I got 'im covered. Just line up and I'll do the rest."
Rusty turned the thin, two-spoke steering wheel and lined up at the white stripe; he ended up facing northbound on G with only a little effort. The town council couldn't afford a proper traffic signal at the little-used spot, so the intersection was only equipped with a single bulb that flashed yellow. He turned the ignition key to save a few drops of gas and to make sure the engine wouldn't begin to boil as it idled.
Mindy grimaced as she looked around their spot on G Street. Although lamp posts were present, the light they produced wasn't as good as over on Main Street. Everything was held in an orange-tinted hue that made the many shadows seem creepy or even spooky. G Street was straight as an arrow, and she was able to see all the way down to the other end where the cruisers used a short section of it on the loop through town.
The radio had been shut off when Rusty had turned the key, so the One-Fifty was draped in silence for a change. It added to the spooky atmosphere, and Mindy needed to seek out Frances' hand to feel secure. In the distance, they could hear the rumble of the Pontiac's three-eighty-nine cubic inch V8 coming closer.
Up front, Rusty, Jimmy and Chuck looked at each other before they climbed out of the car to give Frances and Mindy a little space.
Mindy wasn't accustomed to such dramatic tension, so when they were alone, she wrapped her arms around Frances' waist like she didn't want to let her go. "Frances," she whispered, "I'm worried about you. What if something happens? What if you crash and get yourself killed? Or get thrown from the car and break your neck?"
"The stakes won't be that high, Mindy. I promise I'll be careful. I can blow off ol' Deke with one hand tied behind my back… he's dog slow on a good day, but he's got a huge ego and a wallet the size of the Empire State Building. I'm just gonna drain 'im of a couple-a bucks. Like stealin' candy from a baby."
"Still… what if your number is up?"
"Ah, that can happen gettin' out of bed in the morning. I'll be careful, I promise," Frances said and offered her friend a gentle squeeze. Gazing into Mindy's green orbs, she kept thinking that this was where they would have been kissing had it been one of her casual girlfriends, but the strawberry-blonde was worth so much more that pushing the issue for a single smooch would be idiotic.
It didn't take long for the black-and-gold Pontiac to slide up next to the older Chevrolet. Deke revved the engine a couple of times to show he was ready-teddy for racing.
"I better get goin'," Frances continued, reaching for the lever to open the door. The strong arms wrapped around her were reluctant to let go, and she chuckled and stroked Mindy's fair cheek with an index finger. "Hey, you wanna start us? All you hafta do is to turn on a flashlight…"
"I can do that," Mindy said and let out a long sigh.
The two teens climbed from the One-Fifty in good order, but Mindy was still hesitant to let go of her friend's waist as they shuffled over to their opponent.
"Hey, Deke," Frances said and slapped palms with the older man.
"Frankie. Whassup? You wanna race?"
"Sure do… for a prize. Ten bucks. Winner takes all."
"Sounds fair enough to me," Deke said and eyed the pretty strawberry-blonde that he hoped would be part of the bargain. He took out his bulging wallet and found ten dollars. "Regular rules apply, right? First to First street?"
"Yep. First to First."
"Let me see your bread so I know this ain't a sucker-bet," Deke said and put his hands on his hips.
Frances grimaced - she hadn't counted on that. "Aw, sure… I didn't wanna rattle ya cage or nothin', Deke." She cast a sideways glance at Jimmy, Chuck and Rusty who didn't have more than a few dollars between them to rub together. Her salvation came in the shape of her supportive fairy, Miss Mindy Bartholomew, who reached into her clutch and found a matching amount of money.
"Here you go, Mister," Mindy said and waved the dollar bills around. She cast a dark glance at Frances and leaned in close so she could speak for her friend's ears only. "You better beat this guy… my Mom doesn't know I took that money!"
Frances let out a long whistle as she eyed the greenery in Mindy's hand. "Whoa, I guess the stakes just went up, anyhow, huh? I'll do my best."
Sitting tight in the driver's seat of the Chevrolet, Frances' eyes were locked onto the flashlight that Mindy held ready. She had selected first gear, and she had the clutch at the bite point so she could make a rocket start once the light was turned on. She was in the right-hand lane; the Pontiac was in the left, and the three-eighty-nine burbled right next to her ear. It sounded far racier than her own two-sixty-five, but like she had said countless times, it all came down to the man, not the machine.
Depressing the gas pedal an inch, the One-Fifty started vibrating like it wanted to take off at once - or fall to pieces, it was hard to tell which. The needle in the engine temperature gauge began to climb, matched by the needle in the fuel gauge that slipped even further the other way.
She zoned all that out, including Jimmy and Rusty who were jumping up and down on the sidewalk - Chuck had been sent down to the First Street intersection so he could act as the referee in case it was a close race.
It seemed like an interminable long wait, but in reality, only seven seconds had gone by. Mindy finally clicked on the flashlight and squealed out loud. Her voice was drowned out by the roar of the two V8s that sent the cars lurching away from the stripe.
Frances thought she had timed the clutch perfectly, but she had overcooked it. The rear wheels broke loose and lost traction which created reams of tire smoke that billowed out of the wheelwells. Only the fact that Deke's Pontiac was equipped with a slushbox automatic transmission known as the Roto-Hydramatic saved her off the line. As soon as she yanked the hugely long, floor-mounted shifter into second gear, the black-and-gold car crept up on her in the left lane, but she slammed her foot down on the gas pedal and ducked her head behind the thin steering wheel like it would help her find the extra oomph needed.
Third gear was in, and now she had to rely on the old Chevrolet's horsepower. The scenery went by in a scary blur as the speedo showed they were racing along at nearly sixty miles per hour. Everything shook, rattled and shimmied like it didn't know whether or not to give up the ghost, but the timing line at First Street came up so fast it didn't matter. Frances had no time to look at anything beyond the road ahead, but her peripheral vision registered that she couldn't see the Pontiac's gold-colored fender any longer.
She and 'Deke' Deacon blasted across the intersection at First Street separated by less than half a car-length - and she was ahead. Whooping out loud and punching the air in delight, she released the throttle and let the battered One-Fifty slow down on its own.
Further up G Street, Frances and Deke both made U-turns and trickled back to the waiting Stallions. She came to a halt to pick up Chuck along the way, and the joker was so excited he could hardly talk straight.
The reception from Mindy was even more ecstatic. The strawberry-blonde didn't even wait for Frances to climb out of the Chevrolet before she delivered her congratulatory message - instead, she stuck her head in through the open window and hugged and mussed and smooched and fondled and a hundred other things all at once.
Frances whooped out loud all over again, but she was cut off by a pair of soft lips that claimed her own. It went by so fast she almost thought she had imagined the sweet encounter, but the look in Mindy's eyes right in front of her proved it had been real. The kiss had only lasted for a second or two, but the silent messages that flew back and forth between Frances' and Mindy's eyes backed it up with something far more substantial.
She wasn't allowed to savor the moment; no sooner had Mindy moved back before the door was yanked open and Jimmy, Rusty and Chuck all did their best to smother their fellow Stallion to congratulate her. Frances' response to that celebration was markedly less enthusiastic than she had been to Mindy's smooch.
"Ugh! Will ya- ooof, no, I- ugh, get offa me, fellas! Watch the nest fer cryin' out loud!" she cried, pushing the gangly Jimmy back before he could do something she wouldn't appreciate. Stepping out of the Chevrolet, she jumped a foot in the air and punched the air to mark her victory.
Mindy was at her side in an instant, and the two teens strolled over to 'Deke' Deacon who was leaning against the fender of his Pontiac with a miffed expression on his face. "Ten bucks, I do ba-lieve," Frances said and put out her hand with the palm up.
Deke rolled his eyes but put the ten dollar bill into Frances' palm. "I guess you win the day. I don't get it… my wheels got far more power than that old hunka-junk. What's your secret?"
"Well," Frances drawled, hooking one arm around Mindy and her free thumb into the belt hoops of her dungarees. "You just keep askin' yaself that question, Deke. One of these days, ya might come up with an answer."
"Smart-alec," 'Deke' Deacon said and shuffled around the front of the Pontiac. Getting in, he reversed away from the Stallions and their strawberry-blonde associate.
He was soon gone which meant the celebrations could continue. Rusty opened the dance by turning on the radio which responded by playing Chubby Checker's Let's Twist Again.
"Let's cruise the night away! An' the Cokes are on me!" Frances cried and waved the ten dollar bill high in the air.
After putting ten gallons of gas in the Chevrolet at the cost of two dollars fifty, they still had seven and a half dollars left of their winnings to play with - plenty for Cokes, burgers and fries for four teenagers.
They had swapped seats so Frances was driving with Mindy snuggled up next to her on the bench seat. The three guys were in the back with the plump Chuck shoehorned into the center with the gangly Jimmy on his right and the regular-sized Rusty on his left.
"Man, this sucks. We need a bigger car," Chuck mumbled as he yanked his arms free of his fellow Stallions' hips and butts. Shuffling around didn't help much, especially not since he tried to wiggle around at the exact same moment Frances drove up over the curb to enter the drive-thru.
"Chuck!" Jimmy cried, jerking up in the seat. "Man! Will ya get yer hand outta my crotch!"
"It slipped, all right?" Chuck growled and tried once more to find a comfortable spot for his wide behind.
"It had better!"
Frances let out a chuckle and peeked over her shoulder. "Is there something you cats wanna tell me?"
"No!" - "No!" Jimmy and Chuck said as one.
Still chuckling, Frances drove up to the tail end of the line that led to the manned booth. She put her elbow on the windowsill and turned up the radio another notch; Pretty Little Angel Eyes by Curtis Lee was just segueing into Ricky Nelson's number one hit, Travelin' Man. The car in front was a 1954 Studebaker, and judging by the time it took the passengers to place the orders, it seemed they each had a list a mile long. "Let's make it tonight, people… my curfew is loomin'," she mumbled, tapping her fingers on the rim of the steering wheel.
"Getting impatient won't solve anything," Mindy said and rubbed Frances' thigh for comfort. "I used to work in that booth a year ago. It was awful. My feet and legs were killing me after each shift… and people were always ordering something, then ordering something different, then changing their orders all over again. And they wanted large sodas, or small sodas, or large and small sodas… and on and on… awful."
Frances' mind hadn't yet recovered from having Mindy's hand on her thigh, and she was only able to grunt. She looked down at the five delicate fingers that were spread out over her dark-blue dungarees. It felt good. It felt better than good. It felt positively amazing, especially when Mindy rubbed the thigh again before she moved her hand back. The chill where the warm hand had been was astounding, and Frances could only imagine how it would feel if they ever got down to doing something heavier.
"Cape Canaveral to Captain Maguire," Jimmy said and pointed through the windshield. "The Studebaker is long gone… come on, whatcha waitin' for?"
"Huh? Oh… yeah," Frances said and trickled up to the booth. Her cheeks had gained a reddish color, and she didn't dare look at Mindy's pretty face next to her out of fear of triggering some kind of goofy-seizure.
The young girl in the manned booth looked like she had seen it all and then some. On top of her bored expression, she chewed on a large wad of bubblegum which made the cumbersome headset she wore wobble around her temples and jaw. "Hello and welcome to Gordon's Drive-Thru. What can we get you, Miss?" she said in a thoroughly bored monotone.
"Hi. We'd like six hamburgers, five Cokes and five fries, if ya don't mind," Frances said, winking at the pretty girl to brighten her day - it didn't seem to work.
"Uh-huh?" the girl said and relayed the message into the microphone.
From the back, Rusty leaned forward and tapped Frances' shoulder. "Hey, didya count my two burgers? That makes it seven."
Frances rolled her eyes and turned back to the girl in the booth. "Sorry, make that seven hamburgers."
"Uh… no. Seven in total," Frances said and cocked her head to see if the girl was trying to pull her leg. She didn't appear to be, and the matter was soon dealt with.
"The order has been given, Miss. A skater-hop will arrive with your food when it's done. Thank you," the girl in the booth said through the window.
"Aw, you're most deliciously welcome," Frances said and pulled away from the stop after flashing the girl in the booth one of her patented silvery-blue looks. She received a little slap on the leg by Mindy for flirting, but a grin disarmed the situation before it could escalate.
Driving around the booth, they were soon back onto the parking lot. They were in luck for once and found a spot that had a great view of Main Street and the countless cruisers that kept going back and forth in all their colorful vehicles. Turning off the engine, they cut off Bobbie Day's Rockin' Robin in mid-stream, but the bouncy song continued from all the cars that were driving past.
"Ahhh, this is more like it. A tankful o' gas, the company of good buds and a view of the cruisin'. Life is good," Frances said and put her arm across the top of the backrest. She leaned her head to the right to gauge Mindy's mood. It was good to fine with the chance of a smile, so she pulled the snickering strawberry-blonde closer to her. The contented sigh she let out came from the heart when Mindy used her shoulder as a pillow.
"For you, maybe," Chuck growled from the back. His plump stature was once more squashed in between Rusty and the gangly Jimmy, and the look on his face said that he was getting fed up with the whole thing. When Rusty shuffled around and left even less space for Chuck's wide hips, he'd had enough. "Naw! Naw, that's it. No way I'm sitting here when we're eating! No way! Lemme outta here… fellas… lemme out," he said and reached across his fellow Stallion for the lever that would open the door.
When Rusty didn't show any interest in moving, Chuck went in for the kill. "Lemme out at once or I'll cut the cheese! You know what I can do!"
The threat worked, and Rusty almost jumped out of the One-Fifty. Chuck followed him at a more sedate pace and went around the back of the Chevrolet to get some fresh air.
Up front, Mindy shuffled around and looked over the backrest with a puzzled frown on her forehead. "I'm… I'm not familiar with that expression. Cut the cheese?"
"Pass wind," Jimmy, Rusty and Frances said as one.
Mindy grimaced and moved back to her soft pillow. "Oh… ew."
They didn't have time to elaborate: a skater-hop came wheeling over with a large tray carrying their food and beverages. The young woman - who wore tight pants, a white shirt with the Gordon's Drive-Thru logo on her left breast, and finally a pillbox hat - extended the tray's struts and put it over the windowsill. "Here you go, Sir," she said to Frances who offered her a broad grin in return for being called a Sir. "Seven hamburgers, five fries, five Cokes. That'll be two dollars forty, Sir."
Frances counted the bills and coins of her winnings before she decided to show some gratitude for the swift delivery. "Here ya go. Four bucks. Keep the change, darlin'," she said and offered the skater-hop a smile and a wink from the silvery-blue orbs.
"Thank you very much, Sir," the waitress said before she skated away from the black Chevrolet.
The four Prancing Stallions and their new friend Mindy went to work wolfing down the burgers and the fries; they also finished off the Cokes in record time. It wasn't long before they had swapped the warm meal for a pile of crumpled-up wrappers. "Burgers," Jimmy said and licked his fingers clean of excess ketchup. "Is that the world's most boss invention or what?"
"Cars!" - "Radios!" - "Women's underwear!" the other people in the car said. The underwear comment had obviously come from Chuck who had stuck his head in through the open window.
"Yeah, they ain't bad," Frances said and glanced over at Mindy. "O' course, some other things ain't bad either."
Mindy felt Frances' eyes on her, and she looked up with a shy, little smile gracing her lips.
"You know what I think?" Jimmy continued. "In fifty years' time… in 2012, cruisin' and burgers and Cokes and all those things will still be king. And the cars, too! Yeah… and radio, of course. The stupid television will be long gone. It's just a fad."
Frances chuckled and threw a ball of scrap paper at her fellow Stallion. "Aw, you just say that 'cos your parents are in a funk since Milton Berle went off the air."
"Hey, look ahead… can you compare that stupid, little blue window to that view right there?" Jimmy said and pointed out of the windshield at the admittedly glorious sight of colorful neon lights, flashy cars cruising along Main Street, and well-dressed teenagers out for a late-evening stroll.
"I gotta agree with ya there, Jimmy. Nothing beats that view," Frances said and pulled Mindy even closer.
Mindy snickered and allowed herself to be held tight. Then she noticed something that wasn't supposed to be there. "Oh, hold it right there, Mister… hold it…" she said as she dug into her clutch to find a handkerchief. Smiling, she reached over and removed a ketchup stain from Frances' cheek. "There!"
Jimmy and Rusty chuckled out loud at the baffled expression on Frances' face at having her cheek wiped, but they were interrupted by Chuck sticking his head in through the open window. "Hey, turn on the radio! They're playin' one of my favorites!"
Frances did as asked and twisted the ignition key. Although it wasn't good for the alternator or the battery to be held in the pre-start position for any length of time without being used, it was the only way to keep the radio going without actually starting the car. At once, The Edsels' Rama Lama Ding Dong blasted out of the speakers which made Chuck whoop out loud and dance around on the parking lot in front of everybody.
While Chuck's fellow Stallions cheered and clapped at their friend's kookie behavior, Mindy took full advantage of the opportunity to lean in and steal a little kiss from Frances' supremely kissable lips. "Thank you for tonight… I've had a wonderful time in your company. The best Valentine's Day of my life," she whispered for Frances' ears only.
Bright, warm colors exploded inside Frances' brain, but she kept her tongue on the inside and settled for grinning at her new kissing mate. "Aw, you're welcome. You goin' home to catch some sleep?" she whispered back, keeping her eyes firmly trained on Mindy's elegant mouth that seemed to cry out to her to be kissed, kissed and kissed some more. She wet her own lips, eager to try the whole kissing experience again.
"No, but you are…"
"Your curfew," Mindy said and pointed at her wristwatch which read a quarter past eleven.
"Oh, man," Frances groaned and rubbed her forehead. "Time sure does fly when you're havin' fun… thanks for the heads-up. I woulda been busted for sure. Ugh…"
On XERC, Chuck's favorite song ended and turned into Reveille Rock by Johnny & The Hurricanes. Exhausted, the plump Stallion barged in through the door and slammed his butt down on the back seat.
Rusty had to move aside in a flash or else he'd get a hood ornament of the uncool kind. Growling, he did so and suddenly found himself squashed up next to the gangly Jimmy.
"Fellas," Frances said and turned around, "I got an idea. Why don't you cats stay here at the diner while I drive Miss Mindy home? Then I'll come back here and one of ya can drive me up to my folks so I won't miss my curfew?"
Chuck, Rusty and Jimmy all looked at each other before they nodded in unison. "Sounds like a mighty fine plan, Frankie," Rusty said, giving Chuck a shove to get him to scoot further into the corner - it didn't work because he was already leaning against the door. "Of course, I wish you had come up with it two minutes ago so I wouldn't have had to sit next to Mount Colossal here!"
"Why dontcha eat my shorts?" Chuck said, earning himself a couple of laughs.
Rolling his eyes, Jimmy opened the door on his side and clambered out onto the parking lot. "C'mon, fellas… c'mon… c'mon, scoot."
"I'm scootin'," Rusty said and went the long way out so he wouldn't have to wait for Chuck to get his wide hips in motion.
When the last remaining Stallion had the back seat to himself, he leaned forward and nudged Frances' shoulder. "See ya later, Alligator," he said, shooting his unusual buddy a knowing grin.
"Won't be like that, Chuck. This is different," Frances said with sincerity written all over her face. Smiling at Mindy, she sought out her delicate hand down on the seat and gave it a little squeeze.
A short while later, the black Chevrolet One-Fifty pulled over at the curb on Petaluma, a quiet street in a quiet neighborhood in an even quieter part of Messalinas. Though it was only half past eleven, not a soul was in sight. Here and there, lights were still on in the villas and bungalows, but they were few and far between. One of the houses where the residents hadn't gone to bed yet was the one belonging to Mindy's parents.
The disc jockeys at XERC had started a cavalcade of romantic, soulful songs that any loving couple would appreciate on the eve of Valentine's Day, and Frances and Mindy had already listened to Tears On My Pillow by Little Anthony & The Imperials, and The Shirelles' Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by The Platters was next, but although the needle for the engine temperature rose towards the top end of the scale, Frances didn't want to mute the great song - especially not when she saw the effect it had on Mindy who swayed gently to the rhythm while she sang along under her breath.
When the song ended, Frances turned off the engine which left the car draped in silence. To show that her intentions were chivalrous, she reached up and moved the little button for the interior light into the 'on' position. "Your parents are still up," she said and pointed a thumb at the house.
"Mmmm," Mindy said and looked at the garden gate they were parked in front of.
"What are ya gonna tell 'em?"
"The truth… or some of it. That Perry was mean to me and that he's history." Mindy looked back at the girl who had saved her bacon more than once over the course of the evening. "They won't miss him. My Dad never liked him."
"I didn't even know Perry and I didn't like 'im either…"
Mindy chuckled and let her eyes glide up and down the dark-blue dungarees and the tight men's T-shirt that didn't do a good job of concealing Frances' womanly chest. She licked her lips and looked away. Realizing she still wore the car coat with the illustration of the Stallion on the back, she slipped the garment off her shoulders and handed it to Frances. "Thank you for letting me use this… it was warm and lovely."
"You're welcome. Too bad it wasn't a letterman… you could have kept using it," Frances said and threw the jacket onto the back seat.
"Yes… it's the thought that counts. May I give you something to remember me by?"
"Uh… of course… but I doubt I'll forget you for as long as I live…"
"Ohhhhh," Mindy said, smiling shyly while she pretended to swoon. A blush spread over her cheeks as she opened her small clutch and found a white-and-pink handkerchief that matched her outfit perfectly. Once again shooting Frances a shy smile, she pulled out the colorful cloth and spread it across her lap. "It's just a silly, little thing… but I thought you might… that you'd want…"
"A mirror warmer?" Frances said and reached for the handkerchief that represented the first stage of a closer relationship. They briefly locked eyes before the blush coloring their cheeks became too strong. "Oh, I'd love that, Mindy," she continued and tied the pink cloth around the stem for the rear view mirror. She fluffed it to make it sit just right before she shot the pretty girl next to her a blinding smile.
"I know it's not your car, but perhaps you could… maybe… keep it in your pocket… or something…"
"I'll cherish it forever," Frances said in a voice that held nothing but sincerity. Turning back to the strawberry-blonde, she cocked her head and gave her companion a funny look. "Hey… Mindy?"
"Are you gonna tell your parents about me?"
Mindy smirked and began to toy with her crinoline dress that had become wrinkled after all the excitement. Several seconds went by where the only sounds heard were breathing and someone's thumping heartbeat. "I'm not going to tell them I cruised with the Stallions all evening. That would go down like a lead balloon. It would only get me grounded for the rest of my life. But…"
"But I will tell them that I met a handsome, strong, kindhearted fellow who treated me with the utmost respect." As she spoke, Mindy reached up and turned off the interior light. "That's what I'm going to tell them."
The sudden darkness made Frances' heartbeat increase even further. It hid many things, pretty as well as unpretty. One of the strangest things around was the unpleasant, fiery redness that had claimed her cheeks and her neck. She licked her lips once; then once more.
A nervous smiled played over Mindy's lips as she moved closer to Frances. She spoke so softly it sounded like something from a dream. "Thank you for not jumping my bones tonight. For respecting my wish to wait until I'm married."
"Oh… uh… you're welcome…"
Mindy moved closer still and put a hand on Frances' stomach. The hand lingered there for a few seconds before it began to slide upwards. She moved her lips closer to those of the unusual girl next to her. A pink tongue came out of its cavern and drew a wet trail around her mouth. "And I respect your wish to be seen as a boy…"
Frances gasped when Mindy's hand closed around her left breast and gave it a little squeeze. She slammed her eyes shut and marveled at the sensations that exploded through her chest and elsewhere. Her breathing came in gasps as Mindy continued the sweet contact, and she wanted nothing more than to claim the pretty strawberry-blonde's lips and devour her whole.
"But perhaps we could meet somewhere in the middle… some day?" Mindy continued in a whisper that went into a deep, husky register that Frances hadn't expected the fair blonde to possess.
It all became too much for Frances. Groaning out loud, she reached up and drew Mindy closer to her. When their lips connected, they jumped head-first into the kiss of kisses. For several minutes, they gnawed on each other's mouths, feasted on each other's tongues and let out long, sensual moans and throaty appreciations of each other's skills.
Once they separated to get some air, they stayed close to savor the moment. Hot flashes rolled over their bodies, matched by the strong energy that flew between their green and silvery-blue eyes. Girly snickers claimed them both when it dawned on them what they had just done, and with whom, but the utterances were soon quelled by a string of easy kisses.
"Wow…" Frances said - it was an idiotic thing to say, and she knew it, but it was all she was able to come up with following the complete shutdown of her brain somewhere along the line of kisses. Her entire being was buzzing, and a certain amount of heat had pooled due south. It made her shuffle around in the seat, but it wasn't an uncomfortable sensation in the least.
Mindy snickered and crinkled her nose in delight. "Wow yourself," she said with a wink. "Thank you. I've had the world's best Valentine's Day. I better go inside before Dad comes out to see what on earth is going on."
"You better," Frances said, but kept a firm, though gentle, grip on Mindy's hand. She eventually let go, but the separation sucked. "Hey, don't forget your rose and the record ya bought."
"Shucks, I did forget! I don't even know where they are," Mindy said and looked down in the footwell to find the missing items.
"They're in the trunk," Frances said and pointed over her shoulder. "Never mind, I'll get 'em for ya," she continued and stepped out of the Chevrolet.
A scant thirty seconds later, she opened the passenger side door and helped Mindy out onto the sidewalk. "Here ya go… mind the curb. Your rose, Milady," she said, handing Mindy the flower and Jackson Fernley's newest hit.
"Gee Golly Whiz, thank you!" Mindy said and let out a husky snicker. "You know, I think I can handle it the rest of the way. Goodnight, Frances. Frankie. I've… I've…" Mindy's courage suddenly left her, and she looked down at her feet with shyness painted all over her face.
"I've had one hell of an evening. Probably the best ever… no, definitely the best ever…?" Frances suggested.
Mindy nodded. "Yes. Something important started tonight… something wonderful."
"I agree. I will see you again… won't I?" Frances cocked her head while she waited for an answer - fortunately for her nerves, she didn't have to wait too long.
"See me again? Oh, I think you'll see me around… now and then. Here and there. Off and on. You know," Mindy joked. At that, she placed a brief kiss on Frances' lips before she opened the garden gate and strolled up the path.
Frances stayed at the sidewalk until Mindy unlocked the front door of her parents' house. A yellow cone of light fell out into the dark garden. As Mindy stood in the doorway, she was illuminated like an angel, and the sight warmed Frances' heart. Grinning, she waved goodbye to Mindy before she shuffled around the back of the Chevrolet, intending to get behind the wheel.
Spotting the car coat in the back, she opened the rear door instead and took the colorful garment. She held it to her nose and took a deep sniff of Mindy's exquisite scent. "Wow," she mumbled as she put it on. After zipping it up to half-mast, she opened the Chevrolet's door and slipped behind the wheel.
As she turned the ignition key to start the engine, the radio came alive playing Eddie Cochran's Three Steps To Heaven, another one of her favorites from the late, great singer's pen. Grinning, she moved the long gearstick into first gear and drove away from the curb.
Zzzzzz… "Wh- wha-?"
"Ugh… I'm all right, officer," Frances Maguire said and jerked upright behind the thin steering wheel of her 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air. She looked around in a daze, wondering where she was, who she was, why her butt was numb, and why she had a nasty crimp in her neck.
Then it all came back to her. She had been on a lengthy trip back in time. Back to 1962; to cruising, to real rock'n'roll, to dungarees, car coats and great buddies, and to green-eyed beauties in pink crinoline dresses. In 2016, the world was a very different place, and all of that was gone - all of it save for green-eyed beauties, though Mindy Bartholomew was wearing slacks and a dark-blue blouse rather than a pink dress.
Rolling down the manual window of her pet car project, Frances put her seventy-year old elbow on the windowsill like in the good, old days. "Hey, honey. Love ya."
"Oh!" Mindy said and put her hands on her heart. The intervening years hadn't diluted her prettiness. Her eyes were as strong as ever, and her mature face was still youthful, even if her body had turned softer and more rounded. Her hair had gone gray and she preferred to keep it short these days, but other than that, it was undoubtedly Mindy Bartholomew. "Oh, love you too… what brought that on?"
"Can't I tell my wife I love her? What the hell kinda world are we living in, anyhow?" Frances said and let out a tired chuckle. The brushed aluminum frame of the four cool cats posing in front of a black Chevrolet One-Fifty had fallen onto the bench seat when she had slipped into the land of Nod, but she picked it up and looked at the four people who were so young it was almost a biological impossibility.
She smiled wistfully at the faces she hadn't seen for a long, long while except in a vivid dream. The gangly James 'Jimmy' Cahill, jr. who went through a string of odd jobs before he ended up as, of all things, an executive for a tech company. The plump jokester, Charles 'Chuck' Sassnick, jr., who had astounded everyone by becoming a college professor later in life. Russell 'Rusty' Cobb with the humongous crush on Frances that he thought nobody knew about. He had gone into politics and had launched a career sitting behind a desk in Washington, D.C. while plenty of important people from the Reagan and Bush administrations asked for his opinion - and finally herself, Frances 'Frankie' Maguire. She had set off on a lengthy career as a motor racing journalist though the written word couldn't have been further from her mind when she was a hard-assed sixteen-year old. She had formally retired, but she still wrote - these days, it was for Internet blogs covering classic car shows and historic race meetings.
Chuckling, she ran a finger across the smooth surface of the photo. "I had the most awesome dream you can imagine, girl. I was back then… before the world lost all sense of direction. We were all there… all of us. Mom. Rusty and Jimmy. Chuck. Hell, even 'Deke' Deacon. And you and me. That evening we became oh-so close in '62. Remember?"
"But of course I remember… I'm not that senile yet! That was such a wonderful evening," Mindy said and leaned in through the window to kiss her Significant Other on the lips. "It defined the rest of my life. Did you have that dream because of Valentine's Day?"
"Yeah, probably," Frances said and opened the door. Yawning, she put down the photo and turned around in the seat. Gravity worked differently in the present - or perhaps her butt had simply grown heavier - so she needed to grab hold of the door's frame to lift herself off the velvet seat cover. "Man… I'm old, slow and fat-assed now… how the hell did that happen? I was a bouncing bunny five minutes ago!"
Mindy chuckled and rubbed Frances' arm. "Anyway, I came out to ask when you wanted your afternoon tea and sunflower buns?"
While she waited for an answer, Mindy suddenly spotted the long-forgotten mug on the low table at the back of the garage. "Oh… there's your other mug. I wondered where it had gone off to," she said as she shuffled down to get it.
Frances' face contorted into a horrified grimace, and she needed to grab hold of the car door's frame to stay erect. "Sunflower buns? Sunflower buns?! Screw the sunflower buns! I just dreamt of burgers and fries and Cokes back home in Messalinas, so that's what we'll go out an' have! C'mon, get-"
"But your diabetes, honey…"
"Screw the diabetes! And the cholesterol, too! Get your car coat, girl… we're goin' cruisin'!"
Mindy let out a dramatic sigh and allowed her eyes to roll up until she was looking at the strip lights in the ceiling of the garage. "Boy, you're as stubborn as you ever were! You know that?"
A proper, though cocksure, grin spread over Frances' lips. "I thought that was why ya still loved me…?" she said and put her hands on her hips in a somewhat provocative pose that did look reminiscent of one the far younger Frances/Frankie could have flashed. "Naw, drop what you're holding and come out on the road with me. We can't cruise up and down Main Street no more, but we can pretend. We can listen to some real rock'n'roll on the oldies station and just-"
"Oh, hell… you've convinced me," Mindy said and put down the mug that was full of stone cold tea. It could wait. She turned back to the most important person in her world and shot her a wide smile. "I need to pee first, though."
Frances chuckled. "Me too. Man, these old bones… ain't worth a damn."
"Oh, I don't know… they still look pretty good from where I'm standin'," Mindy said saucily. She sent 'Frankie' a wink and one of those husky looks that promised a fun Valentine's Day evening at home in the company of loved ones.
Ten short minutes later, the garage door slid up into the top stop revealing the late afternoon sun that cast a golden cone of light onto parts of the concrete floor. The whirring of a starter motor was heard, followed by the roar of the Bel-Air's tuned, top-fit two-eighty-three cubic inch V8 engine.
Frances clicked the seat belt in place and reached over to muss her wife's leg. The days of snuggling up tight on the bench seat were long gone, but perhaps it was for the better, injury-wise. At Frances' insistence, they both wore chintz car coats, though not ones with the legendary illustration of a prancing stallion on the back.
The two mature women smiled at each other before Frances adjusted the rear view mirror that was graced by a white-and-pink handkerchief hanging from the narrow stem. Chuckling, she drove out of the garage and onto the driveway. Their everyday car, a Prius, looked dull and unimaginative next to the '57 Bel-Air and its wild paint job, but that was a sign of the times.
Pressing the button that activated the garage door's closing mechanism, Frances looked in the side mirror to see if it actually moved down into its bottom stop as it should - craning her neck to look through the rear window was a no-go these days. When everything was secure, she put out her hand and waited for Mindy to take it.
"Happy Valentine's Day, honey. The roses will follow in a short while. Love ya like hell," she said and laid a wet smooch on her wife's hand.
Mindy leaned her head back and laughed out loud. "Awww! Love you too. C'mon, Frankie, let's cruise the night away!"
"Yes, ma'am!" Frances said and took her foot off the brake. The Bel-Air rumbled off the driveway and onto the quiet street in the residential area they lived in. Far bigger and far more extravagant than the dull boxes on wheels that were parked in the other driveways, the old, colorful car looked spectacular in the stifling conformity of modern-day suburbia.
At the end of the connecting street, Frances activated the turning signal and waited for a gap in the traffic. Once she found one, she didn't race around the corner like in the old days - Mindy had taken a disliking to it over the years - but steered the heavy Chevrolet into the turn and let it glide along smooth as silk. The radio was soon turned on, and Globetrotter by The Tornadoes wafted out of the speakers from the oldie station Wall-2-Wall Rock'n'Roll. "Oh yeah. This is a life worth livin'," she said and put her arm over the backrest.
Looking to her right, she happened to lock eyes with her wife and saw the exact same gorgeous gal with the exact same gorgeous smile she had met all those years ago. As the Bel-Air cruised along the boulevard with the golden oldie instrumental creating the soundtrack, Frances and Mindy grinned at each other and held hands like they had done for more than fifty years.