Caroline Clooney was not the prettiest girl in the 10th grade class at Calvary Presbyterian School. She didn’t talk much, either. But she was blond and popular, and she had clear, tan skin. She embarrassed easily and had a laugh that made up for not having much to say.
Pete had been thinking about Caroline for most of the school year, and he even talked to her a couple of times. One Friday after school, she knocked on the door of his house selling magazines for the Spirit Squad. They exchanged nervous laughs and Pete bought a subscription to Popular Mechanics. He thought about that encounter all weekend, rehearsing it over and over in his mind like a favorite skit from Saturday Night Live. Pete decided that when he got his driver’s license, the first thing he would do was take Caroline Clooney out on a date.
Pretty soon, that fateful day arrived. Pete sat beside his phone for 30 minutes, school directory spread out in his lap. He picked up the receiver, dialed the first four digits of her number, then hung up. This went on for another 30 minutes before Pete reached that seventh digit, and Caroline Clooney answered the phone.
“Hello, Caroline?” Pete said. Then he paused because he didn’t know what else to say. He never expected to make it this far.
“This is Pete.” Another pause. “Pete Miller from sixth period biology.”
“Oh,” she said, laughing in that adorably embarrassed way. “Hi, Pete.”
“I was just wondering,” he said, then he paused again. How to say it? How to encapsulate what he wanted to do in just a few words? There were so many ways to go about it. Dammit, Miller, he said to himself. You’re losing her. Just spit it out.
“Hello?” she said again.
“I was just wondering what you were doing Friday night, because if you aren’t doing anything Friday night, I wanted to see if you might like to go out to dinner with me and maybe go to a movie, too?”
“Oh,” she said.
“Well,” she added.
And what she said next was very telling, though Pete would not catch on until years later.
“Well, Pete, that sounds fun. I’d love to do that, but I’ve got this thing…this thing I’m doing… You know, my sister’s on the swim team and she’s got a… Actually, my mom and dad have this, uhm…and they wouldn’t really like it if I, uhm…”
Pete heard a long sigh, like someone was very slowly letting air out of a balloon.
“Oh, what the hell? I’ll go out with you. What time?”
Pete told her the time, then got off the phone as quickly as he could. He ran across the family room and did a David Lee Roth jump-kick into the oversized sofa.
Friday rolled around, and Pete spent much of that afternoon preparing for his date. He took a shower, slapped two splashes of Drakkar aftershave on his face, and reveled in the burn. He put on a buttoned-down shirt and khakis, and set his Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits tape at just the right romantic songs to play in the car. Finally, he unsheathed a tube of Binanca he’d gotten in his Christmas stocking, sampled its mint-fresh taste, and put the little bottle of breath freshener in his back pocket for later. He didn’t want to leave anything to chance.
He picked up Caroline in his mother’s burgundy Buick Park Avenue. “Where do you want to eat?” he asked.
“Somewhere where no one can see us together,” she said. “I mean, where we can be alone.”
“Great,” Pete said. Mr. Joel did most of the talking after that, crooning about how she’ll take what you give her as long as it’s free.
Pete drove to the only Mexican restaurant in town, a place called La Fiesta. Which was an appropriate name, Pete thought, as he and Caroline strolled through an entryway adorned with piñatas, Corona labels, and red, white and green streamers. The atmosphere was definitely celebratory.
The place was crowded. It was La Fiesta on a Friday night, after all. After what seemed like an eternity, the hostess led Pete and Caroline to a table near the bar. As Pete sat in his chair, he felt the tube of Binanca split open and explode in the seat of his pants. A light mist rose over the table. “Shit,” Pete said.
“What’s wrong?” Caroline asked.
“I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”
Once safely in a room labeled, “Senors,” Pete disposed of the ruined breath freshener and surveyed the damage. Sure enough, there was a big, wet area on the right butt cheek of his khakis where the Binanca resided.
“Shit,” he said. No amount of paper towels would fix this mess.
After a few minutes, he returned to the table. They ordered cheese dip and two Cokes. They actually talked, mostly about what Caroline was up to – Spirit Squad and National Honor Society and some other things. Pete didn’t even bring up the idea of driving to the secluded cul-de-sac at Cantering Downs, the new neighborhood in town. He settled instead on Beverly Hills Cop II – two hours of blissful movie watching when he didn’t have to say or do anything.
“Thanks,” Caroline Clooney said when he dropped her off in the circle drive in front of her house. “I had a good time.”
“Me, too,” he said, secure in the knowledge that, if he chose to, he would never, ever have to do something like this again.