That night, though, Mom was getting things ready for a party at the restaurant, so I had to bum a ride with Jack and Julie. Jack said they didn’t need a chaperon, but it was just talk. He always helped me when it mattered.
While we were waiting for Julie, I asked him about the one detail that was bothering me. “I’m supposed to meet her there,” I said. “Do I meet her inside the gym or outside?”
“Do you have a date or not?”
“More or less.”
Jack grinned and shook his head.
“Well, it’s not that simple,” I told him. “She can’t go out on dates, so she’s coming with her parents, and I’m supposed to meet her.”
Jack broke out laughing. “You’re singing the freshman blues again, Eddie. Everything ends up half-baked.”
“So where do I meet her on a half-baked date?”
“Inside,” he said. “That way you won’t have to pay for her ticket.”
“I don’t want to look like a cheapskate.”
“Why hide the truth? Besides, her parents are bringing her, right? You don’t want to meet her father, do you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Look, he’ll just shake your hand and give you a dirty look. That’s what freshman girls’ fathers always do.”
“So save the hassle and the money. Wait inside.”
I ended up waiting right inside the door. When Wendy and her father came in, she was careful to keep things looking casual. She pretended not to notice me at first, then said, “Oh, hi, Eddie,” and introduced me to her father as a boy in her algebra class. He shook my hand and gave me a dirty look.
For a minute I thought the three of us would end up sitting together, but her father decided not to join us in the student rooting section. Wendy and I found an empty bench in the bleachers and were alone for twenty or thirty seconds before two of her friends came along, then three of mine. Then some friends of theirs. And finally Wayne Parks squeezed into a spot on the bench behind us. All through the game he kept leaning forward and making comments like “Where’s the ref keep his Seeing Eye dog during the game?”
Even if Wendy and I hadn’t had an audience, we couldn’t have done much talking. During every time-out the Los Cedros Spirit Band, sitting three rows behind us, blasted us off the benches with fight songs.
To top things off, Wendy’s father sat across the aisle and stared at us all night. And the Los Cedros Panthers blew a six-point lead in the final minute and lost the game at the buzzer.
Before Wendy and I had our coats on, her father showed up beside us, mumbled, “Nice to meet you, Willy,” and led her away.
The night could have been worse, I guess. I didn’t break an ankle or choke on my popcorn or rip my pants. But I had a hard time being thankful for those small favors.
P.J. Petersen (The Freshman Detective Blues)