Out of the Bronx

AN EXCERPT FROM OUT OF THE BRONX: THE JOEL SACHS STORIES BY JEORME KASS:

In this story, sixteen-year-old Joel Sachs has met the girl of his dreams in the alluring Rhonda Spiegel.  After months of movies, dinners—even a Broadway show—Rhonda finally rewards Joel with his first kiss.  He hopes this will be the beginning of many more to come . . .

From then on, one kiss per date became the ritual. The kiss got longer and juicier, but she never permitted more than one. Even one Saturday night, when they went together to a birthday party for a friend of Rhonda’s, although all the other couples were kissing and necking, Rhonda reminded Joel when he tried for a kiss that one kiss was all he’d be getting that night, so if he chose to kiss her then, that would be it until their next date. He held her very close, he breathed in her ear, he nuzzled her neck, but he resisted kissing her in order to save it for later when they were alone in her bedroom. Of course, since he couldn’t even get to first base more than once a date, it was clear he would never go beyond.

And so it went all through junior year. They dated about twice a month—Joel couldn’t afford her more often than that, especially after the ninth or tenth date, when they started going for pizza or ice cream after the movies. In the theater, he’d put his arm around her and hold her hand as long as his hand stayed dry. They’d usually share M&M’s or popcorn and a Coke—from two different straws, at her germ-phobic insistence. When he took her home, she’d invite him in, they’d watch TV together until her mom said goodnight and went to bed, then they’d go into her bedroom, sit on her bed and kiss—once. A couple of times they lay down facing each other on the bed and kissed in that position, which was hotter. But after the one kiss, she’d always escort him to the door.

*****

One time Joel asked Rhonda on the phone who she went out with when it wasn’t with him.

“Who said I go out with anybody?” she teased.

“Do you?” he asked.

“None of your business,” she giggled.

He persisted. “Come on, Rhonda, please tell me.”

“It’s none of your business,” she repeated, this time without the giggle.

“I’m just curious to know what you do on Saturday nights when you don’t go out with me.”

“Curiosity killed the cat.”

All that year, with just handholding, an arm around her shoulder, and one kiss every other Saturday night, he never lost his desire for her. In fact, the more she withheld, the more he hungered for her. Her looks and her body, which became more extraordinary the longer he knew her, compelled him most, but in fact everything about her appealed to him, even her version of germaphobia, which allowed only one kiss per date.

*****

In late May of that year, sitting in her bedroom, Joel asked Rhonda to his junior prom. It was the big event of the school year at Bronx Science because it was preparation for the senior prom the following year. The junior prom was held in the school gym, whereas the senior prom took place in a hotel ballroom. Gowns and tuxedoes were required at the senior prom, but juniors could wear their “Sunday best.” The senior prom ended at 1 A.M., the junior prom by 11 P.M. But it was as important to go to the junior prom because those juniors who didn’t go were considered “losers.” So when Rhonda turned him down, Joel was not only shocked and his pride injured, but he was also worried about his reputation at school.

“You mean you really don’t want to go to the prom with me?” he asked, as if she had turned down the greatest opportunity of her life.

“It’s not that I don’t want to go, it’s that I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

“I just can’t.”

Joel told her what the consequences would be for him if he didn’t go, how he would be perceived at school.

“Then take someone else,” she said coldly.

“I don’t want someone else,” he said. “I want you.”

This irritated her and she snapped, “Okay! You want to know why I can’t go with you? It’s because I’m going to my own prom. At Columbus.”

Joel was shaken.

She continued. “Is it unreasonable that I want to go to my own junior prom?”

“No,” he said, “but who are you going with?”

“Really, Joel, you ask too many questions that are none of your business.”

“So that means you’re going with another guy. And that means you’ve probably been dating him while you’ve been dating me. And that is my business. And I’m not sure I want to see you anymore.”

Of course, at the moment, it was an empty threat, and they both knew it. Even when he hated her, as he did now, he was still madly in love with her. He knew as well as she that nothing he said could change her mind and that nothing she did would make any difference. His jealousy only fed the flame of his love.

“It’s up to you if you stop seeing me,” she said, and told him it was time for him to go home.

“Can I have my kiss?”

“No.”

“How come?”

“Just go.”

* * * *