Ride in a Red Mustang

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Getting old has its drawbacks. Sometimes more than we ever dreamed possible. It also affords us time to remember the days of our youth, to fully appreciate the pleasures we might have overlooked.

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Today was a beautiful day as Sally sat in the swing under the oak tree enjoying sunshine and memories. Good memories. Not all her days were as carefree, but she enjoyed the good ones and chalked the others up to years lived.

She watched as a young neighbor boy backed out of his driveway, waving from his new shiny red Mustang. She waved, then leaned back in the swing, a lingering smile on her face. She wondered what lucky girl would get to ride in it today. As he disappeared from sight, his red Mustang stirred a memory from deep inside her. One from almost fifty years ago.

It was Spirit Day in her senior year at Fairmont High. The senior classes were dismissed an hour early to decorate their doors for Friday night’s football game against their crosstown rivals. A rivalry as old as time, she supposed. At least as long as she could remember. There were lots of traditions during that week, all just memories now, but Spirit Day stood out most to Sally.

It started with this guy… Charlie. She chuckled to herself. Didn’t every story start with a guy in those days? They became good friends during their years in high school. They shared classes, lockers, attended ballgames and sat together in assemblies. Some teachers even accused them of sharing homework assignments. She chuckled. It wasn’t true, of course… Or was it? She would never tell. Not then and not now. Random thoughts and memories of high school entertained her, but eventually, her thoughts went back to Spirit Day that year. It was as if she were there, in the hallway, just outside the door of their homeroom.

The week before, she and her friend, Patty, made plans for decorating the door. The best-decorated door would win a prize, and they wanted that prize. She enlisted Charlie’s help, and Patty convinced Jerry to participate because she had a secret crush on him.

A flurry of activity erupted in the hallway as soon as the bell rang, dismissing the seniors. She and Patty gathered the decorations and Jerry went to find a ladder he reserved. They were ready to start! But no Charlie. Jerry went up and down the hallways looking for him. He was nowhere to be found, and Jerry was not happy being left to do the grunt work. He opened the ladder, glaring at her suspiciously. “Where’s Charlie?”

She giggled nervously. “Oh, yeah. He said something about needing to leave for a minute, but he’d be right back. He said we should start without him.”

His eyes narrowed as he looked at her, then growled, “He’s in a bucket load of trouble, you just wait.” She laughed, giving him instructions on where to put the ladder.

Just as she stepped on the bottom rung, crepe paper and thumb tacks in hand, Charlie slid around the corner of the hallway. He stopped at the foot of the ladder, putting up his hands, spotting her. Out of breath, but with a big grin on his face, he said, “I’m back, and just in time, I see.” Jerry muttered something under his breath, and Charlie glanced at him, laughing.

She looked down at him. “You sure seem to be in a good mood.” She had no intention of letting him get away with cutting out on them, even for a few minutes. He looked confused when she stepped off the ladder, handing the decorations to him. The look in his eyes when she pointed to the ladder was priceless. “Here,” she said, smiling sweetly. “Why don’t you climb the ladder and I’ll spot you? Easier for you to reach the top.” He looked cute standing on the ladder, obviously not having any idea what he was supposed to do. Patty grinned and winked at her, then tilted her head to one side, giving him instructions. “Just put both ends of the streamers together and stick the tack through them. Then let both rolls drop to the floor and find the middle. That’s where you pin them over the middle of the door.” She stopped for a breath and all three burst into laughter. He was all thumbs that day and spent most of the time tied up in paper streamers.

Glancing at the hall clock, he started climbing down the ladder. “Look, we only have half an hour before we have to get out of here. One of you girls need to finish this and Jerry and I will start rolling out the long piece of paper.” He left the streamers and tacks on top of the ladder and grabbed the long roll of red paper. Jerry stood, watching him working frantically. Charlie glared at him. “Okay, now we’re even. Grab that end and let’s get it stuck to the door.”

She glanced at the clock, too. “Let’s get this done then we can lay out the letters to tape onto the door cover. Charlie’s right, we need to get out of here.”

She looked up from her memories to see Jeremy pull into his driveway, revving the shiny red Mustang. She smiled, waving.

He climbed out and called across the driveway. “Hey, Ms. Sally. Want to take a spin around the block? I promise I won’t drive too fast.”

She opened her mouth, then stood up slowly and walked over to the car. He smiled and went around to the passenger’s side and opened her door. He offered his hand and helped her in. “Are you okay? Need help with the seatbelt?” She smiled at him, his sweet hazel eyes shining back at her. Their ‘spin’ took them around several blocks, and even down Main Street. Both of them waving to friends, laughing at the strange looks on their friend’s faces. She sighed as he returned her safely to her swing.

She reached up to give him a hug and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you, Jeremy. That was a delightful ride.” With a faraway look, she said softly, “You made my day. Now go and make memories with that shiny red Mustang.” He waved as he walked off, smiling.

She walked slowly inside the house, pouring a cola over ice, taking it back outside to the swing. The ride in Jeremy’s Mustang sparked a piece of her memory of that Spirit Day, causing her heart to beat faster.

After the four friends finished the door and were cleaning up the mess, Charlie leaned in close to her ear. “Can I give you a ride home? It’s later than usual and…well, I just thought you might like for me to give you a ride.” She blushed, glancing at Patty and Jerry, but they were engrossed in their own plans, laughing and talking. It was only thirty minutes before her dad came home from work, and she really needed to be there — and Charlie gone — by that time. Still, it was worth it. She nodded, and they started down the stairs.

She stepped into the parking lot. All the other student’s cars were gone. The only car sitting there was a bright red Mustang. Only one year old. Not that she would know that. Charlie had told her, with pride in his voice.

“Wow! When did you get it?”

He grinned and opened the door for her, then coughed nervously. “Over the weekend. You like it?”

There was no way that car belonged to him, but she didn’t say so. “Sure, what girl wouldn’t?”

He glanced at her, then grinned. “Nah, it’s my sister’s. She let me borrow it. That’s why I was late getting there to work on the door. I ran home right after the bell.”

Her house was only four blocks from the school, and she knew she should walk. A little voice whispered, “You know you’re going to get caught.” She silenced it. She was riding home in that Mustang. She couldn’t relax and enjoy the ride, though. She kept looking nervously for her dad’s work car to pass them. Charlie thought it was funny, but if they got caught, neither of them would be laughing.

They passed her street, then the variety store, then a convenience store. She squirmed. “Charlie, I really need to get home. I didn’t tell my mom I’d be late.” She enjoyed her small amount of rebellion but was nervous about letting it go on too long.

He glanced at her. “Look, there’s the malt shop. Don’t you have time to at least get something to drink? I risked my skin to get this car.”

No, she really didn’t, but maybe they would still make it. “Okay, but we have to get it to go.” They went in and stood at the counter reading the menu hanging overhead. The lure of a Strawberry shake, her favorite, made her forget what the extra time might cost her… or rather, what it might cost Charlie when they arrived at her house.

The guy at the counter asked what he could get for them and Charlie looked at her. “Um, I’ll have…” She pursed her lips, about to say, “A Strawberry shake,” when her mother’s words echoed through her mind. Always let the guy order, you don’t know how much he might be able to afford. She turned to Charlie, “I’ll have what you have.”

He smiled and turned to the guy. “Two medium cokes, please. To go.”

She was glad she let him order. He seemed relieved. Silently, she thanked her mom.

As they got back into the car she glanced at her watch, thinking they just might make it. Until he pulled out and went a different direction. He drove up and down each street between the shop and her house, waving and smiling at their friends as they passed. They were laughing and joking, savoring their little joy ride until they turned into her driveway — behind her dad’s company car. Her heart seemed to fall to the pit of her stomach. She looked at Charlie, his face ashen, and she quickly scooted from between the bucket seats to the passenger side. Charlie gulped, but got out and opened her door. There, beside his car was her dad, and he wasn’t happy.

Dad was cleaning out his car, a trash bag in one hand and something that didn’t look too savory in the other. But he was watching them. Scaring the boys she was with was like a game to him. He loved it. She walked ahead of Charlie, indicating he should stand behind her. She remembered the times’ other guys who wanted to take her out faced this same fate. She wanted it to be different this time. Trembling, she said, “Daddy, this is Charlie, a friend from school.” Her dad straightened and looked at him silently, eyes narrowed. Then he put the bag down, wiped his hand on his pants and held it out. Charlie handed his coke to her, wiped his hand on his jeans and held it out to her dad.

Dad nodded his head. “Charlie.”

Just as solemnly, Charlie said, “Mr. Brown.”

They all stood, looking at each other. It seemed to dawn on Charlie that he should leave. He looked at her. “Thanks for going with me.” The look in his eyes said he was proud she had taken the risk.

“Thanks for the coke and the ride. It was fun.” She turned and watched him drive away. Then she and her dad walked into the house. Neither spoke.

Her mom stood at the kitchen door, but she went into her room. She cracked the door open, listening.

Her dad said, “Thankfully it was only a ride home from school.” He paused. “In a red Mustang.” He sighed. “Every day I thank God she still chooses to honor our wishes. I fear the day she decides to make her own choices.”

She strained to hear her mom. “Well, she sort of did that today. A little bit.” There was a short pause, then she said, “You don’t have to worry so much. You’ve taught her who she is and what she deserves. She won’t forget it.”

She lay on her bed that night, a breeze drifting in with a hint of Wisteria on the cool air. She had crossed a milestone today. She would always be daddy’s girl, just no longer his baby.

Gameday was filled with excitement and high expectations. No one did much work in class, and teachers didn’t seem to expect much. They were all enjoying the day. She and Charlie went to the game together. Not in a red Mustang. His sister was driving her friends around in it. He picked her up in his dad’s Buick, but they enjoyed the evening with friends, cheering on the home team.

After the win, they went to the local drive-in to celebrate. Another tradition. Charlie said, “Order whatever you want this time.” He smiled. “Payday.” She smiled back and ordered a Strawberry shake. Chalk one up for mom. They sat with friends who already had a table. One of the guys asked him how it went when he drove up in my driveway in that red Mustang. The story about meeting dad grew a little with every telling. The neighborhood guys told him he was crazy for even trying to shake Mr. Brown’s hand. We all laughed, but he glanced at me with a look of respect in his eyes.

Sally had over 50 years of memories with Charlie, but this one was special tonight. Slowly, she got up from the swing, stretching her back, about to make her way into the house in the dusk. Jeremy came out again and she smiled. She had made a new friend and a new memory today.

He waved, and called to her, “Thanks for going for a ride with me, Ms. Sally. You’re the first person to ride in my new car.”

She grinned. “No, Jeremy, thank you for giving me such a lovely memory. Every day can be Spirit Day if you let it.”

He cocked his head, then shrugged and climbed into the red Mustang. He had no idea what she was talking about, but that was okay. One day, he would.

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That wasn’t the only memory Sally had, but it was the one she remembered tonight. There would be others, like today’s ride in a red Mustang, and she looked forward to them. She wondered if any of those friends from high school reminisced about things like Spirit Day. She hoped so.

What do you remember, old friend? Share in the comments below.

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