I saw her smiling at me in K‑Mart, over by the jeans. She had red hair, and no matter which aisle I turned into—the Men’s grooming products, the albums, the “notions”—there she was, smiling. I don’t know if it was her hair or her smile, or those eyes, green and wide like two Persian limes. She looked at me as if she knew me, as if she knew something I didn’t know. As if she’d like to know more.
I turned back again and again to make sure it was me she saw. I was only fifteen, and I knew she was older. I recognized her from high school, but I didn’t know her name.
That night after my parents finished their shopping and drove us home, I looked her up in our last year’s “Largus.”
There was only one Gosling listed in the Bessemer phone book, and the next night, at a more decent hour, I dialed the number and held the last digit on the dial for ten or fifteen seconds before I let it go.
“Hello.” It had to be her.
“Is this Denise?”
“Yes, but who is this?”
It’s funny, but though we talked for ten minutes that night, I don’t think I ever identified myself as anyone but “that guy you smiled at in K‑Mart last night.”
“Is this how guys do it,” she asked. “They just pick up the phone and call girls who’ve smiled at them?”
“I don’t know. It’s what I’m doing though.”
I called her again the next night.
“Do you want to go out with me sometime,” I said.
“Can you even drive?”
“No, but we could double with someone, maybe my friend Steve.”
“Anyway, I’m dating Ricky Russo.”
Some girls are that honest, some even save the moment.
“Do you have a favorite song?”
“Uh, yeah. I guess it’s “Country Girl,” by Neil Young.
“Mine is “Rock and Roll Lullaby” by BJ Thomas. That song just hurts me,” she said.
Hurts her. What a thing to say.
I didn’t call her again, this girl who smiled at me, who tried to tell me something with her eyes. That weekend I went back to K‑Mart, but of course she wasn’t there. It didn’t matter. I bought the record anyway:
“Sing it sweet and clear, O mama let me hear that old Rock and Roll lullaby.”
The next week at school, I saw her in the hallway, arguing with Ricky. I could hear them clearly. Denise had been flirting with another guy, a senior named Eugene who was the lead drummer in the marching band. Eventually, Ricky would blacken Eugene the drummer’s eye, but on this day, Denise turned her back on Ricky and walked away, down another aisle.
And when she did so, she caught my eye. Only this time she wasn’t smiling.
Terry Barr's essays have been or will soon be published in Deep South, Red Truck Review, Belle Reve Literary Journal, Blue Bonnet Review, and Hippocampus. He is the proud owner of a Carolina Wild Dog, aka the Dixie Dingo. He prefers Alabama barbecue to the Carolina version, though he'll eat it anyway you serve it as long as it's grilled in a pit over hickory, pecan, or cherry wood. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family.