His name was Scotty. Funny that, since he was so obviously Irish. Scotty fit him, though, so no one ever thought to question it. Besides, we usually just called him Smiley. Simple enough, he was never without one. A smile. The nickname came from the little yellow sticker of a smiley face that he always stuck on the top edge of his time card. That way, he didn’t have to search for it when punching in or out. You could see his smiley face from across the workroom. It was probably against the rules, but no one ever thought to question that, either. Not for Scotty. He was the kind of guy you couldn’t find fault with. Far as I know, no one ever tried. Everyone loved Scotty. Especially me.
It’s strange that I never learned his last name. He could have changed the entire course of my life. More than any other person. If only I had let him.
He must have been about three years older than I was. Not exactly sure. We worked together at Macy’s. It was the kind of job most teenagers would envy. Macy’s was a huge step above the crummy part time jobs most kids had at McDonald’s or the bowling alley. The pay was pretty much the same, it was the prestige which made all the difference.
“Your folks tell me you got yourself a new job,” some pushy friend of the family would say. “You’re old enough now to start thinking about doing something important with your life.”
“Where are you working?”
“Ooooh. Well, now. Good for you.” Eyebrows would be raised. Much nodding of the head. Nothing more needed to be said.
In truth, it was just like any other job. Once you got inside. None of us viewed it as a career. None of us teens, that is. Some of the kids who had already been to college would talk about going full time. More pay. Benefits. Potential for advancement.
For the rest of us, it was a decent place to work, sure, but mostly we looked on it as a kind of social club. We’d all go out on a Saturday night after work, or hang out in the parking lot on a weeknight. Someone would have the car radio playing. Romances would spring up among employees. Breakups, too, naturally. All of it was taken in stride, among friends.
Scotty had already been working there for awhile when I was hired. He was a stock boy. I was being trained to work the register. He was talking with two other guys when we met. My first day on the job. The girl who was showing me around introduced me to them as we walked down one of the aisles.
“…and this is Scotty.”
There he stood. He kinda looked like Kevin Bacon, but was far more handsome. Blond hair, spiky on top and slicked back on the sides. Blue eyes, lit up from within. Best of all were his dimples, and since he was always smiling, they were always on display.
“Cheer up!” he said. Everyone laughed. Except me. He noticed.
“Hey, I know you from somewhere, right?” Our eyes locked. I looked away.
“I… I don’t think so.” Gazing down at his sneakers. For too long. Then realized he must have caught that, so I quickly looked up to find his eyes. He was beaming at me. Amused.
“Sure, you look familiar.” At this, the other two stock boys examined me more closely. If Scotty knew him, he must be okay….
I stammered something incoherent as the girl led me away to see the rest of the store. Then stole a glance back over my shoulder. Scotty was leaning against the shelves, in the middle of the group. Their conversation had resumed, but he wasn’t listening. He was watching me.
Over the next few weeks, every time we met it was the same.
“Come on, cheer up!” he’d say. “Why do you always look so sad?”
I would stumble over my words, not sure how to reply. I’d get nervous and drop things. He’d laugh. He must have known how he affected me. It must have encouraged him to continue. I was rattled by his attention, and yet did not want it to stop. I just wished I could compose myself around him enough to have a conversation. Or more.
One day, I was walking through the store in a hurry. Some customer was waiting for some item that I was trying to find. Suddenly, something soft was thrown in my direction. It caught me off guard and I made a fairly feeble attempt to intercept the pillow he had tossed at me. He. Him. Scotty. It was a bolster, actually. One of those log shaped pillows that are used to gussy up a made bed. I laughed at my clumsy fumble.
“Well, it’s about time.” He was bending over to arrange the pillows on a lower shelf when he saw me approach and thought fast. “I was wondering when I would get to see you laugh.”
Too many thoughts raced through my mind for me to grab hold of any one of them and hop on for the ride. I dropped them all like I had dropped the pillow. Bolster. I should have thrown it back. Or, as he was holding that pose, I could have given him a playful kick. Flustered by his mischief, flattered by his attention, I couldn’t conjure a sensible response. Other than pick up the pillow and stand there grinning.
He rose and blushed a little as he walked over and took the pillow out of my hand. “You should do that more often.”
Now it was my turn to blush. “Do what?” Did he know what I was feeling? Could he see it on my face?
“Smile.” If he could, he gave no sign.
“Oh, right.” Awkward pause. Say something before he hears your heart pounding. “Well, I… I’d better, um… get back to… to… to work.” Yeah, that was eloquent.
I scurried off, in the wrong direction. Almost bumped into the clock display. Graceful. No need to look back, I knew he was smiling. My reflection in the Roman numeraled faces offered unnecessary proof that I was smiling, too. Once I reached a safe distance, I began replaying the scene over and again. Hitting pause along the way. I couldn’t understand why my emotions went haywire around him or why I was rendered incapable of logical thought. He did things to me that I had no control over, which was both unsettling and exciting. All I knew was that I wanted more.
Not long after, I heard that the perfume department was looking for a salesgirl. I got my friend Jamie the job. Jamie was my closest friend. We spent hours on the phone every day. She immediately developed a crush on Scotty, for which I was secretly grateful. As far as we both knew, Scotty was straight. For that matter, as far as we both knew, so was I. Hearing her talk about how cute he was gave me the chance to have those feelings without putting them into words. All I had to do was listen.
“I’ve got the greatest plan. I’m going to have a party for my birthday this Friday night. Let’s invite him.”
“Okay,” I said, too quickly. My heart leapt. This was brilliant. I knew perfectly well what Jamie was hoping would happen. I also knew I was hoping for the same thing. Now, I might actually have a chance to be in the same room with him. Outside of work. In a social setting. Who knows where that might lead? I was excited by the prospect. First, though, there was the obstacle of getting him there.
“You ask him, you know him better.” Jamie was almost as nervous as I was around him. I was flattered that she thought he and I were on such buddy-buddy terms, and didn’t want to let her down by telling her the truth.
“Okay,” I said, “but come with me.” The truth was, I was scared out of my wits and thought I might be more bold if she was there.
It was decided that we would approach him Friday afternoon and ask him together.
“You know this guy, huh?” Scotty lit up as soon as we walked into the stock room to find him alone. His question was directed to Jamie, but not his attention. We knew this was a perfect opening, and started to say what we rehearsed, but Scotty had been waiting for an opening of his own. “So, where are we going dancing tonight?” To me.
Huh? What? Did I hear him correctly? Did he just ask me out… on a date? His eyes sparkled as he watched me slowly comprehend. I could hardly breathe. Jamie nudged me with her elbow.
“Um, actually,” I began, “it’s Jamie’s birthday. She’s having a party tonight.” What I wanted to say was yes. Take me dancing. Take me anywhere. Whatever you want. I’m all yours. If Jamie had not been standing there, I might have said all that and who knows how much more. Part of me wished I could skip out on the party, but it was her birthday and she was my best friend. Would she understand if I called her later to explain something had come up? I could never tell her what, of course, and she would never fall for a white lie. She knew all the details of my life. Except this one most important one. Which I was only just now beginning to suspect.
Why did he have to ask me this tonight? Would he ever ask me again? I desperately wanted him to ask me tomorrow, or any other night, but how could I let him know? All I could do was stare into his beautiful eyes and hope he could read my mind.
“You should come.” It was Jamie. I was lost in shimmering blue and had forgotten my lines. She took over from there. The invitation was left up in the air, but no address or phone numbers had been exchanged, so it did not seem likely he would come.
Our plan had failed. Sadly, so had his. Although, I did get to dance with him. Once. Briefly.
It was at the company Christmas party. Every year, our employer would rent a dance hall for the occasion. It wasn’t the same thing as getting a bonus, since we had to buy tickets to attend, but it was still a nice gesture. Everyone looked forward to it for weeks.
I went with a date. A girl. There’s nothing new in my story as far as that goes. Most boys who turn out to be gay showed up at their prom with a girl. A girl who would go on to collect gay boy friends. For me, her name was Sharon and she could dance. Seriously. We had a ball together whenever we hit the clubs. We would stay out on the dance floor for hours, sweating bullets and outpacing all the other couples. Which is exactly what we were doing at the Macy’s Christmas party for employees in the Knights of Columbus hall.
There was a break in the synthesized beat. I recognized the opening chords of a Frank Sinatra tune. Who could have requested this? Sharon and I stepped back, glad for the chance to replenish our lungs with oxygen, and to get something cold to drink.
He took me in his arms. Scotty. Wearing a fedora cocked to one side, just like Frank. He had come up behind me and spun me around, grabbing me in a ballroom dance hold. He led, of course. I was swept away, and did not care who saw us. Naturally, Scotty being as well loved as he was, anyone who noticed would have just laughed and figured he was clowning around. Which maybe he was. Then again, maybe not.
Either way, it was a magical few moments we spent under the swirling disco ball. I was light headed. I could hardly believe it wasn’t a dream. Scotty, on the other hand, was in complete control of his senses. He knew not to linger too long. He broke off at just the right point in the song, joining a bunch of bachelors who were crooning with Frank at slightly disconcerting decibels. I stood in the middle of the floor. Wasn’t this the part where I lose the glass slipper?
“…aaaand if I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere. It’s up to you, New York, Noooo Yaaaawk!”
“Aw, man. Now I gotta drive these guys home.” Scotty was once again standing beside me. This time, it was on the front steps. The party was over and they were closing down the joint. A few stray stock boys who had too much to drink were making their uncertain way toward the big black Bronco which belonged, unmistakably, to Scotty.
What exactly did he mean? Was he hinting that, had he not been the designated driver, the night might not yet be over for us? Sharon had to be escorted home, so I was not free either, but how I wished this picture could be changed. How I wished that I could tell him so. That I could give him a clue. A glass shoe. Would my prince ride his bronco across the kingdom to find me?
My answer came, but it took a few months. Partly by accident, and partly my fault. Not long after the party, Scotty disappeared. Weeks went by and I had not seen him. Turns out he broke his arm and was unable to work while wearing a cast. The place was not the same without his smiley face. I missed him.
When he returned, it was on a day we were expecting a blizzard. The store was deserted. I was surprised to see him, and felt that we had so much to say to one another, but maybe that was only in my head? Maybe I had created an imaginary world in which he and I were falling towards one another. Maybe the signs and signals I interpreted as flirtation were just his friendly way. Now that he was standing in front of me, he seemed less inevitability and more fantasy.
With all that was in my heart, with all that I wanted to share with him, I was too unsure to let it come pouring out. I was afraid I had been wrong.
“They always say it’s going to snow, and then it never does,” was the best I could offer.
“Yeah, it’s not going to snow.” He accepted my terms.
It did snow. We got well over a foot. It was a snowy winter, and it was not until the spring when Scotty hopped up on his steed and handed me the moment that could have changed my life.
It had been a rough day and I could not wait to go home. I’d seen Scotty hanging around after he finished his shift. Nothing unusual. Most of us did that if we knew a pal would be off soon, too. Sometimes, we would lend a hand even though we weren’t on the clock, if that pal was busy and we were short staffed. So I didn’t think anything of it.
When my shift was finally over, I saw him again. He was alone in the workroom. Lingering by the time cards. Odd. I knew he had already punched out. He seemed uneasy and kept looking over at the two way mirror, behind which I was balancing out my tray.
Could he be waiting for me? My pulse began to race. I hoped I was wrong and wanted him to leave so I could come out of the counting room. I also hoped I was right. My imagination took off in several directions at once. I stalled for as long as I could, hoping to delay what I was afraid might happen and also what I most wanted to happen.
Finally, having nothing left to busy myself with, and a manager wondering if I was trying to sneak in a little overtime, I had no choice but to take a deep breath and walk through the door. As soon as I did, Scotty turned and left. I sighed in relief. Then my heart sank. So he wasn’t waiting for me, after all.
It had just started to rain when I got outside. Barely. Lightly. More of a mist, really. A light rain. A heavy mist. It was my favorite kind of weather, and I could already feel the stress of the day being washed away as I set off on my walk home.
Then I saw him. Across the parking lot. He was standing next to his Bronco. The engine was running, the radio was playing, and the driver’s side door stood ajar. Scotty was holding a beer. His gaze fixed on me with an intensity I had not seen before. My knees actually went weak as I drew near.
That stopped me cold. Oh dear god. That smile playing on his lips. His eyes practically glowing. My mind went blank. I couldn’t speak.
“Come on, hop in,” with a quizzical expression. Half amused, half victorious. The cat had just eaten the mouse.
“Thanks, but I’m okay.” Speech kicked in, but sense did not.
“What? Come on, get in. I’ll give you a ride.”
“No, really… I’m fine. I don’t mind walking.” Not what I meant to say. Not what I wanted to say. Still, I had said it, and now had to stand by it.
He faltered for just a moment. A tiny flicker of doubt shone in those radiant blues. “What are you talking about? It’s raining. Get in, you’re getting wet.”
“I like the rain.” True, but not the point.
He measured me. I made no effort to move. We looked into each other’s eyes. He was trying to read what he saw in mine. For the first time since we the moment we met, he wasn’t sure.
“Okay. If you say so.”
He got in the Bronco and closed the door. Only then did I regain the use of my body. I turned to walk away. Or maybe I floated. Elated. He had waited around for me. Planned the whole thing. Today was the day he made his move, and I was walking on air. At first. Then my mind resumed its normal functions. What had I just done?
I heard the truck pulling away behind me. I wanted to shout to him. To tell him to stop. To beg him to ask me again. Gradually, I began to understand what was at stake. How he had waited so long to be certain before taking this risk, and how much of a risk it was. He thought he knew how I felt. He was right. He did know.
Why did I ruin it? Why couldn’t I, just for once, allow something beautiful and good and happy to happen to me? Why did I feel that I would never have what was just now being offered? So convinced that I could not even see the gift?
I ached for the chance to fix what I had just broke. Would he let me try? Would he be angry that I had turned him down, even though I didn’t mean to? Would he think I was playing some sort of game? Could he understand that I didn’t even know it was a game?
If I could go back in time and replay any moment of my life, it would be this. I would get in the Bronco with Scotty. No hesitation. I would smile and laugh and show him how much I wanted to be with him. I would say yes. To everything he asked. To anything he did.
Instead of spending a lifetime turning away from passion, denying I had any right to it, I could have fallen hopelessly in love with Scotty. At nineteen. When love is supposed to bloom. When I would have been totally unprepared for its potent fragrance. Its multi colored profusion. When I would not have known how to interpret the feelings in my heart, the sensations other parts of my body would experience. When I would have been overwhelmed and overpowered and unable to resist.
How different my life might have been had I let Scotty take me wherever it was he had planned. Someplace private, where we could park. Where romance could unfold. The rain on the windshield. Our song on the radio. My first kiss forever belonging to him. I would have known beyond a doubt from that day forward what it took me years to slowly accept. No matter how far it went, even if it lasted only that one day, it would have changed everything.
He drove off. Too late. I told myself that at least now I knew he was interested in me. The next time I saw him, things would be different. The next time he asked, I would say yes. It’s a thing I do. Convince myself a missed chance will come again, but it never does.
Scotty got a nine to five job. I’d only seen him again once or twice, but with too many other people around to say more than hello. It was as if the role he was meant to play in my life was over. Once I chose the path I did, however unwittingly, his participation was no longer necessary. Would it have been too painful to see him everyday, knowing what had been lost? Maybe it was best that he be instantly filed away under first love that never was.