Two American kids doin’ the best they can…
Ms. Patton was the drama teacher at school. Take every stereotype of the young, gorgeous, artistic teacher that all the boys want and all the girls secretly hate but still love, roll them into one and you’ve got Caroline Patton. In our ninth grade universe, most of the teachers held the appeal of planets or moons. Ms. Patton was the sun. Sam and Erin and I were at a lunch table when she approached and asked if I’d consider auditioning for the lead in the school play. I later remembered hearing it’s wise not to look directly at the sun, that even a few seconds can cause blindness. But I guess someone had to play the fool.
‘The Mice Have Been Drinking Again’ – a comedy that follows a young married couple living in San Francisco attempting to get a date for the wife’s cousin who lives with them. I was one of five boys who showed up for auditions. I got the part, the lead. Ms. Patton beamed: You and Erin are going to make a great couple. I could feel my retinas burning. What? I learned that Erin had actually helped Ms. Patton choose the play in the first place and she would be my on-stage wife. And, just to thicken the plot, there was a kiss in one of the scenes.
I had always kept my distance from Erin because Sam loved her. We were friends, that was it. But as this larger one-act comedy unfolded, I was suddenly in her immediate space, and as such, I fell for her. She moved effortlessly onstage, never missed a line. After the first few rehearsals, Patton’s sun began to fade in Winter’s star.
We finally rehearsed the kiss. I had kissed Holly Martin once in the seventh grade, on a dare. She tasted like buttermilk. I hate buttermilk. So I was nervous to say the least. I had told Sam what was going on because he loved Erin and I loved Sam. Kiss her, it’s just a play. But there are words spoken between brothers and words unspoken. We both felt the tension but didn’t know what to do with it. I want to believe Annie Merritt would have known. But she wasn’t around.
The first rehearsed kiss with Erin Winters took place on a Wednesday after school. She didn’t taste anything like buttermilk. She didn’t taste at all. She felt. Sam and I raised rabbits for a couple of years, formative years. I loved to hold them against my face, feel the silk of their fur. Erin Winters’ lips were a softness rabbits only dream of. There must have been something to my lips too, although I’ll never know just what. As we both stepped back from that practice kiss, Erin had tears in her eyes. This was not in the script.
Sam and Dad were there for the performance. It went, as they say, without a hitch. The crowd gave us a standing ovation. The principal gave Ms. Patton a dozen roses. And as our director pulled her two stars out to take a bow, Erin gave me her hand. I took it, we bowed, and smiled at one another. She had tears in her eyes. It was one of the best moments of my life. Then the curtain closed.
Oh yeah life goes on,
long after the thrill of livin’ is gone…
Dad and Sam were waiting for me at the back door. Erin had already found Sam. As I walked up, my brother smiled and said you did good. Then he punched me in the arm. It didn’t hurt, but I felt it. It was tender, a rabbit handler’s fist. Sam and I never said a word about that drama again.