There's no actual introduction this time around, fellow babies!
No, really! You're on your own.
* * * * *
Ever since Robert Whitney had transferred to his new high school and almost immediately been nicknamed "Eli" by an upperclassman, only the members of his small family -- his mom, dad, and two orphaned cousins -- called him anything but Eli.
They -- his family -- called him "Bobby" or "Bob."
Not that it mattered.
One afternoon, during his senior year of high school -- in the Spring of 1974, to be exact -- Eli was standing outside of his homeroom, arguing with his best friend Teddy. The students had just been dismissed for the day.
"Twenty dollars? For two lousy concert tickets? Are you nuts, Teddy?"
Teddy, a pale-skinned, portly youth with a dark brown "Afro" and the beginnings of what might someday be called a mustache, merely shrugged. "Try getting them somewhere else, Eli."
"That's twice what they're going for. You can't screw your best buddy like this."
"Let's not start name-calling. They were going for five bucks each. But the concert's in less than a week, and now they're unavailable. Unless you know me." Teddy grinned, not realizing that the ordinarily passive Eli was dangerously close to punching him in the face.
Suddenly, a diminutive, dark-haired sophomore whom Teddy and Eli recognized as Karen Hoffman -- derisively referred to as "Boris Karloff" among the so-called "popular people" -- stepped between the two, facing Teddy. "Are you Teddy Wilson, the guy with the John Denver tickets?"
Teddy and Eli were both literally a head taller than Karen. Teddy stared into Eli's blue eyes pointedly as he replied to the attractive underclassman. "I could be."
"Bastard," Eli muttered under his breath. He put his hands on Karen's shoulders. "Sorry, Karloff, no tickets for you!"
Without turning around, Karen said, "Get your crummy hands off me, blondie," referring to Eli's shoulder-length, wavy blonde hair. "And don't call me Karloff."
Eli removed his hands from Karen's shoulders. "Oh, yeah? Well, don't you call me blondie... Karloff!" He pulled his wallet out of his unzipped gym bag. "Here you go, you thief," he said, withdrawing two wrinkled ten dollar bills from the wallet and handing them to Teddy. "I hope you choke on them. And I still say it's a gyp! For ten bucks a ticket you could get the damned Beatles back together!"
Teddy grinned. "Or maybe the Jimi Hendrix Experience?"
"Hendrix is dead, stupid."
Teddy walked away, waving the two bills in the air. "For this kinda moola, who knows?"
A furious Eli stood there, shaking his head and talking to himself. "That's right, rub my nose in it, you rotten..."
"Hey!" yelled Karen. "Don't tell me you just bought the last Denver tickets he had."
"Yup." He began walking away from her.
"I want those tickets," she said, following him as he headed down the long corridor, toward the nearest exit.
"Good for you. How's it feel to want?"
"I'll pay you twenty dollars for them," she offered, walking next to him, crab-like, on his right.
He didn't even look at her. "That's what I just paid, dummy."
"Okay, thirty for both of them."
He slowed a bit, but still didn't look at her. "You're screwy."
"Oh, come on, don't be a jerk. You don't have that kind of money."
"I can... I can get it."
"How? You're just a punk kid. Do you even have a job?"
The fact that he was even still talking to her encouraged her. She decided there was a possibility of winning him over with humor. "Maybe I'll become a prostitute and sell my body."
That did make Eli laugh, but not exactly in the way Karen had intended. "You could never be a prostitute!"
"I was only kidding anyway, stupid, but... why not?"
He was still laughing as he neared the open door to the student parking lot. "Because you could never survive on two dollars a month!"
Karen was still awkwardly walking sideways. "Very funny!" She suddenly slammed into the wall beside the open door with her right shoulder. She screamed, and several students on either side of the exit laughed.
"Shut the hell up, you goons!" yelled Eli into the air, at no one in particular and everyone in general. He put his right hand on Karen's uninjured left shoulder. "You okay, there, Clumsy Carp?"
"Clumsy Carp?" Karen said, with a very weak voice.
"He's a caveman in a comic strip called B.C." Karen stared at him. "Never mind! Are you okay? You going to live?"
"I think my shoulder's broken, or dislocated, or... something."
"Oh, come on. You're not hurt that bad! And if it was broken, you'd know it."
"So much for caring about whether I'm hurt. Dink."
"How you getting home?"
"I missed the bus haggling over those stupid tickets. I guess I walk."
"I can give you a ride."
"You're kidding, right?"
"No. What makes you say that?"
"Sure you want to be seen with me? With Boris Karloff?"
"I already am being seen with you," Eli replied. "My reputation's already shot to hell," he joked.
He escorted her to his car, a light blue 1964 Plymouth Fury. She walked up to the locked passenger-side front door and stood there expectantly. Eli walked to his own driver's-side front door, unlocked it, and tossed the keys to Karen across the roof of the car.
She caught the keys. "So much for the gentleman opening the door for me," she said, just loud enough for him to hear.
"Why, are both your arms broken? This isn't a date, turkey. Get in!"
As soon as Karen was seated, she lowered her passenger-side visor to see if there was a vanity mirror attached -- there was -- and she removed various make-up items from her pocketbook.
"What are you doing?" asked Eli.
"Touching up my face."
He was about to say something sarcastic, but stopped. What he did say was "Hey, can I ask you something?"
"Why do they call you Karloff? I mean.... you aren't ugly, really."
"Wow. Thanks for the rave review."
"Just answer the stupid question?"
"You know Denise Nealon, right?"
"Oh, let me guess, you've dated her?"
"None of your business."
"That's a yes..." she muttered. "Anyway, she was making fun of me with some of her hoity-toity cheerleader friends when I was a freshman, calling me stupid, and ugly, and she took the K-A-R from Karen and the 'Hoff' sound from Hoffman..."
"That's pretty clever."
"Thanks a lot."
"No, I just meant.... I mean, that's smarter than I'd give her credit for, usually."
"My mom used to tell me I looked like an actress on TV..."
"Who? Lassie?" Karen's eyes opened wide. "Just kidding!" he added quickly.
"No, smartie. This girl on the TV show Apple's Way that was on a couple of years ago. You ever see it?"
"No. I almost never watch TV."
"Oh. Well, it wasn't on long, anyway. But my mom said I looked like her." (The actress in question was Kristy McNichol, later of Family and Empty Nest. And truth be told, Karen did resemble her a bit, but Karen's face was much rounder.)
"Oh," said Eli, sounding disappointed. "I thought maybe you were a horror movie fan, or something. Are you?"
"No. Are you?"
"You'd look kinda cute if you let your hair grow past your shoulders. Shiny black hair like yours looks good when it's really long."
"Did you actually just say I'd look cute?"
"It was just a suggestion. Geez."
During the rest of the drive to Karen's home, there wasn't much conversation between the two, except for when Karen spoke to give Eli directions. That, and the one time he casually asked how her shoulder was.
"It still hurts," she told him. They were approaching her house. "Pull over here. Don't pull into the driveway."
"Huh? Why not?"
"I don't want to have to explain anything to my folks. Especially why I'm with you."
"Me? What about me? How do they even know me?"
"Everybody knows about you," she answered, only half-kiddingly. "You're famous. Or... infamous, more like."
He was surprised she was able to make him feel insulted. "Thanks a bunch. I'm so glad I gave you this ride."
"Yeah, sure." Eli pulled over and put the car in "park."
Karen didn't move.
"Okayyy..." he said, turning to her. "You're home." She still didn't budge. "Hey! I said you're home. What are you waiting for?"
"We didn't finish our discussion about those tickets..."
"Oh, yes, we did."
"Oh, no, we didn't!" she snapped. "Look, you were right. I really can't afford forty dollars, but I'll give you twenty dollars for just one of them! Deal?"
"No! That's screwy!"
"But you'll get all your money back, and still get to go to see John Denver."
"Yeah. By myself. Because one ticket means no date for me!" Eli's eyes suddenly opened wide. "And since these tickets are for adjoining seats, you're the one who's going to be sitting next to me! It'll look like you're my date!"
"Oh? And is that so bad?" Now it was Karen's turn to be insulted.
"I didn't mean it that way," he said, lamely.
"Huh. I wouldn't go out with you anyway."
"Because I've... heard... about you."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"You've taken out half the girls in the junior and senior class."
"So what? There's no law against being... I don't know... popular."
"No, but then you drive them out to some God-forsaken back road and pull the old 'put out or get out' routine on them."
Once again, Eli was offended. "That's... That's not true. I never..." He looked at Karen with the utmost sincerity. "Is that what they all say about me? They really say that?"
"Yeah. You mean it's not true?"
"No. I mean, there's a lot of them that I've, you know, done it with, but I never had to... Wow. They really say that?"
"Maybe they just said that because it made them sound better?"
"Hey, look, if you're not going to go all caveman on me if we go together, why don't we go together? Taking one car instead of two makes more sense, because there is an energy crisis, after all, and gas is up to fifty cents a gallon..."
"What do you mean, one car instead of two? You don't have a car anyway. Do you even have your license yet?"
"Well... No, so if you take me in your car, I won't have to worry about how I'm going to get there. I mean, when I was going to have two tickets, that wasn't a problem, because I would've gotten someone who owned a car to go with me, but then when I offered to buy only one of your tickets..."
He waved his hand in the air impatiently. "Okay okay okay! I get your point! Geez!"
"Then... I'll pay you for one ticket, and chip in for gas?"
"Okay. Wonderful. Terrific."
She reached for the door handle. "So it's a date?"
He looked at her sternly. "Only if you don't call it that."
To Be Continued...