The morning that Wallace fell for Mr. Howard, she had walked to school in a drifting snow. It had begun snowing early the afternoon before, stopping at four inches just before midnight, when the wind took over, as if shifting powder from the front yard to the front
doorstep was a meteorological recipe for a
successful January in Indiana. The sidewalk
Wallace took to North High was impassable
that morning, even in knee boots, but she was fast and skirted along the scraped off edges of pavement.
North High had two entrances open in the morning-the front bus entrance and the side
street doors by the Home Ec and Industrial Arts
rooms. It was the latter that was used by rushed, working parents, dropping off kids, and by the walkers, who had just started the tradition of stopping at the newly opened Dunkin' Donuts across the street. There were a few teachers who stopped there also, and sat staring into their coffee mugs as if seeking some oracle. Mr. Howard was among them but seemed more hopeful, being so recently promoted from a hippie campus life to full time employment. In his faded jeans and second-hand neck ties, he caused a ruckus if he showed up in the halls too early, before the packs of junior girls had left their lockers and gone to homeroom.
"There goes Daryl," somone would say, or "I
gotta go! I'll be late for Daryl's 1st period!"
Then there would be this rushed scuttling in platform shoes. It was pretty widely known that
he stood beside his door for at least a minute after the final bell, grinningly excusing any latecomers, who if they were observant (and they
ALWAYS were), could see a faint brushing of powder sugar along the side of his mouth. This
and his dark hair and sideburns kept the attention of at least half of his class through even the most mundane recounting of the facts
necessary to pass U.S. History.
But Wallace didn't scuttle and she certainly
didn't need some rocked-out Romeo to see her through any of her classes. Nevertheless, things happen, don't they? Just a few blocks from school she turned to the sound of a horn and saw
a tank of a dark blue Ford Fairlane pulling up beside her and the passenger door pop open in her path.
"Bad morning for walking. Get in." It was
Mr. Howard. Since it was all so conspicuous and
it would have been too embarrassing not to,
Wallace climbed in and sat down on a frayed
seat cushion. She couldn't hear much over the roar of the heater, but he seemed to be saying
something about the snow. She nodded vigorously,
as if an overly emphasized head nod could be heard.
In the teacher's lot, he parked quickly
in a cleared space by the dumpster, and reached
across her to open her door, absently bumping
her mittened hand, which was already on the
"Thanks," she managed to say, looking
in his direction, but past him, over his shoulder
and through the car window. At the dumpster.
Oh, man, did she walk fast to that door! She'd been in his Fairlane! All morning, Wallace could find fault with nothing. Even when Skye Rogers read her obviously misappropriated book report on A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN during Tillman's
English Lit. class, there was no ebb in the
flow of Wallace's thoughts. Every one of
the junior girls wanted to ride in that
Fairlane and she had been the first, and she
was only a sophomore.
That evening, Wallace sprawled out on the floor of the den listning to The Yardbirds
singing "For Your Love" over and over again.
Through the new headphones, the lyrics formed
an arc of reverberating sound. Stereophonic magic. Poppies! Smell the poppies! She stared at the wall and saw sunsets and sand dunes etched
into the flat latex.
When the music suddenly cut off, Wallace just lay there for a few seconds, limbs too heavy to move. Then she smelled cocoa and she knew. She pulled the headphones off of her ears so fast, it hurt.
"Three coins in a fountain," her sister Winnifred sang, the plug of the headphones
poised at her lips like a microphone. "My turn."
Something went Ping inside Wallace and she screamed, "All right!" and a smoldering started in her that only the passing of puberty would extinguish. She ran up the steps to the kitchen
and began banging cabinet doors open and shut, but she knew Winnifred couldn't hear anything with those headphones covering her ears.
Wallace found the Hershey's and sat it down on the formica. Hard. She knew that the poets and songwriters would go on to say that this is what love is like when you're only 15.