Mary Beth

Taylor Caldin and Jordan Hill sat in a booth at Sammy’s next to the front window, sucking the last of their shakes. It was 11:30, half an hour before closing, and Taylor’s mother, Jean, who worked there, was wiping the counter clean. Taylor was an only child. His father hadn’t lived with them or even in Creek Hill, since Taylor was ten.

“I’m thinking about asking Mary Beth to homecoming,” Taylor said.

“Ask her then.”

“Like it’s that easy.”

Creek Hill was a small town. Sammy’s was on Milford Street, which had five stores on either side. The school, CHS, where Taylor and his friends were seniors, was one of the three other buildings that weren’t on this street. It was a half hour drive to buy groceries. Creek Hill School had 800 students grades K-12, fifty of which were seniors, and most students were involved in all activities. Guys were expected to play sports. Girls were expected to cheerlead. The post office had two employees. Bingo night was on Wednesdays at Town Hall.

“Man, I think you should forget all about the dance and just come to Wyatt’s field.” Jordan took a sip of his shake. “Nobody goes to the dance, except seventh and eighth graders.”

Taylor finished off his shake, thinking about how nice it would be to have one night for him and Mary Beth. He was 17, and he hadn’t had a relationship that lasted over 2 months, ever. Everyone else he knew always had a girlfriend. There wasn’t much to choose from around Creek Hill either.

Mary Beth Sanders was a year younger than he was. Taylor had liked her since he was in the third grade, and he always believed that she was the one for him. She was on the cheerleading squad, which was nice for Taylor because he got to see her every Friday night when he played football. They had art class and yearbook together, and that allowed him to get in a few good jokes now and then to try to impress her. But she didn’t seem to think much about his attempts at flirting, Taylor thought.

The next day, Taylor looked across the room, watching Mary Beth struggle with her drawing. A root beer bottle and cowboy boot sat on a table in the middle of the room. All of the students in art were required to draw it. Taylor, instead of drawing, was running through the possible ways and the possible answers of asking Mary Beth to the homecoming dance. He scribbled in his notebook, “I know we don’t really hang out, but I was wondering if” and, “I’ve been thinking about you for a long time,” scratching them each out. He ripped the page out of his notebook and crumpled it up, deciding asking her face-to-face would be best.

After the bell rang, he quickly packed his backpack and tried to catch her before she ran out of the room. She was already in the hallway amongst her friends. He would do it after yearbook class, he decided.

Once again, his attempt failed. She had beaten him out of the class and into a group of friends. He saw Jordan hurrying toward him in the hallway. “Man, I need to talk to you,” Jordan said, and led Taylor outside.

“Mary Beth knows.”

“Knows what?”

“That you’re going to ask her out.”

Taylor’s stomach tightened at the words. “How could she possibly know? You’re the only person that I’ve told and unless you said something…”

“No, somebody apparently overheard you at Sammy’s last night. And you know how these things go. I’m sure everybody knows by now.”

At that moment, Taylor decided that he had nothing to lose. If he asked her, one of two things would happen. She would either say no or yes.

He waited alone at the school recess area, walking around the tables and benches, waiting for her to walk by before cheerleading practice. Ten minutes passed before his chance appeared. Mary Beth walked toward him. He knew she was in control.

“So, I hear you’re gonna ask me to homecoming,” she spoke first, relieving some of Taylor’s stress.

“Umm, yeah,” he smiled, lifting his head a little, alternating the weight from his left foot to his right.

“I had no idea.”

“I know, but I just wanted to—”

“Well, I don’t want to go to the dance.” Taylor’s smile went away. His stomach was tightening for the second time that day. “But, I will be at the party at Wyatt’s field. If you show up, maybe we can hang out or something.”

His smile returned. Taylor, realizing that he never actually asked her to the dance, still felt like he had accomplished the impossible.

The party was in Jim Wyatt’s field, a half-mile into the woods off County Road 17. Trees lined the highway and ran back to the field opening. A bonfire was set up in the middle of the field, and Mary Beth was standing next to the keg with three of her friends. Taylor decided not to rush her right away because they weren’t on a real date.

Most of the night, Taylor stayed beside Jordan, refilling his cup from the keg until he saw Mary Beth without her friends. This was his moment, he thought. He sat on the Ford Ranger’s tailgate beside her, noticing that she was drunk. He tried to think of the right words.

“You wanna make out or something,” Mary Beth asked while leaning toward him.

“I guess—”

Mary Beth kissed him. Taylor’s heart rate increased. A group of onlookers toasted to the kiss and laughed. Taylor knocked his beer cup off the tailgate, and the kiss ended with Mary Beth leaving to find a spot to use the bathroom.

“I know. I saw it,” Jordan said.

“I can’t believe I just kissed Mary Beth Sanders.”

“Okay, now that that’s done, you think we can just get outta here?”

“Now? I have to get back to her.”

Taylor filled his cup up again. He walked back toward the Ford Ranger, looking for Mary Beth. In the distance, he saw another couple kissing. He sat back on the tailgate watching the couple. He couldn’t see who it was until another truck’s headlights came on, shining directly at them. It was Mary Beth and Jimmy from the football team.

For the next few weeks, Taylor avoided her. He dodged questions from her friends, who asked him why he hadn’t talked to her and why he left so quickly at the party. Taylor couldn’t face her. But, he knew that she had given him the one thing he had been waiting for since third grade, that kiss. She also gave him the thing he always expected, heartache. He stopped avoiding her when he started noticing Caroline Richards. Maybe she’s the one, he told himself.