We took them to a movie – Dutch treat. I didn’t catch much of the film: Sam kept leaning over to whisper in my ear. “Who is that?” she’d ask. Or, “Why is he doing that?”
She had a hundred questions. Some of them were truly stupid. I think she genuinely had trouble following the plot. Or maybe she thought she had missed something important.
But it didn’t escape my notice that every time she had a question, she leaned over, rested her hand on my arm, and put her lips next to my ear. Once I even felt the pressure of her boob on my shoulder. Sam wasn’t skinny everywhere. Tanya kept shushing her. Sam tried to justify herself. I had to promise to explain the movie to her afterwards.
We went for ice cream (Marty’s idea). I kept my word, and summarized the film’s plot for Sam. It turned out that she really did think that she had missed a key scene, near the beginning. After that, she felt like she was struggling to catch up. Tanya rolled her eyes so energetically, I was afraid she was going to hurt herself.
I wasn’t sure that I believed Sam – not entirely. But while I was explaining the movie, I discovered a few things. For one, if I was doing the talking, that shut off most of Sam’s inane chatter. She listened attentively, with a big smile, her eyes never leaving my face.
It’s flattering, for an 18-year old guy, to have a girl focus on him like that – no matter how dumb she might be.
Besides, I had no problem looking at Sam. When she wasn’t saying something stupid, she was actually quite pretty: long blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and a cute face. In fact, if she wasn’t talking or giggling, Sam was downright attractive.
She had narrow hips, and not much of an ass, but she was far from flat-chested. Then she giggled, and put her hand on mine. “You’re so smart!” she said.
It was like throwing a bucket of water on me. I immediately remembered where I was, and who I was with. I wasn’t immune to flattery, but …
– “I think she likes you.” said Marty, after we had dropped them off.
– “Great deduction, Sherlock.” I said, with a snort. “Lucky me.”
– “Come on, Joe – it’s not so bad, is it?”
It wasn’t. That’s why I agreed to go a party with Marty and the two older sisters a few weeks later. Tanya was there when we picked them up, and from the expression on her face, she wasn’t too happy to be excluded.
– “Don’t be late!” she said.
Marty drove. I picked up a case of beer. Caroline sat quietly; she didn’t say much at the best of times. Her older sister made up for it, with a non-stop flow of questions: who was hosting, would they know anyone there, could she have a beer – or two …?
The host was a friend of Marty’s, a guy from our high school named Jim. He had a cute sister, who had been a grade behind us. But if I had had any plans to check her out, those were immediately torpedoed.
Sam attached herself to me like a barnacle. She kept one hand on my arm at all times, as if she was afraid to lose contact. I couldn’t entirely blame her: she didn’t know a soul at the party. It didn’t stop her from asking questions about every single person there, though.
Did I know him? Did I know her? Had I dated her? Would I date her? Did I think she (another girl) was pretty? Could she (Sam) have another beer? Half of her questions I couldn’t even hear, because the music in Jim’s basement was on so loud. They were playing the Cars album – I’d heard it too often on the radio.
I steered Sam up the stairs, and into the backyard. It was a nice autumn night, with a clear sky. We sat down on a bench. To keep Sam from talking, I told her a long story, about how Marty and I had met, and become friends.
– “He likes Caroline.” she said, with a giggle.
– “Yeah, he does.” I agreed. “Does she like him?”
– “I dunno.” she said, with a shrug. Well, that made sense. I doubt that either of her sisters ever confided in her. Telling Sam a secret would be the equivalent of putting it on a billboard.
At that point, Jim came out into the backyard with a buddy of his. Introductions were made, and Jim said “Hope we’re not interrupting.”
– “Not at all.” I assured him. I didn’t want Sam to start chattering, so I asked Jim what he’d been up to since graduation.
– “Working with my Dad, mostly. Learning the ropes. Have to get started, if I’m going to take over the business some day.”
– “What kind of business?” asked Sam. I held my breath when she started to talk, but to my relief, it wasn’t a stupid question at all.
– “Men’s clothing.” said Jim.
– “Is it hard work?” she asked. I had to turn, and look at Sam. She worked in a major department store – in the women’s clothing department!
Jim started explaining the trials and tribulations of selling suits to ignorant customers, or cheap customers, and working with temperamental tailors.
– “And then you have to deal with the Jews …”
My eyebrows rose.
– “I’m Jewish.” I said.
Jim stopped dead. Then he started backtracking. “I was just … umm … I didn’t mean …”
I didn’t say anything. I just let him squirm. His buddy looked embarrassed. Finally Jim remembered that he needed to refresh his drink, and went inside.
– “I didn’t know you were Jewish.” said Sam.
– “I’m not.”
Jim’s buddy grinned. “Nice one.” he said. “Have to remember that.” Then he excused himself, and left us alone.
– “I don’t get it.” said Sam. “Why did you say you’re Jewish when you’re not? Was it just to make him stop? Oh … that’s it, isn’t it?”
I told Sam another story. “There was a kid in Grade 4 who got picked on, just because he was dark and had kinky hair. I didn’t stand up for him, then – but I knew I should’ve.”
“My uncle Ray lives with a woman from Guyana. Nice lady. My stepmother calls her names, makes fun of her. I call her on it. I can’t stand that shit. One more reason we don’t get along so well.”
Then I remembered something. “Sam, you work in clothing.”
– “Yeah. In a department store.”
– “Why did you ask Jim if it’s hard work? If anyone would know, you would.”
– “I know.” she said. “But … I didn’t want to start talking about my job. It’s not very important. Besides – I can tell … you don’t like it when I talk too much.”
“I know I’m not very bright.” she continued. “I say – and do – silly things. My sisters tell me, all the time.”
– “What about at work?” I asked.
– “I’m fine at work. I know what I’m doing. And if I have a problem, or a question, I can just ask Mrs. Maguire – my supervisor.”
This came as a revelation to me. Sam was … well, pretty dumb. But she knew it. In my limited experience, most stupid people have absolutely no idea just how ignorant they really are. On the contrary, many of them actually believe that they’re smart.
“I just … I guess I try too hard, sometimes.” said Sam. “I just want people to like me.”
– “I like you, Sam.” I said. At that moment, it was no more than the truth.
– “That’s nice.” she said, with a smile that didn’t look goofy at all. “You know, I was really impressed – what you said to that guy.”
– “Let’s get you another beer.” I suggested.
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