She had made semi-serious fun of his "most depressing pick-up line." Now she was offering her own 'first date' proposal...... to a high school track meet of all things.
Whether or not it required ‘bravery’ on her part, Erin Woodman was true to her word. A few days later, when she spotted George sitting alone in the back of the Student Lounge, she ordered her iced tea, along with two chocolate-chip cookies, and plunked herself down across the table from him.
“Looks like you could use a sugar pick-me-up,” she said, sliding a wrapped cookie toward him. Glancing at his thick textbook, she added, “We can’t have all that Calculus stuff wearing out your brain.”
“And you’re guessing I couldn’t afford one myself. Is that it?”
“Come on. Don’t you play ‘poor boy’ with me. I just wanted to see how you’re doing. I haven’t seen you around for a couple days. Besides, it would have been rude, eating one of these in front of you.”
“I wouldn’t have minded that,” he replied as he unwrapped her offering and conducted his own taste test. “Wow. This is good.”
He chewed slowly as his gaze locked on to hers. A moment later their matching smiles had grown wider, and chocolate chip cookies had been forgotten.
Then, blinking his eyes to break that unfamiliar, but pleasant spell, George forced himself to move ahead. “So how have you been? What’s been happening out in the Heights, with the upper crust?”
Erin winced a bit, but refused to take his ‘them vs us’ bait. “Things are going well, thank you.” She hesitated for an instant, before deciding to complete her thought. “Actually, I’m taking a break from my studies this afternoon....at least for a couple hours. I’m heading off to a track meet. Does that sound ‘upper crust’ enough for you?”
“A track meet? Is that your idea of sneaking off for the afternoon? Man, you Southsiders really know how to live it up.”
“This is about Danny. He’s our neighbor. It’s his first year as a runner. Apparently he’s not very good. But his mom can’t make it to the afternoon meets, so I told her I’d stop by to cheer for him. He’s really a sweet kid, and he needs to know that someone is raising a fuss about him. So that’s my job for the afternoon.”
“Sounds like a good thing you’re doing.”
Pausing to finish her cookie, Erin was grinning as she offered her surprising reply. “Actually, I was hoping the two of us could cheer him on. You and I. Remember, he’s not very good. He’ll probably need all the support he can get.”
“Me....and you?” It took a moment for that to sink in. “Are you sure? Danny is running at Southside High. Right? And you’d go there, where everyone knows you, with me?”
“That’s right. And then I’ll drive you home afterwards. You see, I’m hoping you can help me understand what’s going on at the track meet. I’ve never been to one before.”
Leaning back, George sensed it was time for a serious consideration of Erin’s surprising invitation. Apparently she was going out of her way to spend time with him. He was quite willing to accept that as a good idea. But surely, before long she would realize he was not a hopeful prospect for whatever she had in mind.
“Are you sure?” he finally asked. “Does spending the afternoon with someone like me strike you as a good use of your time? Seems like that would take more nerve than most girls have.”
“Hey, that doesn’t take any special nerve. I told you before, I’m really not very brave.” There was no missing her flirty wink. “To tell you the truth it seemed like a good idea, that sounds a little better each time I see you. I’m thinking I might get used to it. ”
Truth to tell, for Erin Woodman the time she spent with George Casey required no bravery at all. For the first time ever she was in the company of a boy who seemed willing to allow their casual relationship to grow at its own natural pace.
In the course of the next three weeks they would be together for another track meet and a couple movies....the first one Dutch Treat, the second paid by George from his hard-won weekend earnings.
It must have been that time spent together, and their growing connection, that prompted George’s bold Friday afternoon request, when Erin dropped him off from school.
“Do you have a couple minutes?” he asked. “I’m hoping you’ll do me a favor.”
“Should I know what it is before I answer?” She was grinning the quirky grin he had come to enjoy. “A girl can’t be too careful, you know.”
“Hey, it’s not a trick question. The thing is, my folks have been hearing about this Erin girl lately. I know they would like to meet her....to see what all the fuss is about. Would you be willing to do that?”
It had the sound and feel of a new direction, a step beyond the path they had walked to that point. Small wonder it triggered new questions she had not allowed herself to consider before that moment. In her limited experience parents were usually judgmental. Hers certainly were. What about his? Would they be conducting their own interrogation in the guise of a casual introduction? Still, it ought to be done sometime. Why not now?
Simply climbing the stairs to the Casey’s second floor apartment had Erin sensing her own unsettling doubts. Everything about the aging complex was unkept and uncaring....even a bit sinister. What would it feel like in the place George called home?
“Erin. It’s so good to finally meet you,” Janice Casey gushed as she reached for the girl’s hand.
The four of them, Janice and husband Jim, Erin and George, were standing in the still-open doorway as George made his introductions, then nudged Erin inside.
At once Mrs. Casey was on the defensive, making her predictable apologies. “Please excuse the clutter. There’s almost no storage here so things are stacked everywhere. Besides, it’s very hard to make these dumpy apartments presentable.Won’t you have a seat?”
By then Erin was blushing a bit, unsure how to respond. Glancing around she noted the 'dumpy apartment.’ There was no concealing that, though the ‘clutter’ Mrs. Casey spoke of was not so obvious. From all appearances George’s mother had managed to create a clean and cozy home from altogether unpromising ingredients.
It would be a brief visit, awkward in the way first meetings can be. Yet when Erin left that afternoon she was awash in warm feelings of having been accepted by a pair of caring parents who obviously wanted the best for their son. It was a comforting thing, that first opportunity to see and sense the setting in which George had become the young man she was coming to like....a lot.