Jan 21, 2016 by

I was a bit shaky walking into my first bona fide bar. At a shockingly innocent fifteen-years-old, I had seen only the devious dives portrayed in movies and TV shows, where varying types of currency were exchanged for hard drugs I’d only heard of, like “crack,” and shockingly innocent fifteen-year-old girls were robbed of their virtue. This was not a dive, it was an archetypal tourist attraction sure to be found just a few miles from the sand and sun in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was well-lit, had clean bathrooms, and dripped with gimmicks. While it betrayed my original ideas, it didn’t comfort me; I still felt myself looking over my shoulders every few minutes and keeping my hair safely tucked tightly in a bun. My father always told me kidnappers and rapists grab long hair, especially ponytails.

I sat down at a table outside, on the deck, and when the waitress offered me a beverage I sheepishly said, “I’m driving.” While I looked mature, I’m sure the waitress wasn’t fooled by my designated driver excuse. I was with three ladies, one of which included my mother, who had decided it was time she take her blossoming daughter out. Her two friends, coworkers, cooed over my bright blue eyes and suddenly shy nature. My heart longed for adventure, but my brain longed for home.

The summer air didn’t need the sun to stay warm and excessively humid and as twilight came I discovered, for the first time in my life, that alcohol-influenced, vacationing adults are crepuscular. The band began playing classic hits that even my naïve brain marked as familiar and with each one, new individuals, couples, and entire groups moved onto the dancefloor. The floor, scuffed from loafers passed, became filled with the awkward hip gyrations of southern Caucasians who normally spent their nights washing the grease off their hands from blue collar occupations and watching “Wheel of Fortune.” People were equal parts enthused and stupid. They moved with gawkiness like newborn fawns but were so happy to be doing it. I had to admire them, despite my better judgment. They didn’t care.

Without the inspiration often attributed to liquor, I felt myself becoming self-conscious for them. I pulled my shoulders together to take up less space, to make myself less significant, because I couldn’t handle what I was seeing. My mother watched with me and, reading my mind, leaned over to say, “They all look like idiots, don’t they?” I giggled and looked down nervously. My Mother’s coworker, Sherry, watched me with glassy eyes. She called me Baby Girl. Sherry was wild. She’d traveled all over the world and kissed lots of exotic men and had more adventure in her blood than anyone I’d ever met. At the moment, she scared me.

The band’s singer was cute. Cute enough that he had occasionally distracted me from my routine visual checks around the deck. Cute enough that sometimes I forgot to make sure no one was slipping something into the drinks of my companions. Between songs he’d sometimes speak, welcoming everyone to the “sunny, illustrious Myrtle Beach,” with a teenage girl’s dream of a British accent. I had spent a large part of my childhood fantasizing about the day a beautiful man would fall in love with me. It hadn’t happened yet. I hadn’t been kissed and the only boy who had even had a crush on me since I’d hit puberty was actually Amish, so obviously we didn’t have much of a future together. I read too much and got obnoxiously enthusiastic about a different topic every day, boys didn’t like that. So I watched the singer of the cover band on stage, fifty feet away, and imagined him falling in love with me. It helped pass the time. Then the worst possible thing that could ever happen, happened: he noticed me.

At some points earlier in the night, the singer had gotten off stage and meandered around it, engaging the audience as he should. Yelps from intoxicated middle-aged women with bulky husbands invaded the air each time he did this or came near them. I was one of the farthest tables away from the stage and even my neurotic tendencies had quickly dismissed the possibility of him coming all the way to our table. But that night, I quickly realized as I glanced at my Coca-Cola sitting between three margaritas, my innocence was to be tainted forever. He was already off the stage during a break between songs and I wasn’t paying attention when he turned to tell the band to pause.

“I see a very pretty girl being awfully quiet tonight,” he began, I looked at him smiling only to realize he was staring right at me, “and I have to tell you that she has captured my attention.” His accent sounded like propriety but his smile looked like seduction. He began to leisurely walk my direction and I heard slow tunes start from the stage. I could feel my cheeks flushing and the self-awareness only made it worse. I recognized the song as Peggy Lee’s “Fever” as he was suddenly next to me with his hand on the backside of my neck and his lips, the microphone just below them, close to my right ear. Chills vibrated through all of me and I felt too much of everything.

“You give me fever when you kiss me,” he purred, pressing his lips against my neck gently, “fever when you hold me tight.” I glanced up at my mother, who sat back to see how I’d handle it. I felt myself blush harder. “Fever in the mornin’, a fever all through the night.” His cheek pushed against my hair as he smiled and turned away, squeezing my shoulder, fingertips against my collarbone. My face faded to its normal porcelain hue as he went farther away from me and into the delicious, technicolored light of this place I once found so repulsive.

I took a sip of my soda.

Baby Girl wasn’t so innocent anymore.

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