The first time I heard “Good Morning” by Kanye West, I was in Ruth Ross’ passenger seat smoking my first cigarette. Kelsey was in the back seat behind Ruth, her long blond hair whipping across her face in the cool winter air. Ruth rolled the windows down to let the smoke out and turned the music up so loud I could hear my own heart beating. We were young and invincible then and more importantly, we were best friends.
Ruth was almost more of a folk tale than a friend. We looked to her for stories of getting drunk on Prom night and making out with a guy who didn’t remember; of smoking pot out of a cored apple; of driving to Chicago on a school night to hear her older brothers’ jazz band play. All of these things were foreign to Kelsey and I but we were enamored of it nonetheless.
That night, we attended a banquet for the quiz bowl and chess team. Kelsey was the quiz bowl captain. I joined for fun and was surprisingly good at it. Ruth signed up to hang out with Kelsey and I after school, but even after paying the club’s $50 dollar fee, she never showed up. Come the end of the season, our sponsors held a pizza banquet as a way of congratulating us. They also rented the local college’s student activities center, which was complete with a bowling alley, pool tables, and an air of cheap sophistication.
We ate pizza, we bowled, we laughed. “I’m feeling a little thirsty,” I told my friends and walked to the snack bar in my goofy rented shoes. Upon approaching, I ran into one of the chess team guys, a guy I’d had a couple of on-and-off again flings with, a guy I solely referred to as “The Atheist.” He smiled at me and offered to pay for my Coke. We walked around and talked for awhile. I thought back to the summer we walked around the water and he sat with me while I got a henna tattoo on my ankle. We’d only kissed a couple of times.
Kelsey and Ruth started giving me those far away thumbs-up signs. I shooed them off with my hand. The Atheist and I divulged our most recent exploits and settled back into our old comfort. We sat down onto a burgundy couch and he put his arm around me. This night was magical. Maybe he would kiss me again. The tension was there. Nothing needed to come from it.
I leaned into the Atheist and thanked him for my Coke. He looked down into my face and nodded in recognition. I kept staring at him with hopeful eyes.
“What? What are you looking at?”
“I don’t know. I was just...I thought maybe...”
“It’s never going to happen. You understand that, right?”
Suddenly, I broke free from his embrace and straightened my posture. With a silent face, I stood up and walked away. He called after me, in a condescending way. But he didn’t have the right, anyway. I was six months older.
Ruth and Kelsey were curious to hear of my Coke and conversation with the Atheist but all I could say was,
“I wanna get out of here.”
Ruth peered off into the distance in thought. I could tell she had something mischievous in mind. “Hey, do you guys wanna go smoke in my car?”
We all looked from face to face in our circle of three. We picked up our coats and skipped out the door.