Melanie is a goddess.
Her family moved into the Moon Lake school district when she was in seventh grade. It was also when I was in seventh grade. My eyes were first blessed by her during the Seventh Grade Orientation Day in the school gymnasium. I was walking up the bleachers with Jimmy Stafford and Phil Brink when I saw Melanie off to my left. I kept gazing at her and tripped over one of the steps, causing me to fall into Stafford pushing him into a few more students and instigating quite a scene. Well, I guess I got her attention.
The Heros own a popular Greek bakery in Moon Lake. Actually, it’s the only bakery in Moon Lake, but that shouldn’t detract from its popularity.
Melanie is only slightly taller than me, which is delightful since most of the other girls in school are much taller. I hate looking up their noses when talking to them. Her hair is dark, dark brown; maybe even black and she has dark eyes, too.
Melanie has one older brother and one younger brother. When the Hero Family came to town, Michael was a Sophmore and Matthew was in fifth grade. Neither of them is as good-looking as Melanie, in my opinion. Maybe some of the girls in Moon Lake think otherwise.
I was never afraid of Matthew. Even though he’s bigger than me I think I can outrun him. Michael is a different story. He’s not only taller, older and bigger, I think he might be able to catch me. I think zig-zagging while I run helps. It would be disasterous if he did catch me. Michael is a boxer(not the dog breed, obviously). He likes to box and knock people out. Those particular people are probably not too thrilled about that. I know I wouldn’t be and I sure don’t want to find out. I’ve made it this far without losing consciousness and I’d like to keep that streak alive. Michael’s been smacked in the head a few times, that’s why I think the zig-zagging works; it confuses him.
You may wonder why I give any thought at all to what Melanie Hero’s brothers might do do me. If you read on, you’ll see.
I didn’t know if I was in love with Melanie then, but I always broke out in a cold sweat and had a difficult time walking, talking and breathing when I was around her. If it wasn’t love, then she was carrying some nasty, communicable disease. I did everything I could to get her to notice me; in a positive way, of course. But everything I did just seemed to prove to her that I was a complete moron.
My first chance to actually talk to Melanie was at our Seventh Grade Halloween Dance. I still tried to dress up like Gamma, but Marion put a stop to that for the sixth year in a row. Then I wanted to put my wrinkly lunch bag over my head and go as Mrs. Lawson. Marion halted that idea, also. Boy, she sure knew how to put the “low” in Halloween.
So I went as Eddie Munster. Like I really wanted to draw attention to my height poverty.
At the dance Melanie was dressed up like a hot Gypsy Woman. She was wearing a long dress and had her hair down with a band around her forehead. Her white puffy blouse was short and showed off her stomach.
She was sitting off to the the side of the gymnasium with a bunch of girls of much lesser importance and I was on the other side with the boys. I was with Stafford and a few other guys. Stafford kept encouraging me to ask Melanie to dance. Finally I strolled over to where she was sitting.
Me: “Excuse me, Melanie. Would you like to dance?”
Several of the moronic girls giggled. But Melanie said, “Sure.” Not a very wordy response, but at least it was positive.
I about crapped my pants.
As she stood up, it was discovered by almost everyone at the dance that I had been standing on her dress. Naturally, when she arose, her dress was pulled completely off. There she was, standing in her pure white underwear.
She screamed along with just about every other female in the gymnasium. A couple girls grabbed her dress and pulled it around her as they rushed off to the bathroom, cursing me the entire way.
As I got back to the comfortable side of the dance floor, Stafford said, “Nice one, Quick. Give me five!” and held out his palm.
Me: “It was an accident.”
Stafford: “Who gives a shit. Nice job! Give me five!”
I didn’t give him five or ten or fifteen.
When the girls returned, Stafford said I should go ask her again.
Me: “Are you insane?”
Melanie Hero was sure getting to know who I was.
Naturally, Melanie was a cheerleader for the Moon Lake Junior High School basketball team. I made the team not because of my height, but because I lived up to my surname and I could steal the ball and pass really well. Coach Tyler always said to me, “Quick, don’t ever shoot. You’re lucky if you can even hit the floor.” I guess that was supposed to be pretty funny.
During one game I tried to steal the ball and I knocked it away from this big guy from the Horicon team who had no business trying to dribble. As the ball rolled towards the out-of-bounds area I was chasing after it. I made a diving attempt to get it but I ended up rolling into the gaggle of Moon Lake Junior High cheerleaders lounging around on the sidelines. Of course, I tumbled into Marion which-for a split second-for me was a good thing. Until she yelled and started crying, holding her left arm. It was later discovered by the experts at the Moon Lake Clinic that Marion had broken her arm. Well, she didn’t break it, I did.
Two days later she returned to school and received a lot of attention with her left arm in a cast. Not that she didn’t warrant attention minus the injury, but she really got it then. By the time I approached her to sign her cast there was just a tiny spot reserved for my signature. I scribbled, “I’m sorry….Solomon.”
Then I mustered up the courage to actually speak to her. “I’m sorry, Melanie.”
She looked at what I’d written and said, “Oh, that’s okay, Simon.” Alright, so she couldn’t read very well, but she made up for it in every other way. She still looked gorgeous.
Me: “Well, at least it wasn’t your right hand.”
Lovely Marion: “I’m left-handed.”
Then I walked away.
A few weeks later we were in Mister Briggs’ biology class and we had to poke our fingers with little needles and rub our blood onto slides so we could look at it under a microscope. Another waste of time if you ask me. If you couldn’t tell it was blood without looking at it under a microscope, you have to be pretty dense.
Mister Briggs said if someone was too squeamish to prick themselves with the needle, they could ask someone to do it for them.
Sexy Melanie: “Who wants to prick me?”
Me, soflty under my breath: “Oh my God.”
Still Sexy Melanie: “Who wants to prick me?”
I was really sweating as she approached me. “Simon, will you prick me?” Jimmy Stafford just stood there with his mouth open.
Beautiful Melanie: “Simon, are you okay? Your entire head is beet red.”
Me: “Yeah, I’m okay.”
Hot Melanie: “Can you prick me?”
Me: “I sure can.”
She stuck out her right index finger and looked away as I gently grabbed her cute little digit. I was actually touching Melanie Hero’s flesh. I began to get dizzy. I took the needle and jabbed it in.
Adorable Melanie: “Oh, that didn’t hurt at all!”
Me: “That’s because I missed and poked my thumb.”
My bloodletting talents were successful on my second attempt. Maybe too successful. Blood began rolling out of her index finger like an open fire hydrant. Even I was amazed. But poor Melanie Hero. One look at her injury and her pretty eyes rolled back into her perfect face and she fell backwards like a dead tree. Her gorgeous head bounced off the floor.
Little Eddie McNeely: “Mister Briggs! Solomon hurt Melanie!”
Even lying on there on the cold, dirty Biology Room floor with her shallow breathing she looked perfect.
Mister Briggs: “Solomon, what did you do?”
Me: “I pricked her.”
Mister Briggs: “You did what?”
Me: “I just poked her finger and she dropped.”
Little Eddie McNeely: “He hurt her, Mister Briggs.”
The Moon Lake ambulance crew was becoming quite familiar with Melanie. Not as familiar as I would like them to be with Little Eddie McNeely.
It was the day after this gory incident that I had my first encounter with an enraged Michael Hero. I was strolling past the Hero Greek Bakery in downtown Moon Lake, just minding my own business, thankful that Melanie had eventually regained consciousness. Suddenly, Michael stormed out the door and grabbed me by the front of my shirt with his left hand. He lifted me up a little so I was on my toes. I found myself looking up into his nose. I remember thinking that for a fifteen year old, Michael Hero had quite furry nostrils. I wondered how much more hair he’d grow in there by the time he was an ancient sixty year old man. He’d probably have a lot of trouble breathing. I would have mentioned my observation to him, had he not had a Death Grip on my throat.
He waved his right fist in front of me which looked like a twenty-two pound ham.
Michael: “What did you do to my sister!?”
Me: “Ingh perkedth hhuur.”
It was becoming increasingly more difficult to speak with Michael squeezing my throat.
Me: “Ingh perkedth hhurr.”
Just before all went dark, Michael released me. After several gasps for air I said, “I pricked her.”
As I reflect back to that moment, I realize that was perhaps not the most appropriate way to word it, given my perilous situation.
Michael: “You WHAT!?”
Just them Emily Bomkamp walked by. Emily was eighteen years old, quite attractive and very popular. She won the Miss Moon Lake Beauty Pageant, she was the Portage County Miss Robin Redbreast Festival Queen, and was First Runner -Up in the Dewey Marsh Frog Calling Contest. Like I said, she was very popular. As she walked by she said, “Hello, Michael.”
As soon as Michael’s big head turned toward her he let go of me and I ran. I zig-zagged all the way to Stanley’s Shur-Fine Grocery Store parking lot, where I knew Arnold and Marion were waiting for me. I ran up to the car.
Arnold: “Solomon, you didn’t have to run.”
Me, panting: “Yes, I did.”
Marion: “Why were you running so funny? You were weaving all over the place. Are you okay? Oh, God, Arnold, what if he has a concussion? Solomon, put your head between your knees, hurry!”
Arnold: “I never taught you to run like that. Don’t do it again. It looks stupid. What if someone we know saw you. Quick, get in the car.”
Marion: “Let’s drive him to the clinic and maybe they can scan his brain or something.”
Me: “I’m fine! Let’s just go home.”
Then I crawled into the backseat and saw Gamma squatting there with a big, lipsticky grin on her face.
Gamma: “Give Gamma a kiss, Solomon.”
Me: “I think I’m getting a cold, I better not.”
Marion: “Arnold, he’s got a cold, let’s get him to the clinic.”
Gamma leaned towards me, her lips parted revealing lipstick stained teeth. On one tooth was a green substance that looked like either parsley or spinach. Gamma grabbed my head between her two old hands so I couldn’t move. My head was in a vise. I saw this bright red oval of lips and brownish teeth heading for me. I closed my eyes as she planted a big, wet, slobbery, smooch right on my mouth. I quickly rubbed my mouth and looked at my hand and saw the slimy green thing on my palm.
It was spinach. Definitely spinach.
Me: “Okay, take me to the clinic.”
Yeah, that, they ignored.
Arnold: “Marion, remind me to practice with Solomon on his running technique.”
That was just the beginning of my elusive behavior.
My infatuation with the ever-stunning Melanie Hero continued through junior high school with a few more minor glitches.
During a game of Dodge Ball I threw the ball hard at Jeffrey Larkin who ducked and the ball smacked Melanie in the eye, causing it to turn several shades of black and blue almost immediately. The rapid color change was quite spectacular, actually.
I rolled over her leg with a toboggon, tipped her over in a canoe on Moon Lake, sprained her ankle in a soccer game, spilled a large glass of orange soda in her lap in the cafeteria, dumped a glass of ice down the front of her shirt(don’t even ask how that happened)and caused a minor flooding problem at the Hero Bakery. All accidentally, of course.
Other than that, things went quite well.
Let me tell you, if zig-zagging would have been an Olympic Event, the Gold would have been mine. I was getting way too familiar with Michael Hero’s nose hairs chasing after me.
But in spite of those pesky setbacks, I was determined to finally ask Melanie out. I was able to construct the courage throughout the summer before high school. By the time ninth grade began I was ready to find out once and for all if Melanie would go out with me.
But then, as Luck would have it, Thor Magnus infected Moon Lake High School.