BY: GEORGE KAPLAN

Mary Louise, a bookish, redheaded, freckle-faced, eighteen-year-old virgin, who is unaware she has Asperger’s Syndrome, dispenses with Tim, her loving but far too serious and conventional high school boyfriend, then thrusts herself, groin first, into the 1960s sexual revolution, pioneering concepts such as friends with benefits and serial monogamy, while earning two college degrees in statistics. Nicknamed Tookie by her doting father, she engages in often humorous escapades with innumerable unsuitable lovers, whom she seduces with her oral virtuosity. But through it all, the one thing she really wants escapes her—a man who will truly love her, despite her faults, and give her a daughter.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Only Tim Sent Flowers by George Kaplan, Mary Louise (aka Tookie, although she doesn’t like the nickname) is a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome, who is obsessed with men and having sex. The story starts out when Tookie is eighteen in 1969. Unhappy with her first boyfriend, who is devoted to her, she sheds him and starts hunting for someone more to her liking. Not especially pretty, and social awkward due to her Asperger’s, she gallops through men like wild horses on stampede. Believing sex is all she has to offer, she begins to study techniques and fully embraces the free love mentality of the sixties. But what she really wants isn’t a non-stop series of one-night stands, it’s a man who will love her for herself and give her the daughter she craves.

I was frankly amazed that Kaplan was able to pen such a realistic, flawed, human, and three dimensional character who is a female, as that kind of depth in female characters is rare in male authors. You can’t help but empathize with this poor mixed-up girl, who is really very sweet.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Only Tim Sent Flowers by George Kaplan is the story of a young woman who suffers from undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome. Tookie, whose real name is Mary Louise, is raised by overprotective parents who know there is something wrong with her, but they are sure just want it is. She obviously isn’t retarded because she is very, very smart. But she is very socially awkward. Deciding that she isn’t pretty enough to attract men without some added appeal, she begins studying sex techniques, becoming an expert at oral sex. Constantly on the prowl for Mr. Right, Tookie cuts a swath through all her male coworkers, single or married, going easily from job to job and man to man, all the time looking for love with all the wrong people. While in the background, Tookie’s first boyfriend, the only man who truly loves her, keeps waiting for her to come around and see the light.

Only Tim Sent Flowers is a heart-warming, heart-breaking, realistic story of an endearing misfit, struggling to fit in with a world that doesn’t understand those of us who deviate from the norm, whether by choice or disease, and doesn’t really want to. Kaplan handled the subject with both compassion and sensitivity. Bravo.

Chapter 1

Invisible

Tookie

I discovered boys in kindergarten. They still hadn’t discovered me in high school. Not one flirt, no pat on the ass, and not even one attempted to look up my skirt when I walked down the stairs. How insulting! I was invisible. I even overheard them standing in a stairwell joke about other girls but not me. Once, I flounced up and down the stairs sans panties after gym class. Even that didn’t get me noticed.

At least I had one good friend here. Sue sat with me on the bus. She was blonde, pretty, perky, outgoing, and had a boyfriend. I think she befriended me at first because I was new in school and could help her with homework. I never made a friend like this at my previous schools. This time, Daddy’s job brought us to a place in Illinois near St. Louis called Milltown. It was a misnamed blue-collar bedroom community without any industries or the tax base they provide. I so hoped Daddy’s project would last long enough for me to finish high school here. Starting over at yet another place would be awful.

One typical 1965 late-November day after school, like usual, I babysat the little girl who lived next door with her parents in a modest new three-bedroom, single bath, red brick veneer ranch house with a one-car garage virtually identical to the others in this recently developed corn field on the edge of town. Our house was the mirror image of hers except that it had several rows of white bricks on the front. It wasn’t clear if the bricks were intended to serve as an accent or if they ran short of red ones. After supper, I trudged past my parents’ bedroom on the way to the kitchen to do my homework when their dial phone rang. Hoping it was Sue calling, I answered it on their extension.

“Hello. May I speak to Tookie, please,” a nervous-sounding boy’s voice said.

A boy? For me? I hope he doesn’t want help with his homework. That’d give me an opening but I want someone smart.

“Don’t like Tookie. My name’s Mary Louise.”

“I–I’m sorry, Mary Louise. This’s Tim Burgess. We met–”

He’s kinda cute. Why’s he calling me? “I know.” What should I say to a boy I hardly know?

“Would you like to go to the movies on Saturday, Mary Louise?” he asked after several seconds.

A boy with his own car just asked me out. How can I get them to let me go?

“I’ll check.” I put the phone down and floated to the living room of the rented house. “Mother, Daddy, Tim Burgess, a boy who lives on the corner, wants to take me to the movies Saturday. May I go?” I tried not to sound excited.

Daddy lowered the newspaper he was reading, revealing his mostly bald head. “You’re awfully young to be going on car dates.” He’d become very cautious about everything after his heart attack a year earlier and had put on some weight because he was afraid to stress his heart by exercising.

“But all the other girls do.”

“If all the other girls jumped off a bridge–” was his stock response.

“Dear, kids start dating younger than we did in our day.” Mother always tried to be supportive.

My sister and I began calling her mother when we were well into puberty. It sounded lame to us for nearly grown women to continue calling their mother mommy. She was the apple of Daddy’s eye. He wouldn’t have chosen to live a second longer if anything ever happened to her.

“Beth’s a year and a half older and she hasn’t gone on any dates.” Overprotective Daddy could be a pain at times because I was his favorite. I still remember what he said upon seeing me in my First Communion dress. “You look like an angel about to ascend to heaven you’re so beautiful.”

“She’s barely a year older than me and nobody’s asked her.”

“Watch it.” Daddy got that stern look on his face he got when we argued with him too much. He was always kind and loving but didn’t like backtalk.

“But–but–”

“No buts. You’re not going and that’s final. You’re too young and inexperienced to sit in a dark movie theater with a boy.” He raised his newspaper and started reading again, signaling the end of the conversation.

Think, Mary Louise, think. It’s taken so long to get asked out. Don’t want to miss this chance. It might be the last. Maybe we could do something else. I slowly walked back to their bedroom and picked up the phone.

“I can’t go to the movies with you.” Please don’t give up on me.

After a long silence, he tried again. “Could you go to the basketball game on Friday?”

Full of hope, I trotted back to the living room. “How about the basketball game at school on Friday?” They can’t object to this.

Daddy looked displeased with me for still trying. “You’re awfully young to be dating, Tookie.”

“Daaaadddy.” Whining usually worked with Mother.

“Dear, there will be hundreds of people around. It couldn’t be a more public place. I went to games when I was her age.” Mother, who Daddy nicknamed Chunkin’ or Mother Chunkin’ for reasons known only to him, no longer had her girlish figure but, after having five children, was hardly plump and her dark hair had no gray.

“You did?” Daddy seemed genuinely surprised.

“You didn’t know me then. I always had dates to football and basketball games. You may go, Mary Louise.”

“But–”

“She’s not retarded, dear.”

I raced away to accept before Daddy could object but paused in the hall where they couldn’t see me so I could hear what they were saying about me. “She’s very smart but naïve and her relationships with girls are a challenge,” he said. “She’s got a lot to learn before she’s ready to date. Even though Tookie’s not nearly as pretty as you, boys will want to…ah…you know.”

“And she needs to learn to fight them off–soon. This boy seems safer than most but I’ll ask around to be sure.”

He may have to fight me off.

Trying not to sound too excited, I said, “Pick me up at six thirty.”

“Uh o-okay.”

I’m becoming a woman now.

Lifting my breasts to little effect, I looked at my profile in the mirror. More boys may find me attractive when they grow some more. Sue’ll be shocked when she hears this.

I busied myself the days leading up to my date by doing the usual things, babysitting, teaching the neighborhood children how to roller skate, and dreaming about what it would be like to be out on a real car date.

When the clock hit six twenty-five on Friday, I fluffed my hair in the mirror in the bedroom I shared with my Irish-twin sister, put on my coat, and went into the kitchen.

Mother perched on the picnic table, the only table we owned, guzzling an over-sized bottle of Falstaff.

Did I just hear someone pull into the driveway? I put my hand on Mother’s hand that held the beer. “Mother, please?”

“Toookie, your date’s here,” bellowed thirteen-year-old Daniel from the living room.

Better get Tim out of here before they embarrass me.

I grabbed my knitted hat and gloves and hurried into the adjoining living room where Daddy waited to interrogate Tim. Dark Daniel buried his face in a chess book oblivious to my auburn-haired younger brothers Mike and Jake, aged seven and five, respectively, who wrestled on the floor.

I let Tim answer a few of Daddy’s questions then stepped around the grapplers and grabbed him by the arm. I glared at Daddy. “We better go. Don’t want to be late.”

Jake glued himself to my leg “Stay home with us, Tookie,” he begged.

I signaled Daniel, who then pried him loose. As soon as I was freed, I pulled Tim out the door, closing it tightly behind us.

He didn’t have that coat on before. It looked new and the color matched my slacks. He was a couple of inches taller than me with blondish flyaway hair and sexy blue eyes.

He opened the passenger door of his cute little classic Thunderbird for me. Even though I was wearing my favorite wool slacks because it was cold, I got into his car ladylike just like the nuns taught us. I sat down backwards on the seat ducking my head with my feet flat on the ground then, with knees together, I pivoted to my left, gracefully bringing my feet into the car under the dog leg. I wiggled my way into a respectable position–not too close to him but not hugging the door–while he walked around the car.

Tim handed me a blanket. “You might need this. The heater works fine but the blower motor that’s supposed to circulate the warm air needs to be replaced.”

Whatever. It’s awfully cold in here.

Tim alternated between scanning the various gauges and instruments, half of which didn’t work, and looking at me while he drove the mile through Milltown, smiling all the while.

Strange. No boy’s ever looked at me like this before.

“What time do you have to be in by?” he asked.

Since neither Beth nor I had been on a date before, it hadn’t been discussed. My parents had been so focused on whether I should be allowed to go or not, the topic of a curfew didn’t arise. “No set time.”

“Why do they call you Tookie?”

“Don’t remember.” I turned away to cut off that topic.

At the gym, the dean of boys recognized Tim and gave me a friendly grin, “You better watch him.”

Tim just smiled. Since we were both students who had earned good grades and didn’t attract trouble–Mother had asked around about Tim before our date–I took this to mean he approved of our dating each other.

We climbed to an open spot in the bleachers where no one would be sitting close to us. When Tim helped me off with my coat, I set my purse on a seat from where it fell through the gap below the boards all the way to the floor below.

Tim saw a ten-year-old boy chuckling and reached into his pocket. “Here’s a quarter to get her purse.”

The boy quickly crawled down through the cobwebs and dust bunnies and handed my purse up to me. Tim handed him the promised coin.

“Thank you,” I said, blushing for my awkwardness and focused on watching the game, or pretending to.

“Number thirty-two is in my English class,” I said, exhausting my sharable thoughts.

“Most of the starters were sophomores when I was a senior,” he replied.

Neither of us said anything of note the rest of the game. He seemed shy and I didn’t want to say anything that might spoil the date.

“Would you like to go to Tony’s and get something to eat?” he asked when the buzzer sounded.

“Okay.” It was too early to go home. It was fun being on a date, especially when you can tell the guy really wants to be with you.

We went to Tony’s in a nearby town and shared a square-cut pepperoni pizza. Between bites, Tim grilled me. “Where did you live before here?”

“Ohio.”

“How long did you live there?”

“Two years.” Conversing with Tim stressed me. I’d never before talked with a boy remotely interested in me.

“How long do you expect to live here?” Tim looked confused.

“Two, maybe three, years.”

I was too embarrassed to tell him I needed to pee. I tried giving him short answers to end the questioning so we could leave. It was flattering, him wanting to know more about me.

“Where will you go from here?”

“Don’t know. We never do.”

Maybe he ran out of questions or got my hint. Regardless, he drove me home, ignoring the gauges and staring at me more than at the road.

When Tim opened my door to let me out, he reached out his hand to help me out of his car.

No boy had ever held my hand before–dance class didn’t count. Those boys didn’t even want me as their partner. I kept hold of him even after we were on my stoop.

He stood there mooning at me. I desperately needed to relieve myself, but I didn’t want to let go of his hand. It seemed like an eternity but couldn’t have been ten seconds.

“Would you like to go out next Saturday?”

“Yes,” I answered without thinking.

He put his arms around me and kissed me.

Please don’t stop. I tingle. Wish I didn’t have to pee so badly. I barely kissed back but didn’t pull away until he did. When he did, I jetted into the house, throwing my coat to Mother and racing to the toilet. My parents met me when I emerged.

“Did you have a nice time, dear,” asked Mother.

I nodded in the affirmative.

“Did he ask you for another date,” asked Daddy.

“Yes. He’s nice. Good night.”

“Wait a minute. Did you say ‘yes’?”

“Of course, Daddy.”

He seemed perturbed that I accepted a date without getting permission to go. I’d deal with that later.

I went to bed, fantasizing about my future dates.

After the next date, I yanked him into the house where I could smooch him in private. Not only did I enjoy kissing, I loved feeling his body wrapped against mine. He made me feel desirable. I enthusiastically looked forward to the last act of each date, hoping each kiss would last longer than the previous one. I practiced gently breathing through my nose so I wouldn’t have to stop a kiss because I ran out of breath.

Smitten, he asked me out week after week. Daydreaming about my upcoming dates got me through the school week.

“You’re so beautiful. I’ve never seen such dark red hair. It’s gorgeous.”

Very awkward. At least he means it. “Please don’t call me those things. I’m not pretty at all.”

“You’re prettier without any makeup than the cheerleaders are with it.”

He wanted me badly and I enjoyed his touching me–most of the time. As soon as spring broke, we went to a drive-in movie and necked up a storm. I soaked in all the attention. Midway through the feature, he undid a button on my blouse and tentatively slid his hand in partway. It must have been a new experience for him because he seemed unsure of what he should do next.

Ooohh. My breasts wanted to be fondled so much but I dared not let him find out how little I had.

“Do you want me to be one of those girls who panic every time their periods are a day late?”

“No,” he answered sheepishly and removed his hand.

“It looks like I’ll have to wear anti-attack clothes in the future.”

“I’m sorry.” Penitent, he pulled back and watched the movie.

After too long with no contact, I said, “I didn’t say to stop kissing me. I just want you to keep your mitts outside my clothes.”

He wrapped his arms around me and kissed me more passionately than before.

***

Sue told me about make-out parties where girls and boys from our class would pair off in Cindi’s basement rec room when her parents weren’t around.

“Sam and Gail neck and a lot more with the lights low, but bright enough for others to know what they’re doing.”

“Doesn’t she worry about getting pregnant?”

Sue squirmed. “Yes. But not enough to keep her knees together.”

“I can’t respect girls who risk their entire futures.”

I liked it when Tim rested his hand on my leg when he was driving–I sat next to him in his pre-seatbelt car and rested my head on his shoulder. One time, he put his hand on the uppermost part of my inner thigh, firing an electric bolt through my body.

Whooo. Now I know how it feels to want to have sex, and I want it NOW. I’ve always wanted it an abstract sort of way but, right now, I want him to pull down my pants and have his way with me.

I didn’t act on that impulse because I was way too smart to do anything so stupid and risk ruining both our lives.

Another time, when Tim helped me down from my perch on the younger boys’ bunk beds, he held me tightly against him, my pubis pressed firmly against his chest. No lightning bolts but nice, very nice. I said nothing to discourage him and let him hold me like that until his arms tired.

We saw a lot of each other. Tim would come over to my house to watch Batman on TV just to be with me. I even convinced my mother I was struggling with geometry and needed him to tutor me as a ruse to get extra time with him. I got to play footsies with Tim under the kitchen table away from prying eyes except when Mother came in to get another Falstaff out of the fridge. I was the happiest I’d ever been–until my parents tried to end it.

“Mary Louise, your father and I think you’re seeing too much of Tim.”

“From now on, you may go on one date on the weekend, but that’s all.”

“But–but–”

“No buts. Your mother and I have thought this through and this is what’s best for you.”

I cried uncontrollably. The thought of having Tim taken away from me was unbearable. I ran to my bedroom and threw myself on my bed.

Mother sat on the edge of my bed and rubbed my back. “Don’t cry, dear. It’s not as bad as all that.”

“She’s so sensitive,” Daddy said, “and smart. She won’t do anything stupid.”

I continued to sob as I felt like my world had been crushed.

“Okay, Mary Louise,” Mother warbled. “You may see him more often than that but not too much.”

Tim was my rock in those uncertain times. He worshipped me like Daddy worshipped Mother. Perhaps because his parents were alcoholics, he understood me better than anyone. I had a good mother until four p.m. when she uncapped her first of several beers for the evening. Daddy was great most of the time because he only drank good whiskey and could only afford it on pay days. I hated it when they were drunk and prayed, to no effect, that Mother would stop. I tried being the best child I could, but even that didn’t help.

My bliss with Tim ended in May 1966. He joined the air force to avoid being drafted and sent to fight in Vietnam. I cried when he was reclassified 1-A, but held back the tears most of the six weeks before he left for boot camp–in front of him, at least. He wrote often and I answered many of his cards and letters. For fun, I doused some of them with perfume. He came home on leave twice before being sent overseas. I got annoyed with him in the middle of both visits. I thought it was because he got too serious but, looking back on it, I couldn’t stand the pain of not knowing if I’d ever see him again. I broke up with him but, each time, kept his air force bus driver’s hat so he’d have to stop by before leaving. With no other boys interested in me, only his letters kept me from feeling unlovable.

While Tim was away, my parents became friendly with his mother, Gin. Daddy addressed her as “Mother-in-Law” and Mother went out drinking with her whenever Daddy was out of town on business. I hated it when she came home drunk and disheveled. They generally walked to a bar a few blocks away but sometimes she didn’t walk home. One night–I’ve been unable to erase from my memory–I was awakened by the sound of a car making an abrupt stop. I looked out the window to see Mother crawl out of a strange car driven by a man I didn’t recognize. I cried myself to sleep.

In the fall of 1967, Daddy was transferred to North Jersey, where I struggled to finish my senior year. Not only were my classes harder, the kids were much more sophisticated–and snobbier than any I’d seen before.

The clique sneered at me from a distance at first but when the weather turned cool, they attacked. “Is that a cotton sweater,” asked Deidre, the stylishly-dressed ringleader whose daring miniskirt showed off her legs.

“Yes.” I looked for an escape path but saw none.

“Don’t you have any cashmere?”

“No.” I was panicking.

“The girls on Bandstand wear them. Don’t you want to be on Bandstand?

“I’ve never given it any thought.”

The other girls sniggled.

The bell rang signifying the start of class. We all took our seats–them to avoid detention, me to escape them.

I’ll never forget one particular morning. After making snide remarks about my few outfits, some girls in my home room cornered me before the teacher arrived.

“Why do you have two names,” asked Deidre, seeing an opportunity to attack me again.

Having never been confronted like this before, I cowered. “I like my names. My mother thinks they’re pretty.”

“Where were you born–Mississippi,” asked her sidekick whose cashmere sweater emphasized her only assets.

“No, Arkansas.” I didn’t expect the response or I would’ve lied and said Ohio. After living in so many different states in my early life, I had no discernible accent.

Both girls emoted nasty laughs. “You’re not just Southern. You’re a Southern hick,” said the sidekick.

Thinking everything up was down here, I tried to deflect that insult. “Friends call me Tookie.”

The pack of hyenas sneered.

A trashy girl with big hair and the miniest of miniskirts, muscled her way through the huddle. “Tookie. Hmmm. That’s a good name for a Jersey girl.” Raquel, a biker chick who went by Rockie, put her arm around my shoulders and guided me away from the inquisition and back to my seat. Raising her voice, she announced, “Tookie here’s my friend. Anybody have trouble with that?”

The room went silent. The preppies weren’t about to cross Rockie. We rode different buses, so didn’t see each other outside of school, but we ate together and often talked on the phone.

She got her pick of the hoody boys but, because she was smart enough to be in my classes, she didn’t have other girlfriends at school. My parents would have fainted if they’d seen her. Rockie educated me in the ways of this brave, new world daily over lunch.

“If you’re plannin’ on stayin’ here, you gotta learn to be a Jersey girl.”

“Don’t think I’m tough enough.”

“It’s not muscles, it’s inner toughness. First thing, stop takin’ crap off people.”

“I could never beat up Deidre and her gang of snobs.”

“Of course, you can. She’s a bully and bullies’re weak. Next time she tries somethin’, punch her lights out. You won’t hear another peep outta any of them after that.”

“That’s pretty much what Tim told me. He was always about the smallest one in his class and some bigger boys–not the really tough guys, just bullies–would pick on him until they pushed him into a fight. He always beat the bullies and learned they were bullies because they were weak.”

“He’s right. Punch those bitches one time, and that’ll be the end of their shit. We’re eatin’ lunch in the gym tomorrow. I’ll show you a few things they won’t expect. Kicks in the groin aren’t only for boys.”

***

Strawberry blonde Beth, whom I’d never gotten along with, had graduated the spring before we moved and enrolled in college shortly after we arrived in New Jersey. Her derelict boyfriend from Milltown followed her east and sniffed around like a tomcat looking for a queen in heat and a free meal. Apparently wanting to get out of the house and not enjoying school, she agreed to marry him in late June and took a clerical job to support them. My parents despised him but Beth was of age and didn’t need their permission. Mother and Beth picked out a dress for me to wear as her only bridesmaid. She hadn’t made any friends here and didn’t leave any behind when we moved. I didn’t go along because I hated shopping and disapproved of Beth’s marriage.

One spring evening, Rockie shocked me with an offer.

“Wanna double-date for the prom?”

“It’s kind of you to offer, but nobody’s asked me.” The Jersey boys ignored me even more than the hicks had.

“You have a date if you want one. Vinnie’s buddy, Sal, thinks you’re hot.”

“How could he? I barely know who he is.” How bad do I want to go to the prom?

“Want a date or not?”

“Why doesn’t he take his girlfriend?” He must be some sort of loser.

“Her father’s in the air force and they got transferred to North Dakota.”

I can wear the bridesmaid dress, so it won’t cost my parents anything. “Okay.”

“I’ll show you the latest dances from Bandstand. We’ll have fun.”

I wore the sky-blue floor-length A-line, which was the first of many ugly bridesmaid dresses I’d wear over my single years. Rockie’s dress was the complete opposite. Where mine was conservative in the extreme, hers brushed against every one of the school’s limits. Her strapless white organza tutu-like mini-dress–trimmed with a wide turquoise band to accentuate her more-than-ample breasts–looked cute until she moved, especially if she bent over or kicked, both of which she did frequently when she danced. She wore matching turquoise bikini panties to give the preppies and the chaperones something to talk about–and they did. I danced crazier than ever before or since because nobody noticed what I was doing. Their eyes were glued on Rockie.

When the band started playing “In The Still of the Night,” Sal and Vinnie, in their matching powder-blue-pastel tuxes, jumped out of their seats.

“Mona, let’s trip the light fantastic,” Vinnie said.

“Mona?”

“Tell you later.”

Sal clamped onto me. “You got some good moves,” the lanky Sicilian whispered in my ear.

He was so tall I could barely reach high enough to clasp my hands around his neck. Midway through the second verse, I felt something I hadn’t felt since Tim left. However, Sal’s poked under my sternum. It was comforting that another boy found me fuckworthy but I wasn’t ready for that, especially with some jerk I didn’t know.

When he cupped my butt cheeks, I pulled his hands away. “Don’t be fresh,” I said and shifted into the position the gym teacher showed us in dance class.

“Don’t worry. Got lots of protection.” He patted his jacket pocket.

“I’m not an easy girl like the ones you must be used to going out with. Get it?”

“So, you’re gonna make me work for it?” He grinned. “That makes it all the better.”

On the way back to our table, Rockie pulled me aside. “Let’s go to the sandbox. You’re blowin’ it.”

“I’m not sleeping with him, if that’s what you’re talking about.”

Rockie took me by the hands and stared me in the eyes. “You’re not still a virgin, are you?” She looked astonished when I nodded.

“And I’m going to be one when I walk through graduation. I promised myself years ago I wouldn’t risk my future. I’m not taking chances of getting knocked up.”

“Can’t you just whack him off or somethin’?”

Not him. “Can’t risk staining the dress. Have to wear it in my sister’s wedding.”

After the dance, I climbed over the folded down passenger’s seat to get into Vinnie’s hot rod, paying close attention to keep well on my side of the hump. Sal got in the other side while Rockie slid across the front seat. When Vinnie got in, he draped his right arm around her, twirled the steering wheel with his left hand using the spinner knob with a picture of a naked woman, and tore out in reverse. He slammed on the brakes, spun the wheel the other way, threw the car into low gear, and peeled out. While Vinnie drove us to the restaurant, Sal slid over to me, pinning my head against the window, and kissed me. Before I could push him away, his tongue probed my throat, inciting me to gag. When I bent over to get my breath, he assaulted my zipper.

I slapped his face, hard. “Keep your hands to yourself.”

Hearing the smack, Rockie turned around to see what was going on in the back seat. She looked perturbed. “What gives?”

“He’s an animal.”

Rockie glared at Vinnie when he laughed.

“I never begged a girl for nothing,” Sal snapped, “especially one like her.”

Get me out of here. “You can surely find someone to give you what you want for a little money.”

Sal slid back to his side and pouted. “I’m not buyin’ her dinner.”

Vinnie raced to my house in total silence. Rockie got out and pulled the seatback down for me. As I struggled to get my balance, Sal pushed me out with his foot, launching me into Rockie. She helped me get my balance and squeezed my hand. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Good riddance,” Vinnie hollered, as he squealed his tires, punctuating the end of my first and only formal dance.

Rockie and I talked about the prom at lunch the next Monday.

“Tooks, have you heard the rumor Sal’s been spreadin’ about you blowin’ him?”

“Nobody’s paying any attention because I’m inconsequential.”

“You can’t let things like that stand. I knew you wouldn’t say nothin’ so I said, ‘Sal was so hot for Tookie he came in his pants. She wants a man not a boy.’”

“Thanks for standing up for me. Also for catching me. I’ll be able to wear the dress in Beth’s wedding thanks to you.”

“Why’s your sister gettin’ hitched? She ain’t pregnant.”

“She wants out of the house? She wants to have sex? I’m not really sure. Can’t imagine anyone wanting to marry the slug she’s marrying.”

“She’s got a job doesn’t she?”

I nodded as I ate the detested egg salad sandwich Mother packed me.

“She can get her own apartment. It wouldn’t be much but she’d be out of the house.”

“It must be for security. That cockroach’d skip the state if he got her pregnant.”

Rockie narrowed her left eye. “I thought you said he doesn’t work? Tyin’ herself to this boat anchor just to soil some sheets doesn’t make sense.”

“I never said she was smart or logical.” I finished my milk and bit into my apple.”

“She’s fuckin’ nuts. Time for a smoke. Call me tonight.” She left for her after-lunch cigarette in the toilet stall nearest the window the smokers kept perpetually cracked open.

Almost overnight, it had become acceptable for unmarried girls to have sex–and talk about it. My chats with Rockie also served as an education for a sheltered girl who never heard a swear word or sex mentioned at home. She could have written a slang dictionary. I had no idea there were so many words for doing it. I was often confused when trying to figure out which act she was talking about because several had nothing to do with penis in vagina. I was pleased to hear so many for using my mouth. I’ve always had an oral fixation because, since the first time I felt Tim’s rub against me, I wondered what it’d taste like.

Soon, high school was mercifully over and Beth got married, leaving me a bedroom of my own for the first time since I was an infant. Every day, I searched want ads for jobs and filed applications, but got no offers, not even an interview, probably because I was too young.

Rockie called me early on a mid-July morning. “Where’d you like to have lunch, birthday girl?”

“It’s a Monday. Lots of places aren’t open today. How about Luigi’s?” It reminded me of the place Tim and I went on our dates. He would be back soon.

“I’m pickin’ you up at a quarter to twelve. I’ve got you all afternoon. Remember?”

“I’ve been looking forward to it since graduation.”

I hung up and looked for Daniel, finding him where he always was, at his chessboard.

“Daniel, you’ve got to hang around the house today. I’m going out for the afternoon and you’ve got to watch the boys.”

“You never go out to lunch. What’s up? You sneaking off to see some guy?”

“No! It’s my birthday and Rockie’s treating me.”

“Why’s Mom have to work and push babysitting off onto us?”

“Us? This’s the first time you’ve had to watch them.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“That was when I had a dentist appointment. I’m sorry I burden you so much. She’ll be home by three thirty. I might be later.”

“Why does she have to work now?”

“It’s a lot more expensive here and we’re barely getting by. You’re old enough to do something.”

“You’re older.”

“I’m going to take the first job I find. Somebody might hire me now that I’m eighteen. Then you’ll learn what it’s like to babysit.”

***

Rockie’s demeanor changed from flippant to dramatic as soon as we placed our orders. She looked guilty about something as her eyes darted around the room. Seeing no one watching us, she handed me a plain box from her purse. “Happy birthday, Tooks.”

“Thanks.” I started to open it but Rockie grabbed my hand and pushed it toward my chest.

She lowered her voice. “Put it on your lap where nobody can see it.”

She wouldn’t give me a joke gift. “Is this a condom,” I asked as I showed her my present.

“No. Put it back in the box.” She leaned over to me and whispered, “It’s a diaphragm. You put it inside you to keep from gettin’ knocked up.”

It looked too big to go in there. “How do I do that?”

“You have a two o’clock appointment to get fitted properly. She’ll show you everything you need to know.”

“Wouldn’t condoms be easier? I might like to put them on.”

“You’d have to buy them and carry them in your purse. Do you want your mother to see them?”

“Or my brothers. No way. I can hide this in my room and put it in before dates.”

“Don’t worry about condoms. Lots of guys carry them all the time.”

I’d never seen one. “How do you know that?”

“Easy. Their wallets have a circle.”

“I always thought that was a logo or something.” Tears came to my eyes.

“What’s the matter? Have I hurt you?”

“I’ve had friends before but no one who’s been as kind to me as you. Thank you so very much.”

“Quit cryin’ and eat. Don’t want to miss your appointment.”

“You’ve got to go in with me. I can’t do this alone.”

“I’ll hold your hand but you won’t need that.”

Rockie and I played a little game to pass the time waiting to see the doctor. We called it Wishing, Wanting, or Hoping, We evaluated each patient as she walked in as to whether she was wishing to get pregnant, wanting to get rid of one, or hoping she wasn’t–WAH for short. We could reevaluate for half score when they left.

Finally, a nurse ushered us into an examining room. “Take off your clothes and put this on, Mrs. Lotte,” said Nurse Hatchett, handing me an open-back hospital gown. “Then hop up here.” She tapped the examination table then pointed at the stirrups. “And assume the position.” She left us to ourselves.

“What’s with this Mrs. Lotte stuff?” I asked Rockie.

“You don’t wanna use your real name, do you?”

“No, but why that name?”

“Mona Lotte’s Vinnie’s nickname for me.”

“I get it now. I hope I moan a lot, too. But not now. Do I have to do this? I hate being poked and prodded,” I said with my feet in the stirrups and my privates exposed to anyone who walked in.

She rubbed my arm to comfort me. “I thought you came here so you could be poked and prodded to your heart’s content without puttin’ a bun in the oven.”

“Definitely don’t want that but the thought of having a woman’s hand up there’s creepy.”

“I thought you’d be more comfortable with a woman doctor. Don’t you want Tim to be the first man to explore you?”

He’d blush if he knew what I have in mind for him. “I’m looking forward to it.”

A six-foot tall not-so-pretty version of Twiggy wearing a white coat sauntered in.

At least she had skinny fingers.

I tried to imagine I was doing something more pleasant like cleaning an oven or defrosting a refrigerator while she fitted my diaphragm. After more than a few test tries, she left one inside me.

“That should do it. Hop down and walk around the room to make sure it stays in place.” She concentrated on something about my walk. “Squat a couple of times.”

I did as she asked, looking at her the whole time.

“Feel anything odd?”

I shook my head.

She handed me a brochure. “This explains almost everything you need to know about it. Now take it out. You only want to have it in a couple of hours before you have sex.”

Hooking my finger into it to get it out was easy.

She took the diaphragm from me and inspected it for breaks. She then inspected my right hand. “You’ve got sharp nails. Be careful not to puncture it. You don’t want it to fail or have to buy new ones all the time, do you?”

“You got that right.”

“Always keep a spare one of these in your purse.” She held up a tube of spermicidal jelly. “You’ll need to send in reinforcements three hours after insertion, regardless of whether you’ve been exposed or not unless you know for sure you’re done for the night. Have my secretary make an appointment for a follow up a month from now.”

“I probably won’t have sex by then.”

Rockie jumped in to save me. “Her husband won’t be back from Vietnam for six weeks.”

The doctor looked at my chart and frowned. “Just how old were you when you married him?”

“Oh, I’m not married yet. I just don’t want to get pregnant on my wedding night.”

“Amen to that. Practice putting it in and taking it out until it feels right. Once you think you’ve mastered that, keep it in all day. See how it feels when you exercise strenuously. Sleep with it in sometimes to see how well that works. Better to have this down pat. Who knows what a crazed Vietnam vet will want to do.”

“Tim’s not like that. He–”

Rockie cut me off. “Is there anything else she needs to know, Doc?”

“Have him wear a condom during the middle of your cycle for extra protection. See you in a month. You may want a refitting after your honeymoon. Activity changes things, especially in young girls.”

***

“Mary Louise. Mary Louise,” shouted my Mother from downstairs, jolting me away from the detective mystery I was reading. “You’ve got a call–from California.”

Why’s she so excited? It must be Tim. My heart skipped a tiny beat, so tiny I almost didn’t notice it but I did.

Mother handed me the phone, saying, “Tell him he can stay with us for a while.”

“Hello?”

“I’m back and want to see you. Do you want to see me?” He said in his familiar young voice, sounding nervous and excited.

“I–I guess.”

“It’s so nice to hear your voice again.”

“It’s nice to hear yours, too.”

“I have to visit my folks and buy a car. Look for me on Labor Day.”

“Deposit one dollar and thirty-five cents for one more minute,” said the disembodied operator’s voice.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing you. Bye.” He hung up.

I’ve been signing my letters “Young and Innocent.” That’s going to change.

© 2017 by George Kaplan

Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews:

“This was an amazing story about Tookie (Mary Louise) who has Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s sweet and kind, and shows another side to those who suffer from it. Tookie is a very interesting character with a lot of depth. Her outlook on life is different from how she views herself, and she doesn’t quite understand the gifts she already has in her life. She is looking for more. I really enjoyed this story as a main character with Asperger’s is different and rare. I love her social awkwardness and it gives her a sense of humanity. Sometimes people (disabled or not) don’t appreciate what’s right in front of them. A great story and it was very well-written.” ~ Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews