In 1974, the four most important words for a teenaged girl were, "We're getting a phone."
Holly practically squealed with delight. All of her friends in the little town of Lake Luzerne had a phone. She was a social outcast, cut off from the gossip and news – a virtual death sentence for a cheerleader.
"Oh, my God, I cannot believe we're getting a phone!" She sat down, fanning herself with a piece of cardboard.
Veronica glared at her daughter. "We're getting a party line. All nine houses on our road will be sharing the same line." She put her hands on her slim hips, and started tapping her foot. "That means you will not be wasting the day, chatting with your silly girlfriends."
Holly knew the hands-on-hip and the foot-tap routines. She forcibly calmed herself, folded her hands on her lap, and smiled her most serene smile. "Yes, Mother, of course I will be responsible."
Her practiced semi-adult manner appeared to fool Veronica, who half-smiled and went to the kitchen.
A phone! Holly hugged herself and grinned widely. It's about damn time! I was going to die an old maid. Boys can't call me to arrange dates.
"You're gonna be talking all night to your stupid friends," said a high voice.
Holly's expression changed to anger, and she looked under the dining room table. "Get out of there, you stupid midget. Mom already yelled at you for eavesdropping." She snaked her foot between the chairs and made kicking motions. "I'll kick your stupid ass if you talk to me again. Ever."
Bill, her ten year-old little brother, popped out of the other side of the table like a cork. He stuck his blue Kool-Aid stained tongue at her, then ran out of the room and up the rickety stairs. Holly heard the door to his little attic room slam shut.
"I wish I could trade him for a new hair dryer," she said to the cat, who had jumped up onto the table. She picked up Muffins and stroked his thick white fur. "Mom said the next time she caught you on the dining room table, she'd throw you to the fish in Fourth Lake."
# # #
"A phone? It's about damn time, girl!" Sandra said, threading her arms through her brastraps.
"Yeah, that's what I said." Holly toweled her hair dry. The locker room was empty except for the eight cheerleaders. They had performed an exhausting new routine, and were hurrying to catch the late school bus home.
Holly was the prettiest cheerleader. She kept in shape by walking or jogging five miles every morning, and her bra was a full D-cup, three sizes bigger than Sandra's. Every boy's eyes followed her chest, no matter where she went. Her hair was a luxurious, thick blonde, and her aquamarine eyes flirted with everyone in school.
"I'll let you know when it's installed. The phone company has been stringing some lines on the poles along our street all week." She turned her back to pull on her clothes. Sandra watched and grunted; she hid her jealousy well.
"Okay, c'mon, let's catch that bus," Holly said, finally pulling on her tight turtleneck. "Last one to the bus gets to kiss the janitor!"
They ran out, shouting their goodbyes to the rest of the squad, and jogged to the waiting bus. Holly let Sandra win their race. The only people on it were the two girls, their grizzled old driver, and seven boys from the wrestling team.
The cheerleaders grinned mischievously to each other. Sandra liked Tommy, a tall, tawny-haired transfer student. Holly liked Frank, and daydreamed often about his liquid brown-black eyes and his strong arms around her. He looked up from a tattered copy of The Hobbit and smiled at Holly. She blushed, putting her hands over her face while almost missing the bus seat with her butt. Sandra giggled, and the girls started whispering to each other.
Their bus pulled out and started traveling north on 9N. The girls continued to whisper, trying to embarrass each other by guessing what each boy looked like naked. Holly watched the scenery drift past the grimy windows. Maples, oaks and pines, separated by a random house or store, made Holly glad she lived in such a beautiful town.
Sandra had progressed past James, guessing he had a hairy back and knock-knees, and started on Frank. Holly let her mind wander to Frank naked in the shower. She felt a blush of uncomfortable warmth. The greenery outside the window seemed to blur.
"I'd guess Frank is all muscles, and he likes to kiss... a lot... in the shower, and he has a big... thingie."
A deeper voice than Sandra's answered her. "Well, that's yes, yes, and none of your business, in that order."
Holly tensed, mortified that Frank had moved to the seat directly behind theirs. Sandra stifled a laugh.
"I try my best not to kiss anyone in the shower in the boy's locker room, though." He grinned, looming over the back of the cheerleader's seat. "I hear you're finally getting a phone, Holly."
Holly stared straight ahead, her face flushed and her eyes wide. "Yes," she whispered.
He reached down and dropped a small piece of paper on Holly's lap. "If you ever get bored, or just want to talk, or even if you want more answers about my anatomy, give me a ring."
The girls heard him move to the back of the bus. Sandra failed at containing her laughter. Holly put the paper scrap in her pocket and said nothing more until her stop.
"I'll see you tomorrow," said Sandra. "Don't forget your uniform; we have a varsity game tomorrow. You wouldn't want to cheer naked."
Holly looked at Frank, who was smiling warmly at her. She looked at her shoes until the bus came to a complete stop, and then ran to the safety of her front door. She looked back at the bus as it left, belching blue diesel smoke. She saw Sandra and Frank waving to her, so she half-waved back and pushed the front door open.
She dropped her bookbag on the floor while closing the door with her leg. She fell back against the heavy wood entryway, closed her eyes and thought about cheering for Frank naked. She blushed more and sighed.
"Holly's got a booooy-friend," said Bill in a sing-song voice. "He wants to squeeze your booooo-bies."
Holly looked around in a rage. She saw him in the next room, sitting by the front window. "I'll kill you, you little rodent!"
She chased him through the front parlor, the dining room, and into the kitchen.
"Will you two settle down?" said Veronica, and Holly skidded to a stop. Bill had maneuvered around his mother's legs, and was hugging them, occasionally sticking out his tongue at Holly.
Holly looked away from her annoying brother, and saw another adult in the room, drinking a cup of iced tea from one of the good glasses.
"Hi, you must be Holly. My name is Calvin." He was tall and lanky; his uniform had the phone company logo on the shirt pocket.
She composed herself. "Yes, I'm Holly. Nice to meet you, sir."
He looked at Veronica and grinned. "Your kids certainly have manners. You wouldn't believe some of the children I have to deal with."
"Thank you," said Veronica graciously. She smiled brightly at the compliment, and Holly noticed her mother was wearing a low-cut shirt and tight polyester stretch pants.
Oh, my God, Mom's been hitting on the phone guy!
Holly switched from polite child to you're-not-good-enough-for-my-mom mode.
Calvin seemed to sense the change. "Don't get any ideas, your mom and I were just talking about the new phone."
Holly's eyes followed his pointing finger to the large Bakelite wall phone. She instantly forgave Calvin for any imagined trespasses, and she hopped and squealed.
"Oh, Mom, can I call someone? Pleeeease?"
Veronica eyed her daughter with a stern look. "First, the rules... Pick up the phone and listen. If you hear a dial tone, then you can call someone. No more than ten minutes at a time." She wagged her index finger at Holly. "Second, if someone picks up on the party line, you'll hear a clicking noise. If they need to make a call, wrap up your conversation in less than one minute."
Calvin chimed in. "If anyone says they need to make an emergency call, you should hang up immediately." He sipped his iced tea, the melting ice cubes tinkling in the glass. "Also, no eavesdropping. Technically, it's against the law, but the most we'd do is remove the phone until they get around to installing separate lines to each house."
Holly whirled at Bill, who was still hiding behind his mother's legs. "You hear that? No listening in, you perverted little midget."
Bill resumed sticking his tongue out at Holly.
Calvin laughed and stood up. "It's time I left. It was a pleasure meeting you, Veronica, and thank you for the tea." He gathered his tools and put them back into his black canvas bag. "I'll give you a call this weekend, just to make sure the phone is working."
He shook the kids hands, thanked them for their manners, and left. As Veronica closed the front door, Holly grinned at her mother. "He's a lot nicer than the creepy drunks you bring home from the Rustic Inn. He didn't ogle me like a piece of meat."
Veronica pulled Holly in close and hugged her. "I thought he was a nice man, too. Maybe I'll ask him out if he calls."
Holly stepped back. "Aw, Mom, you always told me to wait for the boys to ask me out."
It was Veronica's turn to blush. "You, my pretty young woman, have all the time in the world. My biological clock is ticking away."
They laughed and embraced again. Bill stuck his head out of the kitchen door. "Hey, you huggy-bears, I'm huuuuungry!"
# # #
The first person Holly called that evening was Sandra. Veronica placed an egg timer on a shelf next to the phone, and then pointed at it. Holly nodded, indicating she understood her mother's miming.
"So, did you call Frank yet?" asked Sandra.
"Oh, my God, no. My mother said to always let the boy make the first move."
She heard Sandra laughing through the phone. It sounded oddly mechanical, and there were many pops, clicks and scratching noises in the background. "Your mother isn't waiting to get asked to the Spring Dance, is she? Besides, how can he call you if he doesn't know your number?"
That sounded logical to Holly, so she fished Frank's number out of her jeans. "Did you know Frank's last name was Long?"
More prolonged distorted laughter. "So, you were right, on the bus earlier! He's a Long Frank!"
They giggled and resumed their tawdry discussion of the wrestling team's body parts, until the egg timer went off with a ping!
"I have to go now; I can't stay on the line. I don't want to get grounded on the first day."
Sandra sounded disappointed. "Oh, okay. I'll talk to you tomorrow. Oh, and Tommy asked me to the dance. See ya!" Click!
Holly stared at her handset. How could Sandra drop a bomb on her, and then hang up?
She hung up the phone and waited a few minutes, staring at the scrap of paper with Frank's number on it. He had nice penmanship, she noticed. His nines had a cute little curl at the bottom.
She picked up the phone and listened. The dial tone droned in her ear, so she dialed Frank's number.
One ring. Two rings.
Holly's voice trembled slightly. "Hiya, I wanted to give you my phone number."
"That's fine, sweetheart, but my wife would get jealous. I take it you want to talk to my son, Frank."
"Yes, please," she stammered. How could she be so clueless?
A few seconds passed. "Is this Holly? I hope you're not hitting on my dad, I'd be jealous, and I'd have to wrestle him for you." In the background, she heard, "And you'd lose, son. She sounds cute."
For the second time that day, Holly turned bright red because of Frank.
He chuckled, and it sounded less mechanical than Sandra's laugh. "I take it you finally have a phone."
"Um, yes, and the number is 4467, first part same as yours." She heard a distinct click, and someone breathing on the line.
"I have to go," she said.
"Wait, Holly." His tone changed, and she thought he sounded embarrassed. "I wanted to see if you're available to go to the Spring Dance with me."
Holly pulled the phone from her ear and stared at the handset. Maybe the phone was defective.
"You still there?" asked Frank's voice, sounding small and far away.
She put the phone back to her ear. "Um, yeah, I am. And I will. Thank you." She hung up quickly, forgetting to say goodbye.
She stared at the phone. How could I be so stupid... and so rude?
She was about to go to her room when she thought about the other person breathing heavily on the party line. She looked around, making sure Bill was not hiding in the kitchen, and slowly picked up the handset from the receiver.
All she heard was the dial tone.
# # #
Holly made sure she followed the phone rules. She didn't get to talk to Sandra much, because her lips were constantly glued to Tommy's. Frank acted more like a gentleman. He and Holly started officially going out, but their kissing was subdued and private.
She invited him over to jog after school, with her mother's permission. They said goodbye to their conjoined friends pawing each other on a school bus seat and ran to the front door.
Veronica opened it, and Frank introduced himself. As they passed Holly's mother, she smiled at Frank and made kissy lips at her daughter.
Holly rolled her eyes, but grinned like an idiot. She went to her room to change, and Veronica escorted Frank to the downstairs bath. When Bill started to skulk around, Veronica excused herself and corralled her son in the kitchen.
Wearing their school gym uniforms, they started to stretch in the front yard. The afternoon sky held a couple of stringy cirrus clouds. The starlings and sparrows twittered loudly, as though they were in a competition for the loudest bird species. Two dragonflies zipped by, heading for the lake. Both sides of the road sprouted towering pine trees, which created little pockets of semi-darkness underneath their branches. Two raccoons peered out of the pine across the road, their comical robber faces waiting for the all's-clear to make a mad dash for the garbage cans.
The two teens started off in a slow jog. Holly's smooth legs were longer than Frank's, who was built more for stamina than speed. There were only nine houses on the road, each separated by dense Adirondack trees and underbrush. Holly typically ran half-way up the two mile road.
When she reached her turning point, Frank forged on ahead. She did not like going to the end of the road, which dead-ended at an historic old stone church. The geezer that maintained the property did not like visitors, and barked croakily at anyone who came near his moss-covered stone fence.
The last mile of the road twisted back and forth, going around huge outcrops of boulders and trees. An aluminum sign, its paint faded and peeled, indicated they were nearing the church. Frank jogged in place, reading the sign. Holly looked around nervously.
"Wow, this church was built in 1760," said Frank. "I love stone architecture." He looked at Holly, her hair back in a bushy ponytail, also jogging in place. "Say, what do you want to be when you grow up?"
She stopped jogging. "I want to be older."
Frank chuckled, and she felt oddly warmed and attracted by it. He had a deep baritone voice, and whenever he spoke, it snared her attention. "No, honestly. I want to go into civil engineering, like my dad."
"Well, for the longest time, I wanted to be a ballerina." She pointed to her cleavage. "That's impossible with these things. Right now, I'm considering international business or electrical engineering."
"Well, with your looks and brains, you could do anything you set your mind to. C'mon," he said, waving his hands and starting up the incline towards the end of the road.
Holly's faced flushed. She shook her head at Frank's unexpected compliment and followed him.
The church loomed above the road. The trees around it were particularly dense, as though they were trying to shut out all the light. A long, flat-topped rock wall surrounded the main structure and a small log cabin almost hidden by brambles. There were no starlings or sparrows chirping, the darkness seemed to absorb every small noise.
Holly breathed a sigh of relief. Barabbas, the old caretaker who lived in the cabin, was not home. His rusted red Chevrolet pickup was absent from the gravel driveway.
"Wow," said Frank in awe. "This thing is built like a burial tomb. Look, it has no windows on the sides. Most old churches from this period had real stained glass windows, usually imported from England or France."
Holly did not share his enthusiasm. If the sunlight could penetrate the web of trees, she would consider finding the building interesting. Right now, it gave her the willies.
"Let's go, I don't like it back here."
"Nah, let's go in for a quick peek," and Frank vaulted the stone fence before Holly could stop him.
She reluctantly approached the fence, but her sense of foreboding kept her off the property. She could almost physically feel waves of unwelcome emanating from the stones.
"Wow," repeated Frank. "This is really amazing. There's an open wooden door over here. It looks like the caretaker knows his stuff, the inside looks spotless; at least the parts I can see." He started looking up towards the squat bell tower, and backpedaled to get a better view.
Suddenly, Frank disappeared from view.
"Frank! Frank, are you all right?" Holly's body tensed, her feelings fought with her flight reflex.
Frank's head reappeared. "Shit, yeah, I'm okay. I fell in a hole. There's a bunch of heavy wire piled up, and I tripped on it. Looks like the phone company didn't finish the job."
He clambered out, and turned to look at the ground. "Eeew, yuck!"
"What? A dead squirrel?"
"Well, you're halfway right. It's an open grave. This whole area is an overgrown cemetery."
Holly backed up a few steps. Her arms were covered in goosebumps; it seemed unnaturally chilly. "Let's go," she pleaded.
"Sure, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I'm sorry." Frank came back to Holly and hopped over the wall. He was covered in dirt and dead leaves.
She started brushing him off. The dirt seemed reluctant to go, so she did the best she could.
Holly stopped. "What?"
"Something bit me," he said, slapping at his neck.
"Must be that invisible vampire," she joked, looking at the spot that Frank continued to scratch at.
"What?" He felt his neck, and found a wet spot. His fingers probed, and he pulled a large dead spider off of his skin. "Is it a brown recluse or black widow?" He sounded nervous.
Holly peered closely. "No, it's too big. Looks almost like a tarantula, but it's not as hairy and it's smaller."
She could see his neck reddening, but couldn't tell if it was from a spider bite or Frank's scratching.
"C'mon, let's get back to my house. We can clean it up there."
They walked back slowly, continuing their discussion about the future.
When they were in sight of Holly's house, Frank asked, "You ever going to get married?"
Holly looked Frank up and down. "That's a pretty lame marriage proposal, coming from a red-necked guy in dirty, sweaty jogging shorts."
Frank blushed. "No, silly, I meant do you see yourself married, after you graduate from college?"
Holly stopped on her lawn and stretched, cat-like, her arms extended over her head. "Yeah, I do want to get married and have a bunch of kids." She saw Bill peeking out of the front-room window. "But all girls; boys are little turds when they're young"
"I used to be a little boy, you know."
She looked at Frank, and a smile washed over her. He looked cute, all dirty and scratching his neck. "Well maybe one boy for you, just to shut you up."
She put her arm around his. "C'mon, let's get you cleaned up."
Veronica met them at the door. "Bill said you two were necking in the yard, putting on a show for the neighbors." She looked at Frank and startled. "Oh, my gosh, did she tackle you and give you that hickey?"
Holly shot her mother a nasty look. "He fell in a hole, Mother Dearest, and a spider bit him."
"Hmmm," said Veronica skeptically, and left to get the first aid kit.
"My mom thinks the world revolves around sex. She's worse than my friends."
"That's good to know," said Calvin, his head peeking out of the kitchen.
"Oh, hello Calvin, I didn't know you were visiting my mom. Is the phone all right?"
Calvin stepped around the door. He was dressed in jeans and a rodeo shirt. "No idea, this wasn't an official visit." He introduced himself to Frank, and looked at the welt forming on the teen's neck.
"Spider bite, yup. Dark, bit hairy, about the size of a quarter?"
"Yes, it looked almost like a tarantula," said Holly. "Is it poisonous?"
Calvin turned Frank's head to get a better look. "Most spiders have some poison. I think this was a wolf spider. This will swell up a bit and get real warm, but unless you're allergic, it'll just be uncomfortable and itchy."
Veronica returned with the medical kit. Holly snagged the box and took Frank's arm, steering him into the downstairs bathroom and closing the door behind her.
"Sorry about her," she said sheepishly. "Sometimes she acts more like a big sister. Actually, more like a bratty little sister."
Holly produced some towels and a washcloth from a cupboard. "You'll have to take off your t-shirt."
Frank smirked, and peeled the dirty shirt off. Holly started to breath a little harder, she felt light-headed cooped up in the small bathroom with Frank's muscled chest in front of her.
Frank leaned back on the vanity, and Holly put some soap and water on the washcloth. She began to clean the dirt and sweat off of his head and neck. He closed his eyes, and Holly noticed he was breathing a bit heavier too.
The spider bite formed an angry welt, and he flinched when she cleaned it. "Sorry."
"That's all right, thank you for taking care of me." He opened his eyes, and she paused, staring into them. He put his arms around her waist and pulled her towards him. She melted, pressing herself to his chest. They kissed softly and passionately, tongues exploring each other.
After an eternity, their lips broke apart. Holly's chest was heaving, her breath labored. She felt Frank's desire, and she never wanted anything as much as she wanted him at that moment.
"We'd better stop, or we won't be able to in a few minutes," he said, stroking her hair, his other hand pressing the small of her back towards him.
"That's supposed to be my line," she said, and she caressed his waist and hips with her fingertips. "But, you're right."
She stepped back, and Frank looked embarrassed. "I'm going to need a few minutes to, ah, compose myself. Can I take a quick shower here?" He held one of the towels over his shorts, and she realized that Frank was aroused.
"Yes. Of course. I'm so stupid, go ahead." Her face bloomed, the red clashing with her blonde hair. "I'll put a bandage on when you're done. And dressed."
He smiled at her, and she turned redder. "It's okay, we're two teens, full of hormones. We'll control ourselves."
She paused by the door, and looked back at him. "All I can say is I'll try my best." Her eyes slid down his well-defined abs and strayed to the towel, which seemed to hover by itself. Embarrassment overwhelmed her, and she slipped out the door and ran to her room.
She fell onto her bed, breathing harder than she typically did after running three miles. Her thoughts strayed to her conversation with Sandra, and imagined herself in the shower with Frank, kissing him and pressing her naked body against his. She moaned slightly, and realized she needed to do something with her hands or they would start to do things on their own volition.
At least she knew Frank Long was named appropriately, but she wouldn't tell anyone, especially Sandra.
To be continued...