California Babe

She’s kissing him again. The jutting brick wall around the recessed doorway hides him, but only partially hides her. I can see him leaning back against the closed door. She leans into him.  Their heads are locked together, his arms tight around her.

I loiter out in the yard, waiting. Lunch period is almost over and though I know they cannot be seen from the teacher’s vantage point, I remain as her unofficial lookout. I don’t want her to get into any more trouble.

The bell rings and Betty disentangles herself from the boy with one last kiss. She turns around looking for me. I make eye contact and she gives me her brilliant smile. I smile back in relief. She wasn’t caught. This time.

Her light brown hair bounces on her shoulders as she walks over to me. Not for the first time, I wish I had her air of self-confidence, her lightness of being.  Together we make our way to our next class.

“Did you bring your radio?” she asks.

“Yes, I always do.”

“Can I borrow it? You know how I hate Math.”

I hand it over as we take our seats next to each other. She opens her notebook and lays the pocket-sized radio upon it. With the volume turned low, she places her ear against it and gives me a wink.

She knows Mr. Garcia will assume she’s hunched over on her desk because she’s having a “bad” day and won’t call on her. The wink tells me that the only thing causing her cramps is the homework she didn’t do.

On the walk home she tells me about the boy. I don’t know him, but I’ve taken an instinctive dislike to him. When we reach her house, we stand on the sidewalk for a moment.

“Be careful, Betty,” I tell her.

I’m not sure what prompts me to say that, but I feel a need to warn her, to look out for her. She is my friend. She could have been anybody’s best friend, but she picked me.  Next to her I feel dowdy, timid. Social graces don’t come easy for me. I have to mentally rehearse what I’m going to say ten times over before I can get up the nerve to actually say it out loud.

“He’s going to California and he’s taking me with him.”

“But what about school?”

“School is boring,” she says, then turns and skips up the walk to her front door.

I watch her go inside and then continue on home. I know chores are waiting for me and I will have to carve out time for my homework.

A few months later, Betty is looking a little drawn and pale. She lacks the vitality from before.

“I’m pregnant,” she says to me without preamble.

I suck in my breath. Now I know why I don’t like that boy, why I’ve never asked his name or anything else about him.

“What are you going to do?”

“We’re going to get married. I told you we’re going to California.”

I want to believe, but it doesn’t look like she believes it herself. Soon after, Betty drops out of school. Selfishly, I feel bad for me.

When summer comes, I have time to go visit her. She takes me to her room and shows me her brand new baby boy. The crib is set into a recessed area in one wall. It almost seems as if someone carved out a spot just big enough to fit it in. The room is cluttered with girl things and baby things. There isn’t enough space for it all.

“What happened to him?” I hold her gurgling, fat little son in my lap.

“His family sent him to California,” she says looking down at the floor. “He’s going to send me money.”

We both lapse into silence. I know that’s not true and I think she knows it too. He won’t send money and he won’t come back. His family has sent him to keep him away from her, to help him evade the responsibility of raising this child.

He is, after all, a child himself. Fourteen, just like Betty.