F L A M E
"They call her Flame, for obvious reasons. / And Iíll admit that itís frighteniní / Whenever her lightniní flashes. / Only ashes remain."
I saw her the first time when I lived in Lawndale, way back in the nineties. My Dad was in the army for about a hundred years. We moved around to a lot of posts and bases and whatever. And sometimes, while Dad was off doing God knows what for the Army, me and my Mom wouldnít be living with him at all.
Why Lawndale, I donít know. Really, itís just a suburb, a stop on the highway to better places. Itís not the armpit of the universe---thereís this place called Highland in Texas that I stayed at a while later, thatís much worse---but Iíve been to all sorts of places all over the world, and, believe me, I know better places when I see them.
I saw her before I met her. I was at the local high school---if you call a place run and staffed by lunatics a school---anyway, Iíd been there a while. I was there, on my way to class, and she rounded the corner.
Stopped me in my tracks. She was gorgeous! Iím not using that word lightly. She was perfect, from head to toe. She wore a pair of jeans and a simple T-shirt with a smiley face on it---but they showed off her figure perfectly---and what a figure! I mean, when she moved, every boy in the school had their eye on her. A great package, topped off by a crown of long red hair as brilliant as fire!
Man, I was hooked, right away...but it took me a while to get an introduction. Her name was Quinn Morgendorffer---hah! even that seemed beautiful, attached to her---and, I found out, she didnít just date anybody!
You see, she belonged to this little group called the Fashion Club---four girls, all drop-dead-gorgeous---and they had hard and high standards to live up to. They werenít interested in the best match, or even how good they looked together. It was all about what a boy could do for them.
There were these three idiots---well, maybe not idiots---no, I guess idiots would be the best term. They were football players, but they hung around Quinn like they wanted to be glued to her. They would do anything for her---they would have killed for her, Iím sure, if she would have given them the time to tell them to---they gave her anything she asked for.
But, like I said, they were idiots from sunup to sundown. They never realized they didnít stand a chance with her. She wasnít looking for idiots. They were five, six deep around her, all wanting to do things for her, just for the moment with her.
How could I get through all that?
" ĎDonít get too close!í my friends all warned me / And maybe I should have learned why / The boys who were burned by the fire / When they played with Flame."
I got to talk to her a week later. Up close, she was even more beautiful. I introduced myself---I was in several classes with her. When she smiled at me, I lost all sense---and asked her for a date.
Now, like I said, I was an army brat. Thereís not a lot of money in that, and I know I wouldnít have made the best dressed list of Lawndale High---but I know I was better looking than practically every guy who was there. I thought I had that going for me.
She shot me down quickly enough. "Iím booked up," she said, "through most of the month. After that, well, I wonít commit to anything that far in advance."
"So maybe youíll go out with me then?" I asked.
She laughed---it cut me deep, her laugh---and said, "Thatís cute." Then she walked away.
I was crushed---but I was determined. Once we dated, I was sure we could get together. A lot I knew.
Now, all this going on wasnít missed by the other students at Lawndale High. There were a few students with their eyes and ears open, and, well, word got around. Those three idiots I mentioned before---they threatened to beat me to a bloody pulp if I bothered Quinn again. I was sure I could handle them---I knew a few things about self-defense---but they never took me up on it.
There were other students, that, well---Quinnís dating habits hadnít gone unnoticed. Some were guys who had been burned by dating her---I saw a line in a movie once, "I had her, Iím over it, Iím immune." That was them down perfect. They tried to warn me off---but I didnít listen.
Some of the girls tried to warn me off. I donít know why---pity, maybe. I donít know what makes women tick---this story alone must show that.
There was this one girl, Daria something---I forget her last name. Not one of the popular crowd, but one of the school brains---but she seemed to know Quinn pretty well. "I donít know why Iím telling you this," she said. "But I will anyway. Donít do it. Quinn will never bring anything but misery to any man who falls for her ."
"Iím not falling for her," I said. "I just want a date."
"Donít change the subject. Youíre too obvious. When you get a single date, you hope that will lead to another date, and another, and then the conclusion to some teenage mating ritual. Believe me. It wonít happen. You havenít got what it takes."
"And what does it take?" I asked.
"Material goods, jewelry, appliances...a good supply of cash. She goes out with boys who can give her things. You do not have ready access to any of that. Forget her. Youíll save yourself a lot of grief in the long run."
I already knew that about Quinn---and I knew that was my ticket in. I had some cash, savings for a rainy day, close to eight hundred dollars---my parents didnít know I had it, so I didnít worry about what they would say about it. Allowance, odd jobs, tips---it wasnít easy to save, but in a couple places my dad was stationed, there wasnít anything to do, anything that involved spending money.
After a week or two of turndowns, I told her what Iíd do on a date. Take her to the finest restaurant in Lawndale. Pick her up and drop her off in a car sheíd look good in. And do her history paper for her.
It worked. She dropped some other guy, and penciled me in on her date schedule for two nights later.
" ĎAfter all,í I told myself, / ĎSheís a girl of flesh and blood, / And Iím a man---yeah!---whoís been around.í / So I got dressed like royalty, / And was all for all to see, / The king of fools just waitiní to be crowned."
There was this guy, one grade above me, Charles Ruttheimer. He was a jerk---fancied himself the new Hugh Hefner, as if anybody in my generation had use for the old one. But he could get his fatherís Rolls-Royce, complete with chauffeur, and would rent it out to anybody---who would meet his price. He didnít have many takers. But I had the money, and took it. Two hundred for the car for the night, two hundred for the driver. There went four hundred dollars.
The tux I picked up was tailored---things look better when theyíre fitted right to you. But this had to be just so---it was for Quinn. And it was a rush job, too. There went another two hundred dollars. A decent haircut and cologne set me back a few more dollars.
Another fifty went to Daria, for the history paper for Quinn for me to give her. She was one smart brain.
The night rolled around. I picked her up in front of her house. I donít know what she spent for her gown, but it was magnificent. It made her look every inch the queen I thought she was. She smiled graciously as I leapt from my car to open the door for her.
She got in, but made no effort to slide over. Trying not to act puzzled, I quickly ran around and got in the other side. "To Chez Pierre, James," I said to the chauffeur.
"Itís Vance, sir," he said.
"Yes, to Chez Pierre, then."
Chez Pierre was, I was told, the fanciest restaurant in Lawndale. Snooty French cuisine, and snooty fake French waiters. I tried to deal with the maitreíd in French, but I mustíve made some mistake, because he smiled---and Quinn giggled. It hurt, hearing her giggle. Thinking about it even now still hurts.
But I tipped the guy a twenty and, and we checked our coats and I escorted Quinn to our table. It was good table, or so it seemed to me, ignorant fool that I was. Yes, at the time I thought I was top of the world---Iíd been all over the world, and thought that made me sophisticated. What did I know?
We ordered. I let her order first. She ordered the most expensive item on the menu, and, not to look cheap, I ordered the same thing. I even tried to order a bottle of wine---but, naturally, even though I hadnít been carded the waiter knew we were both underage.
The small talk we made seemed to be working---like I said, Iíd been around the world and I tried to dazzle her with talk of all the interesting places Iíd been. I tried to listen to her, too---she told me a lot about girlís clothes I didnít know, and also much about her friends, the other girls at the school---and her other boyfriends. That made me grit my teeth, but I kept quiet.
In fact, the stories she told of her other dates made me wonder. How I could keep up? I had blown most of my wad on this date. Where would I come up with another eight hundred?
Before our date was over, I found the point was moot. Before our food came---for a fancy restaurant, service at Chez Pierre was incredibly slow---she excused herself to go "powder her nose." That was the exact way she put it---at the time, I thought it was adorable.
But time passed. The food came. I didnít think it polite to start eating without her. I waited...and waited...all the while turning and glancing towards the, er, "powder room."
But my glance happened to glance towards the entrance---just long enough to see Quinn getting her coat---and going off with another guy. I recognized him. One of our classmates. I leapt up and ran out after them---but I wasnít fast enough. They were gone. Iíd been ditched.
The maitreíd was at my elbow as I stood in the doorway. The bill in his hand came to precisely twenty-three dollars and eighty-seven cents more than I had with me. If Vance the chauffeur hadnít taken mercy on me---at five for six---I might still be there.
I cornered Quinn at school the next day. "Well," she said, "I ran into Chad, and he has a Porsche."
"But I had a Rolls-Royce!" I said.
"Yeah, but it wasnít really yours, you just borrowed it for the night. See Ďya!" And she was gone---and out of my life. No more dates, not even conversation.
It was tough. The story went all over school. Some---Daria, the brain, for one---tut-tutted over my stupidity but werenít really harsh. Most laughed their head off. Those three idiots said they were going to beat me up for dating their Quinn, but I didnít care what they thought.
Or what Quinn thought. Remember that quote from that old movie? "Iíve had her, Iím over it, Iím immune." I took a long look at Quinn, and myself, and our relationship---our lack of a relationship---and realized there was no relationship. She might look good, but I couldnít connect with her. I never would. There wasnít any point in trying. It was over. I was immune.
Of course, I was gone a couple of weeks later, too. My Dad came back from wherever and we were on our way to somewhere else. Distance gave me more time for thought, and---well, I was over it.
"You know the rest---itís an old, old story. / Iíve got a new kind of heartburn / And, friend, if youíre smart learn my lesson--- / Donít go messiní with Flame."
This parody of "Daria" is copyright © 2003 by Robert Nowall. It is not intended to profit the author in any way, and may not be distributed without permission of the author. (That means please donít post or circulate this without getting in touch with me first.) For the time being, Robert Nowall can be reached at: RobtNowall@aol.com
"Flame" written by Neil Diamond.
Thanks to Crusading Saint, Steven Galloway, Greystar, Roger E. Moore, Mistress Thea, and ttd for their beta reading comments.
Written 4/16/03 to 5/17/03