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Wrong Side of The Tracks, Part II
Anjanette Baker knew who she was and didn't care what you thought about that.
In a word, Angie had swagger.
Not Suwanne's brand of swagger; the lick your lips, swivel your hips, smiling wide with twinkling eyes kind of swagger. No.
Angie was a force.
Brown hair tousled over delicate features, with a slender neck stretched tall above her soft, relaxed shoulders – like she was peering into a future the rest of us couldn't see.
Her clothes weren't new, but they weren't old either. Angie just had a way about her. I mean, she was a presence everywhere she went.
And boy, when she went.
The way she smiled, laughed, and led with her chin. Her swing and sway turned everyone's head.
Angie and Suwannee... man!
Wouldn't they make the perfect couple?
Suwanee swaggered in and held out his hand, expecting Angie to swoon.
But instead of swooning for Suwanee as we all expected, Angie did what only Angie would do.
With a smile and a twirl, Angie spun away, swept the camera out of my hands, handed it over to Suwanee, and said,
"Here, you want a picture? Take one of us."
The resulting photograph became an instant yearbook classic.
Sweet, petite, pretty little Anjanette Baker – arms entwined around mine, eyes afire, smiling at the camera, her delicate little head resting on my shoulder...
And me, Fat Camera Kid without his camera, looking down at the prettiest girl in school like she's some kind of alien.
The real surprise wasn't what Angie did...
Whisking the camera away, handing it over to Mike, snuggling up close, and posing for that instant classic photograph with this chubby little eighth-grader – that was Anjanette Baker through and through.
No, the real surprise is what she said right before she did it.
Right before she struck that pose, up close with this chubby little pug.
Angie leaned in and whispered ever so gently...
"You know he's just using you, right?"
"You and me," she said, stepping back, taking hold of my arm...
"We're from the wrong side of the tracks."
I'd only gotten about a block away before Suwanee caught up.
Breathless from running and laughing all the way, "Hey! Hey! Photographer kid!" "Hey, hold on a second, wait up!"
Seems all those whispered promises to so many girls put Suwanee in quite a pickle – all of them thinking they were the one.
"I barely made it out alive," he laughed.
We walked. Suwanee talked...and talked, and talked some more.
I listened to Suwanee's stories, but there wasn’t much for me to say.
I've never had to hide from girls, captained a football team, or scored the winning touchdown. And I have no idea what it feels like to have your own motorcycle or ride snowmobiles in the winter through the city streets with your police chief dad.
Eventually, though, after so many stories, Suwanee ran out of things to say.
We walked along in silence for a while.
I don't know what got into me.
"Which way?" Suwanee asked. "Where 'bouts do you live?"
I was sorry before the words left my mouth.
"Bet you never jumped a train," I said.
Now, I'd jumped the trains before – lots of times. But only with my big brother, Dale.
See, Dale was 19 and worked at the factory – loading and unloading boxcars full of auto parts.
Dale knew how the trains ran, where they were going, and which ones were safe to ride.
"Do what I say, and you'll be fine," he'd tell me. And that had always been true.
But on my own? I had no clue.
Next thing I know, Suwanee and I are hanging off the side of a slow-moving freight train headed west out of the factory.
"Just follow my lead," I told him. "Just do what I say. You'll be fine."
Everything was going just great.
Until it wasn't.
"Hey!" Swanee yelled up at me, "We ain't slowin' down. I mean, we're really moving out fast! How far does this thing go?"
Truth be told, I had no idea, and he was right. We were moving faster and further away from town every second – far and away, faster and further than I had ever gone with Dale.
"I don't think it's gonna stop, Suwanee!" I yelled back. "I think we better jump."
Suwannee's eyes bugged out, he looked scared and confused, and that shook up me even more.
"Jump!" I yelled. "We gotta jump, Suwanee! We gotta jump now!"
"Jump? Are you crazy? I ain't jumping! No way!"
So Much for Suwanee's Swagger
Now I'm not going to tell you that the toughest guy in school got scared, panicked, or freaked out.
And I would definitely never say the coolest guy in school lost his cool.
But I will absolutely tell you he lost his shoes.
Both of them. And I mean lost forever.
So, I gave Suwanee my shoes… My older brother Dale’s platform shoes, to be clear.
Scuffed up and worn, and not mine to give away, but he promised he'd return them the very next day.
So I walked home barefoot.
The next day at school, Suwanee was more popular than ever. You should’ve seen him entertaining the crowd.
"This was the redeye headed for Chicago," Suwanee stretched out his arm, inviting the throng into his sweeping tale.
"And there I was hanging from the lead car – speeding down the westbound rail."
"No way!" they said. They couldn’t believe it!
And frankly, neither could I.
"I would’ve ridden her all the way too if it wasn’t for the football game tonight. I knew I had to be here for my team no matter what."
Chin to my chest, I shuffled down the hall, making my way to class.
Fat Camera Kid.
"Like it never happened, right?" Angie spun me around by the arm.
"Don’t let them get to you, Paul. It’s not worth your time, and besides..."
Angie looked me dead in the eye.
"They need us more than we’ll ever need them."
"In fact," she said with a cock of her head, "I don’t think we need them at all."
Angie smiled, winked, spun, and sped off, clearing a path as she went.
Finally, on the right side of the tracks
After school, I waited and followed her home, just to be close to her truth.
Too shy to try, I lagged behind, just a few steps to her right.
"Hey Paul," she said without turning around, "Come walk with me, carry a girl's books home from school."
We walked. We talked and talked some more like the two of us were old best friends.
When we got to the tracks, I stopped, and so did she.
"I’m this way," she said with a tousle and smile. "Do you have much further to go?"
"Not far, I said, with a nod of my head. "Down the tracks just a little way, and then a little way more, and maybe a little way further than that."
Angie laughed. "Aww, how sweet. You walked me home while going so far out of your way."
She reached in to grab her books, or at least that's what I thought she would do.
But Angie never did what you thought she would do.
She smiled, pulled me close, her tiny hands on each side of my face.
And there, standing on the tracks, late autumn sunshine reflected in her dark chocolate eyes, Anjanette Baker gave me – Paul Anthony D'Arcy – the very best first kiss a guy ever had.