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First Love – Part 57

First Love coverAs they are saying goodnight, they hear an explosion outside.

Moments later, all their friends were downstairs, trying to get into the kitchen all at once. Clayton tried to use the phone, but the line was dead. It proved unnecessary. Police cars and a fire engine pulled up minutes later. From the kitchen windows, they could see flames and rubble where the torreón had been.

“I’m going out,” Craig said. “They may need help.” He jogged upstairs to dress.

The boys decided to go with him. Since Clayton and Daniel were still fully clothed, they ran outside. The others dashed after Craig, to dress. The torreón was gone. Instead, a blackened pit full of charred debris greeted them. Over all the noise, they heard a voice calling faintly.

“You hear that?” Daniel asked.

“Yeah. Where’s it coming from?”

“Over there.”

They ran over to a pile of adobe bricks and wooden beams. They saw someone trapped under it. A lock of pale silver hair peeped out of the ruins.

“Oh, my God! I think it’s Claire!” Daniel yelled. “Hey! Hey! Over here!” He ran toward the rescue workers, waving his arms.

The emergency workers rushed over. Claire was silent.

“Oh, Christ! I think she’s dead!” Daniel fell to his knees. “Claire? Can you hear me?”

A faint whimper sounded.

“Thank God! Claire, we have some men here. We’re going to try to move this stuff, okay?”

“Help,” she cried weakly. “Please, help us.”

“Us? There’s someone else there?”

Clayton ran back to the kitchen. “Claire’s trapped,” he told Craig. “She says someone else is with her.”

“Head count,” Craig ordered.

The teenagers lined up by the table. Jane was also missing. Beverly raised her hand, wincing when all eyes fell on her.

“I think I might know something.”

Craig whirled on her, ready to pounce. Polly stopped him.

“What do you know?” Polly asked calmly.

“Claire got a note from Gabe. He said to meet at the torreón at eleven. He had a surprise for her. She was excited. She has kind of a crush, you know? But she was scared to go alone, so she made Jane go with her. Are they okay?” Her voice rose in pitch like a little girl’s.

“She was alive when I came in,” Clayton reported. “I’m going back out to see if I can help.”

“I’m coming too,” Craig said. “The rest of you stay here. No one goes anywhere. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir,” they chorused.

Clayton followed Craig outside. They stopped on the porch while Polly bolted the door.

 

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First Love – Part 56

First Love coverSpending a quiet time with Daniel and Patti, Clayton and Maddie end up making out (as do Patti and Daniel) until Patti gets angry and slaps Daniel for coping a feel. She runs to the bathroom with Maddie following her.

“He thinks I’m a freak, doesn’t he?”

“No. He just wonders what he did to upset you.”

“I dated this guy before we moved here. Gordon. He was really cute and popular. I could hardly believe he liked me. He found out I’m a virgin and I want to save myself for marriage. I told him that.”

“He didn’t—molest—you, did he?”

“Almost. I screamed, loudly, and people found us. But he told everyone I wanted it. He made up stories of things we’d done. I was humiliated, shunned—or hit on by everyone with a dick. He said horrible things. When the chance came to move here, I was so thrilled. I could start over where no one knew. Daniel is sweet. And he’s so adorable. I panicked when he touched me.”

“Guys are gonna cop a feel, Patti. They can’t help it. I think their brains shut down when they’re horny.”

“She’s right, you know.” Daniel stood in the open doorway, dark hair mussed from necking with Patti. Hands in his pockets, he looked forlorn. “I’m sorry I upset you. When kissing a gorgeous redhead, the male brain reverts to Neanderthal and we do things we wouldn’t otherwise try. If you’ll forgive me, I promise I’ll sit on my hands.”

“You’re forgiven. Do you forgive me for slapping you?”

“Completely forgotten. And far less than I probably I deserved—considering the thoughts I was having.”

“Can’t condemn a man for his thoughts,” Clayton said from out in the hall. “Or we’d all be in prison.”

“Or lynched,” Daniel added.

“Or in hell,” Clayton concluded.

Maddie went into the hall to stand by Clayton. They didn’t leave, but they wanted Daniel and Patti to have a moment alone.

“I promise I’ll do my best not to feel you up,” Daniel continued. “But it’s kinda tough—that whole hot redhead thing and all.”

“You’re pretty hot yourself,” Patti admitted. “And I’ll try not to slap you again.”

“Unless I deserve it.”

“It’s getting late,” Clayton said, glancing at his watch. “We should probably head to our rooms and settle in.”

“Yeah,” Maddie sighed. “So, I guess this is goodnight.”

“Yeah.”

No one made a move to leave.

“Do we kiss goodnight, or what?” Patti asked.

“If you want,” Daniel offered, grinning. He moved toward her.

Their lips had barely touched when a rumble like thunder sounded, followed by a huge explosion, very close. The girls screamed.

“Jesus! What was that?” Clayton ran to the door.

Maddie stopped him. “Don’t you dare go out there. We don’t know what’s happened.”

 

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First Love – Part 55

First Love coverTheir dinner is delicious and the entertainment, provided by Gabe, Jose and Luis, is superb. The last dance of the night, the band sings Into the Mystic by Van Morrison. Clayton asks Maddie to dance, holding her close.

“I love you, Maddie,” he whispered.

She barely heard him over the music, but she knew what he’d said. She turned her head so her mouth was right by his ear. “I love you, too,” she murmured.

His fingers twined in her hair as he brought her mouth close. His kiss fully expressed his love for her. They stopped dancing, lost in their kiss.

A sharp, jarring note on the guitar made them pull apart. Gabe barely missed a beat, winking and tipping his hat. Fortunately, the chaperones were lost in their own little worlds as well. Craig and Polly had eyes only for one another. Even Caroline and Leslie were lost in one another’s gaze. Only their friends saw them and none of them would tell. In fact, several of the other teen couples were exchanging a furtive kiss or two.

All too soon, the music ended and the musicians took their instruments back inside. The youth group members were the last to leave, staying behind to talk to their New Mexico friends. With hugs and kisses all around, they finally got back in their cars and headed back to the church compound.

No one felt like sleeping. They were all too excited by their wonderful night and delicious meal. The teenagers sat up talking and laughing, long after the adults retired. They sat in the kitchen, eating leftovers and drinking sodas. Gradually, they headed for bed, leaving Clayton, Maddie, Daniel and Patti alone in the common room.

“Can you believe how well they played?” Maddie gushed. “And such great music! All my favorites.”

Patti giggled, nodding. “I think that was Gabe’s doing. Didn’t you notice how he kept asking you about your favorite songs?”

“I thought he was just making conversation.”

“Totally clueless,” Patti said.

They laughed a few minutes, falling into an awkward silence. It soon became apparent that the boys didn’t feel like talking anymore. They had something else on their minds. Perhaps it was a glance, or maybe that gentle pressure on the back of her neck. Maddie wasn’t sure, but she found herself in Clayton’s arms. Right before closing her eyes, she saw Patti moving closer to Daniel.

A few delicious minutes passed. Their bliss was interrupted by Patti slapping Daniel. She hopped off the couch, shoving him away. Totally flummoxed by her actions, Daniel squinted up at her, holding his cheek.

“I don’t know what you’ve been told about me, Daniel. But I don’t do that!”

“Do what? We were kissing.”

“Like you weren’t copping a feel!”

“I was? Maybe? Shit, Patti. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

“Patti,” Clayton spoke sharply to get her attention. “He’s not that guy, okay? Daniel’s cool. One of the good guys.”

Patti burst into tears. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She ran from the room.

Maddie followed, finding her in the bathroom.

 

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First Love – Part 54

First Love coverThe group arrives at the Rancho for dinner. It is a beautiful and rustic place that makes them feel right at home.

Maddie sat between Clayton and Patti, enjoying the beauty of the place. She felt as if she’d been transported back in time.

They made their meal choices and sipped their iced tea. As they chatted, pointing out items of interest to one another, a band dressed in typical Spanish mariachi band outfits, complete with wide sombreros, walked into the courtyard. There were four of them, two guitars, a huge acoustic bass guitar and a trumpet. A sparkle of notes on the steel twelve string caught their attention. The familiar opening strains of Black Magic Woman made them all smile.

Maddie couldn’t keep still. She clapped and sang with the band. Their waitress, Shelly, leaned over, speaking to Clayton.

“Would you like to dance, Maddie? Shelly said it’s okay.”

She hopped up, taking his hand. Daniel asked Patti, Richard paired up with Beverly and Brad asked Claire. Boys from the New Mexico group invited Jane and Denise to join them. Even the chaperones got up to dance.

The singer’s voice was familiar. Maddie stared at him a moment and realized it was Luis. Next to him, the wide brim of his hat shading his face, was Gabe. On trumpet, they saw Ted and playing bass, a man they didn’t know by name. They recognized him as one of the men who had been guarding them. The song progressed to the drum solo and the men parted ranks. Jose stepped forward, a set of bongos strapped to his chest. They backed him as he did an fabulous drum solo, dancing to the beat. All too soon, the song ended. The entire restaurant rose to their feet, applauding and cheering loudly. Gabe stepped forward, sweeping off his hat.

“We dedicate that song to our friends from Nebraska. Your friendship has meant so much to us, we wanted to see you smile.” His eyes lingered on Maddie. “We’re here for the next hour or so—basically, until they throw us out. I hope you enjoy the show.”

Their meals were served and the youth group members sat down to eat while the band played a variety of Spanish themed music. Their music ranged from Peter Green and Carlos Santana to Spanish flamenco and other folk music from Mexico and Spain.

Nearly two hours later, the restaurant neared closing. They announced their last number. Gabe stepped forward, his fingers dancing across the strings before he played the opening chords of a soft melody. His voice rose over the soft melody as the others gradually joined him singing the beautiful song by Van Morrison.

“…. Let your soul and spirit fly Into the Mystic….”

Clayton held out a hand to Maddie, asking her silently to dance. Nodding, she walked with him to the dance floor. He took her in his arms, holding her against his body. The others joined them and no one scolded them for dancing so close. Maddie rested her head on Clayton’s shoulder as they slow danced. She closed her eyes, feeling his arms around her, his hand pressing in the small of her back.

 

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First Love – Part 53

First Love coverGabe and Clayton have a chat and the New Mexico youth tells his Nebraska buddy that he’s going to back off with Maddie. He’s very attracted to her, but he can see how much the two of them care about each other. He asks what music Maddie likes, or doesn’t, and Clayton teases her, saying they will be there all night if she gets started.

Gabe and Luis nodded, waving. “Thanks, man!” They chorused.

“We’d better get going,” Gabe said suddenly. “I hate to split, but we’ve got something to do for my mom. See you at dinner.” He got up, heading to his truck with Luis.

Maddie was puzzled by Gabe’s sudden departure. He didn’t even say goodbye to her. Frowning, she picked up the remnants of her meal and helped with the cleanup. Clayton made sure he was by her side the entire time, talking and joking. She soon regained her smiles and happy mood. They spent another hour on the torreón before Jose called it a day. Tonight, they would dine at his wife’s restaurant. He was very proud of her business.

“Best food in the county,” he bragged. “Maybe the whole state.”

Once they were all bathed and ready, they piled into the cars. The girls were dressed in brightly colored sundresses. The boys all wore Izod shirts with khakis, almost as if it were a uniform. A party atmosphere enlivened them. Even Claire smiled and laughed with the rest. They arrived at dusk. The Rancho was an original adobe building, which had been in that spot since the Spanish missionaries arrived.

“This was originally a mission church,” Jose told them. “Then everyone was killed by Indians. A few years later, Maria’s ancestors fixed it up and moved in. They started a small farm, which grew and grew. Now, it’s over a hundred acres. The restaurant sits in the middle of it. They supply all their own vegetables and fruit. The milk and cheese comes from our dairy. We even supply our own meat.”

The building was low, squat and sprawling. The smooth adobe walls were painted a light fawn. The sidewalk leading to the front door was made of flagstones. The door was thick oak, trimmed with strips of ornately crafted cast iron. Inside, they found tile floors and beautifully decked tables, graced with candles in cut-tin lanterns. Jose led them through the restaurant to the courtyard beyond. More like a plaza, this was easily half the size of a football field. The main building flanked the west side. The second kitchen building, separate from the main restaurant, stood to the south. Also made of adobe, it was painted a stark and glittering white.

Smiling waiters and waitresses, many of whom were in the church youth group, waited for them by a series of white clothed, wrought iron tables. The chairs were heavy wood with brightly colored cushions. Waiters helped the women with their chairs as the waitresses handed out menus and took drink orders.

The courtyard was ringed with brightly colored paper lanterns, suspended on wires, that danced in the light evening breeze. The plaza sloped gradually to a wide expanse of garden. It was lavishly landscaped with native plants, dotted with sculptures by local artists. Everywhere they looked, their eyes met old world charm. The waitresses were dressed in ruffly flamenco style dresses, with silk flowers in their hair. The men were dressed in black pants with white shirts and cummerbunds.

 

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First Love – Part 52

First Love coverGabe, realizing that Clayton is upset about Maddie’s interest, goes to talk to him. He confesses that he’s jealous of Clayton because all Maddie has talked about—is him.

“Yeah. You’ve got an amazing girl. If I were a real prick, I’d beat your ass and carry her away. But since I’m a gentleman, I’m stepping off. I can see how much she cares about you. I might want her for myself, but I can’t. You helped find Claire, a girl you clearly can’t stand. I think that’s the most honorable thing I ever saw anyone do.” He held out his hand to Clayton. “So, go sit by your lady before one of the others notices I’m gone and moves in on her.”

Clayton laughed, shaking Gabe’s hand. “Thank you. I didn’t want to lose her, but—crazy as it seems, if she went with anyone…. You’re a good man, too.”

They walked back to the trees and relaxed in the shade. Clayton took a seat near Maddie and Gabe dropped under a tree, on the other side of the circle.

“Clayton, what was that song you were telling me about? That one—with the thing….”

“What song with what thing?”

“That wa-wa voice thingy. You know! The guy with all the hair.” Her hand gestures were typically vague and totally Maddie.

Clayton hid a smirk. He knew who and what she meant, he simply loved to torment her. “Oh, that clears it right up, babe. What color hair?”

“Blond. I think. Curly. Skinny, British, almost as cute as you.”

“Peter Frampton?”

“Yes!” She kissed his cheek without thinking. “That song by Frampton—?” She waited for him to supply the name.

Do You Feel Like We Do.”

“Yes, thank you!” She paused. “Now I can’t remember what I was saying about it.”

“You like Frampton?” Luis asked.

“Do I!”

“What other musicians do you like?”

“Now, you’ve done it,” Clayton said. “Have you got an hour, maybe two?” He grinned, laughing when Maddie took a swing at him. Her knuckles connected with his upper arm and he yelped. “Ouch, Clayton Abuse!”

“You make me sound like some kind of freak.”

“On the contrary, extensive musical taste is cool. As long as it’s not disco,” he replied. “Cause that stuff sucks.”

Polly cleared her throat.

“Sorry. Stinks.”

“Okay, then. But he’s right. I could go on for the next four hours and not remember everyone.”

“Guess it’s easier to ask what you don’t like,” Luis replied with a smirk.

“Don’t get her started on that either,” Clayton suggested. “In fact, shy away from music entirely unless you want to be stuck here for the rest of the year.”

Maddie balled up her fist.

“I’m kidding! Sheesh!”

Les came to the porch. “Jose, Maria called. She said to remind the boys about tonight.”

 

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First Love – Part 51

First Love coverClayton’s approach to Maddie doesn’t go as planned. He ends up spraying himself with Dr. Pepper. He heads to the back of the building to hose the soda off himself.

Patti followed. “That went well.”

“Shut up.”

“You want her? Bring your A Game.”

“What if I don’t have one? What if bumbling buffoon is my A Game? Huh?”

Patti crossed her arms, eyeing him in disgust. “What I saw last night in the bathroom, that was A Game. This—I don’t know what this is.” She waved her hands angrily.

Clayton leaned close, talking quietly. “I’m terrified! I can’t go up to her now and lay one on her. And I sure can’t go up and flirt when she’s with him.”

“Fine. Sneak another grope in the bathroom.” She stalked away.

Clayton shut off the hose and put it away. He wanted to be alone, but knew better than to run off. Instead, he wandered behind the building and sat on stack of lumber.

“Be careful, man. Spiders love that shit.”

The voice startled him and he jumped. Wood clattered beneath him. Gabe sat next to him, offering Clayton another half sandwich.

“Look, man. I get it. And I’ll back off. I never stepped on a friend’s action. Not gonna start now.”

“Jesus, am I that obvious?” Clayton took the sandwich with a nod of thanks.

“Only cause I see the same look on your face that I know is on my own. By damn, she’s a babe! Not only that, she’s smart and funny. Any man would be lucky to have her for his girl. But after this week, you all go home. It’s not fair to Maddie to start something that’s doomed to fail. Long distance relationships don’t do well.”

“True. She really seems interested in you.”

Gabe shrugged, shaking his head. “She’s incredible. She doesn’t even know how beautiful she is. How can she not see it?”

Clayton chuckled. “What you see right now, the whole hot babe thing?” He waved one hand in a circle like he was cleaning a mirror. “That happened less than a year ago. She was always cute, but braces and no chest.” He rubbed his hand over his own. “All of a sudden, Wham! Braces came off and the lusciousness developed. But, damn, if I haven’t loved her since we were fourteen. Hell, probably earlier than that. It’s just then that I had a name for it. And we had our first kiss on her fifteenth birthday.” He laughed, remembering. “Crazy awkward. I bruised her lip, slamming into her mouth too fast. Her braces.” He motioned to his lips. “But it got better. Still—not much since. She thinks I’m a dork.”

“Well, if that’s true, then she must like dorks. You know what she talked about the last thirty minutes?”

Clayton shrugged.

“You. She’s all, Clayton said this or Clayton did that. Or you know what Clayton thinks? You know how jealous I am of you right now?”

You’re jealous—of me?” Clayton had to laugh. He’d spent the last thirty minutes dead jealous of Gabe.

 

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