“His name is Kole. His name is Kole,” I repeated to myself silently, as the two got into the car and settled themselves comfortably, too comfortably, I feared, into the back seat.
“Kole, Kole, Kole,” I insisted under my breath.
I glanced at him in the rearview mirror. He looked nice enough with his shock of black hair and freckle splattered cheeks. I caught a whiff of cologne, certainly not after- shave, his face more boy than man, and smiled smugly. I could take him down. If necessary, one well-aimed bump of my hip could bring him to his knees. I examined his slight build and corrected myself. Physical violence would not be necessary. My purse could flatten him, both straps tied behind its back.
I knew him. As soon as my daughter uttered his name months ago with her petal pink lips, the research began. All it took really was a few phone calls to a couple of well- connected mothers, and I was armed with his life history. I knew him, but he did not know me.
“I am Greek!” I wanted to scream and shock that confident smirk off his face. “We make soup out of genitals and serve it to our families at Easter!” I shuddered, recalling how my own father would make an elaborate show of pulling his guns out of a gleaming glass case he kept in the living room when a boy would have the audacity to come to the house to pick me up for a date. One by one he would lovingly polish each gun with a rag, his white undershirt stained with sweat. As a result, I had many first dates in high school, but never a second.
Where was my dad when I needed him? As a single mom, I appeared docile. I baked cookies. I served brownies and joked. But inside, I seethed and plotted. If only the poor boy could read the thoughts behind my carefully made up face, he would flee from the car, race back to the safety of the school and not look back.
It started off innocently enough, as things always do.
“There’s someone I want you to meet,” my precious 15 year-old daughter announced one day. She inhaled deeply and breathed, “Kole.”
“Coal?” I pronounced, the name bitter on my tongue. Like the piece of carbon Santa brings a bad boy for Christmas.
“Cole with a K,” she answered sweetly, dreamily. “K-O-L-E.”
“Kole. Oh…” I corrected myself. Like the Greek word kolo, the body part you sit on.
And so, it started. She thought he was perfect, Kole with a K, an aspiring musician, and I just thought he was one letter away from being an ass.
“I really like him, Mom,” she continued. “We’re going out.”
“Where are you going?” I demanded, knowing full well my daughter’s whereabouts at all times. I knew where she was 24 hours a day: school, church, basketball practice, in her room doing her homework, never remotely near anyone named Kole or his kolo.
She rolled her eyes dramatically. “We talk. We text. We sit together at lunch. Everyone knows we like each other,” she explained, as if to a two-year-old.
I breathed a sigh of relief. A crush, I thought. Puppy love. Nothing would ever come of this…
“He wants to take me to…”
“You didn’t let me finish…”
I pulled out my trump card. “Not until you’re 16.”
We ended up compromising. They were going out without going anywhere, and I pretended that was acceptable to me.
I made a few attempts at being a modern mom. I picked him up occasionally so they could study at Starbucks, two huge backpacks resting between them in the backseat, an impervious fortress.
Months passed and the inevitable happened.
She turned 16.
Outwardly, I celebrated. I threw a huge party for her and 30 of her closest friends and showered her with gifts.
Inwardly, I wailed. I tore at my hair and cursed my predicament.
She cornered me the day after her party.
“There’s a dance,” she began. “I want to go with Kole.”
“No,” I answered without thinking.
“But you promised! I’m 16. I’ll be getting my driver’s license soon.”
“No,” I stammered, but her excitement was contagious. After all, I had been young once, in love, bursting with anticipation, glowing with the warmth of a new romance. I scrutinized the mature, responsible young woman before me and fought the urge to be like my father.
And that was how I found myself in this predicament, driving this car, one eye on the road and one focused in the rear view mirror, spying on the young couple huddled together in the backseat, sitting shamelessly close, thighs touching, when there was clearly enough room for three full-sized strangers to spread out.
“How was the dance?” I asked.
“Oh, it was so much fun!” she gushed. “We danced all night. The band was great. Everyone liked my dress.”
I watched her in the rear-view mirror tug self-consciously at the bodice of her first strapless gown. Kole loosened his bowtie.
The hairs on the back of my neck sprang to attention. Something was not right. I changed lanes unnecessarily so I would have an excuse to look over my shoulder into the dark back seat.
It was then I saw it. His hand rested ever so lightly on my daughter’s pearly white, perfectly shaped knee.
“That’s my knee!” I wanted to shriek. “I gave birth to that knee! Get your grubby little hand off my perfect little knee or I’ll show you what a knee’s good for, you little…”
I calculated in my mind, 15 minutes, 12 minutes if I sped home. Twelve minutes of his feeling up my daughter’s knee. Rage blinded me as I fought the urge to pull over, drag him from the car by the neck of his shirt and kick him in the kolo.
I talked to distract them: death, war, the famine in Haiti, the earthquake in Chile. If only I could keep his dirty little mind, if not his hand, off my daughter’s knee. I glanced at the clock glowing on the dashboard. We had more than a ten minute drive to Kole’s house when the crisis hit; my daughter rested her beautiful head of curls on Kole’s shoulder, and closed her eyes.
“Look out!” I screamed, swerving the car violently. Her head flew left, then right from the sudden motion.
“Mom! What the…?”
“A dog!” I lied. “I almost hit that dog! Whew, what a close call. Could you imagine Kole scooping up that poor little poodle? He’d be ringing doorbells all night in his tuxedo, trying to find its owners.”
I turned on the radio to a Christian station and raised the volume to gospel proportions. I peeked at them in the rear view mirror as a chorus of nuns sang the Lord’s Prayer in soprano. Minutes went by. I had just turned onto Kole’s street when I saw him turn towards her, leaning closer, his pursed lips dangerously close to their mark.
Without thinking, I jammed on the brakes in the middle of the dark road. “This one’s for you, Dad,” I cackled to myself as the car screeched to a stop.
“Ow!” Kole cried, as his neck snapped forward, then back from the sudden halt. He clutched the back of his head as the pungent aroma of burned rubber filled the car.
“Mom, what’s wrong with you?” my daughter cried. “Kole, are you ok?”
“Cat! Didn’t you see that black cat in the middle of the road?” I fibbed with conviction. “The only thing worse than having a black cat cross in front of you is hitting one. We all would have had bad luck!” I quickly pulled up in front of Kole’s house, parked the car and immediately turned on the interior lights.
“Thank you for the ride,” he said in his best Eddie Haskell voice, rubbing the back of his neck where the whiplash had grabbed him.
“Anytime Kolo,” I cooed.
“It’s Kole,” he said resignedly.
“Of course, Kole,” I over pronounced. “And I do hope your neck feels better soon.”
I suppressed a smile as I watched him limp unsteadily up the front walk and enter his house. I turned to my daughter and patted her gently on the knee. “You never forget your first dance,” I whispered to the breathtaking princess in the back seat.
I pulled out carefully into the street. We took the long way home; there was no rush, and we did not hit a single animal along the way.