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THE CHARMER





          It was an autumn Saturday afternoon.  The New Mexico sun shone, but without the warmness of summer.  The wind blew off the mesa towards our group of five, as we walked to the Hoffman Town shopping area. A new record store had opened and I had two dollars tucked in my jeans pocket.  I was going to buy the latest singles: “Peggy Sue” and “Maybe Baby.”

          I walked between Joey and Dave.  Joey was Dave’s friend and he tagged along everywhere we went. I didn’t mind, the three of us had a lot of fun together.

          “Shorty, when are you going to grow up?” Dave laughed as he patted the top of my head.

          “I may be short, but I’m mighty!” I teased back with a nudge.  Joey entered into the playful antics as we joked around.

          The three of us turned and waited for the “lovebirds’ to catch up.  Their arms were entangled around each other and I felt a twinge of embarrassment as they kissed.

          “Come on you two, or we’ll never get there,” I admonished.

          Slowly they unglued and began strolling until they caught up.  They were always demonstrative in their affection towards each other.  No matter who was around.  Dave and I held hands and when we said goodbye he would peck me on the lips. (Unless Joey was watching.)  But, our friends, bringing up the rear, had a different kind of love.  It bordered on the edge of..."desperate."  They were cemented together as two lone souls adrift from the rest of the world.

          Chuck was tall and husky with dark hair and blue eyes, set over sprinklings of freckles on his cheeks.  He had the appearance of a healthy American lad.  Even my mom had been smitten with him.

          “He’s such a polite young man,” she said when she met him.

          To look at Chuck you would never know he had a problem.  But, there were rumors that if he got into trouble again he would be sent to Springer's reform School.  Just last year, Chuck had run away from home.  He bragged of hitchhiking to California.  He kept us spellbound with his tales.  We could feel the hair on the back of our neck prickle as he told us of one experience.

         According to Chuck, he fought off the advances of a man who picked him up and Chuck demanded to be let out of the car.  The driver pulled over and Chuck exited in a flash.  Chuck was left by the side of the road to thumb another ride.

          Chuck’s mother worked as a carhop at a drive-in restaurant and there was no father in his home.  I often wondered if Chuck’s dad was in California, and perhaps Chuck had hitchhiked there to search for him.  
          My own father, Kenneth, was on the West Coast.  I mused that perhaps all divorced fathers headed for California.  All of this concerning Chuck’s dad, was purely speculation on my part.  Chuck revealed himself within limits, and then he would clam up.  I had the feeling there were many secrets hidden inside of him.  I also noticed he had no close friends.  He hung around with us because of Barbara.

          Barbara and I were best of friends.  She was full of chatter and giggles.  She was a live wire, dishwater blond.  All Barb ever thought of or talked about was Chuck.  She was completely captivated.

          “Our lives will always be inseperatable,” she would dramatize.

          Barb’s mother would like to have separated the two.  She was against the relationship and viewed Barb as a willful teenager.  Barb was hardheaded it was true.  She was determined to do what she pleased, despite her mother’s disapproval. 
            Barb’s home was also without a father.  She had confided to me her displeasure and dread of her mother’s approaching marriage. I had spent the night at Barb’s house a number of times and the icy tension  was obvious.  I also noticed, from their standard of living, that there were no apparent financial difficulties.  Barbara lacked for nothing materially but emotionally she clung to Chuck.

          As we neared the shopping area, I remembered Mom’s comment when I told her Chuck had been in trouble.  “All that boy needs is a good home and a family.  Why, that young man could charm anyone.”

          “Yes, Chuck was charming.  He had charmed Barbara, mom and me.  But, was a charmer someone who was real and trustworthy?  We would find out in the months that followed.