Whenever I tell someone that I went out with a member of G-Force, invariably I get the same reaction. The Eagle or the Condor? When I tell them no, they ask about the Owl, sometimes even the Swan. Everyone overlooks the Swallow.
We met at the roller rink. I knew Keyop in the vague way that you know kids from other classes who attend your grade at school. I knew that he was absent a lot, and rumor had it that he had an unusual medical condition that gave him a weird stutter and caused him to miss a lot of school. He also had a reputation for being fast with his fists, which kept most of the kids from teasing him, at least to his face. I was in awe of his bravery, not that I could ever tell him that. He was there with a couple of guys from his class; I was hanging out in the shadows with my two best girlfriends. Keyop didn't have a lot of friends, but then neither did I. We were both part of the geek crowd, the loser group, the rag-tag bunch of kids that none of the popular students want to associate with.
But Keyop was king of our group of nerds. He had a magnetic quality that made people want to stick by him, that made people feel safe. I watched him from a distance as my girlfriends teased me and tried to convince me to ask him to skate.
He was horsing around with his buddies on the far side of the rink, oblivious, when the tempo of the music shifted, the lights dimmed, and the announcer told us that all skate was over. It was time for couples only.
Normally, this was my cue to leave the rink proper and hide out in the bathroom. No one asked losers like me to skate. But it was my birthday, and my friends were determined to do something about it. They walked right over to Keyop, a $5 bill in hand, and paid him to skate with me.
I didn't know this at the time, of course. Keyop told me later, insisting in an earnest tone that he didn't actually take their money. I was mortified when I found out. I thought they had merely manhandled him in my direction. Sitting on a bench at the edge of the rink, I was retying my skates and trying to look invisible when he came over.
"Breep ... doot ... wanna skate?" He smiled at me, all earnestness and charm, somehow managing to make that number 4 T-shirt look attractive. I took in his bright eyes, dimpled smile, and deceptively fit physique and tried not to die on the spot. My friends were giggling in the corner, giving each other high fives. His friends were teasing him mercilessly - Lover boy! Kissy kissy! - but he didn't seem to mind.
Keyop held out his hand, slightly calloused and strong, and I clasped it gratefully. Couples only. I took a deep breath. I never thought I'd be on the rink when the lights dimmed and the disco ball descended, throwing flashes of colored light across the shiny wooden floor. In Keyop's arms, it was everything that my young mind imagined it could be.
He was a fabulous skater. Gliding across the floor with ease, he skated backwards so that we could talk. We had a lot in common. I learned that our fathers worked together at Galaxy Security, that we would see each other in a month at the company picnic. We set a date, my very first.
"Unless I get called out," he clarified.
"Called out?" I asked, confused.
Embarrassment flushed his cheeks pink. "Brrrip ... sorry. My dad ... gets called out on business. A lot." He nodded for emphasis.
"Is that why you miss so much school?"
He nodded again. The lights had come back on across the rink, a sure sign that couples skate was over, but he didn't stop holding my hand. Instead, he maneuvered me to the far end of the rink. There were two small booths back there where we could talk privately before our friends found us. A teen couple was playing tonsil hockey in one. He steered me the other way, never losing grip of my hand. We slid into the booth, our skates clanging against the wood. He took my other hand too and I smiled back shyly.
"Well, what have we here?" It was Rodger Simons, the biggest bully in our grade, a stocky kid with an upturned nose in an angry face. "Looks like K-K-K-Keyop's found himself the perfect partner." Rodger squinted at me, no doubt making fun of my thick glasses, and grabbed one of my braids and yanked it. I slunk back in my seat, mortified and scared.
Keyop was on his feet in an instant, fighting posture. There was real menace in his eye when he snarled, "L-l-leave her alone."
"You and what army?" Rodger taunted. He was on the floor in less than a minute, rubbing his jaw. The teens in the other booth clapped.
"Go," Keyop commanded, cocking his fist at Rodger. The boy scrambled to his skates, wide-eyed, and took off toward the front of the rink.
Keyop turned to me. "You ... okay?" he asked, softly. I nodded, still too frightened to trust my own voice.
The lights had dimmed again, another couples skate. This time, Keyop didn't ask. He grasped my hand and pulled me to my feet. Throwing an arm over me protectively, he led me around and around the rink, under the twinkling lights, never saying a thing. Then, when he knew my girlfriends weren't looking, he leaned in and kissed my cheek.
"Thanks for ... great night," he said. His wristwatch alarm was going off, sending additional sprinkles of light across the floor.
"I guess you have to go," I said. I couldn't keep the sorrowful tone out of my voice.
He nodded and leaned in to brush his lips against my forehead. "Miss you," he whispered. I closed my eyes, reveling in his touch.
"Call me," I whispered back, but I wasn't sure if he had even heard me. When I opened my eyes, he was gone and couples only had ended.
My girlfriends rushed up to me at that point, peppering me with questions.
"I heard he punched out Rodger Simons!" said one.
"Weren't you scared?" asked the other.
I shook my head. "He was amazing."