On a windy day in February, high school senior, Stella Johansen waits on her front porch bundled up in a stylish tan coat and clutching a pale green purse that matches her dress. The red Camaro pulls up fast to the curb, coming to a screeching halt. Luis Santiago, also a senior, jumps out of the car, outstretches his arms and shouts, “Hey Stella!” repeatedly, just like Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Stella cringes, looks both ways hoping none of the neighbors are witnessing what a spectacle he’s making of himself. She hurries down the porch steps and leans against the railing; “I’m right here jackass, you don’t have to shout.” She watches his smile vanish and sees the hurt in his eyes. Instantly, she regrets saying it.
“Damn, I’m about to spend a boatload of money for dinner and a movie and you call me a jackass.” He points a friendly finger in her direction; “That’s not very nice.”
“Sorry,” she says, truly meaning it.
“I thought you’d get a kick out of it since your name is Stella and it’s a famous movie line and…”
“Yeah, I get it; I’m quite familiar with the movie. It’s just that everybody does that Brando nonsense of shouting Stella at me and they all think they’re so clever. I just hate it.”
“Fair enough,” Luis says, taking her by the arm to help her on the walkway. “Thanks,” she says; “My father threw down salt, but it’s still rather slippery.”
He attempts to open the car door for her, but she gets to it first. As they settle themselves in his car, she pushes back her hair, adjusts her dress and clears her throat. “Listen, I want us to go Dutch-treat,” she says. He looks in her direction and she is instantly charmed by his bright white smile.
“Nope, first date, I’m paying. If we have a second date, you can pay.” Their eyes meet and linger. “Deal?” he asks.
“Deal,” she says. They shake on it and she tingles at the feel of his strong grip and the roughness of his hand.
On the drive to the restaurant, the heat is running full throttle. “Let me know if it gets too hot,” he says.
“It’s perfect,” she replies. She thinks to herself that so few boys, or girls, from their senior class have their own cars. It’s an older model Camaro, but still she’s impressed and wants to say so, but doesn’t want him thinking she only likes him for his car; so, she doesn’t say it.
“For what it’s worth, your Brando was spot-on,” she says. “My parents actually met at a college production of the play. They were both students at Syracuse University and a mutual friend was in the play. They love telling the story of how they first met during intermission, how it was love at first sight and yadda yadda yadda. After graduation, they stayed here, planted roots. Gradually, they lost their accents, but I laugh sometimes thinking how their conversations must’ve sounded back then with Dad being from rural Minnesota and Mom a New Englander from Boston. But they talk normal now like everyone else in Syracuse. The play’s a big deal in their lives so when it came to naming me and my sister, they went with Stella and Blanche from that play.”
“That’s kind of sweet,” Luis says.
“Blanche insists I got the better name, but I disagree. Stella is an old lady’s name.”
Luis smirks and says something in Spanish. She doesn’t understand his words, other than her name, so he translates: “Be proud, Stella is an awesome name.”
“Well, I don’t like it. Don’t like Tennessee Williams’ plays much either. They’re so melodramatic, all those Southerners fanning themselves in the sweltering heat, all the brooding, drinking, sexual trysts, mental abuse and emotional outbursts. Ugh!”
“That’s what makes them so damn good,” Luis says.
They dine at a trendy restaurant famous for its Northern Italian cuisine and take in a new movie that turns out to be one that neither of them particularly like. “Didn’t live up to the hype,” Luis says.
“The plot was flimsy,” Stella says. Yet they both agree they’re having a grand time.
Before bringing her home, he takes a detour and parks at Onondaga Lake. He keeps the car running with the heat blasting and the wipers on. Snow is falling, but it’s not the kind that sticks. The lake glistens from his Camaro’s headlights. Fluffy flakes of swirling snow dance in the wind, surrounding the car like a snow globe that’s just been shaken. Inside the Camaro, they are toasty warm with his arm around her shoulder, her head against his chest. “This is nice,” Luis says. He takes her hand in his, gives it a tight squeeze. The car rattles from a steadfast wind; their hearts rattle from something far more primal.
Stella clears her throat. “Maybe Tennessee Williams isn’t so bad,” she says wistfully. “Maybe on our second date we can watch a Tennessee Williams movie. So many of his plays have been made into movies, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, The Night of …”
“You just asked me out; guess we’re going on a second date,” he says. His bright white smile beams.
“Yes, and yes,” she says.
Stella envisions Tennessee Williams’ ghostly approval from the heavenly beyond and she puts words in his mouth. “Nothing wrong with steamy Southern passion, even for two Yankees way up north in Syracuse. This car, my dear, is smoldering with heat and it’s not coming from the vents.” She smiles at the words, then sends Tennessee Williams on his way. She only has room in her mind right now for Luis Santiago. She takes a deep breath; his cologne is intoxicating. Luis caresses her jawline and moves in for a kiss. Outside, joyful flakes of snow continue to dance in the wind.
Paul Germano lives in Syracuse, smack dab in the center of New York State. More than 50 of his stories have been published, in print and online, in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.