Under the Western Sky is my new retro romance. Why retro? Because it's set in 1976 when hip hugging bell bottoms and fros were the rage. Bands like Carlos Santana, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix set the music world on fire. It was a time of endless possibilities and promises waiting to be fulfilled. Bobby Menedez and Libby Marshall are poised on the edge of something wonderful. Their senior year looms in their future and their newly found love blossoms. Unfortunately, something ugly looms over them, obscuring their happiness -- Under the Western Sky
Libby Marshal leaned over the pool table, slender hips twitching to KC and the Sunshine Band. She hummed distractedly as she lined up her shot.
Bobby Menendez stood behind her, enjoying the view; his hands tingling to touch her. "Touch me and die, Roberto Hermida Menendez."
"Man! How did you know?"
She made her shot, long distance across the felt top, nearly nailing him in the balls with her pool cue as her arm drew back.
"Shouldn't stand so close," Danny said, across the table from her. "Oh, man, the view!"
Bobby held his hands the width of her hips apart. He bit his lip as she faced him, a frown on her face. Her green eyes flashed at him. With a toss of her short, blonde, curly hair, she moved away from him with a glare. His dark brown eyes followed her, longing on his well-tanned face.
"View's damn good over here, and safer," Danny grinned.
He'd been looking down her top as she bent over to shoot. He loved the fact that it was 1976 and even in this small, conservative, western Nebraska town, girls were liberated, freeing them from the confines of establishment undergarments. The no-bra look was great! And Libby had such perky tits. Bobby could have his dangerous ass view, Danny went for tits every time.
"Boys, behave," Toni's father said, from his office behind them.
Funny thing how Toni's old man always had work to do when the boys came over. He would casually follow the four of them down to the pool room in the basement and sit in his workroom fiddling with some electrical components while they played pool and listened to music. He didn't mind them coming over, but they weren't going to be unchaperoned either.
"Yes, sir," they chorused.
They stepped back, snapping to attention, not quite saluting. Each with military fathers, it was hard not to when he talked in that tone. He’d been fifteen years as a Marine before a shell shattered his right leg. Everyone in town called him Captain Cristo. Only the very brave called him Grant.
"Girls, Mom's got dinner almost ready. Why don't you hustle up and help her set the table?"
"Yes, sir," Libby replied, setting down her cue.
"Sure thing, Daddy." Toni leaned hers against the wall, leaving a blue streak of chalk.
The boys hesitated, unsure how to proceed. They hadn't been included in that request. Captain Cristo solved that for them by setting aside his work. He stood stiffly, the old war wound tightening up on him. He motioned them into his workroom, closing the door behind him.
"She may not be my daughter," he said, without preamble. "But you ogle her like that again, or put a hand on her," he looked right at Bobby, "and I'll break all three of your legs."
The boys exchanged a look. It took no explanation to know what the Captain meant. Hard as nails though he may be, the words, break your balls, would never pass his lips in his wife's house. He was very specific about language. Nothing stronger than damn passed anyone's lips under his roof in her house.
"It happens I like you boys, or you wouldn't be here." He glanced at Bobby, who shuffled his feet, but met his gaze.
"Thank you, sir," Bobby mumbled.
"I don't forget being eighteen. I venture to say, I was as horny and troublesome as you two. If the Marines hadn't grabbed me when they did, God knows where I'd have ended up."
"My dad says the same thing about himself," Danny ventured to interject quietly. "Only he was Army."
"A Ranger." Captain Cristo nodded sharply. "Damn fine heritage, boy. Your daddy too, Roberto. He was a great man. He died too soon.” He paused a moment, remembering Navarro Menendez with regret. "Just so we understand one another. Staying to dinner?"
"If Mrs. C. agrees," Danny looked hopeful.
"When doesn't she?"
"Honest, we don't plan it," Danny explained. "Just the girls call and invite us. It coincides."
"Not a problem, boys. It'll be a hard time for sure when I can't feed a couple extra mouths. Go wash up, Emma will be calling us soon."
They moved quickly to the small bathroom near the stereo and washed their hands under his supervision. They were drying their hands when his wife called from the kitchen above.
"Honey! Boys, dinner!"
"Coming, dear," Grant yelled back.
They walked up together, the boys slightly awkward with the Captain directly behind them. His eyes seemed to detect any inconsistencies, sifting away until he found the truth of it all.
"Let's have Bobby over here." Emma Cristo pointed to a chair next to the windows.
Libby was placing a large bowl of mashed potatoes on the table. She looked up, rather dismayed. Danny winked at her and Bobby took his place beside her. Toni and Danny sat opposite the other two teenagers.
"I swear," Emma said, after their blessing, "I may have given birth to one child, but I'm raising a dozen. Not that I mind. I love a big family. I've got seven brothers and three sisters," she told them, not for the first time.
"And I've got two of each," her husband contributed. "But what Toni lacks in siblings, she makes up for in friends." He ruffled Libby's hair.
"You might as well adopt her, Dad; she's here all the time." Toni grinned, tossing her long dark hair over her shoulder.
She and Libby were such a contrast. She was tall, solidly built, with dark hair and eyes. Her Indian blood showed in Toni’s features as well. Libby was shorter and athletically built, with short blonde curls. She was all Scots-Irish, and looked it. Bobby and Danny responded quietly as they passed the food around. When they were asked a direct question, they answered, but didn't initiate conversation themselves. They were always a little intimidated by Captain Cristo. He was pleasant and generous, but he also had a way of reminding a guy to be on his best behavior around women.
"Who wants ice cream?" Emma asked, as the teenagers cleared the table.
While the girls washed dishes and the boys dried, she pulled a half-gallon of vanilla out of the freezer, and chocolate syrup and peanuts to go on top.
"Mom, since it's Friday, can Libby spend the night?"
"I expected she would," Emma replied with a smile. "Mom working late again?"
"Yes, until closing."
Libby's mother worked serving tables at the local bar. Nearly every night was a late night for a single woman with a child. Between her wages and a small widow's pension, she barely got by.
Danny cleared his throat quietly. The Captain's dark eyes drifted over to him. He turned a little red around the ears, but continued to speak. "Bobby and I were wondering if the girls could go to a movie tonight, Captain Cristo?"
"Did you ask the girls first to see if they wanted to go?"
"We thought we should ask you first, sir," he answered sheepishly.
Cristo grinned, chucking him on the shoulder. "I don't mind, if they don't. Do you need a ride?"
"My dad is letting me borrow his car."
"Are you a safe driver?" Emma eyed him suspiciously.
"Very safe, ma'am. My dad taught me himself. He wouldn't let me use his car if I wasn't."
"It's not at the drive-in." The old man wasn't asking, he was giving an order.
"Oh, no, sir! I'd never even... We wouldn't."
"What movie were you thinking of seeing?" Emma bustled around the kitchen, cleaning the bowls and spoons as the girls wiped up and dried.
"There's a new Mel Brooks," Bobby told them. "It's called Silent Movie. It looks really funny."
"I've been wanting to see that," Libby answered, giving him a big smile. "It looks so cute. I love Mel Brooks."
"I loved Blazing Saddles," Toni said. "I never laughed so hard in all my life."
"Well, it's settled then," Emma said, putting the last bowl in the cupboard.
"What time will you need to leave?"
"The movie starts at eight, so I need to head home now and get the car," Danny replied.
"We'll be ready," Toni told him. "See you in a few."
"Okay. Thanks for dinner, Mrs. C. Delicious as always. I wish my mom could cook like you."
"I wish my mom could cook," Bobby chuckled. He was teasing; his mother was an amazing cook.
The boys rode their bikes back to Danny's house about three blocks away. Bobby hopped off his, leaning it against the wall of Danny's garage.
"I don't think Captain Cristo likes me much," he grumbled. "I shouldn't ever have made that comment about Libby. But, God, Danno, she's killing me! She won't even let me kiss her."
"Maybe tonight, buddy. You never know. Dark theater, up in the balcony..."
"Can't do the balcony, they smoke up there. Libby would never go for that. She hates cigarettes. So, are you and Toni past first base yet?"
Danny shrugged, hands in his pockets, as they walked up the steps to his second story bedroom.
"Not exactly. I mean, a little feel once in awhile, over the shirt, but that's it. Why did we have to get interested in a couple of girls who refuse to put out?"
"Maybe because they are both pretty, and funny, and like to play pool? I don't think Libby likes me for more than a friend. I get this feeling like she's going out with me because you're dating Toni. She doesn't want to be left out."
"Sorry, man. Toni won't go out if Libby hasn't got a date. That girl is like, unapproachable. At least she hasn't kneed your balls or anything. I think she's just real shy. Some chicks are like that."
"Every time I get near her, she gives me the same line. 'Touch me and you die, Roberto Menendez.' What kind of thing is that to say to your boyfriend?"
"Are you her boyfriend?"
"Apparently not. That's what I get wanting to date a girl I've known since I was five. She's more like my sister."
"Only you don't want to fuck your sister."
Bobby punched him. "Be polite, hermano. Do I talk like that with you?"
"I don't have a sister. You do. She's hot and spicy."
"Be nice, or I'll kick your skinny, white ass down the stairs."
Danny grabbed up the keys and told his mother where they were going.
"Did you eat, boys?"
"Mrs. Cristo fed us, Mom. Tell Dad I said, thanks again. I'll be careful. We'll be by back eleven, if that's cool?"
"That's cool, but not a second after. If you are, he'll ground you for a month."
He kissed his mother's cheek and they went out to the garage. His father's white 1974 Buick Riviera glistened in the shadows, the evening sun lancing through the window, limning the car with gold. To Danny, the car was magical. To have a car of his own was his wildest dream. He should have one by the time the end of the summer, opening a whole avenue of possibilities.
Danny started the car, pulled his father's Van Morrison tape out of the tape deck, and put in his KISS tape instead.
"I don't know how you can listen to that crap," Bobby turned the music down. "Zeppelin is so much better."
"You're so full of shit, Roberto. These guys kick ass."
"Twenty years from now, practically no one will remember them. In thirty, people will still listen to Zeppelin."
"I guarantee," Bobby nodded. "You watch."
Danny didn't argue. There were other things Bobby had been right about over the years. It was like he almost had a sixth sense for some things. Popular music was one of them. He could listen to a new song and tell you if the band would have any more hits, or if they were a one-hit wonder. He'd been right so often, Danny didn't question it anymore.