Keeping Score: Kaja’s prime number is 17


(Excerpt from Keeping Score, the precursor story to Capturing Captain America)

The song came from behind the bar in the restaurant area. A jukebox selection by a diner. Janis Ian’s Seventeen. The table was six feet away but the lyrics were loud enough for Kaja to hear.

I learned the truth at 17

That love was meant for beauty queens

And high school girls with clear skin smiles

Who married young and then retired

Even in Berkeley 17 is a poignant year. Amidst the liberal inclusiveness something about adolescence and high school makes being 17 the pivotal year. Kaja was no California girl She wasn’t a tall, thin, ectomorph with blonde hair and blue eyes that was the quintessential female archetype associate with the Golden State. No, she was Eastern European with dark hair and eyes. Her Moldavian great grandmother was said to have been the daughter of an Italian or Greek man which caused her descendants to become darker in appearance. People who complemented Kaja told her that she had an Isabella Rossellini type look. Those who got to know her said she was Oriana Fallacci underneath her large doe eyes.

Ronan looked stunned when she asked him why he cared. A pause. The ROTC man who at this moment was trying to be an officer and a gentleman was clearly inflamed by her brisk brash biting words.

“You really are in your own way. Why don’t you smile at least when you talk to people sometimes. I’m sure you’re capable of it. Or are you intent on becoming a Dragon Lady as you get older?”

“Yeah, I am.”

Ronan wasn’t sure if this was banter or a fighting words. Kaja was on 24/7 with her sharp lip. If she were a man fights and shoves would be happening. He thought she is either crazy or simply well… an intellectual skank with that mouth of hers. Ronan wanted to help her, she had such promise, but this was Jakob in female form. A lost cause but he was asked to help grade the tests this week. The TA candidates rotated as part of O’Hare’s selection process.

And those of us with ravished faces

Lacking in the social graces

Desperately remained at home

Inventing lovers on the phone

Who called to say come dance with me

And whispered vague obscenities

It isn’t all it seems to be

At Seventeen

At 17 Kaja had dreamed up Captain America. A man who would be a match for her both intellectually and personality wise but a complementary opposite. She had every belief he didn’t exist. Now he was sitting in front of the bar in front of her. Possibly hating her.

A brown eyed girl in hand me downs
Whose name I never could pronounce
Said, Pity please the ones who serve
They only get what they deserve
And the rich relationed hometown queen
Married into what she needs
A guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly
Remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
Indebentures of quality
And dubious integrity
Their small town eyes will gape at you
in dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received
At seventeen

I need Captain America. I need him as much as I fight my feelings in front of him. Is this what love at first sight does? Kaja waited for the next comment from across the bar. Ronan was wearing a Marines t-shirt. She was working and being alert. Too many tips to pass up with poor bartending. Otherwise she would have blurted out to him who she thought him to be.

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
And dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me
We all play the game and when we dare
To cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
That call and say, come dance with me
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me
At seventeen

A month after her trip to New York, Kaja found herself in San Diego visiting a cousin. It was that first weekend that she noticed the Marines formal party. The officers dressed in formal attire looking the way they did in the TV recruitment ads. All polished and handsome. Their dates were the opposite of the officers. As feminine, dainty, and delicate as the man’s whose arm they held. Somehow as much as Kaja noticed  the couples in the hotel room she couldn’t help but think how Captain America wasn’t any one of them. Of course not, he was Ronan, and Ronan was not there that weekend.

“Don’t be Kaja. Life has enough enemies that you need not have to live with one all the time inside your head.”

Ronan placed a five dollar bill to pay for ice tea and leave a tip. He jumped off the bar stool and walked away.

All she could think was how it would have been nice if he could protect her from herself.


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