Short Story by Willard Manus

What a difference a year makes.
Cecille Zap was one of the many teenaged girls who lived in the six-story apartment building on the corner of Pelham Parkway North and Bronx Park East. Cecille lived with her parents on the ground floor of the building, just a few doors away from my apartment, M-1. We had gotten to know each other well over the years, often walking to school together or chatting in the lobby of the building, but nothing much had ever happened between us; despite her flaming red hair and large breasts, I simply wasn’t attracted to her. She was just too familiar and commonplace, unlike Carol Kelbick on the third floor: slim, vivacious Carol who was taking flamenco lessons in Manhattan. A Bronx girl dancing the flamenco! It didn’t get any more exotic than that!
Then Cecille disappeared for a year. Something had gone wrong at home; rumor had it that her parents had split up because of an affair. Or that her father had been hospitalized, making it necessary for her mother to take a job. Which left her unable to care properly for her teenaged daughter.

Whatever the reason, Cecille was sent away for twelve months, to some kind of home for wayward boys and girls. When she came back she was a changed person.
I found that when Cecille invited me to spend a Saturday night with her. I wasn’t expecting anything but a tame night: listening to Vaughn Monroe records and sipping Pepsi while her mother lurked nervously in the next room. But when Cecille answered the door I discovered much to my surprise that she was alone. Not only that, she was wearing a tight white dress that accentuated not only her bosom but her crimson hair, lips and fingernails. She was also holding a drink in one hand and a smouldering cigarette in the other.
I learned how to drink Scotch whiskey that night–several shots of it, anyway. I also learned how to smoke cigarettes, though I hated the taste and the hot smoke that seared your throat and lungs.
I also learned all about sex that night. Well, not everything, of course–just what Cecille could pass along to me. Her teachers had been the other boys and girls in the institution–- many of whom had worked in factories and shops, or had even been married at one time or another. They were a tough, wised-up, rebellious crew–especially when it came to sex.
“Nobody held back in there,” Cecille told me. “Sleeping around was the norm, with no regrets or apologies. What with all the sex and booze and cigarettes, it was like a great big drunken party, an orgy really. You can’t imagine what went on!”

That explained Cecille’s behavior that night. She not only took my virginity, but took it lustily and giddily. It was all a shock to me; sex wasn’t supposed to be this easy; I’d always had to struggle just to cop a feel from Carol. Not so with Cecille. She was the aggressor, the hunter; there was no holding back on her part, no insisting on ground rules: you can touch me here, but not there. Cecille paid no mind to rules or restraints; she wanted to go all the way and, after handing me a pack of Trojans, made sure we did, not once or twice but three times. And when we were done, she didn’t turn away guiltily, ashamedly; on the contrary, she cried out, “That was great, wasn’t it?” and grabbed me between the legs again.
As I lay there, all I could think was: you have been zapped by Cecille Zap!
* * *
“Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for the honors you have bestowed on me tonight. And I want to express my gratitude to the person who has been the biggest influence on my life. No, it has not been my father or mother, or Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Paine or Albert Einstein; it has been a young woman named Cecille Zap. Thanks to the sexual favors she so generously bestowed upon me, I was able to spend my all-important sixteenth year, a year in which a young man’s hormones begin to explode–in complete bliss and contentment!
“Yes, while my male friends, my pals, were going through the agonies of adolescence, dreaming of sex but never experiencing it–remember what St. Paul had to say about this, ‘Marry or burn’”–yes, while those poor bastards were positively burning up with lust, I could be found in the arms of Cecille Zap!

“What’s even more remarkable is that she never once asked me to marry her. Or go steady with her! All she wanted was for me to have sex with her, as often as possible. Never did I have to beg her for it, grovel for it. She wanted it as much as I did–maybe even more!
“For proof let me give you a for-instance. Do you know what she gave me on my sixteenth birthday? A box of two dozen Trojans! Not only that, she spent her entire allowance on that gift!
“It was a typical gesture on her part–generous, humorous, explicit! Too good to be true, you say? Well, you’re entitled to that opinion, but all I can say is that I had an idyllic time with Cecille, a sixteenth year filled with sexual bliss, one that helped shape my character, helped make the transition to manhood smooth and pleasurable.
“I would not be the person I am today without that girl! If she were standing on the dais with me, I would take the medal you have given me and drape it around her neck. And I would say to her–and to the world at large–God bless you and keep you, Miss Cecille Zap!”
* * *
Then Cecille suddenly disappeared again. There was no warning, no explanation. One day she was there, the next she was gone.

It seemed once again to have something to do with her parents. They had separated, maybe even divorced, said someone in the building. Only one thing was for sure: the Zaps had given up their apartment--M-5, to be exact–and moved away. Cecille didn’t tell me where, didn’t even leave a goodbye note.
She never returned to the neighborhood either, not even on a visit. I didn’t connect with her again until a high school reunion some thirty years later. I didn’t recognize her at first sight: she had put on a lot of weight, and her fiery red hair had faded to ash-grey. No matter. This was Cecille Zap, the girl who had taught me so much about the game of love!
But as I threw my arms out and made to wrap her in an embrace, she pulled back and barked, “Don’t you dare touch me! I just had a lung removed!”