Stories of Innocence and Experience

Mary Rose Kreger

© Copyright 2020 by Mary Rose Kreger

Photo of the author.

The chalk-colored gravel and scrubby green cedar trees streaked by as Charles drove us down to Austin in his weathered tan Buick. Was this a date, or just a nice trip between two friends? I wasn’t sure, but it felt like a date.

Just like the kiss Charles had given me last week (my first) had felt like a real kiss. Like maybe—no, almost certainly—Charles wanted to be more than friends.

Didn’t a kiss mean something?

It’s a date, I decided, fiddling with the pearl dangling from my gold-chained necklace. I glanced at Charles and perked up in my seat. Of course it is. Right?

The sweltering June heat greeted us as we hunted for a parking spot downtown. In Texas, the summer heat lingers deep into the night.

Charles took me to the Iron Cactus, where we ate chips and queso on the roof. The evening breeze kissed our cheeks, warm and moist as dragon’s breath.

Ugh, this heat!” I complained, drawing my sweat-frizzed hair into a tight bun. “It makes you miss those cool summer nights in Michigan, right?”

Mmm,” he agreed. We were both Michiganders, stranded in steamy central Texas.

I pulled my hand-me-down camera out of my purse. “May I?”

Charles nodded and shifted in the steel chair across from me, posing for my picture. His red T-shirt sported a black skull print encircled by rose petals. Death wreathed in beauty. It was a cool shirt, and a little strange. Unsettling.

I frowned as I gazed through the camera’s view finder.

He’s an atheist, Mary.

He gave me a sweet, boyish smile that didn’t quite reach his pale blue eyes.

I clutched my camera tighter and swallowed.

I don’t belong here. Not in Texas. And especially not with Charles.

My fingers squeezed the flash button, preserving the moment.


So.” He stretched leisurely in his seat. “What would you like to do next?”

Well, this is Austin, isn’t it?” I hid my camera away and leaned towards him with an eager grin. “The live music capital of the world? Let’s go hear some tunes!”

We paid our bill and descended the stairs to Austin’s “Dirty” Sixth Street. We ambled past a cluster of bars and restaurants, each bedecked with colorful strings of lights and flashing neon signs. The main drag was packed with motorcycles, and rumbled with the sound of engines and bass guitars. Charles pulled me down a side alley, away from the crowded street. Dark ivy clung to the red brick building on our right as we passed through to the other side.

The room we entered was literally a big, ugly, hole-in-the-wall. There were no furniture or furnishings to speak of, just guests gathered around a heavy metal band jamming on the other side of the brick-and-concrete space.

The musicians hollered, screamed, and bounded across the stage with electrifying intensity. Their music roared wilder than their punk hairstyles and black leather getups. It reverberated deep in my chest, rattling my rib cage, like a fresh heartbeat invading me, body and soul. Each of my thrumming bones became their instruments.

Thud, thud, crash. Thud, thud, beat.

I forgot about the ugliness of my surroundings, and drank in that sound like it was my very own Elixir of Life. My ear drums rang, but I didn’t care. As long as that beat pounded in my chest, I was feeling something inside. And as long as that beat went on, it was okay to feel. It was okay to feel angry.

Thud, thud, crash.


Thud, thud, beat.


Thud, thud, crash-beat!


My friend Jim turning me away for Rosa. All the strained smiles and awkward meetings, the happy-for-them expressions that shocked and stung and tortured my weary spirit.

Angry. Hurt. Betrayed. Alone.

Thud, thud, crash-beat!

Charles’ gaze flicked between me and the band. I smiled to let him know I liked it. I could not, and would not, tell him why.

When the music stopped, he took me up to meet the musicians. We met a taller, good-natured gentleman, and a sweet-but-fierce young lady. Both loud, unapologetic, melodic warriors.

Here, let me take your picture.” After a quick smile and a blinding camera flash, we said good-bye to the musicians and headed out on our own.

I didn’t tell Charles about the storm brewing inside. I figured maybe he knew. I thought maybe that’s why he was so kind, so gentle. He must have known about my broken heart.

Later, I followed his tall, loping figure down the city streets to his Buick.

Maybe Charles doesn’t mind so much that I’m broken. I pictured Jim Roberts in my mind: classy, handsome, a man of integrity.

I think Jim likes classy girls, my friend had warned. I patted down my frizzy hair and studied my un-painted fingernails.

Hmm. Not so classy. I chewed my lip, gazed again at Charles’ steady figure. But Charles doesn’t mind.

At that moment, he turned back towards me and grinned.

Heat rushed to my cheeks, and I fidgeted with the collar of my floral top.

The man was something of a mystery. What did I really know about Charles, except what he wanted me to see? The one thing I did know was that he believed almost the opposite of what I did. He thought God was a myth, and “if it feels good, it is good.”

Yeah, but at least he’s kind to me. I don’t have to pretend around him.

I thought of his two tattoos—the peaceful snow leopard, and the demonic, snake-tongued skull. If I started dating Charles, which side of him would reign over our relationship?

The Texas swelter rustled the fringes of my top, pushing me towards Charles and the gloomy expanse of the city parking lot. Charles thumped the hood of his old Buick and watched my journey across the shadowed sidewalk.

Ready for another long ride home?” His eyes sparkled, reflecting the amber glow of a distant streetlight.

Ready,” I agreed. As we drove home, I allowed myself to hope.

Maybe this was a date. Perhaps Charles and I could make things work. Maybe the snow leopard side would win.

Maybe…love would change everything.

From Army public affairs to convent life to marriage and motherhood, Mary Rose Kreger’s journey has been filled with twists and turns. Wherever she’s journeyed, she’s always been writing stories. She lives in Warren, Michigan with her family, writing about teens who battle with swords, and memoirs about the wisdom we only gain through experience.

Stories of Innocence and Experience” is an excerpt from her memoir manuscript, TEXAS IDOLS. Mary is also seeking representation for her young adult fantasy novel, AVALON LOST, and is working on its sequel. #

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