It happened in a dimestore, a five-and-dime they called it then, in a post-World War II Midwest town where the rage was rum and Coke, Chevy convertibles, Billy Ekstine and Count Basie on 78 rpms and girls bathed in nut-brown powder, and colognes called "Tweed" and "Evening in Paris."

She was the tall, pretty girl with skin the color of cafe au lait, hair piled high in an upsweep with feather curls, a shin-length skirt, bobby socks and deliberately dirtied brown-and-white saddle oxfords. He was the handsome hunk of cinnamon, a fashion flash; plain woolen jacket, white shirt, snow-white cap. The whitest, straightest teeth she had ever seen.

Frozen in time and place for what seemed like an eternity, Loris stared at Thomas poised near the dimestore doorway and Thomas stared back, neither ever speaking to the vision across the room. "We blinked our eyes, both of us embarrassed. He walked over to my counter where I was a clerk in notions," Loris remembered. "Everything I had to sell catered to women, the only thing he could buy was a comb, and he left without ever introducing himself."

Leaving nothing to chance and trusting the gossip network, Loris and Thomas learned each other's identity, habits and whereabouts. Brief encounters led to phone calls. For three years, Thomas, just out of the Army and a porter on the Wabash Railroad line, made weekend dates with Loris, a student, at a black teachers' college. Thomas never kept a date.

"I knew she was young and intent on going to college, had never been allowed to go on a date by herself," Thomas says. "I knew I couldn't do any rushing. I never thought I would lose her. Every time I called, she was glad to hear from me and I just wanted to make sure she knew I was in the land of the living."

Loris took Thomas' phone calls, and accepted all his dates. But after the first one, she said she deliberately planned other dates at the exact time he was supposed to come by. "He knew it, and that's why he didn't show up," Loris said.

"Thomas was a challenge. All I had was phone calls and the visions of this man from the dimestore with pearly white teeth. I had never met someone dumb enough to make a date and have the audacity never to keep it. He was so different from the other fellows I was dating."

He would watch her work through the large dimestore windows, never revealing himself. Standing in the shadows of trees or other buildings, Thomas watched her leave the store, hoping she would leave alone and that he would be the guy, by chance just walking by in time to walk her home. But always, another guy would meet her after work and Thomas got back on the streetcar and went home alone.

After three years of no show, excitement reigned when Thomas finally appeared for the first date. They went to a movie, and for 25 cents each they saw the newsreel, "Time Marches On," two cartoons and a western neither can now remember. But oh, first that kiss, standing on the porch after the movie, will always be remembered.

"It was a different kiss than any other I had ever had," Loris said. "It lit my body on fire, and I remember thinking, my momma is going to kill me."

Thomas kept his dates thereafter. Two years later, they were married. And 31 years and four sons later, through the good times, the hard times, the graying hair, Loris says she still looks at Thomas and sees the prettiest white teeth she's ever seen.