Richard + Bobby,
Chapter 12: CRANBURY, NEW JERSEY (Part 8, and 9)
I’m finished. I’ve been around the track twelve times, getting closer to my goal. I drag off the cinders, over to my backpack containing a jacket, a towel, and what I crave, the bottle of water. I gulp down half the contents and find myself breathing harder than when I was circling the track. The Peddie boys jog by as I’m wiping my mouth with my arm. The laggard smiles at me. Maybe he’s been smiling round and round the track. Maybe smiling is his natural state. I don’t acknowledge him. I remove my towel from the backpack and drop in the bottle. I give myself a quick wipe, face and arms. I shoulder the pack and head for my car. I toss a glance back and see the Peddie boy has been following me with his eyes and has fallen further behind his partner. He smiles again and I turn away quickly and climb into my car. But I can’t extinguish the smile.
Creek Falls is at the foot of a mountain, surrounded by woods and creeks, and summer there is lovely, and instills in me the urge to walk. Walking was how I got my exercise when I was growing up. And how I got around town, even after I had my driver’s license, since we owned only one car and my father used it for work.
In those first weeks with Richard as my boyfriend, he and I would walk with no purpose other than to be together. Often, we would find ourselves in the cemetery at St. Mary’s, usually atop the grave of some poor nun who, if she were able, would slap us silly and condemn us for our sacrilegious antics.
Other times, when Richard wasn’t available, I walked alone, walked and fantasized of our lives after we finished school. I was sure we would be together, married, with children, perhaps not in Creek Falls, but certainly nearby. My favorite walk was along the creek down the hill from our row house.
That summer Saturday afternoon I can’t recall why I was alone, where Richard was, though I’m sure I assumed he was with Bobby. But he wasn’t, because Bobby was with me on the path.
I’d been on the path for twenty minutes and was near the point where I turned around. The path begins in an area where there are houses, both close by and on the ridge above, where I lived. Farther on, where I usually turned for home, it was woods and the creek, the area looking much as it had before the Dutch arrived, when the long gone Wappingers tribes hunted the land.
I was devoting my full attention to the woods and the creek and the lore of the setting, listening for nothing more than the soft susurration of the breeze in the trees, the mellow babble of the water lazing around and over branches that had fallen into the creek, and the occasional scurrying of squirrels on the ground and in the trees. So, when I turned to retrace my steps, he startled me, and I whispered a scream.
“It’s only me,” Bobby said.
He wore blue coveralls and heavy brogans. A blue tee underneath showed through at the neck. The entire outfit was filthy with grease and grime smudges. His hair was wild, flying every which way, dirty too with grease. Only his eyes were clean and clear, big eyes, bright blue like a cloudless January sky, promising warmth but bitterly cold.
“What are you doing here?” I said.
“Walking, like you. Can’t I walk?”
“Sure, I suppose. It’s just you’re always in that car.”
“Ritchie’s got it.”
“Yeah. What? You think you’re the only one who gets in that car with Ritchie?”
“I have to get home,” I said. I tried pushing past him, but he hopped in front of me, arms extended like a basketball guard.
“Yeah, but with you I don’t have to worry about cleaning the backseat.”
“Let me by, Bobby.”
But he kept bobbing left and right.
“Guess who’s in the car now.”
“Guess. Guess and I’ll let you go.”
I tried dodging around him, but he flung me back with an arm.
“Bobby, watch it. You’ll hurt me.”
“Who’s the biggest slut in school? Come on, you know. Terry Bishop.”
“She’s Mike’s girlfriend. You shouldn’t say things about her.”
“Mike McGrath. Big football star. Big asshole is what he is. You know what Ritchie says about Terry?”
“Bobby, I’m late.”
“There’s a bitch with a classy chassis. ‘Classy chassis.’ I love Ritchie. I mean, who can think of stuff like that?”
“Bobby, please, I don’t want to hear anymore.”
“Yeah, he told her, ‘Babe, I want to take that chassis of yours for a ride.’ ‘Okay,’ she said.” He snapped his fingers, thick, grimy, repulsive things. “Just like that, ‘Okay.’ Don’t believe me? Hey, I was there, cruising with Ritchie right up there on the road when she came by on her bike. What could I do? I had to let him take the car. It’s what Ritchie and me do. We share stuff.”
As he spoke, he inched closer to me, until he was on me, and seized my arm. He attempted pulling me to him. I twisted and yanked free.
“Stay away, Bobby.”
“What about a little kiss for your boyfriend’s best friend? Don’t you want to share like Ritchie?”
“Stop it, Bobby. I need to go home.”
“Ritchie says he can’t get to second base with you. I said, ‘You got it too easy, man, the girls falling all over you and all. Now me, I got to work harder.’ ‘So give it a try,’ he said. ‘Share and share alike, you know,’ he said.”
He lunged at me. Retreating, I tripped, fell, and rolled down the embankment to the edge of the creek. I scrambled to my hands and knees, stared up at him, tears flooding my cheeks, whispering a halting plea, “Leave me alone, Bobby.”
He laughed, a vicious howl. “Look at you, little Miss Goody Two-Shoes, crawling like a little doggie bitch.” More cruel laughing, then he said, “Miss Goody Two-Shoes,” mimicking the high pitch of a child, a bully, as if we were on a playground and his thrust had been malicious play, not an assault. “That’s what Ritchie calls you, Miss Goody Two-Shoes.”
I’m convinced to this day Bobby would have come down the embankment for me, if faintly, over the breeze and the burble of the water, had not drifted the incessant, impatient call of a car horn.
“No little goodbye kiss for Bobby?” he taunted, pursing his lips obscenely.
“Get out of here,” I screamed. “Leave me alone.”
He pivoted to the summons and then swung back. “Just remember, Ritchie’s my friend. Mine. You’d better not say anything. You get it?”
He didn’t wait for my answer. He scurried off the path and up the hill through the woods to the road, to the car, to Richard.