Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 10: CREEK FALLS, NEW YORK  (Part 1 and 2)

1

It is Monday, freezing, maybe the coldest December morning in the history of Creek Falls. I am waiting for the Number 13 school bus. If it doesn’t arrive in the next minute I’m certain I’ll freeze to death, rendered an ice statue at the bus stop, along with the half dozen others waiting with me. My problem, I think, is I am a girl, and if I were not a girl I would be dressed sensibility. My mother advocates practical clothing: a bulky sweater, slacks, thick socks, and heavy shoes. But my mother doesn’t appreciate the least bit what it takes to be popular these days. The world has revolved a few times since she attended Creek Falls High. It now requires wearing a reefer and an angora sweater and a cigarette skirt and nylons, and cute flats that reveal the cleavage of my toes. And it mandates sacrifice, the kind that punishes me to the marrow of my bones on the coldest day ever.

I know everybody at the bus stop, though I don’t count any as close friends. My close friends are Angie Tessaro and Rosemary Campelli, and they live on the other side of town. They ride the Number 24 bus to school. I’ve taken the Number 24 when I’ve slept over with them at Angie’s. I prefer their bus to mine, because I, well, envy them. Angie and Rosemary live in larger houses than mine. Their parents are among the most successful in Creek Falls. Angie’s father is a loan officer at the Creek Falls Bank and Trust. Rosemary’s father owns the fuel company, Campelli Oil, Inc. My father owns his own business, too, but we aren’t nearly as prosperous as the Tessaros and the Campellis. My father’s business is a news service. He sells magazines and newspapers. These arrive on the early morning bus from New York City. I think I would be happier if I were a Tessaro or a Campelli.

Everybody and everything at the bus stop is always the same. Nothing has changed in the year and a half I’ve been taking Number 13. Next year, I’ll be a junior and still nothing will have changed. Reflecting on this always depresses me.

However, arriving at the bus stop this morning, I notice, miracle of miracles, the world has revolved again, for standing bareheaded, revealing lustrous raven hair, is a new person, a new boy. He’s tall, six foot, and slim. I stare at him with awe and admiration, but I find myself a bit troubled about to his apparently deficient intelligence. For on the coldest day of December in recorded Creek Falls weather history, he stands among us with glistening palmate and artfully combed hair. And it’s permanently locked in place, as it is frozen, and probably has been since he stepped from his house. Yet, he appears not the least bothered by his situation. And when he notices me staring at him, he smiles and pats his hair.

He says, “I love the winter, you know. You never have to worry about it moving around.”

I understand completely. My head is bare in agreement and empathy, though it is perfectly dry. I point to it anyway and his smile broadens to where the arc of it is almost ridiculous and maybe a little devilish, too. He introduces himself as Richard DeSantis and I blurt my name, Alyce Migliano—and I’m embarrassed at how it flies from my mouth on a wave of excitement. But I recover and think it’s nice he’s Italian and probably Catholic. I am years ahead of myself, calculating how this will save much angst in the future, given my parents’ traditional view of things. It’s not long, perhaps a minute, before I’ve dressed him, like a cutout doll, in a black tux. A very handsome picture, I think.

Number 13 arrives, big, blue, and cranky. I’ve ridden it and busses like it a thousand days since I began school; and, yet, this morning Number 13 strikes me as … wrong is the only way I can put it; Number 13 doesn’t seem to fit in my world today.  Maybe it has to do with Richard; that he beguiles me; that he might find me interesting; that he has knocked my regular, familiar, dull world off it axis.

We file onto Number 13 and Richard gestures me ahead of him. He is such a gentleman, another check in his favor. I settle in my usual seat, five back from the front on the right side, the safe side according to my mother in the event a careless lunatic rams the bus on the street side; my mother is a worrier who sees accidents and horrors lurking everywhere, especially on the roads. Richard passes by me and I turn, casually, as if I’m about to speak to the person sitting across the aisle. I watch him drop onto the seat in the very back, the bench certain boys favor. He’s a new but he commences talking to the others as if all have known each other since first grade.

2

After homeroom and math, I arrive at study hall. Angie and Rosemary are in my study hall. I’ve been debating whether to tell them about Richard. I’d like to relate how Richard and I connected, and if they agree that what transpired between us might be the start of a something. I value their opinions as both have more experience with boys than I have. Well, I rate Angie’s higher than Rosemary’s for she’s renounced boys and is contemplating becoming a nun after graduation. Angie goes steady with a football player, a junior. Angie talks constantly about him. She worries a member of the cheerleading squad might be coming between them. I decide it is too early to mention Richard and will wait until, I hope, something more develops.

I see Richard again in sixth period. It’s English, Mr. Berkowirc’s class. He introduces Richard, and I learn Richard has transferred from New York City; the news excites me. New York City is a two-hour drive south of Creek Falls, but, actually, it is in another dimension. Richard is, in addition to the numerous wonderful qualities I’m imbuing him with—I can barely think the word—exotic.

Mr. Berkowirc, who seats us alphabetically, assigns Richard a desk in the back of the room near the window, home to the low letters of the alphabet. I’m practically across the classroom and toward the front. If I wish to gaze on Richard DeSantis, which I do, I will have to crane my neck and aim right and back. Mr. Berkowirc, strict about English and class discipline, won’t tolerate it. And how mortified I would be if Richard discovered I was admiring him, with only hatless heads and Number 13 in common. What a sad circumstance, in the same class but just as well in different schools. 

I’m not able to talk to Richard again until school ends. I linger at the door of Number 13. Usually I board immediately. But having walked the length of the bus and peered up and into the windows, I know Richard is not on board. I’m waiting for him, praying he will remember me and invite me to sit with him.

He shows up a minute or two before departure. He sees me and says hello. “Hello girl from the morning,” is how he addresses me. I remind him, “Alyce.” I climb on board and, as I do, I sense he isn’t behind me. I stop, turn back, and see him talking to the notorious Bobby McFarlane. Bobby is marginally a student, not quite a hood, not anything really, just a grimy, disheveled mess of a boy.

The driver impatiently commands me to get on board, accusing me of inconveniencing everybody and making him late.

“Richard,” I yell, “the bus is leaving.”

“I’ve got a ride,” he calls back, waving.

Uncharacteristically, I sit on the backbench seat, which I have sanctified in my mind as Richard’s Spot. I would never accept a ride home in a car, not even with a friend, a girlfriend. Of course, neither Angie nor Rosemary own cars, though I’m certain their parents could afford cars for them. And here is Richard on his first day driving off in Bobby’s car. I wonder about Richard, but then settle on the notion his action is evidence that New York City instills a brand of daring and adventure completely absent and inconceivable in Creek Falls. I cannot reconcile that my town and New York are in the same state.

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Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 9: STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK  (Part 8)

8

I let myself in and go up to my room unobtrusively to avoid my parents. I don’t yet know how much of Richard’s story I want to reveal to them. Hearing Richard’s father is a gangster, well it will not sit well with them. But the only other story I have is Richard’s fabrication. It’s bad, too.

I lie on my bed and grab a book from my nightstand. Three pages later I can’t recall a word of what I’ve read. I toss it aside in favor of a textbook, algebra. I figure a subject requiring my full attention will allow me to concentrate on something other than Richard and his parents. I’ve worked through several problems, when my mother yells there is a phone call for me. I close the book and go downstairs to where the phone is, in the hallway. My mother is waving the phone. “It’s Richard.” I can’t determine if her tone is anger or irritation; it is not pleasure. I don’t think she is upset with Richard, or that Richard is phoning me. She’s unhappy with me, displeased I haven’t told her about my afternoon with the DeSantis family. I take the phone, put it to my ear, and wait for her to leave.

“Richard,” I say.

“What you doing, Babe?” he asks.

“Algebra.”

“Why not take a break? I got Bobby’s car. Let’s cruise.”

I am resentful of Bobby, of Richard’s friendship with him, that Bobby can do things for Richard I can’t. But I want to see Richard. I want to talk about our afternoon. I know he’ll be resistant, but he’ll concede to me. Maybe I’ll feel better afterwards.

“Sure,” I say.

He says he’ll meet me in front of my house in five minutes, but I tell him to pick me up around the corner in fifteen. I hang up and dial Angie. Her mother answers. Angie comes on the line a minute later. I speak softly, filling her in on my lunch with the DeSantis clan. I skirt the details and leave it that we had a pleasant lunch, that Richard’s mother is a remarkable cook, that Richard’s parents are charming. All true. I explain Richard and I want to drive around for a while. I ask her to phone me in a couple of minutes. She understands. I hang up and nosily trot upstairs. I want my mother to know I am back in my room. I solve an algebra problem before the phone rings and my mother yells, “Angie.”

I run down and take the phone from her. I shoo her away, and commence whispering secret girl talk to which no one, not even loving, caring mothers, may listen.

“Thanks, Angie,” I say.

“Share with me when you’re done,” Angie says.

I promise I will.

I’m on the phone for less than a minute. I pop into the kitchen, where my mother mops an already immaculate floor. She works constantly, labors like Penelope keeping house, hearth, and family hail and together. She tires my father, who cannot bear to watch her and usually retreats to the living room, to his chair, to contemplate the landscape on the backs of his eyelids.

“Mom, can I go out with Angie? She has to tell me something.” I speak with studied and practiced frenzy.

She stops swirling the mop. “What were you just doing with Angie?”

“This is private talk,” I plead. “You know, prying ears.”

“Hmm,” is the sum total of her comment, deeply cynical, mistrustful, challenging, a declaration she’s no fool.

“Ears, eyes, whatever. It’s a little too spicy for the house.”

“Spicy,” she exclaims. “I hope you girls aren’t doing anything you’ll be sorry for.”

“Oh, it’s nothing like what you’re thinking,” I say. “You certainly have a tendency to imagine the worst.”

“Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the worse,” she retorts, probably conjuring images of the dastardly Uncle Phil, long banished from the family portrait, but not forgotten.

“Angie has a new boyfriend and she wants to fill me in. That’s all.”

“You tell Angie to mind herself, and be back in an hour. Tomorrow’s a school day.”

I walk quickly away from my house, down the street to the corner. As I make the turn, I see Bobby’s car. I despise the car. It’s like Bobby himself, a crude and rude machine. Richard is behind the wheel and when he sees me he raises a hand. He’s parked toward the middle of the block on the opposite side. It’s an old Chevy Belair two-door, two very large and heavy doors. I have to strain to open and close those doors. The thing is a sickening color, two-tone blue, sky and sea. It’s dented all over, as if Bobby banged little pockmarks in for a reason known only to him. And it’s loud. Not pleasant loud, or expensive loud like some sports cars, but sloppy loud, neglected loud, poverty loud, angry loud, as it needs a new muffler, a tune-up, a complete overall, or more mercifully, a trip to the junkyard. All very odd, oxymoronic, considering Bobby’s one skill. Worse, it smells of Bobby, the rank foulness of somebody who lives his life under a layer of crud.

I acknowledge Richard, and shutter at the car, and walk quickly to the middle of the block. I look both ways. It’s a quiet street, the typical Creek Falls street, narrow and empty. Except today it isn’t empty. At the end of the street, I see a car, an odd blue car, monotone blue the shade of bright sky and weirdly familiar, a grotesque doppelganger of Bobby’s. It’s lumbering, drifting toward the middle. I judge I can easily stroll across the street and seat myself beside Richard before it passes the Belair.

I’m halfway across when I sense something isn’t right. There’s a roar in the air, a fire-breathing explosion of hell let loose. I turn in the direction of the onslaught of screeching rubber, thumping metal, billowing exhaust, and I see the lethargic car now transformed into a malevolent monster of motion, charging me. I want to move. I need to move. But I’m frozen.

Above the approaching racket, Richard’s voice rings through and I turn and focus on him. Strangely, he’s thrusting himself through the door window of Bobby’s junk heap, draping over the door, a giant slab the size and weight of a vault door that I struggle to open and wish I were battling with this very moment. Richard is smiling at me, dazzling me with bright teeth, brighter than human teeth could possibly be in the real world. Maybe I am in another world, a different dimension, where bright blue cars materialize on small town streets to harass young women like me. Richard gestures at me, encouraging in the most lackadaisical manner to come on over, put a move on it lazy bones so we can putter away. Why, I wonder, isn’t he rushing to me, snatching me into his arms, and racing me away from harm?

I have to get going. I turn and see the bright blue car is nearly on me. I have to get going. I’m thinking this when the car suddenly dips under me, launches me skyward. I summersault onto the hood, where I slide up to the windshield and come face to face with the driver. He’s dressed completely in blue to match his car—blue fedora, blue shirt. The fedora, brim snapped over the eyes, nearly touching the bridge of his noise, obscures his face. But as I crack the windshield and fly up and over it and bounce once on the roof, once on the trunk lid, and land on the pavement, I am convinced the man is Fred, the betrayer. Maybe he fears I will reveal his true identity. And Richard, why didn’t you help me? “Why?” I ask, my last word as my eyelids close.

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 9: STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK  (Part 7)

7

We’re halfway to my house, when I touch Richard’s arm and ask him to stop.

“What’s up, Babe?”

“Why did you lie to me, Richard?”

“Lie? About what?” He’s calm, perfectly composed.

“About your parents and their unhappy marriage. About your father cheating on your mother.”

His eyes flicking up, flicking down signal a subtle change.

“Where do your get that from?”

“Richard, your parents obviously care for each other. I’d have to be blind not to see how much they like … love each other. You lied because you didn’t want me to meet them and I want to know why. I’m thinking maybe you’re ashamed of me.”

“Ashamed? Babe, I love you. You’re the best. You’re beautiful. You’re smart, smarter than me for sure.”

“Then why?”

He hesitates. “It’s my father.”

“What about him?”

“We didn’t move here because he landed a fabulous job. The truth is, Babe, he has no job. I mean no real job like your father.”

“But you said he drives for CF Gravel.”

He shakes his head. “He lies low,” Richard says. “That’s his job, keeping out of sight.”

“I don’t understand.”

“He’s hiding from some very angry and bad people.” He fidgets. “Look, I shouldn’t be telling you this.”

“Why not?”

“It’s secret,” he says. “If it gets out, if the wrong people hear … I don’t know.”

“What did you father do?”

Richard looks around, and I follow his eyes, expecting to see somebody lurking in the scrubs. “He ratted.”

“Ratted?”

“Talked. To the FBI. About people.”

“Gangsters,” I blurt, half excited, half fearful.

He puts his hands on my shoulders and adds pressure gently.

“Shhh, will you.”

“You think they’re here?” I whisper.

“You never know. You don’t know, ever. They come up behind you and bang.” He imitates a handgun with a finger and thumb.

“Your father’s a gangster.” I can’t reconcile his latest story with the man I’ve just eaten dinner with. It’s incongruous.

“A little one,” he says. “A bookie.” When I don’t react, he expands, “He takes bets, illegal bets, on horses, games, numbers, just about anything. Well, I mean he did. But not any more, according to him and my mother. Now all he does in keep a low profile. That’s what he calls it, a low profile.”

I turn this over every which way, hoping to find the bright side. I try always to look on the bright side of situations. Angie scoffs at my habit. She says it’s a great way to end up a first-class fool.

I say, “So, it’s good news, Richard, isn’t it? What your father did was right, putting some criminals out of business.”

He laughs bitterly. “What he did was … was get us exiled to nowhere.”

I touch his arm. “Creek Falls is somewhere. It’s where I am.”

“Sorry, Babe. But, you know, one day I’m pretty happy. I have friends, guys I’ve known since grade school. I like my school okay. I get to see my friends everyday. I’ve got a good rep. Then, suddenly, he’s arrested. He disappears on and off and really vanishes. There’s not a word from him for months, maybe a year. Finally, a couple of FBI agents show up. They tell us we’re moving, and not next week, but immediately. Just pack what you need and come with us. Just like that. New name—”

“New name?” I say. “DeSantis isn’t your name?”

“No,” he answers.

“What—”

“I can’t tell you, Babe. I shouldn’t be telling you anything. DeSantis is our name, my name, now.”

“Richard, I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah, thanks. You should of seem my mother. She protested like hell, excuse my French. Nothing they could do about it. My mothers says, ‘What about the relatives? What about the neighbors? What about school?’  Can’t be helped, they tell her, us. You’re not safe here. We have a safe place for you. They wouldn’t tell us where. Say they can’t. It’s not safe. Poof, we’re history. I wonder what story they gave. Maybe everybody back there thinks we’re dead. Who knows? I think about it.”

I’m speechless.

“See why I didn’t want to tell you?”

I come close to him and embrace him. “I love you. What your father is, was, doesn’t matter.”

He hugs me back and smiles. “Forget it. Hey, let’s see a movie.”

“I can’t, Richard. I have to get home.” I do want to go to the movies with him. He was honest with me and I don’t want to leave him alone. I’m not sure how he feels, but I know it can’t be good.

“Sure, I understand. Your parents expect you. You don’t want to worry them.”

We stroll across to my part of town in silence. At my door, I kiss him.

“You’re going home?”

He shuffles, and I know he’ll be with Bobby.

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Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 9: STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK  (Part 6)

6

It’s Sunday and I’m helping my mother prepare dinner. She decided earlier in the week, after our conversation, to invite my uncle on my father’s side, his wife, and his daughter, who is several years younger than me. I understand her tactic. If missing dinner with my blood relatives doesn’t shame me, surely relegating my cousin to an afternoon of loneliness among the adults certainly will. But I am impervious to her ploys and nearly skip out the house when Richard arrives to pick me up.

While I have never been in Richard’s house, I have walked his street, stood in front of his house, and spied on his backyard from between the houses on the next street over. I admit to mooning over Richard from the first moment he showed interest in me. I couldn’t get enough of him, couldn’t stop thinking about him, couldn’t prevent myself from filling pages of my notebooks with his name, and stooping to the girlish practice of combining our names, and signing them as a couple. I suppose my love for him began as infatuation, most likely with his exotic origins—New York, Staten Island, actually, but far away nonetheless; a boy not of Creek Falls, not at all provincial. I even dragged Angie and Rosemary along on my missions to scout Richard’s house, in case I ran into him accidentally, so I could claim with a modicum of convincing conviction that my friends and I were just taking a walk not the least aware of where we were.

Strolling up the front walk, I tell him in a controlled tone—even though I want to gush I am so happy this day has arrived—how lovely his house is. And it is nice, a long, low ranch with a two-car garage hidden in the back under the house. I live in a two-story duplex down near the old dormant mills where once there was a printing operation; the defunct printing company built my house and the dozens of others for its employees on the ridge overlooking creek basin. The duplexes have stood on the ridge for fifty years and barely resemble what they were like when the company erected them, though I can’t say after having viewed photos in a historical exhibit at the library that the new owners redecorations and alterations have improved them much. Richard’s house is new by Creek Falls standards and it is in the better part of town, where Angie and Rosemary live, and where I wish I lived. But it’s curious, the location, considering.

At the door, he thanks me for the compliment. The Richard I am mad about should quip, maybe, Thank my mother. I had nothing to do with it. Instead, he is subdued and tense, his eyelids dawn down a little like shades on a window, meant to conceal something, his forehead riddled with lines I’d never seen, or perhaps not noticed, before.

I expect him to open the door, but he doesn’t budge, and doesn’t have to as the door opens of its own. Standing there, partly submerged in the black background, eyeing us, shifting from Richard to me, is his mother. She’s smiling, big and broad, disconcertingly exaggerated, displaying lots of gleaming teeth, and I find her menacing in the way a clown sometimes is. I can’t decide whether to speak first or wait for her. Seconds pass and I pray Richard will intervene.

And he does, thank goodness, introducing us. She welcomes me, and steps aside, waving us in. I feel her eyes on me as I enter with Richard and walk down the hallway into the kitchen.

She’s behind us, saying, “Nothing fancy, dear, we always have our meals in the kitchen and Sunday is no exception. I hope you like macaroni and beef. You look like a young woman who might.” I prickle a bit, wondering if she finds me too heavy.

“Richard,” she says, at the kitchen sink, turning her back to us and fiddling with the outsize pot on the stove, “where are your manners?”

“Would you like something to drink,” he asks

“Good, Richard,” she says, glancing over her shoulder at him, “but wouldn’t you like your girlfriend to know my name? I won’t feel comfortable with her calling me Mrs. DeSantis the entire afternoon.”

“Anne,” he says. “Mom’s name is Anne.”

“Good, Richard. Why don’t you two make yourselves comfortable in the living room?” She yells, soprano high and piercing, “Fred, the kids will be in the living room.”

Richard leads me into the living room. It’s more spacious than ours and extravagantly decorated. An entire wall is a fireplace, done in fieldstone, the firebox braced by stone shelves that teem with bric-a-brac and photos of Richard. Behind the screen, I see the firebox is pristine. Against the far wall is a long couch. In front of the ached entrance and facing the sofa are two easy chairs. The furniture style is Mediterranean, the cushions red and black ersatz brocade. The table and arms and legs of the couch and the chairs are ornately carved dark wood. Everything looks heavy and, well, gauche. Over the big picture window that spans nearly the entire exterior wall are red drapes fringed with small black tassels. I think of my mother and how she would gasp and mutter about ostentatious people. Showoffs, plain and simple. There, I said it, is how she would put it.

“Lovely,” I say to Richard, who appears indifferent to my compliment.

As we sit, Richard’s father enters the room. He isn’t what I expect, him being a driver for CF Gravel. He is tall, lean with gray skin, pasty, like he might be housebound. Or it might be his manner of dress imparting a ghostly pale to him. He is in black from head to toe. He surprises me so I scoot back a bit. Richard feels me move and rests a hand on my arm; maybe he’s afraid I’ll scoot right through the back of the couch.

“Introduce me,” Fred says. He’s happy and seems pleasant, but I can’t erase the sensation that he is a bit sinister and deceitful; it’s what Richard has told me about him, and his attire.

“Sit, sit,” he says, patting down the air when we begin to rise. We fall back at his command, and he is in front of me in a blink.

“I’m Fred, Richard’s dad.” He extends a hand. “Alyce, I take it.”

I say I’m pleased to meet him.

“Okay, what’ll it be? Soda? Got some fresh orange juice. Picked a carton up yesterday at the Grand Union. Coffee maybe. You a coffee drinker? Anne’s a terrific coffee drinker. Day and night, coffee. Always a pot on in the kitchen so don’t worry about putting us to any trouble. Not about coffee.”

I ask for water.

“You don’t have to be polite here. We’re practically family.” He pauses, consults Richard, who is stoic. He touches a finger to his lips. “What I mean is, Richard has never brought home a girl. He’s had plenty of girlfriends, but you’re a first.” He pauses again. “Oh, maybe that’s not right. Maybe I’m … maybe I better get your water.”

I turn to Richard. I must appear troubled or puzzled to him. I am both but I’m trying to emulate Richard’s Spartan demeanor.

He shrugs. “He’s always like that.”

I poke him. “Plenty of girlfriends?”

“Two girls. Three, tops. I wouldn’t call them girlfriends. More like acquaintances.”

“Sure.”

“Honest,” he says.

His father returns with a tall water for me, a Coke for Richard, and a glass of red wine for himself. He lowers himself into a chair facing us from across the room.

“Richard claims you’re a genius.” He sips his wine and eyes me over the rim.

“Richard exaggerates.”

“Hmm,” he purrs. “Who unified Italy?”

I know the answer, but I’m stunned dumb. I expect questions about what I like, my family, my plans for the future, not a history quiz. He possesses Richard’s pleasant smile, his easy manner, and a lot of patience. He waits for my answer.

“Garibaldi,” I answer, “in 1871. He wore a red shirt, but I don’t know the color of his shorts.”

Fred laughs and shakes with the force of it and spills wine on his pants and wipes it with a hand as Anne enters with a plate piled high with meats and cheese and crackers.

“The hero,” he says to me, “everybody remembers the warrior. You’re a sharp girl. You’ve got yourself a sharp one,” he says to Richard, and to Anne, who is lowering herself into the other chair, “She’s sharp, this one. Maybe as sharp as you, Babe.” Now I know the origin of Richard’s nickname for me.

“You’d better watch yourself, Fred,” she cautions, “or else you might cut yourself, she being so sharp.”

Fred laughs harder, something I would have thought impossible had he not done it,  “Nobody’s as sharp as my Babe.”

Anne accepts the compliment with a nod as she directs her attention at Richard and me, but especially me. “Don’t let the food go to waste. Now eat. I want to see everybody eating.”

I take her urging as a command and consume more than my usual amount, and it isn’t difficult. The lunch that follows is irresistible. The sauce has a strong, fresh tomato flavor that leaves no doubt she’s been working on it since early morning. The macaroni is firm and satisfying, not like the soft goo my mother prepares. The roast beef she serves after the macaroni is succulent, pink and hot. My mother usually manages to crisp the outside of a roast and render the inside a dull, dry gray, each bit giving my jaw muscles an intensive workout. By the end, my stomach bulges and I can barely move. Richard leans toward me as his parents clear the table. “It’s not over.” I groan, really joyful. “You could stand a pound or two.” I think he is flattering me, but before I can chide playfully Fred returns bearing a tray of cookies. Anne is behind him with a pot of coffee. Anne tells me she baked the cookies especially for me, and cookies are her specialty. Richard and Fred hum in affirmation, and instantly we are stuffing ourselves with Anne’s confections and washing them down with the strongest, blackest coffee I’ve ever tasted.

When we finish, I offer to help Anne clean up. She thanks me, saying it isn’t necessary. She disappears into the kitchen with Fred.

“You impressed her.”

We’re still at the table, maybe hoping something more will come from the kitchen, and dreading the prospect, too.

“I have manners,” I say, “and a large family.”

Richard laughs. He’s very relaxed, the opposite of when I pushed him about meeting his parents.

“Your parents are nice,” I say. My eyes stray from him to the kitchen door. It is open and I see Anne and Fred at the sink. She is washing. He is drying. They stand next to each other, and as I gaze I see them kiss twice. The sight is warming, but also disturbing, when I juxtapose it with the tale Richard told me.

“You look warm, Babe. Want to leave, maybe see a movie?”

“No, no, I’m fine.”

Was Richard truthful about his parents? I compare what he related to an aunt and uncle of mine, Ruth and Phil. They didn’t live in Creek Falls, but up north in Albany. My mother always thought if Ruth, my father’s sister, had remained in Creek Falls and married a local fellow, she’d still be married today. Phil was a construction worker, though only an apprentice when Ruth met him. It was summer and he was down in the Catskills area for vacation. They fell in love. After he graduated to journeyman, they married. Years passed. He was a skilled electrician working commercial jobs, office buildings and factories. They had three children. The children occupied Ruth’s time and attention. Phil’s opinion was the children preoccupied her to the exclusion of him. My mother called Phil’s protest false justification, pure and simple. Men being men, as my mother often drones, Phil sought attention outside the boundaries of their marriage, and he did it in a most unusual and elaborate manner. He announced he had a great opportunity as a foreman on an important new office tower. Naturally, the prospect of more money and an easier life excited Ruth. But there was a catch. The job was in Boston. Living in Albany was terrible; she missed her family and the familiar surroundings of Creek Falls. The ache was so deep sometimes it was all she could do to rouse herself from bed; she cried and suffered over the prospect of moving to Boston, even farther from her real home. Then Phil, in a maneuver to shame the snake of Eden my mother often snorted, volunteered to live by himself in an efficiency and return home once a week to spend the weekend with Ruth and the children. This overjoyed Ruth and she readily agreed. In the beginning, Phil arrived home late Friday nights. As time wore on, he arrived mid-day Saturday. As the months rolled by, Ruth and the children were fortunate to see him once a month. Finally, after he had not visited for three months due to a monumental push to finish the tower ahead of schedule and earn a large bonus, she decided to surprise him. She borrowed a friend’s car, loaded the children in it, and drove to Boston. She arrived in the afternoon, found his apartment, and discovered he was not home. Truly, she thought, as his absence seemed to confirm, Phil was working night and day. Actually, in her heart, she had doubted work occupied every minute of his time in Boston. That he was not in his apartment relieved her, proved her wrong, and served as a reproach for suspecting him. As the children were restless and hungry, she took them to a restaurant near the apartment. It was a small place, a neighborhood joint. It was later in the afternoon and there weren’t many customers. The family was seated in a booth on the window that afforded them a view of the street. Toward the end of their lunch, Ruth glanced down the street and saw a man in the distance who struck her as familiar. She found this interesting and odd as she could think of no one she knew in Boston. Curious, she kept an eye on him, thinking maybe someone from Albany or Creek Falls was visiting, as she and her children were. As he drew closer to the restaurant, she saw the man was Phil, and he was dressed as he rarely dressed at home, in expensive slacks and a sport jacket. She became excited, thinking somehow he learned she was in town and at the restaurant, and he was coming to see her and the children. She wanted to jump from the booth and run out and greet him, but she couldn’t leave the children. In the next instant, though, her world flipped, for she saw a woman, a young woman, tall, slim, stylishly attired, walk toward him from the direction of the restaurant. They met and embraced. He kissed her, not a friendly peck, but a passionate kiss Ruth herself could feel. Devastated, she was witless. She had the children. She couldn’t leave them alone while she confronted him. She couldn’t drag them with her, because she couldn’t make a scene in front of them either. Her only recourse was to sit and watch as Phil hugged, kissed, and laughed with the woman, gape as they strolled pass the window arm in arm, oblivious to everything but each other. How could she return to Albany, but how could she not? She had to bring the children home, and she could not confront Phil in their presence. So she drove them back to Albany, where she implored her friend to watch them for a day and night and to allow her to keep the car for a while longer. Back to Boston she drove. She parked in front of Phil’s apartment. She went up to see if he was home. He wasn’t. She staked out his apartment from the car and was at his door when he finally returned at four in the morning. The row was bitter and violent, as she bonked him on the head with his aluminum percolator. The long and short of it was she could never trust Phil again, and never let him stray from her sight. They still live in Albany—she forced him to quit his Boston job and find another in Albany. But she could never trust him again. Nor could she forget, or allow him to, either, that he had cheated on her, had deceived her, and had driven a wedge between them. Never again did anybody witness the slightest bit of affection between the two of them. While Ruth attempted mightily to protect her children from the knowledge of their father’s betrayal—that he was a man who would sacrifice everything for his own pleasure—they discovered the bitter secret and were forever tainted by it.

The tale of Ruth and Phil is vivid in my mind and instructive. Anne and Fred are no Ruth and Phil, and the truth for me is they should be. I am very unsettled, because the idea I should not trust Richard is gnawing at me.

“Hey, Babe, where are you?”

I mumble, groggy, as if I’ve been sleeping.

“I’ve been doing this,” he says, flagging his arm in front of my face. “I guess it was too much for you.”

“What was?”

“My mother’s cooking. I mean you really went to town.”

Anne and Fred, finished with the dishes, return to the table. Richard tells them it’s time for us to go. Anne and Fred hope I have enjoyed the afternoon, and I tell them I have. It’s the truth, for I have enjoyed nearly every moment of it, and am enjoying these moments watching the two of them standing together, Fred with his arm draped over Anne’s shoulder and she with an arm around her waist. But I am uneasy, too.

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 9: STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK  (Part 4 and 5)

4

Richard is with Bobby. They are leaning against Bobby’s Belair and jerking around, laughing, punching each other playfully. I am cradling my books in my arms staring at the pair as I walk. Richard is so animated with Bobby. He seems free, unafraid, wildly expressive, none of which he is with me. Oh, he is very nice to me. He treats me well. He takes me places. He doesn’t complain, even when I stop him from doing what I know he wants to with me. But approaching the two I understand his friendship with Bobby is different. Maybe it is why I passionately dislike Bobby: He has captivated Richard, as I can’t seem to. It is like Bobby loves Richard and that Bobby and I are rivals for Richard’s attention. The oddness of the idea lingers in my head. Richard and Bobby are friends, boyfriends, but not boyfriends in the sense Richard is my boyfriend.

I am nearly disgusting myself as I step to Richard’s side and he sweeps an arm over my shoulder and pulls me close. I almost drop my books, but Richard notices and grabs the pile and hefts them with one hand, feigning to drop them, lifting them to his other side and smiling and winking, as if to say, Fooled you, Babe.

“Gotta run,” he says to Bobby.

Bobby replies, with a barely detectable sneer, “Don’t let me keep you from the missus.”

Richard nudges me along and we stroll up the street. I glance back. Bobby leans against his car, arms folded, staring at us; or maybe at just me, maybe threatening, How dare you steal Richard from me. I shiver.

“The movies Friday?” asks Richard, though it is more an assumption than a request for a date. We’re beyond him asking for dates. We are dating. We are a couple. The only question now is: what will we do together on the weekend?

I nod, but I ache to ask, “Why don’t I come over to your house and spend a little time getting to know your family?”

“Something bothering you, Babe?”

“Something,” I answer.

“What?” he asks, stopping us and turning to face me. “What? I do something?”

“You like me, Richard, don’t you?”

“Babe,” he answers, hoisting my books higher to strengthen his hold, and pulling me close with the arm that’s been around me since we linked at Bobby’s car, “I adore you.”

“People who like each other—adore each other, they share things.”

A big smile breaks across his face and his eyes narrow, and behind them I detect smoldering, as if his brain is on fire. “Babe, that’s all I want to do, share with you.” He has me tight against him now and lays a kiss on my lips.

I swing a hip against him. “Not in public, Richard.”

He backs off. “Sorry, Babe, but I can’t resist you.”

“Who are my parents?” I ask him.

“Your parents?” He’s puzzled, as if I’ve asked a trick question. He thinks for a full minute and then names them.

“What does my father do for a living?”

“Do?” He tells me.

“What meal does my mother call her specialty?”

He names it without hesitation.

He’s waiting for another question. Instead, I watch him expectantly.

“What, did I miss one?”

“Ask me if I know what your father does, or what your mother likes to cook for you and your father.”

He releases me and shifts my books so he is holding them with two hands. He studies the books, as if reading the text through their closed covers. He shuffles, and he is silent.

“Richard, what I’m trying to get at is I don’t know a thing about your family. All I know is you moved up here because your father got a better job. That’s it. And you know practically everything about my family. My parents’ names, what my mother likes to cook, everything.”

He maintains his silence, continuing to examine my books.

“I don’t think it’s normal, Richard, me not knowing a single thing about your parents. Or meeting your parents. It makes me feel …” I hesitate, afraid to venture further. But I swallow and plunge ahead. I’ve begun and I don’t know when I will have the courage again. “It makes me feel like you really don’t care for me. I know you care, Richard, I do. But it’s how I feel. Do you understand?”

He moves next to me, transfers the books to one arm again, and slides an arm around me.

“My family is different,” he says.

I search his eyes, expecting a revelation, reluctance perhaps, or hurt, embarrassment, anything, but they are private.

“Different how?” I ask.

“You really need to know?”

“Yes, I do, Richard, if I’m important to you.”

He takes a huge breath. “Okay. But I don’t want this to get around.”

“It’s between you and me,” I reassure him.

“We had to leave Staten Island.”

He pauses, and I’m afraid he won’t continue. I’m compelled to prompt him. “Why?”

“My mother demanded we leave. She wanted us far away from … she called it ‘the scene of the crime.’”

“Your father’s a criminal?” I don’t mean to gasp, but the idea he is the son of a criminal, a thief, or worse, I can’t bear it.

“Not really a criminal,” he says, smiling weakly.

I find myself temporizing a bit. Maybe I don’t want to know. I consider stopping Richard from telling me more, urging him to keep whatever the secret is to himself. Before I can, he says, “My father was involved another woman.”

Adultery is relief, but only because it is mild in comparison to the alternatives. “He was cheating on your mother?” I whisper. I’ve read about unfaithful husbands. But in Creek Falls, husbands and wives don’t cheat, not usually. I could not imagine my father cheating on my mother. He would never enter his mind; they love each other. Even if I thought he might, which I would never think except at this moment and only because Richard introduced the idea, whom would he do it with? How could he manage an affair without somebody discovering? In Creek Falls, there are no secrets. There can’t be. The town is too small; Peyton Place was a metropolis by comparison. Here, everybody knows everybody else. Everybody watches out for everybody else. But Staten Island, now there, it’s a big place, and lots can happen in a big place.

“It was worse than cheating,” he says.

“Worse?” I clip the word to prevent myself from shouting.

He nods. “My mother is a nurse. Nurses work all the time. At least my mother did. She doesn’t now. Not anymore. Not after … We came here and she said she would work days, and only if my father worked days at a job, too. She didn’t care what kind of work he did. But it had to be a daytime, all-day job, where he left before her and came home after her.”

“What does he do?”

“Drives a truck for CF Gravel. Leaves at six and isn’t home until six. Makes good money, working lots of overtime. It’s the first decent job he’s had. He didn’t have a job when we lived in Staten Island.”

“That’s a good thing,” I say.

Richard shrugs. “I suppose. But it doesn’t make up for what he did.”

“He did?”

“The cheating. He hung around. He’d go up to St. George and hang around. He drank. He stood on street corners. He sat in bars. He fought with my mother when she pushed him to get a job, to do something with his life. She harped him about his drinking, his laziness. I don’t know. Maybe it got to be too much for him. Not that she wasn’t right. But I guess he got fed up with her.”

“And he took up with another woman?”

“Right, he did. We didn’t know, of course. My mother was a nurse, like I said. She worked daytimes. But something happened at the hospital. I don’t know what. Her schedule changed. One day she was home and on the night shift. He didn’t know about the change. He’d been out all night. He didn’t know when he came home in the morning because she wasn’t home. She went shopping, food shopping. Like I said, he didn’t work and didn’t do much of anything else either. When she came home, she found them.”

“Them?” I’m a little thrilled, a little intrigued, a little ashamed.

“My father and his … I don’t know what to call her, girlfriend, or whore, like my mother did. I wasn’t there. I was in school. I heard about it the next day, in the morning, when she got in from the nightshift. She said I was probably curious that my father wasn’t home last night. I didn’t tell her I wasn’t. He didn’t come home lots of nights, not a whole lot of nights, but enough for me to know he stayed away, that his absence that night wasn’t anything extraordinary. But I told her I guess I was wondering. She said she didn’t want to have to tell me this but there was nothing she could do. She said my father has taken up with another woman and she, my mother, had kicked him out of the house. Good riddance, she said. I didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say. I mean, I wasn’t shocked or anything. Lots of guys’ fathers ran around with other women. It wasn’t anything special. I didn’t think my father was the type. But I guess most guys are. No, I don’t mean that, Babe. Not all guys. I’m not the type. My father taught me a lesson. He showed me how you can really screw up people by being selfish. And she was pretty hurt, too. Crazy hurt. It really drove her around the bend, him running around on her. Every morning when she came home she’d make me breakfast and she’d be a different woman each time.”

He’s quiet. His eyes grow distant eyes, eyes no longer set on a street in Creek Falls, but looking back, way back.

“What do you mean ‘different’?” I ask.

“Different like in the guy who was good sometimes and bad other times. Day and night different.”

“Jeckel and Hyde.”

“That guy, except she was hardly ever good. One day she’d walk in. Her head would be down. She’d be dragging. Before she got her coat off, she’d start crying, and she wouldn’t stop, and the only way I wouldn’t hear her or see her crying was to leave. I’d leave because, well, Babe, I just couldn’t stand seeing it or hearing it. She’d complain about doing everything for him, putting up with his nonsense, his shiftlessness, his irresponsibility; and her warnings to me to not be like him, to be a man, a real man, to live up to my commitments.

“Then another day I’d really know she was home. The door would slam. She’d really throw it into the jamb. The place would shake, shake like in a storm or something. My mother’s not a curser. But those mornings she’d come pretty close, and I could she it in her face; oh, she wanted to cut loose. He was a no-account, a backstabber, deceitful, a liar, traitor, on and on. Now, Babe, I knew my father was wrong, but still I couldn’t listen to her. Out I’d go as fast as I could. I didn’t think I’d ever see him again.”

“But your father’s back,” I say.

“Yes, he came back. He was gone maybe two weeks, then he was back.”

“Your mother took him back. She sounds like a forgiving person,” I say, sad for him and his mother, but heartened by her strength, understanding, and capacity to forgive. I didn’t know her, yet, but found myself admiring her nonetheless.

“She took him back all right. She had conditions, though. No going out ever without her. He had to get a steady job, and come straight home from it. She didn’t trust him. Still doesn’t. I guess I don’t either, not after what he did to us.”

Richard’s eyes are on me, reading me for a reaction. “You really want to meet these people?”

I smile and I kiss his cheek. “Yes,” I say. “I love you, and they are your parents.”

He shrugs and says, “Okay, I’ll ask my mom.”

5

Today Richard tells me his mother is excited he has a girlfriend, a serious girlfriend, and she wants to meet me. Not just meet me, but to have me for dinner. I am taken aback. I assumed we’d stop in, he’d introduce me, we’d chat for a while, and after we’d be off on our date. But dinner, I don’t know how to feel about what it implies.

“Don’t worry,” he reassures, “she’s nice. He’s okay too, just a little quiet. And she’s a pretty decent cook, though you’d never know it looking at me.”

I don’t know how to act, after what he has told me.

My mother is perplexed when I tell her I will be having Sunday dinner with Richard and his parents. She mutters and putters for an hour. She’s prone to having conversations with herself; I get it from her, these internal discussions that help us work through situations.

After ruminating, she sits me down at the kitchen table. “This thing with Richard sounds serious.”

“I don’t know if it is serious,” I say, “not the way you think. I am happy with Richard. He makes me happy. He’s thoughtful and considerate. We have fun together. We say we care for each other in a special way. But if you’re worried Richard and I might sneak away and get married, don’t. Richard has ambitions and they don’t include marriage, at least not anytime soon. And I have my own plans, college and all that.”

“But Sunday dinner,” she frets. “Sunday dinner is serious. When your father and I had our first Sunday dinner with your grandparents, well, it pretty much meant we were getting married.”

She could continue for hours; however, I have homework and daydreaming to do. I end the discussion by informing her I have already accepted. To back out would be the worst kind of rudeness. My mother has nothing to say, since discourteous behavior ranks in her top five things to despise, along with no-account boyfriends who break up family traditions, though the boyfriends are well down the list.

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Chapter 9: STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK  (Part 1, 2 and 3)

1

My mother asks, “Have you met Richard’s parents?”

We are in the kitchen. I am sitting at the table. I have just arrived home from school. I’ve prepared myself a snack, a pb&j, my favorite. I’m drinking a glass of milk. My mother is at the ironing board. She is starching and pressing sheets. She insists on crisp clean sheets and changes and washes them twice a week. She’s a hard worker, my mother is, and I often wonder how I will be as a wife and mother. I don’t know whether I will measure up to her. I hope I will, but I have my doubts.

“No,” I answer.

“You shouldn’t talk with a full mouth,” she admonishes. “And if you do, you should shield your mouth with your hand. Nobody wants to see someone, especially a pretty young girl, chewing her food. It makes for a bad impression. I certainly hope you haven’t displayed your poor eating habits in front of Richard.” She runs the iron, gurgling and hissing, up and down the sheet draped over the board a few times. “Strange you haven’t met his parents.”

“Mother,” I protest, “these are modern times, if you haven’t consulted the calendar recently. Besides, I don’t know what meeting Richard’s parents has to do with anything.”

She stiffens. She’s signaling she thinks I have a smart mouth and I should watch it; I haven’t been raised to be a smart aleck like some other girls in Creek Falls. The smart alecks are Angie and Rosemary, my two best friends.

She finishes the sheet she’d been laboring over, devoting twice the time normal for her. I’ve, or more correctly my attitude, have been a distraction. She ends with, “Do you have homework? Maybe you should be doing it.”

I’m through with my pb&j anyway and I don’t want to argue. I wash the plate and glass, dry them, put them where they belong in the cabinet, and I trot up stairs.

But I, too, wonder why I have yet to meet Richard’s parents.

2

I’m on my bed leafing the pages of an American literature survey book, seeking the reading for the night. I’m not paying much attention though. Richard and his parents preoccupy me. We’ve been dating steadily for several months. We’ve been seen all over town. We’re an item at school. I’ve even come to tolerate Bobby McFarlane, who sometimes I sense is possessive of Richard, mainly because he lets Richard borrow his car. We’ve gotten to know each other in Bobby’s Belair. I’m smiling. I don’t mean we’ve poured over each other’s histories, families, likes and dislikes, ambitions, and such. No, we’ve snuggled in the rear seat and explored each other. I probably shouldn’t have gone nearly as far as I have with Richard, though it has not progressed beyond groping and deep kissing.

I close the lit book to ponder my predicament. Richard has met my parents a few times. Of course, he is a boy and dating custom is different for guys. And on some of those occasions, he was driving, so my parents wanted to be certain he was a reliable boy, almost a man in sensibility.

I don’t know what to make of things and decide to discuss it with Angie and Rosemary tomorrow.

3

Mrs. Jarvis, our gym teacher, requires that we shower before returning to class. Today we played field hockey and, while I dislike being naked in front of other girls, I am grateful for the shower. I’m in the shower room with Angie and Rosemary and I can’t help but notice they appear more developed than me. I am forever lamenting my body. My mother, to whom I carp endlessly, assures me I will fill out in time. Time has passed and I look the same. I’m a little too tall for my taste, and, worse, I’m a bit taller than many of the boys, not that I’m interested in any of them. They are like Bobby, obnoxious and irritating and not at all mature. None compare to Richard, who is a model of sophistication by comparison. I am slim. I like to describe myself as slim. It has pleasant connotations: lithe, athletic, graceful, and the like. But deep within myself I know I am skinny and gawky and a tad clumsy—not that I trip over myself, but just that I see myself as gangly, which I don’t think is attractive. I suppose what really depresses me are my breasts, or to be more accurate and blunt, lack of them. Glancing at Angie and Rosemary reminds me I am a bit flat. Not at bit, actually a match for my mother’s ironing board.

That’s what I’m doing, surreptitiously fixating on Rosemary’s breasts, as Angie comments on my not yet meeting Richard’s parents. “He’s not serious is what it means.” She holds my eyes with hers and pulls them up to hers, smiling impishly.

“Who needs somebody serious?” injects Rosemary, who has declared on no less than a dozen occasions she will not marry any man until she has graduated college and established herself in a career, and maybe not even then. Rosemary calls herself a feminist. She’s the only person I know who has read Feminine Mystique, and not once, but twice. I admit I’ve tried to get past the first chapter, twice.

“I don’t think she means serious serious, Rosemary. Isn’t that so?” Angie says.

“I don’t know,” I answer, shutting the shower and walking to the exit. They are behind me.

Mrs. Jarvis always posts herself at the exit to be sure every girl showers, and to hand each a towel. She rations the towels as if trees would not replenish themselves. I despise the towels even more than the showering. They are coarse brown paper, and hardly absorbent. I’m usually clammy through fifth period.

By the time I reach my locker, the towel is shredded. I ball it and toss it into the wastebasket at the end of the aisle. Angie and Rosemary, whose lockers are near mine, do the same.

“What I mean is it doesn’t seem normal for Richard not to want to introduce me to his parents.”

“Count yourself lucky,” groans Angie. “I met Carl’s parents once. Once was enough for me. Now I understand why he can be a supreme asshole sometimes.”

“Well, at least you know they’re assholes. That’s more than I can say.”

Rosemary is clasping her bra and adjusting her breasts. I’m glancing, envious. She catches me and I cover myself in modesty.

She says, “You’d both be better off without boyfriends. It completely eliminates the asshole factor.”

We laugh and finish dressing.

We part upon leaving the gym. I travel to the far end of the school. It’s a trek to study hall; getting there is itself exercise. I think it should count in my Phys. Ed. grade.

I sit in the back of the room. I open my Spanish text to the lesson we’re on, the Imperfect Tense, and stare at the usage chart. It’s confusing. Not the Imperfect Tense. Yes, it is confusing, but not as confusing as Richard. I’m in a quandary over him and his parents. I open to a clean page in my Spanish notebook. I begin to write Richard’s name. I scratch it out. I draw a box. I fill it in with “Richard.” I draw a vertical line up and switch to a horizontal line across. At both ends I draw two boxes. I stop. I want to fill them with the names of Richard’s parents, but I don’t know their names. Richard has said nothing about his parents, except they, the family, lived on Staten Island, before moving to Creek Falls.

Mr. Copland, a math teacher, is the study hall monitor. He’s fairly young to be a teacher, and he doesn’t favor sitting for long stretches. He’s up now, strolling the aisles, glancing down at students’ work. He comes my way. I turn back a page to real work, my notes on the Imperfect Tense. He glides, humming as he passes. I wonder how much he knows about tenses and Spanish, and relationships. He must know something about them, since he is wearing a gold ring. I giggle, softly, to myself. That’s what I’ve been doing lately: looking at people’s left hands for rings, for the married, for those who know about two people, lovers, wondering if I should ask someone with experience. But I couldn’t ask any adult. Never. Before I can get the Imperfect Tense straight, the bell sounds. I promise myself I will ask Richard about his parents when we meet after school.

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Chapter 8: TRENTON, NEW JERSEY (Part 5)

5

Richard and I toured the library during our visit months ago. How many months? Time is unreal to me at the moment. I have no sense of it. The months could have been years or mere days.

I pull our tour from my memory and unreel it like a film. It is my history, our history, I watch. Then I freeze a frame. Richard and I are in a dark place lighted overhead, but inadequately. The carrels, interspersed among storage shelves, home for infrequently circulated material, have their own lights suspended over the desktops. It’s a cave, Richard says. He declares he could get things done in this cave, and says he intends making it his study haven. Monastic is what I think. I imagine Richard a monk, a monk of learning, enrobed, tonsured, and abstinent.

I find the stairs and descend into the cavernous basement.

The concrete floor is sealed with a resin and buffed to a high gloss, preserving and highlighting every imperfection, transforming the prosaic into a sort of attractive art. Spelunking the book caverns, I am happier than I have been since waving goodbye to Richard from the backseat of his parents’ car. I can barely contain my excitement at seeing him, my darling, monkish scholar.

Approaching the back of the cavern, I hear a voice. Though it is soft, a whisper amplified by the shelves of paper, I recognize it as Richard’s.

His words float to me from around a corner, which I am just turning. Rounding it, I hear more. But this time the voice isn’t Richard’s. These words are light, high, breathy. And now I see in front of me Richard and a girl seated side-by-side in a carrel. They are hunched over the desk. She is leaning into him, turned so I can see her face. She is lovely. Her dreamy expression enhances her beauty. I want to believe they are studying, or that she is helping Richard. It’s possible. He could have enlisted her aid, perhaps with English, a subject he finds difficult. I want to believe this and do until I observe her bend closer to him. She strokes his hair, longer than I remember it being in September, and pecks his cheek.

I discovered as our relationship grew that Richard possessed cultivated instincts. They range the field of human sensibility, though they often seem concentrated on exploiting weaknesses—hubris, insecurity, desire, and the like. I have I often sensed him manipulating me, playing to what I desire most: love and devotion. He easily soothes my bad moods, tamps my insecurities, diverts my suspicions, with proclamations of unalterable and undying love for me.

He also possesses instincts about the environment around him, and in this he mimics a bat fathoming its surroundings with regular sounding. So I am not surprised when he detects my presence. As the girl nuzzles him—for what else is burying your face in somebody’s neck as she is?—he turns in my direction. Before I can hide in the shadows, our eyes meet. I am sure I am a portrait of anger and hurt. I am convinced as I watch his surprise transform into shock. He pushes the girl away. She nearly tumbles from her chair as he leaps from his and rushes toward me. But I’m not waiting and am already reversing and running to the stairs, up the stairs.

Richard catches my arm at the top of the staircase. I stop, and he turns me around. I resist with a few ineffective shrugs, seeping tears that I try to hide from him.

“It’s not what it looks like, Babe.”

I shrug hard. I attempt shouting he is a liar, but my scream chokes in my throat. My resistance grows more violent and I break free. I run through the library, out the entrance. He catches me again at the top of the stairs that descend to the Mall.

“Babe, you know me and English. Julie’s just helping me get through composition. Really, that’s it.”

His lie is so transparent even if I could speak I wouldn’t. I would—I am—disdaining his ridiculous claim with my silence. He tries enfolding me in his arms. I wedge my arms between us, against his chest, and manage to breakaway. In the process, though, I lose my balance. I stumble and trip over my own feet. I’m falling and the steps are coming up at me.

But I don’t tumble down the stairs. Richard has hold of my arm and yanks me toward him and uprights me and finally I am steady.

Again he pleads, “It’s not what it looks like,” releasing his grip. I feign calm and attention. Richard relaxes. He steps back and digs his hands into his pants pockets. He appears casual and at ease, but his eyes are tense; he is worried. I hope he’s afraid of losing me. I hope he loves me enough to fear losing me. My conviction falters; maybe what he says about Julie is true. After all, I helped him countless Saturday’s with his grammar and readings. But, no, I’m certain he is lying. I swear I saw her nuzzling him. You don’t nuzzle a boy and he doesn’t allow you to unless you are … well, more than a tutor and a student.

Before he can utter another excuse, I bolt down the steps. I gain an advantage measured in yards and I maintain it to the bottom of the stairs and across onto the grassy Mall. I turn back and see he is on the Mall. He’s stopped on the edge, where the grass meets the roadway. He stares at me. I’m watching him, my eyes on him, running forward, fading right toward the Student Union, to the parking lot.

I don’t realize I am on the pavement until I feel it hard under my feet. Just before I turn to check where I am, I see Richard halt—and I puzzle over why he has dropped the pursuit, for if he actually loves and wants me, and most important, isn’t involved with Julie, he would fly to me.

These thoughts preoccupy me and I do not turn my head and survey where I am until I have traversed half of Mall Drive. It is then I think to look both ways, expecting nothing, since in my short visits to the school, I haven’t seen cars on Mall Drive. Except, there is a car on the Drive heading toward me. It is bright blue, like the car I saw coming down from Creek Falls. I see it in surreal focus and can distinguish every detail of it, from the dents in the hood, broad and shallow indentations, to the driver, a man in matching blue, with a blue fedora, its brim snapped down, hiding his eyes. I can’t determine if he sees me. Foolishly, I stop and stare.

Suddenly, I am in pain. My arm throbs as if something has pierced it, a knife, or, maybe better, an ice pick, for the sensation is long, slender, and metallic. I stare at my arm. I pull back my sleeve and rub it to ease the ache. Nothing is there on my arm or in it, but the pain. I rub and look up into something different, into a different world, a dim grayness, empty, but filled with low susurration, the hiss of a pump, the mumble of voices intentionally muted. And for the instant these sensations seize me, I am paralyzed, unable to move any part of me, except my eyes. And these I direct toward Richard now at the top of the stairs that seem so removed from me, as if down a tunnel, a long cavern of blue-gray, opening into another dimension. He’s observing, coolly, I think, like … as if he is regarding an experiment, as if he is deciding on the next step. Then Julie materializes at his side dressed oddly. I can’t associate her attire for a second, until Nightingale registers with me. And as I puzzle over the vision of them, her arm slips around his waist and her head drops on his shoulder. Richard responds by leaning his head against hers, and he smiles, contentedly. Then it is no longer Julie, no longer Nightingale, no longer a women even; it is Bobby McFarlane.

Anger overwhelms me, consumes and distracts me, and I barely feel the car scoop me up and deposit me onto its hood. I slide into the windshield, stiff and straight, frozen, feeling nothing but the stabbing pain in my arm. Gliding up the windshield, I see the driver, a man illuminated unnaturally in an aura of white, as if under florescent lights, the bright white intensifying his monochromatic blueness. He is grimly resolute, applied unalterably at his task, happy in his demonic determination, and familiar, a phantom, I think, from my past or future. Before I can remember when or where I have encountered him, I am on the roof, across it, down onto the trunk, and on the pavement of Mall Drive that is bizarrely spongy, starchy, warm and white. But before I can make anything of this, darkness envelops me, and my eyes, the only part of me still working, gaze upon the last image of my life, Richard and Bobby, and my final sensation is rage at Richard’s betrayal.