Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 11: UCMC, SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA  (Part 5 and 6)

5

I am reclining when Doctor Anya and Nurse Rosenthal enter. A man accompanies them. He is tall. He has a full head of shaggy, curly hair, reddish and dense. He is clean-shaven with green eyes slightly magnified behind oversize aviator eyeglasses. His face matches his hair and is lightly mottled, as if he is sensitive to the San Diego sun, or alcohol, or has rosacea; I can’t tell which fits best. He’s in a blue lab coat, under which he wears a tattersall shirt. His tie is loosened and kakis wrinkled. A name-tag hangs askew on his coat, but I can’t read it.

“Nurse Rosenthal showed me your note, Mrs. DeSantis,” Doctor Anya says. “And she told me about the syringe.”

I nod as vigorously as I can manage.

“This is Doctor Erlich. He’s a psychiatrist. I don’t want to upset you, Mrs. DeSantis. We take your note very seriously. However, given what you have been through, your condition, and the syringe, it’s important that we ascertain the situation.”

Real or perception? I think. I must appear disturbed, muttering and flailing as I am, for she reassures me, “We have notified the police.” I settle down.

Having delivered the doctor and her introduction, Doctor Anya and Nurse Rosenthal leave.

“Mrs. DeSantis,” says Doctor Erlich, “I won’t take much of your time. I have just a few questions. If you like, you can write your answers on your notepad, or just nod, if you prefer.”

I shrug.

“Good,” he says. “How is your relationship with your husband?”

Lousy, I write. We’re divorcing.

He asks the reasons.

Unfaithful. Hiding money. Controlling.

He asks about abuse.

No physical.

He asks if the desire for divorce is mutual.

No. It’s my idea.

“He’s not pleased,” he says.

More.

“He’s angry.”

He’s murderously angry.

“Hmm,” he says. “What’s Doctor McFarlane’s role in this?”

Richard’s best friend from high school.

I hand him a fresh note with each response. He saves each, stuffing them into his pants pocket, just like Richard does with his notes.

“What do you know about Doctor McFarlane?”

Everything. I knew him in high school. A bum, a grease monkey, a hood. I consider and reject mentioning Angie and my suspicions, for fear I will sound paranoid. I am, of course, but there’s nothing abnormal about my mental state under the circumstances, and I don’t want to give the impression there is.

He ponders for a moment. I stereotype him in his office, a cramped and stuffy place, a mess of papers, dust motes sparkling in sunlight, and he puffing a pipe, leisurely, savoring the stinging smoke, maybe even amusing himself with a ring or two.

“In some respects,” he says, “Doctor McFarlane sounds admirable. From town tough and mechanic to physician, quite an accomplishment.”

He studies me for a reaction. I am reacting. He must have spoken with Bobby, and maybe Richard, too. I’m angry he could believe Bobby is admirable. Bobby is despicable. He wears his loathsomeness like a bad suit. It’s so obvious. He’s ruined Richard. He’s trying his damnedest to kill me.

He says, observing me closely, “Wouldn’t you concede all of us are a conglomeration of good and bad?”

When I don’t respond, he says, “Well, Mrs. DeSantis, you rest. We’ll talk again, soon.”

6

I do rest. I sleep, a black sleep, like death, a void of time. When I awaken, I hear Doctor Anya’s hushed voice. “She’s just sleeping. She is mending quite well.”

Nurse Rosenthal is with her, and she’s talking to Samantha and Emily. They are standing side by side on my right. Samantha’s face is a mosaic of fear. Emily’s is puzzled, as if she is the doctor giving me a visual examination, inspecting for broken parts.

I mumble words that, to my ears, resemble something like, “Hi girls.” Doctor Anya hands me my pad and pen and I write the garbled greeting, Hi girls!

“When are you coming home?” Emily asks.

Soon, I write.

“What’s soon?” she asks. Samantha nudges her. “But I want to know,” she mutters, bumping back.

“Now don’t you two start up.” His tone is restrained, but stern. “Mom has quite a recovery ahead of her. Right doctor?”

Doctor Anya answers, “Yes, it is true that Mrs. DeSantis…” She pauses. “Your mother will be in hospital for a while. However,” she smiles, “she’s doing very well. Tomorrow, I believe your mother will be talking. Now that will be splendid, won’t it?” She’s addressing the girls, and Richard, too, reassuring him along with them.

Doctor Anya’s comforting speech and her soothing demeanor toward Richard angers me, and drives me to despair. She and Doctor Erlich place no credence in my note. Why can’t they comprehend a husband murdering his accidentally injured wife in a hospital? I know it’s been done before, and by whom.

“Okay, girls,” Richards injects, “we don’t want to wear Mommy out. Let’s say good night and we’ll see her again.”

“When?” Samantha asks.

I hope I see you again, Samantha and Emily. I pray I do. But I detect in Richard’s eyes, in their feral flitting, in the snidely turned corners of his mouth, a reluctant, insincere smile, he’s anxious for this to be a farewell.

“Soon,” he answers.

“Tomorrow?” Emily presses.

“Maybe, if she’s better. If the doctor gives us permission. Now, let’s say goodbye.”

Samantha bends and kisses my dry lips. Hers are warm pillows and her breath is sweet, fresh with life.

Emily tries climbing on my bed. Nurse Rosenthal intercepts her. “I don’t think your mother’s up to it young lady,” she says, a hint of longing in her voice, maybe for a child grown and gone.

Richard takes their hands and going out the door they wave with their free hands and gush “Goodbyes,” and “We love you, Mommies,” into the corridor.

Nurse Rosenthal straightens my sheets and light counterpane, while Doctor Anya stresses I get a good night’s rest and everything will be much better in the morning.

I wish I could believe her.

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Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 11: UCMC, SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA  (Part 2, 3 and 4)

2

I’ve been sleeping for two weeks and, while I am exhausted and incapable of much more than staring, I don’t wish to sleep again, at least not immediately.

Though the lights in the room are dim, I now can see distinctly. My room, my covers, the privacy curtain, Doctor Anya’s scrubs, and pants of Nurse Rosenthal’s uniform, are blue, ceil, the color of the sky. It’s the color I have been encountering, it seems, for my entire life, when I realize that in my coma I’ve been living parts of my life. Some of my reconstructions were true; some, however, like the blue, weren’t, couldn’t have been. But what, besides color, was true and what false?

Bobby is true. I knew him. He was a hood, a grease monkey, a petty thief, a zero. How was it possible for him to transform himself into a doctor? What did I miss or forget? And did he really murder Angie? For that matter, did Angie actually go down to New York, become a lawyer, and meet and marry Bobby? It is possible she still lives and is back home in Creek Falls.

Richard, maybe I’m wrong about him. We did argue before the car, the blue car, hit me. That certainly would explain my feelings toward him, my recreation of him as the greatest marital ogre since Bluebeard.

As for the color blue, this room is blue, and the car that put me here was blue. Has the predominance of the blue merely suggested itself to me and have I used it to color this life I have built in my mind? What is real? Does reality exist for me anymore?

I close my eyes.

3

Next I open them I sense that time as elapsed. I can’t validate my feeling by anything in the room. Everything is the same. There is a window, but it is covered; the light hasn’t changed in the room. But time has passed because I am different. I can move. I can lift my head, and my arms. I try to raise my legs. My reward is immobility and pain.

I turn my head right and left. I see a buzzer pinned to my pillow. I smile. Nurse Rosenthal and Doctor Anya are optimists. I reach my right hand across myself and grab the buzzer. I push the button.

Nurse Rosenthal appears over me.

“See, Mrs. DeSantis,” she says.

I try to acknowledge that indeed I do see, but I still am grunting and groaning.

“It’ll come,” she reassures me. “Before you know it, you’ll be calling for me. It’s morning, you know. How about I open the curtains and get you back in the world.”

I nod that I would like that.

Sunlight floods the room as she pulls back the curtains. My eyes ache and I blink.

“Too much?”

I shake my head. I want to say I’ll get use to it again; that knowing it is day and the sunlight itself makes me feel normal; that I will never again complain about the constancy of San Diego’s weather.

“It is nice,” she says, as if she hears my thoughts. “Anything I can get for you, Mrs. DeSantis?”

Yes, you can, Nurse Rosenthal. I must tell you and Doctor Anya about Richard and Bobby. It’s essential I communicate with you.

I raise my right hand and slowly scribe the air.

“Pen and pad?” she says. “I’ll bring them to you next time I’m in here.”

My chest tickles like it always does when I am excited. I settle into the pillow for a short nap, much as I would like to enjoy the day; but I am sharing their optimism; I will have many more days like today to look forward to.

4

Suddenly, my head is alive with buzzing, as if a busy hive of industrious bees has established residency in me. The buzzing is soft, intentionally, as if the bees are trying not to disturb me.

My eyes fly open. Now nothing is blurred or obscured. I know exactly where I am and who is in the room with me.

The curtains are open, but the room is dim. Nonetheless, Richard and Bobby are unmistakable. They huddle at the foot of my bed. Bobby works at opening a long rectangular box. Richard encourages him to hurry, quickly, before the nurse comes in. Bobby growls he’s going as fast as he can. He doesn’t want to stab himself. My waking must be a terrible disappointment to Richard, yet another blemish on my abominable wifely rap sheet.

As he fends off Richard’s urgings, what is in his hand reflects at me. It’s an enormous syringe, larger than anything I’ve ever seen, more suitable for treating a horse, or even—I can’t account for this thought—for inflating a bicycle tire.

Preoccupied, they don’t see my hand reach across me and grasp the buzzer. I depress the button, hold it, and pray the savior, Nurse Rosenthal, is at the station. I am at this for several seconds before Richard catches me.

“What are you doing, Babe?” he asks, weirdly composed, almost professional.

“Stop her,” Bobby orders, fiddling with the syringe, getting its weight, I think, as if he too has never seen or handled something so absurdly gigantic.

I grip the buzzer with every ounce of my renewing strength, but Richard easily removes it from my hand. Bobby, on the opposite side, sneers. “Glad to see you’re feeling better, Babe.”

He’s just taking hold of the IV tube, when Nurse Rosenthal enters. She holds a notepad and pen.

“Doctor McFarlane,” she calls, her tone sharp, “what are you doing? What is that thing?”

“Richard,” he says.

Richard acts by confronting Nurse Rosenthal. “I’ve asked Doctor McFarlane to help my wife, nurse.”

Placing the notepad on the bed, by my hands, she says, “You have every right to ask for Doctor McFarlane’s help, Mr. DeSantis. But before he can administer any medications, he needs authorization and it must be on Mrs. DeSantis’ chart.” To Bobby, “Have you consulted with Doctor Auschlander or the attending, Doctor Anya?”

“They weren’t available,” he answers, still with the tube and the mammoth syringe poised.

“Then you’ll have to wait. Sorry, but those are the rules.”

Bobby has always had a temper. It is another of his dislikable traits. He is capable of containing his rage, but beyond a point he loses control of himself. It happens infrequently, but the potential is always present, as it is at this moment.

Bobby’s face reddens, his knuckles whiten until I believe he will shatter the syringe, and he trembles slightly. But now is not one of those times for fitful action, and he relaxes. “Okay, sure, the rules are important. You can’t have just anybody showing up and changing orders. Who is floor supervisor tonight?”

“Anne Rodriguez.”

“Thank you,” Bobby says, releasing the tube. Heading to the door, he passes the syringe to Richard.

Richard stands awkwardly with the syringe that could work as a tire pump or a grease gun. He raises it. He lowers it. Up and down, he can’t decide the best position for his hand and the syringe.

“Mr. DeSantis, would you mind giving that thing to me?”

“No, I can’t. Doctor McFarlane entrusted it to me.”

“Okay. But would you at least step away from Mrs. DeSantis. We wouldn’t want her injured accidentally. Why not take a seat?” she says, pointing to the room’s lone chair, a recliner.

He follows her direction and sits.

During their exchange, while she diverts his attention, I write a note. When Nurse Rosenthal glances back at me, I tap the notepad. She picks it up and reads:

Please, I’m not insane. Dr. McFarlane and my husband intend killing me. Take me seriously. Call the police.

The nurse’s station can’t be far from the door because we hear raised voices. They volley for a minute or so. Nurse Rosenthal strikes the notepad against her hand thoughtfully. What is happening beyond the doorway is distracting Richard as Nurse Rosenthal removes my note returns the pad to me.

“Well, Mrs. DeSantis, it appears you are making excellent progress, better than we could have hoped. I think Doctor Anya will want to see you in a wheelchair tomorrow, and after that it’s probably a short time until you’re in therapy. You must be very happy, Mr. DeSantis. Looks like you’ll soon have your wife back good as new.”

Richard smiles wanly. Nurse Rosenthal mimics him; artifice, for her eyes work hard scrutinizing him, probing for insincerity that will confirm what I’ve written. I know she’s at least suspicious; otherwise, she would leave me in the room with Richard and the syringe.

Bobby reenters the room. He is flushed and vexed. He takes the syringe from Richard.

“I guess we won’t need this,” he says, running his eyes over the three of us. “I’ll be leaving,” he says to Richard. “If you want to stay, I can call a cab.”

Richard jumps up. “No, no, I’ll be on my way to. Business to take care of.”

He walks over to me, bends, and aims to kiss me on my lips. I turn away from him and he grazes my check.

“I’ll be back later,” he says, frowning down on me. “I’ll bring the girls.” Looking up at Nurse Rosenthal, “If that’s okay?”

“I think that would do Mrs. DeSantis’ spirits a world of good.”

Richard follows Bobby into the corridor.

Nurse Rosenthal watches, her expression inscrutable. Is she keeping an eye on a pair of prospective murders? Or is she admiring a father who cares for his wife and daughters? I can’t decide, and my desperate concern that she doesn’t believe me, regards me as yet another severely damaged patient who continues to hallucinate after waking from her coma, attacks me like vicious red ants; tiny pain, like pricking, erupts from my head to my feet.

And she provides no relief when she says, “Rest, Mrs. DeSantis. And try not to worry too much,” and goes into the corridor.

It is remarkable, my progress since I woke from my coma. Now I can almost sit up in bed, and I test my ability. I want to know what floor I am on. I can’t imagine a hospital with patient rooms on the first floor, but you never know. I catch a bit of the local scenery. I’m facing another building in a complex and floors appear to be below the ones I glimpse. I’m not too paranoid, I tell myself, but with a maniac like Bobby, it pays to be sure. I have no doubt he’d clamber through a window to get me, if he could.

Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 11: UCMC, SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA  (Part 1)

1

I am the victim of something terrible.

No, is that right? Am I about to be the victim of something terrible?

No, no that doesn’t seem right. I am the victim of something terrible … and something worse is about to befall me.

I am somewhere that is not my home in Rancho Bernardo, or Richard’s office, or the Sheraton, or anything I am familiar with.

But I am somewhere because I hear sounds. I can’t determine their source; I can’t see anything. It is as if I’ve dropped into a deep well.

I strain to determine what the sounds might be? Water trickling down the walls of the well? Animals perched high up on the rim peering down at me, chattering, chirping, and buzzing.

I feel something, too. Something tugs at my right arm. It’s gentle, but it hurts, like a sting. Not a bee sting; it’s metallic, a dull, deep pain, under my skin.

The pain is what has awakened me. I open my eyes. I’m not blind. I can see. But I don’t see much of anything. What I see is blue. Blue surrounds me; portions of it move, too.

The blue has a voice, voices, for I detect two different tones. I don’t understand what they say, but they definitely are voices. I want to respond to them, to tell them to speak more distinctly, or slower, or louder, anything to make themselves intelligible to me. And slowly, very slowly they begin to articulate clearly.

“Jesus, she’s awake.”

It’s Richard. His words have a sibilant quality, as if uttered by a snake.

My eyes irritate me. They are dry and scratchy. I blink several times and they hurt until they tear.

I try lifting my head to see Richard and his partner and what occupies them, but I’m too weak and sore to raise my head off the pillow. I look around as best I can, and even this is excruciating.

I am encased in blue, sky blue; I feel as if I am suspended in the middle of a clear winter afternoon, not in a well. The blue is familiar; it is the blue I’ve seen on No. 13, in my bedroom, my kitchen, on Bobby’s Belair, and on Bobby himself.

I blink several more times and as I do a person steps to the head of the bed, next to me. It is Richard. I want to demand he tell me what has happened to me, where I am, what he is up to, who is with him. I move my mouth, but indistinct sounds issue from me, rough approximations of words, more grunts than intelligent speech.

“Just a minute. I’ll have it in a minute. Keep her quiet.” It’s the partner, the voice harsh and anxious. I recognize its cruelness. “There, a second now.”

Something tugs at my arm and intensifies the pain under the skin.

I know it is imperative I move my head. Doing so is painful and almost impossible, but I manage to roll it enough in the direction of the voice. I see Bobby.

He wears hospital scrubs. They fit him loosely and are ceil, a color I imagine I’ve seen him in often lately. He is fiddling with a transparent tube that fits to a taped-over needle stuck in my arm just above my wrist. It’s the source of the pain beneath my skin.

I attempt asking, “What are you playing with there, Bobby?” But I can’t form words.

“Do you think she sees us?” Richard’s speaking, agitated.

Bobby pauses and stares down at me, bends into my face. I smell his breath, foul with coffee, as he inspects my eyes.

“Maybe,” he concludes. “Doesn’t matter. Not much she can do about it.” He resumes fiddling with the tube.

“Can’t you just poke a needle in it?” asks Richard. “Wouldn’t it be faster?”

“Faster? Sure. But somebody’s certain to spot the puncture later. Better this way.”

“I thought you knew how to do it.”

“I do,” he says, annoyed, put off by Richard’s implication. “It’s the valve. I can’t remove the plug. The nurse should have noticed and replaced the tubing.”

“Oh, Doctor McFarlane, can I help you?”

A woman in a flower print scrub top appears next to Bobby. Her features are blurred but I can sense from her voice she is mature and, more important, surprised and troubled.

“No, nurse,” says Bobby. He speaks quickly and leaves no doubt he does not welcome her interruption.

“Doctor,” she says, “I wasn’t informed that Mrs. DeSantis needs medication at this time. Nothing’s noted on her chart.”

“I was about to update the chart, nurse.”

I can’t completely comprehend what is happening. What I do understand is if Bobby is involved it can’t be good for me. I try to yell “Help,” to scream he may look like a doctor, he may have a degree, he may even have the officious and arrogant attitude of a doctor, but he is really just a greasy boy mechanic, and worse, a murderer. He killed my best friend, Angie. Maybe he didn’t run her down or contract it, but I have no doubt once she was hospitalized, he was responsible for her death. Now he’s helping his best buddy high school friend kill his wife, to knock off the tiresome little woman who had the audacity to spring a divorce on him, to probe his meticulously hidden finances and claim her fair share, for herself and her daughters. However, all I can manage is meaningless clicking, grinding guttural sputtering, like the worn starter on Bobby’s dilapidated Belair.

“Doctor,” she says, with an articulate distinctness I envy, “I don’t believe you have those privileges here.”

“Nurse, you are aware your chief medical officer has allowed me to look in on Mrs. DeSantis. And Mr. DeSantis has requested my help. We all want the best for Mrs. DeSantis.”

I can’t talk but my mind is lucid. Though Bobby’s diction has improved, his brutish nature is unchanged. He’s pulling rank on her, intimidating with his position, and invoking the chief doctor to establish his right and authority to manipulate my tube, and murder me. Or trying, because she isn’t buying his line.

“I’m sorry, doctor, but I can’t allow you to change anything in the patient’s chart unless Doctor Auschlander authorizes it. In writing, doctor, on the patient’s chart. If you care to, you can use the phone at the station to call him. It’s late, but I’m sure he’ll speak to you.”

When I realized Bobby and Richard were the hazy figures, panic griped me. Breathing became difficult. My heart raced. But now, with the nurse, more romantic Nightingale than mortal, I calm down a bit. I attempt lifting my head again, and this time I get it off the pillow and suspend it there a few seconds, until the effort and pain overcome me. I must know my savior’s name. I shift my eyes to glimpse her badge. Nancy Rose … I can’t read the rest, but Nancy Rose is enough for me.

“Well,” Bobby says, his irritation palpable, “I suppose it can wait until morning. I don’t like late night calls, so I wouldn’t want to disturb Doctor Auschlander.” He pats my hand and runs his thumb across my knuckles in a show of affection. “Besides, Mrs. DeSantis appears to be reviving nicely.” He releases my hand and positions his forefinger in front of my eyes. “Focus on my finger, Mrs. DeSantis.” From habit I do. “Good. Now follow it, please.” More inculcated behavior on my part. “Excellent,” he proclaims.

Richard grasps my other hand. He squeezes. “Babe, what a relief. For a while, we thought we were going to lose you.”

I command my hand to pull free of his, but it doesn’t respond. I grunt and moan and move the only part of me that will cooperate: my head side to side, and my eyes; I blink them furiously, to convey to my savior the terror Richard and Bobby have raised in me.

It’s stupid what invades your mind at a time like this. I’m castigating myself for refusing my mother’s urgings to become a girl scout. She was interested in the social aspects, but now I wish I had given into her nudges, for the Morse code I might have learned would be handy. How do you blink S.O.S., I wonder?

“One step at a time,” Bobby cautions me, as if he might care about my survival. “Don’t overdue it. You don’t want a setback.”

I’m laughing, I know, because I feel my chest bucking inside, my lips yearning to curl, fighting against facial muscles still in rigor. Just what Richard and Bobby are planning for me: a permanent setback.

“Let’s go,” he says to Richard.

Far, far away I hope, and never to return.

But, no, because Richard squeezes my hand, hard; too hard, much too hard, it hurts too much. “I’ll be back later,” he says, as he punishes me with his grip. “Samantha and Emily are begging to see you. But with you … you know, uncommunicative, I didn’t think it was a good idea. Now though …” He brightens with a smile. I misunderstand; it’s for me, bygones be bygones. No, though, it’s for Nurse Rose. He ‘s persuading her that he is a good husband, caring and considerate; and, of course, that he is the superdad.

Finally, thankfully, Richard releases me, and he and Bobby leave. Nurse Rose remains.

“I’m happy to see you’ve rejoined us, Mrs. DeSantis. You had us worried for a while.”

I grunt and groan and blink my eyes rapidly.

“You want to know what happened? How long you’ve been here?”

I go into my pantomime again. I want her to keep Richard and Bobby away from me.

“Sure you do,” she says, as she handles the tubing and examines the valve. Her expression is a mix of curiosity and perplexity. She lays the tube gently on my bed.

“A car hit you on Mira Mesa Boulevard. You were crossing the street. You weren’t in the crosswalk. You were in the middle of the block. Someone near the curb stopped to let you cross. She was trying to be nice and helpful, but, unfortunately …” She allows the words to trail off as she studies my arm, searching for something, suspicious, I’m hoping, of Richard and Bobby.

I agitate as best I can in response. But even if she thought I had something interesting to say and brought me a pad and pen, I couldn’t use it.

“You must be worried about your daughters. They’re fine. You heard your husband.” She gestures toward the door. “They are at your home. They were on the center island when …” These words float too me in a near whisper, as if they reveal a terrible secret to painful to speak.

It is like a nightmare, that day. When that day was she doesn’t say. Yesterday? Last week? More? If I could talk, I could ask Nurse Rose.

I must be contorting my face in some new manner, registering curiosity about time with my eyes, for she says, “You’ve been with us two weeks. You’re in a private room at UCMC in Hillcrest. Your husband insisted on a private room, so we had to keep you in ICU an extra day. Nobody was happy about that, I assure you. Fortunately, we had space. We don’t always. Your husband can be a persuasive individual, but I’m sure that comes as no surprise to you.” She’s running her hand along the IV tube, down to where it terminates in a needle in my arm. “I’m still wondering about—” She stops and stares at me for a second. “How does it feel? Sore? Let’s blink. One if it’s fine. Two if you’re experiencing pain.”

I blink once.

“Good. You had the ICU staff worried. But here you are safe and sound and on the mend. I’ve notified Doctor Anya. She’ll be here shortly to examine you. She’s been caring for you since you came out of OR.”

Then I hear the squeaking steps of someone entering the room. Nurse Rose turns away from me. “Doctor Anya, I was just saying you’d be here and here you are.”

Doctor Anya materializes above me, next to Nurse Rose. She’s a full head shorter than my savior; she can’t be much over five foot. She’s a striking woman, though, with long, straight, black hair and large eyes of liquid ebony, intense, but warm with empathy and kindness. Her aquiline nose lends her a Brahminic air. And her skin is strikingly pure, light brown, like densely packed baking sugar, very smooth and flawless. She leans over and she smells of soap, as if she just came from showering.

“Mrs. DeSantis, I’m Doctor Anya. I’ve been attending you.”

I go into my groaning act.

“Please, do not strain yourself. In couple of days, you will be speaking again. I guarantee you. However, your injuries are quite severe and you will require a few months to fully rehabilitate.”

I close my eyes. She touches my arm gently in response.

“Please, do not be discouraged. I have excellent news for you.”

I open my eyes and focus on her.

“Your accident was extremely traumatic. You legs are broken, as is your pelvis. But this is the fortunate part, you’ve sustained only bruising above your waist. I expect my news doesn’t sound particularly good. But when you consider the host of terrible injuries you might have sustained, I believe you will appreciate how fortunate you are. I am specifically referring to brain damage, Mrs. DeSantis. You were bashed unconscious and in a coma for nearly two weeks. But nothing permanent. In fact, I would add the coma was beneficial in that it probably saved you from recalling the horror of the accident and certainly experiencing some very intense pain.”

My eyes moisten and I feel droplets escaping down my cheeks.

“Well,” she says, stroking my arm, “that’s enough for now. You rest.”

She turns to speak with Nurse Rose, when a neglected detail flashes in her mind, or so it seems to me the way an arm flies up.

To me, she says, “Oh, Mr. DeSantis asked when you would be speaking again, and when you would be more your normal self. I told him what I’ve told you. A day or two for talking, followed by a long recovery. I’m sorry I must have upset him, for he seemed very alarmed. In a situation such as yours, Mrs. DeSantis, it is a great comfort to have someone who loves you very much. It speeds recovery more than you know.”

I want to scream that in a few days I might not be capable of speaking, ever again. After lying in bed nearly two weeks, I’m drained, but with the depleted strength I process, by the sheer force of my will to survive, by the power of my distrust and fear of Richard and Bobby, I jerk my head up from the pillow and groan as loudly as I can manage.

Nurse Rose and Doctor Anya’s faces show distress. The nurse grabs my shoulders and eases me down onto the pillow, with encouraging words that all will be well, that I am on the road to recovery, that while it will be challenging, I will emerge from the hospital good as new. I groan furiously, incoherently, that I will never leave the hospital if my husband and his greasy high school pal have their way. I’m crying now, spilling buckets of tears, for myself and for my daughters who will be without their mother, and living with a murderer.

My weeping impels Doctor Anya to check my chart. “It appears Mrs. DeSantis’ pain meds should be sufficient. I don’t believe pain is the cause of her distress.” She scans the several pages that comprise my chart. “Nurse Rosenthal, who is Doctor Robert McFarlane? I don’t recognize the name.”

Nurse Rosenthal, a name I chant in my mind, answers, “He was here a few minutes before you arrived, Doctor. He said he’d been granted privileges.”

“Hmm,” mutters Doctor Anya, “I don’t see that noted here.” She smiles at me. “You’ll be fine, Mrs. DeSantis. I’ll check in before I sign out.”

As Doctor Anya leaves, Nurse Rosenthal lowers the light and says, “You got yourself one of the good ones.”

Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 10: CREEK FALLS, NEW YORK  (Part 4 and 5)

4

Saturday arrives and I begin fretting the moment I open my eyes. I am in turmoil about how to fix my hair, what jewelry to wear, how to dress, whether to wear flats or heels; what are Richard’s preferences? I want to phone Angie and Rosemary for their opinions, but I can’t. It’s too soon, and I’m afraid I might say something about the DeSantis secret.

My mother has noticed my introspective retreat building during the week and my increasingly agitated behavior. She asks if she might help me. When I respond with a quizzical expression, she reminds me that once she too was a girl and was preparing for her first date with my father.

I open up and chatter endlessly about Richard until it seems he is as flawless as Michelangelo’s David. With my mother’s help, I pick a light green sweater set and dark green skirt. I slip into loafers. I fashion my hair long. I clasp a simple single strand of pearls around my neck. I come off dressy but causal, fresh and a little bit innocent. Not too, not untouchably pure, but the respectable variety; hug, kiss, and no more.

Richard knocks exactly at the time he promised, seven. I introduce him to my mother and father. He is wonderfully polite and I am sure he impresses my parents. We leave on our date and I am happy.

Everything is close in Creek Falls and we stroll to the Hudson Theater on Main Street in ten minutes. Richard tells me how much he enjoyed meeting my parents. At the theater, he pays and buys popcorn and Cokes for us. In the auditorium, we sit toward the rear. It’s the notorious section and I have been worrying about it the entire afternoon. I am not a prude. While I haven’t been on many dates; well, honestly, I have not been on any real dates like I am with Richard; I understand what constitutes a date and what takes place in the back rows of the Hudson Theater. Angie and Rosemary are more sophisticated than I am; they have been on real dates, and Angie has a steady. So I am aware of what happens here; though as we sit down, I don’t know how I will react if Richard attempts kissing me, or more. I thought I would enjoy the movie, but I find I am getting nothing from it. It’s not “Breaking Away”; it’s me. I only half watch it, as my other half waits for Richard to do something. I anticipate the worst for the entire time we sit in the theater. Around us under the movie’s music and dialogue I hear soft laughter, subdued urgings, suppressed moans, and I wait for my turn to protest and submit, maybe submit; maybe, or lose Richard.

I sit, anxious, but Richard confines himself to merely placing his arm around my shoulder, and this he does early on, leaving me too nervous, anticipating his exploration throughout the film.

I am unsettled when the movie ends and we are filing from the auditorium. Nothing happened. Doesn’t he care for me as I do for him? Why would he take me to the Hudson and seat us in the infamous section and not even try to neck? Did he like me before entering the theater only to decide for a mysterious reason that he had miscalculated his passion for me? My consternation is considerable as he is a city boy, and I imagine his behavior out of character.

He asks if I’d like to have a snack at the drugstore. I briefly contemplate declining. I don’t understand my trepidation; perhaps I’m worried his offer is merely perfunctory politeness, what with his behavior in the theater. But if I refuse … I respond I’d be delighted.

In drugstore’s fountain section, we slide into a booth. I order toast and tea. He orders a hamburger, fries, and a coffee.

“Which is right,” he asks, “toast and tea, or tea and toast?”

“Which comes first,” I answer, “the egg or chicken?”

He laughs. “You’re too much, Alyce Migliano.”

I smile, and forgive him for the theater; he’s simply considerate.

We fall silent waiting for our food. I abhor it. I think it’s because my parents are quiet types, people who can spend an entire day together without a word between them. Sometimes in my room I ponder the hidden meaning of their silent. I suppose it represents a gulf between them, a body of indifference that widens with each day and week. Or, they are so comfortable together, or so familiar to each other, words are superfluous. They are hard to figure out.

Finally I ask, “How do you like Creek Falls?”

“It’s okay. Sure, I like it. School’s okay.”

Our food arrives and he spends a moment using the condiments, salt, catsup, cream and sugar in his coffee.

“You like it?” he asks.

I’m chewing on my toast. “Well, I grew up here,” I say, raising a hand to shield my mouth, “so it’s hard to say.”

“I mean school. Do you like school?”

“I do. I like school. I’m a studier.”

“I’m not big on school. I want to get started.”

“Started? On what?”

“Life. Living. Making money.”

He launches into a subject that I know little of, except that the machines are big, temperamental, and are claimed to be revolutionizing the world. Computers. They don’t teach about computers in school, not in New York City, and certainly not at Creek Falls High School. You learn about computers by working with them and with those who understand them. Richard’s vocabulary degrades into an impenetrable fog of jargon and soon I am adrift. But I munch and listen attentively, and even manage a few sensible questions. In the end, when my toast and his hamburger and fries are gone and he’s talked out, he appears pleased; though I’m not sure if his pleasure is with me, or my feigned absorption of his patter.

We leave the drugstore with my ears ringing, actually humming as if a bird or machine has lodged in them, and me thinking it’s the former, the creature warbling a sweet song of nascent love. I am strongly attracted to Richard, to what I perceive as certitude and strength, two qualities I greatly admire and associate with maturity.

5

It is Monday morning and I uncharacteristically leap from bed. I choose my outfit carefully, picking every article I believe will appeal to Richard. I’m pleased with myself, for now I am not dressing for the attention of kids who could care less, but to please and excite the person I am convinced I will marry in the future. That we’re only in high school and college awaits us troubles me not an iota; I know we will weather any crisis and will emerge the stronger overcoming whatever challenges we encounter. I decide, too, it is time to share my affection for Richard with Angie and Rosemary when I see them later in the morning.

I arrive at the bus stop ahead of everybody. I seem to be developing the habit and I’m happy about it. After all, I am the little bird that has caught the worm by being early.

My fellow riders assemble slowly until the stop is filled and it is time for Number 13 to pull up. I wear a small lady Timex. I consult it and see the scheduled time is here. I look up into the distance and see Number 13 lumbering in our direction. A dreadful sense of disappointment washes over me. I’m shivering and aching as the bus slows to a stop and the gate doors rumble open to admit us. And then I’m relieved, warmth envelops me, for pulling up and stopping, aiming in the opposite direction, is Bobby. Leaning over him to make himself visible is Richard. He waves and motions me to join them.

“Come on, Alyce, we’ll take you to school.”

I would never ride with anyone and certainly not Bobby, but this is Richard. I sling my books, several volumes bound together securely by a thick band of rubber fastened by a metal clasp, over my shoulder and walk in front of the big blue bus, the bus with its stop flag deployed; I’m paying attention to nothing but what is in front of me, what I’ve desired: my boyfriend.

Striding, I am blocking out the world, focusing on what is important to me, heading to my future, when a soft hum replaces the clunking of Number 13 and the chatter of the kids, and I hesitate for a second. It’s not much more than a second, as I strain to identify the droning noise pierced rhythmically by a thump-thump, to associate these sounds with something familiar, but I cannot match them with anything.

I refocus on Richard, who now must be lying across Bobby’s lap, as his head nearly protrudes from the driver’s window. All is joy and happiness, until I catch a glimpse of movement in the roadway to my left. It’s a blue car like Bobby’s.

I try fixing the eyes of the driver with mine. But his eyes are not visible. They hide behind the snapped-down brim of a blue fedora. The rest of him is blue too, whether clothing or shadow, I can’t distinguish in the gray of early morning.

I am halfway to Bobby’s car and beyond the shield of Number 13. I switch my gaze from the man in the blue fedora back to Richard. He smiles at me and urges me on. He’s calling, “Come on, Alyce, we’re waiting for you.” I am struck by his happy demeanor, acting as if I am simply strolling across the street, as if there is no sky-blue car bearing down on me.

Then the blue car hits me and I rise in the air, hang there long enough to see Richard and Bobby exchange glances, snicker gleefully like little boys who have done something secret and horrid, something deadly like igniting a kitten and watching it scurry about here and there in terror and agony, and I float down onto the hood of the car that strikes me, strangely, as soft. I slide up the windshield, it also unnaturally soft, and instead of fearful disorientation, I’m feeling a bit dizzy, the way you can after you’ve been on your back for a while and stand suddenly. Up the windshield and over it I land on a cushion, more softness, pliant and white when I should be bouncing along a surface unyielding and blue. And my surroundings, they are different, too. Not cold, not another cold December day in Creek Falls, but temperate, regulated it seems, like in a room, in a dim room, in shades of blue. I don’t know where I am, how I left Creek Falls. But I have not completely escaped Richard and Bobby, for there are people with me wherever I am, and they are whispering, and the voices sound like those of a doctor and my husband. I need to confirm I am right, but my eyes are shut. And on the soft white cushion that should be the hard blue roof of the car, I have just two thoughts: Richard is a bastard and I must open my eyes, or I will die.

Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 10: CREEK FALLS, NEW YORK  (Part 3)

3

It’s the next day and I’m sleepy. I did not have a restful night. I was feverish with visions the entire night. I had several short dreams involving Richard. I was variously his girlfriend, his wife, and his reject.

I arrive at the bus stop earlier than usual, even though the temperature is five degrees lower than yesterday, a new coldest day. I’m dressed even less appropriately and had to sneak out. That Richard might not be taking the bus; that he might be riding with Bobby doesn’t occur to me, until I’ve stood at the stop for several minutes.

I am disconsolate until I see him, and he remembers me and plants himself beside me.

“Good morning, Alyce Migliano,” he smiles.

I return his smile and stare at his hair. It’s frozen again. He follows my eyes and pats his hair with a naked hand. He laughs and it rings like a crystal bell in the still morning.

“Vanity is a hard master,” he says.

I want to gush over his wit. Today he’s sharp and good-natured like no boy I’ve encountered in Creek Falls. But I know effusion will reveal too much of my emotion. I say only, “Good morning, Richard.”

He, the gentleman he is, allows me to clomp up the stairs into Number 13 ahead of him. I toy with the novelty of heading to the back of the bus and ensconcing myself on Richard’s Spot; however, for the same reason I could not express myself, I detour into my usual seat. To my shock, Richard motions me over and drops down next to me. He asks if I mind. I wish to be as witty as he and say it’s a public bus; however, I shake my head; don’t even say no.

“You have a boyfriend, Alyce Migliano?”

I find my voice, a heat-parched, ragged thing. “No.”

He pulls his upper body away from me and regards me—no, ogles me—up and down. “You are not serious, Alyce Migliano. No, you are pulling my leg.” He kicks his leg into the aisle a couple of times and grins. “You sure are.”

“No I’m not,” I demur; suppressing what I am certain will brand me a child, the giggles.

He stares at me for an exaggerated minute. “This place is nothing like New York then.”

“Then what?” I ask, softly.

“Only that a girl like you would have a boyfriend. Hell, you’d have two fighting over you.”

I blush. I know I’m flushed. My face burns and I envision myself encompassed in a ring of fire.

He laughs. “I like you, Alyce Migliano. How about I take you to the movies Saturday night?”

“Yes,” I blurt.

Richard, the gentleman, ignores my eagerness. “Good. It’s a date.”

Then he turns away from me and cranes his neck into the aisle, looking at the backbench. I wait for him to ask me the obvious, and, when he doesn’t, I offer it up to him.

He swings his head back and smiles at me, not with his mouth, but with his eyes. Yes, just as I’ve read in novels and puzzled over the mechanics innumerable times, Richard smiles with his eyes; they sparkle and speak to me: I like you, Alyce.

“Alyce Migliano, I already know where you live. I asked Bobby about you.”

I’m surprised, but it has nothing to do with Richard. I’m stunned anybody, any boy I mean, at school knows me. I’ve tried to stand out, but nobody has ever seemed to notice; I’ve never gotten a reaction from anybody, except Angie and Rosemary. But boys, this is a revelation.

“Bobby’s the guy with the car,” Richard says.

“I know who he is,” I say.

He regards me inquiringly. I hope my tone wasn’t too judgmental.

“He knows you, where you live. He pointed out your house on the way home, before he dropped me at my place.”

“Oh,” I mutter, as neutrally as I can.

The bus is crowded, as it always is, and it’s loud. Still, Richard carries on our conversation in a velvet voice, a decibel above a whisper. He leans toward me as he speaks, just a little, but enough to imply intimacy. The bus is unusually warm, though I know from experience the heater on Number 13 has never worked.

I want our conversation to continue, but I haven’t a smart thought in my head. “Don’t you miss New York City?”

“Mr. Berkowirc wasn’t exactly correct. We’re from Staten Island. It’s New York, but not exactly. No tall buildings, lots of country, like here.”

I’ve never been to Staten Island. I’ve never been south of our county. I’ve been across the Hudson River and as far north as Lake George, but never south. I suspect he might be kidding me, treating me like a bumpkin. But his eyes, they are so tender, pleading to me, impressing me that he is a boy who wouldn’t lie to me, not even as a joke.

“You’re not disappointed?”

“No. But next you’ll tell me there are cows in the city.”

He laughs, the low tittering type when you don’t want people to know you’re laughing, keeping it within the confines of our seat, between us, private.

“On the south island, there’s a cow or two. Hey, Staten Island is practically part of New Jersey.”

By the time I reach my front door, I feel I know Richard. He is from New Dorp, the neighborhood, he calls it, halfway down on the east side of the island. He had been attending New Dorp High School, when his father decided the country was the best place for his son, as if they didn’t already live in the country, according to Richard. The move did not please him and not because he imagined upstate as yokelville. But why, he didn’t say, he couldn’t say. I pressed him gently. But he fended me off. He couldn’t say, except it was a family secret and maybe in the future he might tell me about it. And then he said I couldn’t tell anybody, my parents or friends, that the DeSantis family had a secret. Nobody can know even that much, he said. He made me promise to keep it to myself, and I promised, though for hours afterward I debated whether he could really mean Angie and Rosemary.

As the week progresses and I focus on Saturday night, I withdraw. My fantasy world captivates me; it pleases me in ways reality can’t. My expectations for Saturday are high, too high, I realize, to be fulfilled satisfactorily. I fear disappointment, and yet, strangely, this unsettling sensation is also thrilling. For the first time, I am living.

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.

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.